Mines & Territories – Year Overview 2019 – Special Issue
Collection, translation and edition by Karlijn Van den Broeck, Jonas Adriaensens and Daniela Marques.
You can download the Special Issue of Mines & Territories, Year Overview 2019 here.
Collection, translation and edition by Karlijn Van den Broeck, Jonas Adriaensens and Daniela Marques.
You can download the Special Issue of Mines & Territories, Year Overview 2019 here.
We again reached a record. The amount of material consumed by humanity has passed 100 billion tonnes every year*. At the same time the percentage of materials recycled is lower than the years before. In short, we are overconsuming. To satisfy our increasing demand of goods companies look for the lowest production cost, which means bad labor conditions and the generation and accumulation of tons of waste only to get the highest amount of profit. Let’s think together about solutions before there are no resources left!
During the 11th edition of CATAPA’s Open MinEd international speakers tour we focus on the impacts of our constant demand for products and the resources we need to produce them. We will zoom on workers in China, producing our electronic devices in awful labor conditions. We will go to Colombia where everything starts with the extraction of gold, a basic resource in all our ICT products, creates all kinds of problems for communities. And lastly, we put the ecological and social consequences in the spotlight of one of our most important resources: oil. During the diverse events of the speakers tour we will look for answers, search for alternatives to our current way of producing and consuming, highlighting fair initiatives and inspiring movements.
We are glad to host three speakers, witnesses of exploitation and struggle, who are fighting for a just world:
– Lap Hang Au is a member of the Labour Education and Service Network in Hong Kong. He will talk about the workers’ conditions in ICT factories in China and he has specific expertise in the impact of lithium-ion batteries used for electric cars. These are considered fundamental for the Green Transition.
– Antonella Calle Avilés is an Ecuadorian feminist and ecologist. She is active in our partner organization, Acción Ecológica, an environmental organization engaged in campaigns on the impacts of extraction. For years, Antonella has been an environmental rights defender and, at the moment, she is mainly focused on the oil extraction project in Yasuní national park, one of the most biodiverse places on earth.
– Yefferson Rojas Arango is the co-founder of our partner organization COSAJUCA in Colombia. It’s a youth collective successfully fought against a huge open pit-gold project called ‘La Colosa’. Now the collective and Yefferson are focusing on alternatives to mining in the region, such as organic farming. He is particularly interested in agro ecology and medicinal plants.
From 8 – 15 March our international guest speakers will participate in events and lectures in different cities and universities of Belgium, telling their stories and sharing their knowledge.
THURSDAY 5th March
Evening tbc | Opening exhibition: Activism and feminism | ES, NL
@Antwerp – Mundana, Paardenmarkt 74
SUNDAY 8th March
9:30 – 11:30h | ANTONELLA | Ontbijt met een Rebel (Belmundo) | NL
@Ghent – Bond Moyson, Vrijdagmarkt 10 (take the entrance through the door in the street ‘Meerseniersstraat’)
MONDAY 9th March
20h | ANTONELLA | GEC Talks (Belmundo) | NL
@Ghent – Lekker GEC, Koningin Maria Hendrikaplein 6
14:30 – 17h | ANTONELLA | Guest lecture | EN
@Ghent – Universiteitstraat 4, auditorium B
16 – 17:30h | AU | Guest lecture | EN
@Heverlee (Leuven) – KU Leuven Celestijnenlaan 200C-01.06 (aula D) (Campus Heverlee)
8:30 – 9:45h |YEFFERSON | Guest lecture | ES
@Gent – UGent, Abdisstraat 1, auditorium A410
13 – 14:30h | YEFFERSON | Guest lecture | NL
@Gent – Campus aula, universiteitsstraat 4, auditorium D (straatkant, vlak aan kalandeberg)
TUESDAY 10th March
11 – 12h |AU | Webinar from Fair ICT Flanders: Labour conditions in Battery factories in China | ES
14 – 15:30h | AU | Guest lecture | EN
18 – 19:30h | AU | Guest lecture | EN
@Gent – address + auditorium to be confirmed
20h | ANTONELLA | Cinema Belmundo, movie screening of By the name of Tania | NL
@Gent – Studio Skoop, Sint-Annaplein 63.
WEDNESDAY 11th March
12:30 – 13:50 | YEFFERSON | Spanish Class | ES
@Antwerp – Universiteit Antwerpen Stadscampus – auditorium tbc
THURSDAY 12th March
9 – 10:30 | YEFFERSON | Guest lecture | EN
@Leuven – KULeuven HIVA Parkstraat 47
13 – 17h | AU | Conference: “Green Transition Challenged by the Metal Supply Chain” | EN
@Flemish Parliament, Brussels
FRIDAY 13th March
14:30 – 17:15h | ANTONELLA | Guest lecture: Political issues of sustainability: ecology, justice and North-South relations. The case of mining | NL
@Ghent – UGent, Universiteitsstraat 4, auditorium tbc
10:45 – 12:15h | AU | Guest lecture: Car technology & automotive engineering | EN
@Sint-Katelijn-Waver- KU Leuven Technology Campus De Nayer, Jan Pieter de Nayerlaan 5, ROOM A002
Evening tbc | ANTONELLA & YEFFERSON | Fun(d)raising concert |NL, ES, EN
@Gent – to be confirmed
SATURDAY 14th March
17:30 | ANTONELLA & YEFFERSON | Benefit Dinner Ecuador – Colombia | NL
@Gent – Louisaal (Buurtcentrum Macharius), Tarbotstraat 61A.
SUNDAY 15th March
Morning tbc | YEFFERSON | Brunch with Farmers |
@Brussels – address to be confirmed
CATAPA is een sociale en ecologische beweging die met een participatieve en geïntegreerde aanpak werkt aan duurzame ontwikkeling. CATAPA focust hierbij op de problematiek van mijnbouwconflicten in Latijns Amerika. In Latijns-Amerika ondersteunt CATAPA de lokale gemeenschappen die (potentieel) worden getroffen door de negatieve impact van mijnbouw.
De GECO zal de samenwerking opnemen met CATAPA’s partnerorganisaties in Colombia: het jongerencollectief COSAJUCA (Colectivo SocioAmbiental Juvenil Cajamarcuno) in het dorp Cajamarca (Tolima), het milieucomité in Cajamarca (Tolima) en de milieubeweging Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida in de stad Ibagué (Tolima). Deze partnerorganisaties spelen een centrale rol in het geweldloze verzet tegen het geplande mijnbouwproject La Colosa . De GECO zal met de verschillende partners activiteiten ondernemen in de nasleep van de succesvolle en bindende Consulta Popular in maart 2017 aan de hand waarvan een gemeentelijk verbod op mijnbouw doorgevoerd werd.
Idealiter vertrek eind augustus 2019. Afhankelijk van de verkregen fondsen gaat het om minstens 6 maanden, bij voorkeur verlengd tot een jaar. Na 6 maanden zal er een evaluatie van de GECO plaatsvinden. Indien deze negatief en niet meer bij te sturen is, bestaat de mogelijkheid dat de samenwerking stopgezet wordt.
Collection, summary and edition by Sam Packet, Karlijn Van den Broeck and Laura García
Download Mines & Territory, May 2019 here.
News comes and goes. With social media as the main outlet for civil society organizations in Colombia to get their stories heard, a story can be famous for a day after which it disappears in the mass information. Mines & Territory aims to register and share these stories for longer than just a viral thread. Mines & Territory collects the most remarkable events that have occurred in the past month regarding extractivist matters in Colombia and summarizes them in English ans Spanish so that the information is accessible to anyone interested and raises awareness internationally to the current eco-socio realities in Colombia.
France Márquez Mina, social leader in the Cauca province and winner in 2018 of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, also called the environmental Nobel Prize, denounced on May 4th that strangers opened fire on her while she was accompanied by several colleagues preparing a meeting with the National government. Although she got out unharmed, two of her escorts got injured in the attack.
Recognized internationally for her tireless fight against the exploitation of gold in the area of the Ovejas River in the municipality of Suarez, Cauca, where she is originally from, Francia managed through a tutelage action in 2009 that the Constitutional Court removed the mining titles which were owned by the multinational AngloGold Ashanti. From that moment onwards she has been receiving all kinds of threats for which she was left with no other choice than leaving her territory in 2014.
The struggle for the preservation of the environment has led to an unequal dispute between the environmental groups of the country, which generate public spaces to visualize the environmental problems in mining zones, and groups outside of the law that control illegal exploitation and drug trafficking using violent methods of intimidation.
Two days after the attack, Victor Hugo Moreno, president of the Association of Community Councils of Northern Cauca, one of the people who were present on the same spot when they tried to assassinate Francia, received a message on his cell phone that accentuated once again the terror in the area. : “(…) this Saturday was only the beginning of what will happen to all of you; next time all members of this organization will die (…) and all those who closed the humanitarian path in the so-called ‘minga’, your time has come, niggers… (…) “.
Sources: PULZO ‘Colombia es el tercer país donde más se asesinan defensores del medio ambiente’; CONTAGIORADIO ‘Atentan contra lideresa Francia Márquez’.
On March 26th, 2017, the consulta popular took place in Cajamarca, Tolima, where 97% of the votes said NO to mining activities within the municipality. This decision halted the arrival of the mega mining project La Colosa, the open pit gold mine that was supposed to be the largest one in Latin America. As a result of this popular referendum, the social and environmental leaders who promoted it suffered serious stigmatizations by local territorial entities, government sectors and companies with an interest in the territory, stigmatizations that are becoming stronger and put defenders at risk.
On May 14th some members of organizations such as Cosajuca, the Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida and Conciencia Campesina received an email with a message that more or less announced that the time had come to “clean the country from all those who claim themselves as environmentalists and defenders of Cajamarca but who actually only impede its development and take refuge in NGOs to fill their pockets. ” The shippers of the threat were identified as ‘Águilas Negras Tolima’.
The members of Cosajuca and the Environmental Committee, two allied organizations of Catapa in Colombia, denounced the threats and expressed that the message evidences a clear relationship between political and business interests on the one hand, and the armed groups behind the threats on the other hand. Apart from demanding respect for the autonomy of the territories, they also express that the authorities must provide all the necessary guarantees that allow the integrity of all members of the affected social and environmental organizations and their families.
Source: FACEBOOK COSAJUCA’/photos/a.319407811806631/689982171415858/’; TWITTER ‘/CSPP_/status/1131597211966562310?s=19’.
Next July, the Duque administration intends to present a law that would regulate the Coordination and Concurrence procedure, which has mainly been built by the mining sector itself. This occurs after the Constitutional Court granted multinationals an easier access to the exploitation of natural resources in the subsoil and after it took away the veto power of consultas populares over these projects.
Juan Camilo Nariño, CEO of the Colombian Mining Association (ACM), suggested that the country has made progress in jurisprudential matters, which will give more certainty to the mining sector. “This precision and clarity generates greater investment and tranquility to the extractive industry and its investors. The decisions issued by the Constitutional Court between December and January make it clear that the territorial entities cannot prohibit mining through the mechanisms of citizen participation anymore, as they did before with popular referenda or municipal agreements. ”
Likewise, he claimed that the National Development Plan (PND for its Spanish acronym) will allow to consolidate small and medium mining in the country through a process of formalization, and that he’s feeling strong about the reforms of the General System of Royalties (SGR for its Spanish acronym).
The CEO clarifies: “It is fundamental for this sector to modify the current SGR since it will end up benefiting several fronts. Firstly, it balances local public discussions. Secondly, it makes the inhabitants of the mining municipalities feel the economic benefit thanks to the development of the extractive industries which operate in their territories. And thirdly, it simplifies a system with complex laws which are not allowing municipalities to access their resources easily. ”
Piedad Córdoba Ruiz, in her column in ‘Las2Orillas’, expressed her frustration over the proposed law which, according to her, only seeks to favor the extractive and multinational companies that are polluting the environment: “The Court gave free access to the resources of the subsoil, the popular referenda lost their veto power and now they come up with this new regulatory law of Coordination and Concurrence which goes hand in hand with the mining sector. It literally feels like we’re living in a mining dictatorship governed by multinationals.”
Sources: LAS2ORILLAS ‘El medio ambiente minado’; PORTAFOLIO: ‘Alistan ley que espanta el fantasma de las consultas populares mineras’.
On Sunday, May 10th, tens of thousands of people marched in Bucaramanga for the protection of the páramo of Santurbán and against the project of the mining company Minesa. Minesa plans to extract over nine million ounces of gold in the next 25 years in the vicinity of this fragile ecosystem which supplies water for about 2 million inhabitants.
The mobilization coincided with the re-delimitation of the páramo that the Ministry of Environment was applying by order of the Constitutional Court, and with the application of the environmental license that the mining company is seeking for, which would give the project a green light.
The march took place two weeks after videos got leaked from one of the private meetings of the mining company, in which its president Santiago Urdinola made it clear that relations with the community inside and outside of the area are not within their priorities. (For more information, read M&T April)
The dispute over mining in the páramo of Santurbán has now been going on for almost a decade. In 2011, the first demonstrations took place. One of the main questions in the preview of this march addressed the question whether it would be able to match the march of 2017 which mobilized around 50 thousand people. While there are no precise figures of how many people marched on the streets, the calculations point out that the number of people who attended was several thousand more than a year and a half ago.
La Silla Vacía, a regional newspaper, reviewed in detail the 2,800 pages that comprise the structural chapters of the study which proposes the exploitation of the large-scale underground mine for 25 years. They summarized it in seven key factors and impacts that Minesa will leave behind in the páramo of Santurbán:
Sources: LA SILLA VACIA ‘Siete impactos claves Minesa vecindad Santurbán’; LA SILLA VACIA ‘Lo reveló la marcha de Santurbán’; EL ESPECTADOR ‘Una nutrida marcha contra la minería en Santurbán’.
With 11 positive votes, the Municipal Council of Yopal approved project 08 of 2019, “by means of which measures for the defense of the ecological and environmental heritage of the municipality of Yopal and other provisions are dictated.” It seeks to prohibit the exploitation of oil through fracking and is the first initiative of its kind that is presented in Colombia.
Nonetheless, the initiators clarified that this draft agreement does not intend to exclude Yopal from oil exploitation, but only seeks to prevent this fracking method that has been questioned a lot from being used in the municipality.
Many voices have risen in support of the initiative. As popular referenda have lost their strength, now the only expression of autonomy is left to the regions and municipalities. This expression of autonomy is needed in order to influence the development of their territory, against the increasingly voracious intervention of the national government, which takes away more and more independence in the management of their resources.
For more information, read our article on fracking in Colombia in the M&T April edition: ‘Comptroller warns that Colombia is not ready to fracking’
Fuentes: VIOLETA STEREO ‘Concejo de Yopal cierra el paso al fracking en el municipio’; CASANARE NOTICIAS ‘Aprueban prohibición del fracking en Yopal’.
A judge in Ibagué filed the criminal proceeding against the director of Cortolima, Jorge Enrique Cardoso, and the head of the juridical office of that same entity, José Francisco Montufar, who had been denounced by the mining multinational Anglogold Ashanti for embezzlement of legal actions.
As stated by the investigating body, the two officials did not commit any crime when requesting, on March 11th 2013, the preventive suspension of the work that AngloGold Ashanti was carrying out in the village of Doima, municipality of Piedras. The Court archived the Prosecutor’s request because it did not find enough evidence to accuse the officials.
The mining company had requested an authorization to carry out hydrogeological works in order to prepare for the construction of an infrastructure related to the La Colosa project in Cajamarca, an application that was endorsed by Cortolima. However, the CEO of Cortolima explained that the multinational “cheated” on the corporation permit since it was only assigned to do a soil survey, while AngloGold was also executing totally different activities.
Cortolima received several complaints from the community about the machinery that had reached the municipality of Piedras and about the work they were doing. “We went to visit the place and saw that they had taken advantage of the forest, had adapted the Camao stream, they had installed machinery that is typically used for drilling groundwater exploitation, activities different from those they had communicated,” Cardoso said.
Source: EL OLFATO ‘Nuevo revés jurídico para AngloGold en el Tolima’.
Due to protests of the community, mining exploration procedure in Jericó is postponed
The mining company Quebradona, owned by the South African multinational AngloGold Ashanti, intended to install on May 13th a drilling platform to perform soil and geotechnical studies in order to develop its copper mine in the neighborhood of Vallecitos-Palo Cabildo, belonging to the municipality of Jericó, in the southwest of the province Antioquia. The employees arrived accompanied by the police, the army and the Esmad (special forces).
People from the community, leaders of the municipal administration and leaders of environmental groups were present in the area to oppose the drilling of the mountain. Several dozens of peasants also arrived to confront what they considered an attack on their sovereignty, arguing that the company was committing a violation of the 10th municipal agreement of 2018, which establishes the prohibition of metallic mining activities in the municipality.
To avoid a confrontation of large proportions, mayor Jorge Pérez arrived at the site and spoke with the people in charge of the Quebradona mine so that they wouldn’t violate the orders given by the Municipal Council. This recommendation was finally accepted after more than three hours of discussion, consigning that the mining company should not continue its activities until the Court takes a final decision about the validity of the municipal agreement.
Mayor Jorge Pérez: “Duque has to review the true potential of the country.”
“The attitude of the mining multinational is regrettable, because they know very well that the agreement is still valid as we have not known any ruling of the Administrative Court of Antioquia yet. They did somehow invade the village with the Esmad, the police and the army. That’s not the way. These people are peasants, not criminals, ” argued the mayor.
Perez: “It is not easy because we find ourselves in notorious inferiority in this power struggle. We are a sixth category municipality where most of the citizens are against the mining plans. Above us, we’re facing the will of the mining secretariat of Antioquia which promotes mining, the ministry of mining, the National Mining Agency, etc. President Duque is deadly wrong when he says that the country’s only economic outlet is the exploitation of resources. He should better spend his time reviewing the true potential of the country. Take a look at the enormous potential for food production, biodiversity and tourism.
Jericó is currently standing in a legal framework, we rely on our 010 municipal agreement; we hope that if one day all these legal forms of opposition are exhausted, all Colombians will rise up to protect their territories.”
Meanwhile, it’s known that in the coming month AGA will apply for its environmental license to step up the project, which increases the tense mood of the inhabitants as most of them refuse any kind of drilling in their territory.
Former President Álvaro Uribe against the project
The upcoming months are uncertain, because there a lot of different interest which have been moving local politics. The southwest of Antioquia is one of the spoils of the Democratic Center, a party that has never lost any election in the area and where President Iván Duque swept its campaign. And as if that wasn’t enough, this is the region were former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez was born.
Right in the middle of this dispute, President Uribe tweeted on April 7th a 13-minute video in which he explains why, according to his vision, mining should not take place in Jericó. Uribe used among others the following words: “Jericó y Suroeste, preserve and promote green projects, no to mining.” Quite a surprise for his followers, because it was the Uribe government that granted the largest amount of mining licenses in the history of Colombia.
Judge of Medellin supports municipal agreement
A judge in Medellín considered that he could not implement any precautionary measures to suspend the administrative act of the municipal council – which established a prohibition on mining in defense of the ecological and cultural heritage of the municipality of Jericó – as requested by the company AngloGold.
The judge reminded judicial decisions in which “the constitutional possibility held by the Municipal Councils to dictate the necessary rules for the control, preservation and defense of the ecological and cultural heritage of the municipality” have been confirmed.
Sources: SEMANA ‘Crece la tensión por minería a gran escala en Jericó, Antioquia’, CONTAGIORADIO ‘AngloGold Ashanti desconoce el acuerdo municipal que prohibe la minería’; EL COLOMBIANO ‘Exploración minera en Jericó se posterga’; EL TIEMPO ‘Choque entre Comfama y Anglo Gold Ashanti por mina en Jericó; LA REPÚBLICA ‘Anglo Gold pierde otra batalla en el proyecto minero de Quebradona’.
Karlijn Van den Broek, 5 June 2019
The farming community that voted out multinational Anglogold Ashanti of their territory two years ago, is now taking the fight to court.
In March 2017, the people of Cajamarca voted against mining in their region in a Consulta Popular (popular referendum). Two years later the same community is going to court to continue their fight for Anglogold Ashanti still owns various mining concessions in the region. And to ensure their absence for once and for all, the farmers are suing the company and the National Mining Agency to nullify the still existing mining concessions.
In Cajamarca, all seems quiet and peaceful. Farmers on the hill work their land, no machinery involved. It is a hard job, but they would not trade it for the world. The fertile soil of Cajamarca makes it a very rewarding region for farming: ‘Anything grows in Cajamarca.’
Looking over Cajamarca, the impressive waterfall Chorros Blancos provides water for the citizens of the village center. Many other small water springs guarantee water to the farming families’ right to their land. The Wax Palms Forest and the Machin Volcano in Toche guard Cajamarca on the one side, and on the other side the Páramo of Anaime can be found. If you ask the citizens, they will tell you they are proud to live in Cajamarca, that this land is incredibly beautiful and precious. And any visitor would have to agree with them.
However, the people of Cajamarca have struggled a lot to get where they are today. From the beginning of the settlement, violence has been brought to the region, from colonization to the period of violencia and later the armed conflict. When after hundreds of years of war, Colombia, and thus Cajamarca, was finally beginning a new era of ‘peace’, it was only for a short time until a new threat arrived in Cajamarca: Extractivism.
More than ten years ago, the Colombian government gave mining concessions to the South-African gold mining multinational Anglogold Ashanti, who with their La Colosa mining project would open the biggest open pit mine in Latin America.
The village however, came together to defend their farming lands, their precious water sources and the future of their children. On the 26th of March 2017, Cajamarca organised a Consulta Popular, a binding mechanism of public participation stated by the Colombian constitution, where 98% of voters voted against mega mining in their territories.
The result of the Consulta Popular, a Cajamarca free of mining activities, was later established in a municipal agreement.
The decision of the people of Cajamarca is legally binding and thus has to be respected by both the multinational as the national government.
However, the National Mining Agency of Colombia has continued administrative actions regarding the existing mining concessions, without consulting nor informing the community.
There are still three current mining concessions in the municipality of Cajamarca. Therefore, the decision of the people of Cajamarca has neither been respected nor implemented until now.
The farmers of Cajamarca are demanding the nullification of the three current mining concessions in the municipality. They invoke the legal principle of objeto illicit sobreviniente: the mining concessions have to cease to exist since they are incompatible with the choice of the community of Cajamarca to prohibit mining. Following Colombian law, a contract needs to have an object that complies with the legal and constitutional requirements. The subject of the mining concessions is illicit and impossible to accomplish. The subject was licit when the concessions were granted, yet, after the consulta popular, it is no longer the case.
With the legal action the farmers of Cajamarca hope to finally achieve the full respect and execution of the decision that the community took in March, 2017, prohibiting mining in their region.
Suing a multinational is not for the light hearted. In Colombia, environmental defenders that are struggling to remain in their lands despite of corporate interests, have been the target of threats, human rights violations and killings. Moreover, the legal road is always a very long and tiring one. Nevertheless, the community of Cajamarca knows what they want: A healthy and thriving farming community, with clean waters and lush mountains. This court case, just like the countless manifestations and the consulta popular before them, is the people of Cajamarca shouting:
“El Agua vale mas que el oro, Anglogold Ashanti Fuera del Pais”
Today, Wednesday the 5th of June 2019, the corporation ‘Cajamarca Despensa Hídrica y Agrícola’, promotor of the Consulta Popular in Cajamarca, represented by the Center of Studies for Social Justice ‘Tierra Digna’, filed an absolute nullity claim against the National Mining Agency of Colombia and the company Anglo Gold Ashanti before the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca.
The purpose of the lawsuit is to declare the nullity of (3) three mining concession contracts registered in 2007, which are still in force in the region of Cajamarca. The concessions should be nullified on the ground of violating the superior mandate expressed through the Consulta Popular (Popular Referendum) of the 26th of March 2017, in which 97% of the citizens of Cajamarca prohibited mining activities in their territory.
At the time the mining concession contracts were signed it was licit to explore and exploit minerals in Cajamarca. However, this legal landscape changed due to the incorporation of a new rule to the legal system, namely the Consulta Popular, which transformed a former lawful action (to explore and exploit minerals) to unlawful. Consequently, there should not be any mining contracts in Cajamarca at present.
The Consulta Popular of Cajamarca was a citizen initiative, in which the community, using their democratic rights, mobilized for the protection of its sovereignty and peasant life. The Consulta Popular complied with all the legal and constitutional requirements, it is now definite and, therefore, its results have mandatory effects. This legal action should be understood as the coming together of the struggles of the peasants of Cajamarca in defense of their land, but also as the beginning of a new phase that seeks to recognize the legal effects of the implementation of Consultas Populares that have been made throughout the country.
Download the document here.
Collection, summary and edition by Sam Packet, Karlijn Van den Broeck and Laura García
Download Mines & Territory, April 2019 here.
News comes and goes. With social media as the main outlet for civil society organizations in Colombia to get their stories heard, a story can be famous for a day after which it disappears in the mass information. Mines & Territory aims to register and share these stories for longer than just a viral thread. Mines & Territory collects the most remarkable events that have occurred in the past month regarding extractivist matters in Colombia and summarizes them in English and in Spanish so that the information is accessible to anyone interested and raises awareness internationally to the current eco-socio realities in Colombia.
The leaked video shows the president of the company Minesa, Santiago Urdinola. Minesa is an Arab company that earlier this year handed in an Environmental Impact Study to the National Authority of Environmental Licenses (ANLA), with the purpose of extracting about nine million ounces of pyrite and copper in the area of Santurbán.
Urdinola exposes in a private meeting the strategy to take forward the environmental license. “If I have the world on fire, but in Bogotá they feel that we are well, then we are fine. If the decision makers feel calm, despite that we’re having a daily march here (…), it works for us “, he says.
The president continues saying that the indicated way to minimize the contradictory voices to the mine is by developing a narrative, a stereotype that represents the protesters as opposition activists, linked to the political movements of Senator Gustavo Petro (former opposition presidential candidate), the Green Party, the Democratic Pole and some elites of Bucaramanga, who would be looking through these demonstrations to overthrow the Government of President Iván Duque. “If they feel that it’s all about Petro marching to overthrow Duque’s government, it works for us (…) The question is how do we make our stakeholders feel calm”, is what’s heard in the video.
According to Urdinola, one of the keys is to present the most effective information to the ministers in charge. To talk, for example, about renewable energies with the Minister of Mines and Energy, María Fernanda Suárez.
Urdinola seems to be disturbed by the frequent news in which Minesa does not seem to be standing well. “There’s going to be a lot of media pressure here. The media likes the history of the angry community, not the story of those we have helped, of the children who’re finally going to school and have access to drinking water thanks to Minesa. The story is one of the community that feels they are going to be resettled. There are about 50 families we’ll have to take out of their territory – where they have lived for over 100 years – because they’re living in the center of the project. That is the media story; which will explode”, he warns.
The video, which lasts almost nine minutes, fell very badly among those who are part of the Committee for the Defense of the Páramo de Santurbán, which for several years has called marches to protest the mining exploitation in the territory.
“We strongly reject the statements made in the video. It is a strategy against the citizens who we had to mobilize 9 years ago to reject the mega-mining in Santurbán. It is a strategy to deceive Bucaramanga, Bogotá and the officials who are making the decisions. It is putting a mantle of doubt in this process of citizen resistance”, says Mayerly Lopez, one of the spokespersons of the Committee.
She points out that, if ANLA approves the environmental license of this project, the water supply of 2.5 million people will be put at risk. “We trust that the ANLA will make a serious and rigorous process. We do not trust the company, and even less after this video”, she said, while revealing that on May 10th they will hold a new march to oppose the Minesa project.
Sources: CONTAGIORADIO ‘Filtran video que evidencia campaña de estigmatización de Minesa contra ambientalistas’; EL ESPECTADOR ‘Polémico video revela estrategia de Minesa para evitar el rechazo de su minería en Santurbán’.
The sections of the National Development Plan that give the constructing of the port a green light were approved yesterday by the Legislative. The decision, although still pending Senate approval, generates worries for communities and experts. It’s estimated that 1,000 hectares of mangrove in the Pacific will be destroyed with this intervention.
The communities of Tribugá, one of the nine corregimientos of Nuquí (Chocó), do not want the port. Its position makes sense: although an investment on this scale promises jobs, development and roads for a region that needs it, the construction of this big port involves going over a territory protected by them: the Regional District of Management – Cabo Corrientes, an ecosystem that not only the communities depend upon thanks to artisanal fishing, the use of mangroves and ecotourism, but where around 8 species of mangroves flourish and where turtles pianguas and small mollusks nest on 971 hectares of beaches, all ensuring the certainty of food in the area.
If approved by the Senate, a port of docks up to 3,600 meters in length would be built, with depths between 15 and 20 meters and a capacity to receive ships of up to 200,000 tons. And all of that in the middle of this natural territory. The port is estimated to be larger and bigger than the Port of Buenaventura and one of the most massive ones in Latin America.
Source: EL ESPECTADOR ‘Cámara aprobó la construcción del Puerto de Tribugá en Chocó’
Inhabitants of Taganga, in Magdalena, denounce that the Daabon Liquid Bulk Terminal Company (Terlica) is advancing its third modification of the environmental license granted for the construction of a port in the bay, even though the communities mobilized against the project because of the social, economic and environmental effects it would cause.
In 2008, the rupture of a valve at the Terlica facilities in Taganga caused a spill of crude palm oil to the Bay of Playa Grande, affecting thousands of corals and other marine organisms. Despite this historial account and the fact that the company has not yet finished to compensate the damages, the environmental authorities have already approved the first two modifications to the environmental license.
The locals fear that the environmental emergency caused by Terlica in 2008 might happen again, damaging the environment and the way of living of the 6,000 inhabitants of the municipality who depend on fishing and tourism. In addition, evidence points out that an accident at the wharf could cause more serious damage since it’s intended to transport palm oil, chemical derivatives and hydrocarbons through this new port.
Senator Antonio Sanguino of the Green Alliance argues that the environmental license approved by the ANLA is not legitimized. It did not have any consent neither was the project socialized with the communities that inhabit the territory. Besides that, several people involved assume acts of favoring policy in the granting of the licenses and concessions.
“We say no to the Port of the Americas because it would be located within the “linea negra”, which is a theological zone of the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada, so it requires, first of all, at least a prior consultation with the indigenous community,” he said.
Sources: CONTAGIORADIO ‘”¡No queremos muelle!”: el grito de los habitantes de Taganga’; REVISTA7 ‘Nuevo Puerto en Taganga ¿en veremos?’
For nearly a week about 2,000 leaders from across the country gathered in the capital to make a call to the National Government and the international community for the lack of security guarantees in their territories. They were in Congress, in several embassies, they demonstrated and carried out important commitments.
“It’s just unthinkable that we are at the discretion of a president who thinks more about Venezuela than about Colombia (…) While he calls for peace in Venezuela, right here in Colombia leaders get assassinated, threatened, and taken out of their lands”, says senator Aída Avella in her speech to thousands of social leaders who arrived in Bogotá to combat what they consider the neglect of the government of Iván Duque to the violent wave against human rights defenders in the country.
The spokesmen of the shelter indicate that the general goal of the humanitarian shelter and the sensibilization of the public opinion in the big cities about the crisis on the countryside, was reached. They also managed to sensitize the embassies, to make them aware of the situation, and they assumed the commitment to talk with the National Government so that the topic of protecting social leaders can be better addressed”, explains Alejandra Llano of the ‘National Indigenous Organization of Colombia’ (ONIC). Apart from that, Ricardo Arias, Director of Human Rights of the Ministry of Home Affairs, affirmed publicly that the National Guarantees Roundtable, a space of direct dialogue between social organizations and several entities of the National Government – which was suspended since the arrival of Iván Duque to the Presidency – would be reactivated soon.
However, they are left with lots of questions regarding the responses of the Government, particularly by the Attorney General’s Office. A main issue is the sample of results in the investigations on the armed structures in charge of executing the murders of social leaders, about which they have asked for explanations without success. Supposedly, the findings in this regard are minimal…
Source: EL ESPECTADOR ‘¿Qué lograron los líderes sociales que instalaron el refugio humanitario en Bogotá?’
It is a request based upon the work developed by a team of 9 experts, engineers, biologists and ecologists who, supported by the Judicial Police, were in Hidroituango investigating possible environmental damage.
Among the conclusions is the finding of risks for water springs, fauna, flora and the life of the inhabitants. A first risk is the arrival of ‘el buchón’, explains Néstor Humberto Martínez, the Prosecutor. It is an invasive plant that already expanded among 8.5 kilometers due to the strong winds. The presence of this plant causes un unsmooth running of the water current and a reduction of the self-regulating processes of the ecosystems, which leads to the disappearance of animals that inhabit the river.
A second measure is related to an abandoned asphalt fabric on the San Andrés river, explained the Prosecutor. At the moment there are residues that fall into the water, which from the San Andrés river pass to the Cauca and finally to the Magdalena, diminishing the quality of water. This asphalt plant had been used by Hidroituango, but it would not have been closed properly. In addition, Martínez points out: “children take asphalt waste to play as if it were plasticine, although these residues, like pitch, have components with carcinogenic characteristics.”
A third measure has to do with the “El Higuerón” waste dump. The dump is located on a slope that overlooks the Cauca River and the rocks now threaten to detach. Experts found cracks up to 60 meters deep. This generates a great danger of falling into the river or collapsing on the road underneath, through which vehicles and pedestrians pass. Therefore, the researchers requested the immediate and urgent stabilization of the slopes and a technical closure of the dump.
Finally, the Office of the Prosecutor requested measures to intervene into the food chain instability in the area. The Hidroituango dam is preventing the downstream passage of sediments and nutrients necessary for the optimal life of the fauna in and around the river. “The sediments and nutrients cannot overcome the barrier of the dam and get stuck there,” explained the head of the accusing entity. Apparently, this his has not only an effect on the diversity and biological richness in the river. The experts found also deregulations in the fish populations regarding quality, size, reproduction and weight..
Source: EL TIEMPO ‘Fiscalía pide medidas cautelares por daños ambientales de Hidroituango’
Associations, collectives and environmental committees from all over the country met on April 5, 6 and 7 in San Vicente de Chucurí in Santander for the 5th meeting of the National Environmental Movement of Colombia. The meeting resulted in three days full of exchanges of experiences, sensibilization strategies and interactive workshops among the environmentalists who were present.
The event closed on Sunday afternoon with the first environmental march in the municipality of San Vicente; “Where in the year 2017, the mayor of the municipality was pressured by mining companies to refuse the call for a citizen consultation that had already been legitimately demanded by the inhabitants and endorsed by the administrative court of Santander”, according to the final statement, which eternalized the meeting.
The final declaration of the meeting can be read here.
Source: MOVIMIENTO NACIONAL AMBIENTAL ‘Declaración del V Encuentro del Movimiento Nacional Ambiental San Vicente de Chucurí, Santander’.
Jericó banned mining by municipal agreement, but the debate about the convenience of this industry in the small municipality with a vocation on coffee farming is still open, as the multinational AngloGold Ashanti has his eyes set on its land, in which it sees great potential.
On April 12th, there was a public debate held in the municipality of Jericó, convened by the Democratic Center of Colombia. This audience raised within its purposes a dialogue between several actors to address issues on “environment and sustainable development in southwest Antioquia” and promoted a follow-up commission to the “mining situation, the social aspect and the planning of the Territory.” In the audience the spokesmen of several environmental organizations, experts in geology, environmental engineering and law, employees of AngloGold Ashanti, and delegates from the departmental and national governments, signed present.
The call to this hearing surprised several local leaders and social organizations in the region because the purposes and scope of this initiative are not yet very clear. It is important to keep in mind that its call and implementation was developed in a strange and confusing context that was characterized by:
The protagonist role assumed by the Democratic Center in this “public hearing” is evident, but it is also contradictory since the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez granted around 11,000 mining titles and left another 7,000 to be legalized by his successors. It’s also worth to mention the closeness that Senator Uribe had with transnational mining companies. Today, in the National Development Plan, the government of Iván Duque deepens the extractive model in the Colombian territory.
Valuing the above, the conclusions of the event were the result of a consensus among the parties that benefit from the mine, which cannot be confused with a process of agreement between the actors in conflict. Anyway, the debate over the legality of mining and the possible exploitation of copper in Jericó will be transferred to the Congress of the Republic. That’s what was announced by some of the members of the House of Representatives.
At the hearing, the communities’ rejection of the presence of the AngloGold Ashanti multinational was evident, a rejection that has been manifested in many ways through mobilizations, sit-ins, crossings, vigils, municipal agreements, popular mandates, life plans and other mechanisms.
Watch the documentary made by citizens of Jericó where they share their point of view regarding the mining issue here.
Sources: CINTURÓN OCCIDENTAL AMBIENTAL ‘Sobre la “Audiencia Pública” en Jericó’ ; EL COLOMBIANO ‘Comisión del Congreso hará seguimiento a minería en Jericó’.
For more context information, we recommend you to read the Mines&Territory – March edition.
The indigenous minga, after 26 days of blockades on the Pan-American Highway in the municipalities of Cauca and Nariño, came to an end on April 5th. The government and the miners had reached an economic agreement of $ 843,000 million. One of the conditions of the agreement was a public dialogue between the mingueros and the President of the Republic, Iván Duque.
However, after many delays and pretexts, although Iván Duque reached the municipality of Caldono, he did not have the courage to listen to the mingueros and mingueras. The arguments of the presidential fleet were “concerns about the security of the President”. Duque asked if the meeting could be held in the cultural house of Caldono behind closed doors, only with the most important leaders. But they did not accept that proposal.
“He lacked honor to his word and disrespected the mingueros and mingueras by not listening to them. This attitude clearly shows his lack of capacity and autonomy to exercise its role as leader of the country, “accuses the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, CRIC, the main entity that mobilized the Minga in the first place.
Although the indigenous people felt that they were being mistreated, they were willing to adapt to the circumstances if the president spoke in the main park. What interested them the most was to debate with Duque about land, peace, the National Development Plan and the rights of the ethnic communities in Colombia.
In addition to this, for the Minga it was essential that Duque signed the agreements they had reached, which would have given a legal perspective to the 843,000 million pesos which Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez had committed to be assigned in education, health and farming projects in Cauca and Nariño.
“The Minga is an initiative of indigenous, peasant, afro-descendant and other social organizations in the country. There are no terrorists neither criminals present here, you find only worthy people hoping for a dialogue on issues that concern them. This Minga left 88 comrades wounded, nine dead, including Deiner Ceferino Yunda Camayo, a young minguero who was killed by ESMAD bullets that hit him in the chest. The Minga of the Southwest continues and is increasingly strengthened from different parts of the territory, “says the CRIC on its website.
A new appointment
Within the framework of the National strike, the territorial authorities along with more than 4,500 inhabitants mobilized in Popayán, Cali, Bogotá, Medellín, Manizales and Neiva to demonstrate against the murder and persecution of social leaders, the stigmatization and prosecution of demonstrators and aggressions by the public forces, among others.
On April 24th, the CRIC, strengthened by the support of the indigenous organizations of Huila, Caldas and Valle, issued a letter of invitation to President Iván Duque for a next appointment on May 20th at the University facilities of the Intercultural Autonomous University of Popayán, in the Cauca. The discussion that would take place in this meeting would logically handle about the guarantee of economic, social, cultural and organizational rights of indigenous, peasant and Afro communities that “are threatened by the legislative agenda of the Congress that ignores them”.
“It is worth considering that the communities are in permanent assembly and that the Minga maintains the importance of a dialogue between you, as president of the Republic, and the indigenous authorities and social organizations. We hope to have your willingness this time to dialogue with the Colombians from the periphery of the country, “reads the document.
The extinction of the indigenous
Jesus Olivero Verbel, Vice-Rector of Research at the University of Cartagena, gives us his point of view on the indigenous protest and the violation of this minority in his column in the newspaper ‘El Universal’.
“What happens in Cauca is a specific portrait of the indigenous problem in the whole country. This population, extremely vulnerable, is dying out at the point because of violence, disappearances, and displacement, a representation that is shown with different nuances in all corners of the country.
In La Guajira children die of hunger, they have lost the territories that are now huge hollows of the size of cities; in the Sierra Nevada they put hotels on their sacred places and they continuously chew on them with their commitments; in Chocó and Guainía mining destroys their rivers making an end to the jungle and the fish they eat; and in the Amazon, the mercury of the mining industry poisons them. Members of the community of Taraira, in the National Park of Yaigojé Apaporis, contain the highest concentrations of this toxic metal in Latin America.
It is sad to notice that while our true ancestors claimed their territory, we give half of the Cesar department to foreigners to leave us a lunar crater where nothing can be sown in thousands of years. In this country, the rights of our indigenous people and, in general, of minorities have been violated, and we have not saved the historical memory of these atrocious happenings. The situation in Cauca must be reconsidered, the indigenous people could adapt their protest in a sense not to suffocate communities outside the conflict, and the Government could commit to finally listen to them in. That way, nobody would lose.”
Sources: CRIC ‘Presidente Duque no tuvo la capacidad de escuchar a los mingueros y mingueras del suroccidente Colombiano’; SEMANA ‘Duque está en Caldono pero no se ha puesto de acuerdo con la minga para dialogar’; EL ESPECTADOR ‘Minga le pone nueva cita al presidente Iván Duque para retomar los diálogos’; EL UNIVERSAL ‘La extinción de los indígenas’.
The national mobilization was the first strike that President Iván Duque has faced since taking office on August 7th last year. The discontent over the policies contained in the National Development Plan (PND), as well as the growing violence against social leaders and the stigmatization of indigenous peoples are the main causes that triggered the strike that took place on April 25th in the main cities of Colombia.
Various social movements, trade unions, student groups, peasant and indigenous organizations and other entities united in one voice, took to the streets to reject the concentrated economic and social policies of President Iván Duque.
The unions also showed their opposition to the labor reform that is announced in the development plan, because it would eliminate the labor contract as it is currently contemplated in Colombian laws, as well as it would affect the minimum wage by the implementation of the hourly hiring.
The group of protesters expressed their support for the social Minga, a movement that seeks the recognition of the rights of indigenous and peasant communities. The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), which for almost a month blocked the southwest of the country in a protest to demand more attention from the Government, mobilized in Popayán, capital of the department of Cauca, for “the defense of life, the territory, democracy, justice and peace.”
Another reason for the protests throughout the country were the demands of the education sector that pointed out the failure of earlier educational agreements reached, and also denounced the restrictive nature of the PND which has an impact on the principles of academic freedom and school autonomy, as well as the fact that it tends to privatize the education in Colombia, warned the National Union of Higher Education (UNEES).
The pensioners said they were present at the national strike because the government’s supposed development plan includes a “simulated reform” to the pension system that holds back in the protection of retired people.
Source: TELESURTV ‘Rechazan políticas de Duque en paro nacional de Colombia’
Contraloría, the national entity of examination, ensures that fracking in the country is characterized by a lack of technical studies, legal security and institutional strength. They point out that implementing fracking at this time could be catastrophic and irreversible due to the high social and environmental impacts that it would generate.
This technology, which was started to be used in the United States in 1999, originates in hydraulic fracturing, which involves the injection, at very high pressure, of huge amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals, which generates microcracks in the rocks to allow oil – or gas – to rise to the surface.
In a vehement way, former Comptroller Edgardo Maya Villazón requested the National Government in August last year, before the end of his term, a moratorium on the application of fracking, considering that the country did not have the institutional strength neither the necessary studies to implement it. Seven months later, this initiative regains strength, after the publication of a study, consisting of 202 pages, in which Controlaría notes that the State is not prepared to establish this technique of extraction of unconventional hydrocarbons.
The report warns, among other things, about the possible effects that fracking might bring to groundwater sources, as well as the probable decrease in surface water resources, for spills or leaks of fluids that could occur, for risks in handling and disposal of production waters and for the collateral effects that this technique would generate, such as increased seismicity and pollution due to inadequate handling in the transport, storage and use of hazardous substances (chemicals, sludges, oils, fluids) used for hydraulic fracturing.
The current president Iván Duque committed in Bucaramanga, on April 11th, 2018, that if he triumphed in the presidential elections he would not allow the implementation of fracking. “We have diverse and complex ecosystems, underground aquifers of enormous wealth and risks of increased seismicity due to the types of soils we have. That’s why I said that in Colombia there will be no fracking”, declared President Duque at the time in front of a group of academics and university students gathered in the auditorium of the Autonomous University of Bucaramanga.
Last November, three months after assuming the Presidency, Duque convened an Interdisciplinary Committee of Experts in order to study the possible consequences that the application of the technique of fracking would generate in the country. The mission of this commission – formed by thirteen academics of diverse disciplines going from biology, law, philosophy, economy, intercultural conflict and -civil, mechanical and of petroleum- engineering – was, first of all, to discuss the feasibility of fracking in the country, after corresponding with the communities of the territories where pilot-projects are projected. And second: to evaluate the impacts of this technology in other countries and to review the existing environmental regulations. The final report, which the experts delivered to the national government this March 15th, did not give free rein to fracking in Colombia, but determined that it is possible to carry out some integral pilot projects that allow deepening knowledge about the technique, as well as its true effects.
The voices against the fracking did not take long to make themselves known. Before the General Secretariat of the Council of State were filed on April 24, the first five interventions of organizations which support the claim of nullity against the regulatory framework of fracking.
These interventions are given after the suspension of the rules governing fracking ordered by the State Council in November 2018, which at the time concluded that “the authorization in Colombia for the application of fracking can cause a serious impact on the environment and human health, “and that” the precautionary principle should be applied, even when there is no absolute scientific certainty, there is certainly a minimal evidence of potential damage.”
While the debate continuous in the political environment, in the territories where these projects could be carried out, violence intensifies against those who oppose this technique. In San Martín, a town of nearby 17 thousand inhabitants in the department of Cesar, some fifty citizens of very different profiles got together in April 2016 to create the ‘Corporation for the Defense of Water, Territory and Ecosystems’ (Cordatec), whose fundamental purpose is to reject the realization of pilots of fracking in San Martín. Since its foundation, the environmental organization has held workshops, forums, seminars, marches and “awareness days” against this technique. All of this has cost them so far accusations, stigmatization, death threats and attacks on their lives.
Despite the voices that oppose this extraction technique, Ecopetrol announces that they have already prepared several projects to develop. The company announces that there are about 20 pilot projects in three areas of the country, with a total investment of 500 million dollars, which, according to its directives, promises to increase gas and oil reserves up to 20 more years.
The national government is already considering the arguments that fracking has generated between environmentalists and the oil industry, and it is estimated that very soon they will make a final decision.
Sources: SEMANA ‘Contraloría advierte que Colombia no está lista para hacer fracking’; NOTICIAS CARACOL ‘Gobierno tendría lista decisión que daría vía libre al fracking en Colombia’; VERDAD ABIERTA ‘El fracturamiento social que ya está generando el fracking’; ALIANZA COLOMBIA LIBRE DE FRACKING ‘Organizaciones solicitan al Consejo de Estado mantener la suspensión del fracking en Colombia’.
In their column in the paper of Vanguardia the “Civic Movement for Citizen Awareness” warns that ‘Santanderean’ society should know about studies that prove the possible existence of uranium in the mining area of Minesa in California, Santurbán. A uranium mine is profitable with quantities between 1,000 and 2,000 grams per ton. Minesa in its study only mentions 49 grams per ton. However, a study by OLADE (Latin American Energy Organization) states that the zone of California presents uranium oxide in proportions up to 500 to 20,000 grams per ton. These radioactive wastes must comply with the resolution of the ‘Minminas’ which literally states that “radioactive waste must be disposed in seismically stable zones and hundreds of meters deep”. None of this is included in MINESA’s study of environmental impact. We believe that this is another valuable reason to deny immediately any claim of any company, to exploit at any level our páramos.
Source: VANGUARDIA ‘Uranio parece que puede estar en gran proporción en california’.
The population of the fish decreased, there are samples of crude oil, an unsettled soil is determined by high amount of mud and the water contains traces of chemical derivatives such as mercury and cyanide. The swamps of the Magdalena River are passing through hard times. Fishermen who depend on the life below the surface worry about the vulnerable situation of their waters. Work profits have reduced alarmingly. According to fishermen from the San Silvestre swamp, in Barrancabermeja, not only the sewage water can be blamed as a cause, but also the contamination by companies that have their factories and treatment plants in the environment. “They emit part of their waste in streams and canals that have access to the swamp,” says Luis Alberto González, curator of the San Silvestre marsh.
Source: NOTICIAS CARACOL ‘Vertimientos de Aguas de Barrancabermeja tienen en peligro a la ciénaga de San Silvestre’.
Communities and environmental organizations of Eastern Antioquia managed to stop the ‘Porvenir II’ hydroelectric project, which aimed to build a wall of 140 meters, altering the flow of the Samaná Norte River. The project – led by Celsia, a subsidiary of the Argos Group – would flood more than 1,000 hectares, endangering endemic flora species and further affecting the victims of the armed conflict, causing displacement and uprooting.
“Since 2010 we’ve endured an intense struggle for the preservation of the Samaná North River as a natural source and ecosystem which should not be intervened by any artificial construction. We believe that Celsia desists to build ‘Provenir II’ because of the fierce opposition of environmental communities and organizations in the region. We have repeatedly pronounced and mobilized to demand the conservation of Samaná Norte,” said Carlos Olaya, member of the Movement. Social for Life and the Defense of the Territory, MOVETE.
Source: COLOMBIA INFORMA ‘Comunidades y organizaciones detienen construcción de hidroeléctrica en el Oriente Antioqueño’.
Collection, summary and edition by Mattijs Vanden Bussche, Sam Packet and Karlijn Van den Broeck
Download Mines & Territory, March 2019 here.
News comes and goes. With social media as the main outlet for civil society organizations in Colombia to get their stories heard, a story can be famous for a day after which it disappears in the mass information. Mines & Territory aims to register and share these stories for longer than just a viral thread. Mines & Territory collects the most remarkable events that have occurred in the past month regarding extractivist matters in Colombia and summarizes them in English so that the information is accessible to anyone interested and raises awareness internationally to the current eco-socio realities in Colombia.
Civil society organizations sent a letter to Léo Heller, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of drinking water and sanitation in Colombia. They warn the Rapporteur that these fundamental rights are threatened by the plans of executing harmful mining projects in or near the Santurban páramo. Several mining companies have tried for more than 15 years to extract gold from the páramo, a fragile and strategic ecosystem that provides water to millions of people in Colombia. They request the Rapporteur to prepare a specific report on the case, to visit the site, and to raise his voice to urge the Colombian State to protect the ecosystem and to comply with its international obligations in relation to the right to water.
Source: AIDA AMERICAS ‘Organizaciones piden a la ONU intervenir en la protección del páramo de Santurbán, en riesgo por minería’ .
The environmental licensing authority (ANLA) denied the appeal for reinstatement filed by the companies Conocophillips and Canacol Energy after the environmental license for the fracking pilot projects in the Central Magdalena valley had been rejected in November last year. ANLA argued that the provided information is insufficient to carry out an adequate evaluation which ensures the protection of the environment. The Alliance of Colombia Free of Fracking celebrates this decision as it incorporates precautionary principles and recognizes the requests of grass roots organizations in San Martín, Cesar, which have warned for the possible environmental damage that these projects might bring.
Source: ENLACETELIVISION: ‘ANLA niega pilotos de fracking en el Magdalena Medio’.
The South African mining company AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) announced in February that they would sell their share (95%) of the Cerro Vanguardia gold and silver mine in Argentina. They will do the same with one of their branches in Colombia: the Northern Colombia Holdings Limited. AGA says they will receive approximately 4.6 million USD and several additional payments for the sale of the parcels (= gold mining concessions -36,000 hectares- and rights to obtain mining concessions -215,000 hectares) to Royal Road Minerals Limited.
In Argentina, AngloGold already abandoned the Cerro Vanguardia mine in the Santa Cruz province. They left a sore heritage, testifies the Environmental Citizen Assembly (AAC) of Río Gallegos: “The legislation allowed mining companies to leave the ‘open pits’ and their respective dumps uncovered, in state of exploitation, leaving a poor soil with an unknown volume of contaminated aquifer. Social and environmental costs end up way higher than the benefits this mine brought to the region. Neither the social aspect, nor the employees, have ever been a priority. All of a sudden, they have left the aprox. 1,000 workers without an income. In Santa Cruz, AGA never allowed a sustainable development that benefits the population. There have only
been scarce investments compared with the high profitability that the exploited resources provided them.”
Dushnisky, CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, says they have other opportunities which they prefer to invest in. AGA thus shifted its focus to two key projects in Colombia: the Quebradona copper mine in Jericó and the Gramalote gold mine in San Roque, both villages in the department of Antioquia. Felipe Márquez, country CEO of AGA, explains: “The investments of the mining company for 2019 in Gramalote would be about 10 million US$. In Quebradona close to 55 million US$. In Gramalote we have completed the exploration stage and all the technical activities required to advance to the construction and assembly phases. In Quebradona we are finalizing the technical studies of the exploration stage, so our idea is to present the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) with the idea of moving to the construction and assembly phase in 2020. The Plan of Production and performance would allow us to start extracting copper between 2022 and 2024.” (This announcement comes weeks after the mining company was authorized by the Court of Antioquia to carry out activities in the municipality of Jericó Antioquia). The court cancelled the preventive measures that had been introduced by José Andrés Pérez, mayor of Jericó, which restrained the company from continuing any mining activity in the municipality in order to protect the ecological and cultural heritage. (cf. 7. Jericó is awaiting a definite green light to be able to stop mining in their municipality)
Sources: ‘PORTFOLIO ‘AngloGold continúa estudio de factibilidad para proyecto en el país’; EL ESPECTADOR ‘Minera Anglogold Ashanti venderá parte de sus proyectos’; LAREPUBLICA ‘AngloGold empezará a extraer cobre en 2022’; OPI SANTA CRUZ ‘ AngloGold Ashanti abandonó el yacimiento Cerro Vanguardia’; VALORA ‘Minera Anglogold Ashanti vende parte de su cartera en Colombia.
The University of Antioquia reinstated a course funded by the mining multinational AngloGold Ashanti in Jericó despite the fact that the educational institution had committed to suspend the program. The community of Jericó expressed their opposition to the course because, according to them, it would be part of an advertising campaign in favor of the development of ‘La Quebradona’, a metal mining project in the municipality. The course aims to train social leaders in issues of development, self-management and sustainability. The environmental comité of Jericó hopes the University will suspend the course once more. “We hope that the rectory understands that we don’t want this course here in Jericó, that we reject the
activities of the mining company and that we demand that the public university fulfills a social role, taking the side of the communities and helping them to protect the environment, ” explains José Fernando Jaramillo, member of the comité. As a response to the criticism, the University argues that the agreement guarantees that they will preserve their autonomy in the elaboration of the content. However, Jaramillo indicates that with this initiative, AngloGold Ashanti is really looking to (green)wash its image in front of the communities.
Source: CONTAGIORADIO: ‘Anglogold Ashanti pretende lavar imagen de diplomado U de Antioquia’.
Since the end of February, the Sierra Nevada, a mountainous region at the Caribbean coastline, has suffered from 10 destructive forest fires. The flames destroyed about 1,000 hectares of the ecosystem. Besides the natural damage, houses, farms, sacred sites, health centers and schools of the indigenous settlements have been destroyed. Due to the long summer, the heat waves and strong winds, the Indigenous communities fear for the safety of other areas of their cultural and natural patrimony. The current situation threatens the balance and harmony of the land as a source of life, as well as cultural heritages of its inhabitants. Therefore the authorities of the pueblo de la Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta declared an environmental and economic emergency in the area and urged the national and regional authorities to intervene immediately and to take the necessary measures of prevention and control.
Sources: JUSTICIA AMBIENTAL COLOMBIA: ‘Los cuatro pueblos indígenas de la Sierra Nevada se pronuncian frente a la crisis ambiental en el corazón del mundo.’
Seven kilometers southeast from the village center of Jericó, you’ll find the Quebradona mining project, owned by South African multinational AngloGold Ashanti. Jericó, a small municipality in Antioquia with around 12 thousand inhabitants, finds its prosperity mostly in agriculture. It therefore comes as no surprise that the local farmer communities did not welcome the mining company with open arms. For the past two years farmer organizations mobilized and campaigned massively against metal mining in their municipality. They argue that this would not only affect their natural resources but also the social frames in the town. They fear that problems such as poverty, crime, social degradation and environmental damage might come along with it.
Fortunately, the people of Jericó have a town council who has their back. Mayor Jorge Pérez Hernández argued that the mine would have devastating effects as 100% of the water sources of Jericó come from the area where the mine would be. In 2017, a first attempt to prohibit mining through a municipal agreement was rejected by the administrative tribunal of Antioquia, arguing that the City Council was not the competent authority to prohibit mining in the municipality. The agreement was based upon section 9 of article 313 of the Constitution, which states the right of municipality councils to take measures for “laying down the necessary norms in order to secure the control, preservation and defense of the ecological and cultural patrimony of the municipality”.
One of the arguments in favour of the mining operations is that the “subsoil belongs to the nation”, and therefore the national government is the only authority who is able to decide on mining matters. However, a study of articles 332 and 334 of the Constitution and Law 685 of 2001 (Code of Mines) states that “the Constitution did not attribute the ownership of the subsoil to the Nation but to the State”, which means that the ownership of the subsoil belongs to all state’s authorities: local, regional and national.
A second municipal agreement, enforced by the mayor at the end of 2018, has not yet been invalidated – nor approved – by the Administrative Tribunal of Antioquia. Meanwhile the work of the company is (supposed to be) suspended. Fernando Jaramillo, leader of the environmental table of Jericó, says it is quite difficult for the Tribunal to make a decision since the State Council approved a similar municipal agreement in the municipality of Urrao, also in southwest of Antioquia, where mining activities are prohibited as to the protect ecological heritage.
The contradictory decision-making between the State Council and the Consitutional Court does not simplify the struggle for municipalities. While the first one protects the competence of territorial entities to prohibit mining in their territories and the validity of popular consultations as a mechanism for citizen participation, the Constitutional Court reinforced the idea that the capacity of municipal consultations is limited, especially when talking about subsoil and exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, whose ownership is national. Jaramillo adds that, in the end, the worst damage that the company has generated so far is a division of the population which turned out in a conflict between those who support the company and those who oppose their activities.
Source: SEMANARURAL: ‘Jericó espera una luz verde definitiva que detenga la minería’.
In Pijao, Quindío, a farmer community sound the alarm bell after researchers entered unannounced their territory to take measurements of a small stream. They said they were taking measures for the construction of a small hydroelectric dam and explained that the area is supposedly “property of the municipality of Pijao”. The mayor clarified that the dam already existed since 1930, and it managed to generate energy for the municipality, explaining that a mud stream had erased the former dam.
Deputy Jorge Hernán Gutiérrez from the Liberal party proposed a debate where the local, departmental and environmental authorities are to report and to be alert of what the national government intends to do in the territory. “And while it is true
that there are rulings of national order that could force the installation of the dam, there are also constitutional rules that protect our rights and compensations for the environmental damage that our territory might suffer.” In the East of Antioquia, various protest marches against the construction of dams took place on March 14th, International action day against hydroelectric dams. “In several municipalities of the department, like Cocorná, with three medium-sized hydroelectric plants, peasant activities and water springs suffer a lot because of the artificial regulation of the natural river streams”, according to Carlos Olaya, environmental defender.
Sources: CRONINCA DEL QUINDIO: ‘Hidroeléctrica en Pijao no es nueva, existía desde 1930’; MI ORIENTE: ‘Municipios del Oriente dijeron “no más hidroeléctricas”.’
Gachantiva (a small town in the Boyacá province) succeeds in the prohibition of mining through a municipal agreement. The government tried to avoid for 5 years that the inhabitants would organize a Consulta Popular. The mine would pose at risk the environmental resources and the water provision of the region.
Source: RCN RADIO: ‘Concejo de Gachantiva Boyaca aporobó proyecto que prohibe la minería.’
At the beginning of March, the 12th march ‘por la vida y el agua’ took place in the region of Cauca. The 350 protesters aimed to reject mining in the region and the damage it causes to the environment, the fauna and the water provision. They furthermore complained about the lack of state provisions to face the rural challenges in the region. They told the multinationals Carboandes and Miranda Gold that they have a month to leave the Macizo Mountain range.
Source: NOTIVISION: ‘Se realizó la XII Marcha por la Vida y Por el Agua en Cauca’.
A ruling of the 39th Administrative Court of Bogotá ordered the Government to replace this mineral with less harmful substances, within a period of five years. According to the information provided by the legislator’s office, between 2010 and
2014 the National Institute of Cancerology recorded 1,744 deaths from lung cancer caused by asbestos, and in the last five years the battle against the disease caused the loss of another 285 Colombians affected by mesothelioma. The use of asbestos has been banned in more than 50 countries around the world, including the European Union. The material that is used to make tiles, pipes, ash pads for cars and even uniforms entails enormous health risks, according to the World Health Organization. The judgement is supported by most of the political authorities concerned with the problem. Although in some parts of the country the reactions are less enthusiastic. In Campamento, a small municipality in the north of Antioquia, people still rely on the active asbestos mine which provides the majority of the jobs. Most of its citizens are convinced that the material did not cause any health problems in the town during the past decades. The governor of Antioquia announced that a social plan would be set up in order to prevent the negative effects of the loss of this mine which functions as a source of income for the town.
Sources: EL TIEMPO ‘Campamento, el pueblo que se niega a renunciar al asbesto’; EL NUEVO SIGLO ‘Greenpeace insiste en que Congreso prohíba el asbesto’.
A group of 27 congress members, most of them belonging to the Green Alliance, sent a letter to President Iván Duque asking to ban the use of fracking for oil exploration. They confronted him with the promises he made during his presidential campaign. “One of your commitments was that there would be no more fracking in Colombia, a decision that you expressed in academic and community centers and in the press, and which you justified by ensuring that the risks of developing these activities were very high in social, geological and environmental matters”, states the letter.
The congressmen condemn the intentions in the recently published National Development Plan which aims for an expansion of the oil and mining industry and the dependence on the fossil fuel industry. They encourage the President to prohibit fracking since it “is a responsible decision”, and they ask him to “honor his word and be in harmony with the concerns of Colombians, especially those who would be directly affected by the possible consequences of this type of projects.”
Ecopetrol, one of the countries largest oil companies, revealed in February their new market strategies for the period 2019 – 2021, where fracking is an option to strengthen their reserves.
Source: RCN RADIO ‘Nuevo llamado de congresistas a Duque para prohibir el fracking’.
Indigenous people in southwestern Colombia have mobilized protests across highways to demand a meeting with President Iván Duque over his government’s failure to implement agreements and respect indigenous land rights.
Indigenous groups in southwestern Colombia have since March 10th mobilized mass protests, known as minga, to demand a meeting with President Iván Duque over his government’s failure to implement agreements made during the previous administration’s historic 2016 peace agreement and recognize community land rights. Protest leaders estimate there were 20,000 people involved in the massive mobilization as of March 27th, including Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, students, and associations of peasant farmers, or campesinos. The Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC) has denounced the crackdown against the minga by the police’s anti-riot squad, known as ESMAD. “This is an attack against the entire dialogue process that has existed up until today within the minga. It is an attack against the security and the life of every person at the camp and surrounding area,” CRIC said. Nelson Lemus, a CRIC council member, told Mongabay that the
protesters wanted Duque to meet with the indigenous organization in Colombia’s department of Cauca —something he has failed to do since taking office in 2018, CRIC said in a press release. “We demand that the government respects the rights of
indigenous and Afro-descendent minorities to conserve our territory, protect our water and strengthen our indigenous economies,” Lemus said. “Our first political objective is that the president comes to indigenous territory to hold a face-to-face meeting with us.”
The protesters have blocked the PanAmerican Highway connecting Colombia to Ecuador, and Duque has refused to travel to Cauca to meet with indigenous organizations unless the roadblock is lifted.“We should be able to come to an understanding through a legal framework,” Duque said in a public address to the country on March 28th. CRIC criticized the president’s declaration, saying his portrayal of the minga as illegal undermines their right to protest and raises fears of violence at the hands of government and right-wing paramilitary groups.
Colombia’s ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negrete, called on the president to sit with the indigenous protesters to end the roadblocks, which are seen as having a negative impact on the nation’s economy. The transportation of basic food supplies
and gasoline has been impacteding southern parts of the country, and the Colombian Red Cross has activated a humanitarian caravan to provide medical supplies and assistance to affected communities in the Cauca.
The demands of the ethnic minorities participating are: the inclusion of ethnic communities in the government’s recently announced National Development Plan; the protection of community leaders from targeted killings; and the guarantee of prior consultation (consulta previa) for extractive or agro-industrial projects that affect indigenous territory. They also demand their full appropriation of 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) of land that was promised to indigenous people in the Cauca by the former president, Juan Manuel Santos; since only 14 square kilometers (5.4 square miles) have been delivered to date. CRIC says the land would have to be divided between 126 reservations in the department.
CRIC also declared its opposition to oil exploration in the form or fracking, that has begun at three pilot locations in the Magdalena River valley. Five companies, including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and state-owned Ecopetrol, are seeking to operate six proposed fracking blocs. “We don’t agree with fracking practices,” Lemus said. “This government has approved fracking, the destruction of the Amazon and other environmental crimes that only serve to increase the wealth of a corrupt minority and multinational corporations. Our territories are systematically violated by this government beholden to a capitalistic death project.”
On March 22th, an explosion in remote indigenous territory in Valle del Cauca department killed nine indigenous protesters. Before launching an investigation, the government claimed the deaths were caused by an accident. Minister of Defense Guillermo Botero told El Tiempo the explosive devices were brought into the territory by an indigenous protester, presumably to generate an attack. “That is the most probable hypothesis considering that they are near the Buga Buenaventura highway.” The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC for its Spanish acronym) rejected the notion that indigenous people were responsible for the explosion, calling the incident a paramilitary-led massacre. “The indigenous people are people of peace, not terrorists,” ONIC said in a public statement.
Sources: MONGABAY: ‘Indigenous leaders decry Colombia’s deadly crackdown on land protesters’.
On the 22th of March, World Water Day was celebrated. In various parts of Colombia, people took the streets to demand attention for the irresponsible use of water resources. In Bucaramanga citizens spoke up for the protection of the Santurban páramo, a fragile and strategic ecosystem that provides water to millions of people in and around the city and is currently threatened by mining. A similar protest occurred in the nearby city of Barrancabermeja, where people also criticized the poor water management and the way authorities are willing to privatize water resources.
In Medellín, the environmental association ‘Rios Vivos’ organised an encuentro por la liberacíon del Río Cauca. With music, sing-alongs for the water, speeches and debates, they aimed to claim justice for the environmental disaster that was caused to the second biggest river of Colombia by the Hidroituango dam, which cut the river’s current for almost three days in February.
(cf. M&T February).
Meanwhile mining companies such as Minesa seek to take advantage of this symbolic day by publishing publicity videos which aim to show a company concerned with water conservation and supply. In a press interview, the president of the company, Santiago Ángel, condemns the “stigmatization” of mining always being bad for a clean water supply. He argues that his company is aware of the importance of water in the mining territories and that they so far completed over 60 thousand hours of technical studies to ensure the protection of water resources. In their publicity companies, sentences created by grassroots
organisations such as ‘el Agua es Vida’, Water is Life, are used.
On the World Water Day Yes to Life No to Mining and partners launched their online ‘water is life – toolkit’. The site YLNM designed is a summary of the circuit in which water circulates within the ecosystem, the importance of water for human and other life on the planet and the threats to water resources by mining and oil activities. Furthermore, the platform offers a toolkit with basic principles that communities can implement to protect their territory from destructive mining.
Sources: TWITTER: ‘Tweet Minesa Colombia 21 March 2019’; TWITTER: ‘Tweet Movimiento Rios Vivos 19th of March 2019”; YLNM: ‘How mining disrupts the water cycle’; VANGUARDIA: ‘Realizan plantón para exigir protección del agua en Santander’; CARACOL: ‘Trabajadores de Minesa consumirán agua que usen’.
Mexican president Lopez Obrador cancels a big mining project in the ‘Bajo California Sur’- department and announces that it’s time to protect the nature and the paradise Mexico possesses, instead of destroying it. His main motives are tourism and the protection of water.
Source: LAJORNADA: Cancela AMLO mina de oro Los Cardones en BCS.
The third circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in Washington reinterpreted the case of Máxima Acuña and her family against Newmont Mining Company. The Peruvian family sued Newmont in the United States for the abuses perpetrated by the security forces hired by Newmont Mining. At first instance the case was rejected, arguing that it should be judged in Peru, but now the Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Marissa Vahlsing, lawyer of EarthRights International, who represents Máxima and her family, says that Newmont knows better than anyone that the family will not get a fair trial in Peru, and that local courts have not guaranteed the rights of the family. Newmont insists on sending the case to Peru.
Máxima Acuña has been struggling for years to defend her rights, her territory and those of her community. Newmont however is determined to ignore such rights and seize the land to build an immense open pit gold mine. This mining project, called Congo, would be one of the biggest in Latin America. Security forces hired by Newmont have systematically harassed and brutalized Máxima and her entire family, destroyed their house and killed their animals, all in order to remove them from their lands and expand their mining operations. After the Peruvian authorities failed to protect the family from these abuses, the family filed a lawsuit against the mining company in the US Federal Court in 2017. Today, it seems like their voice is finally
being heard. The family urges Newmont to stop the abuse and demands reparations for the damage they have caused.
Source: PORLATIERRA: ‘Máxima Acuña y su familia ganan apelación en Estados Unidos contra gigante minera.’
The citizens of Girón, in Azuay, said no to the mining project ‘Loma Larga’ in Ecuador’s first recognized Consulta Popular. Social organizations and environmentalists requested the consultation protect the water and settlements of indigenous people. The Consulta Popular had to determine whether the mining works in the Quimsacocha Páramo could or could not continue. The Canadian company INV Metals intends to extract gold, silver and copper in the páramo which contains lagoons and water springs that supply water to the country’s third city, Cuenca. The outcome of the binding referendum will threaten the activities of INV Metals, which owns the largest concession in that area, expected to extract 2.6 million ounces of gold, 13.3 million ounces of silver and 88 million pounds of copper in 12 years. Last week, Candace MacGibbon, CEO of the mining company, said in a statement that they will continue to advance towards the development of the project. She says the area of Girón was the designated location of the processing and tailing facilities, but the company will relocate to other areas if necessary. The Loma Larga project thus remains a threat to the region, outside of Girón.
This first successful Consulta Popular set a precedent in the fight against mining in Ecuador. Candidate to the Prefecture of Azuay and anti-mining activist, Yaku Pérez, pointed out that the environmental associations are planning new referendums in nearby municipalities, such as San Fernando, Íntag, Portete and Tarqui, to ban mining companies for once and for all in the region.
“Quimsacocha is the first step to reach an Azuay free of metallic mining,” Perez added. The Ministry of Energy and Non Renewable Natural Resources, Carlos Pérez, was against the consulta. He fears that the result might restrain companies from investing in the country and that the Canadian company, which has already spent more than 100 million dollars on the project, might turn to the international courts to prosecute Ecuador for not guaranteeing its investments.
Sources: ELTIEMPO: ‘Girón da su voto en la única consulta popular del país’; ELCOMERCIO: ‘El no se impuso con el 86, 79% en la consulta popular minera del cantón Girón, en Azuay’; ELDIARIO: ‘Primer referéndum vinculante en Ecuador para decidir entre medio ambiente y minería.’
Mining dam tragedies in Brazil.
At the end of March, a mining dam that contained clay and sand collapsed in the Brazilian state of Rondonia, border state with Bolivia, and a powerful spill of water and sand formed a waterspout that broke down several bridges and isolated about 300 people, informed official sources.
The dams located in the municipality of Machadinho D’Oeste were deactivated some 30 years ago and only contained water and clay, according to the company MetalMig, responsible for the facilities. According to the first reports, the breakdown occurred due to heavy rains and caused no casualties, but it revived Brazils fear for large dams of mining companies since a similar disaster killed at least 483 people in the city of Brumadinho in the state of Minas Gerais in January of this year, where a toxic mud stream devastated the area.
Regarding the Brumadinho disaster, on February 20th, the Brazilian Court ordered Vale S.A, the mining company that constructed the Brumadinho dam, to pay a minimum salary to each affected person in the tragedy of Brumadinho for 12 months and 400 reales (108 dollars) to all 50,000 inhabitants of the place. Before the judicial decision, there had been five
previous meetings between the Movement of those Afected by Dams and (MAB) and VALE to coordinate the emergency measures that the company was going to undertake to compensate the victims of Brumadinho, but they had refused to provide economic subsidies for the damages caused and only offered “donations”.
Source: OCMAL: ‘Histórica decisión judicial a favor de los afectados por la tragedia’.
Collection, summary and edition by Sam Packet and Karlijn Van den Broeck
Download Mines & Territory, February 2019 here.
News comes and goes. With social media as the main outlet for civil society organizations in Colombia to get their stories heard, a story can be famous for a day after which it disappears in the mass information. Mines & Territory aims to register and share these stories for longer than just a viral thread. Mines & Territory collects the most remarkable events that have occurred in the past month regarding extractivist matters in Colombia and summarizes them in English so that the information is accessible to anyone interested and raises awareness internationally to the current eco-socio realities in Colombia.
Colombia is suffering one of the worst ecological disasters in decades after the level of the country’s second most important river, the Cauca, was reduced to less than 10 percent of normal flow. The country’s largest hydroelectric dam project Hidroituango took emergency measures and closed two of the dam’s floodgates following concerns that the danger of a collapse and thus a deadly flood posed a risk to vulnerable communities along the Cauca river in Antioquia.
During three days, from the 5th to the 8th of February, the taken measures reduced water flow from a normal dry-season, 450 to 500 cubic meters per second (m3/s), to only 35 m3/s, according to climate monitoring authority IDEAM. The closing of the floodgates generated almost 60 thousand dead fish, plus shortage of water in the downstream communities, social and economic losses for the inhabitants that live on the riverside and an environmental impact that is yet to be known. According to Neyla Castillo, professor at the Institute of Regional Studies of the University of Antioquia, in some of these towns, such as Sabanalarga, 90 percent of the population depend on revenues of the river.
“Cutting the flow of water in a river is similar to restricting oxygen to a human. There are irreparable consequences” explains Modesto Portilla, geo-science professor at the National University. He also explains that although the water will return to flow again through the river bed, it will take about half a year till the river reaches its regular flow again.
The hydroelectric dam Hidroituango was more than a prestige project by EPM, the electricity company owned by the governing authority of Antioquia. The project, which was planned to be completed in 2018, promised to provide 16% of Colombia’s electricity needs and is valued at around US $4 billion.
However, in April last year landslides in the region blocked a tunnel of the dam. The hydroelectric plant reservoir floods a surface of 11,120 acres. The area was supposed to be cleared of trees and vegetation but experts say the company failed to perform this task which led to the dam’s partial collapse. As two of the exits in the engine room were blocked at that time, the reservoir began to fill. EPM was running a race against time to raise the level of the embankment to prevent a catastrophic flood. The company succeeded in increasing the dam’s height but the foregoing alert, however, displaced thousands of people in the lowlying regions in the river’s path. According to Rios Vivos, an environmental activist group, at least 5 social leaders have already been killed since local criminal groups have gained in influence in the region since the construction of the dam in 2010.
EPM proclaims to take the necessary measures to reduce the ecological impact as much as possible. The company also points out that despite the current situation of the project, the Hidroituango project is expected to generate energy from the year 2021 onwards. Rios Vivos however opts for dismantling the dam to give the river back it’s natural stream. Other experts argue that it would be better to invest in smaller dams along small rivers to reduce the social and ecological impact.
The crisis and subsequent response has once again put EPM in the spotlight and has led to public outcry across social media. Posting under hashtags like #HidroituangoCrimenAmbiental and #YoSoyRioCauca, many Colombians continue to question whether the project will be worth the human and environmental toll it has already caused and will cause in the region.
ANLA, Colombia’s Environmental Licensing Authority, has already opened sanctions against EPM for failing to protect the ecological basin located below the dam.
The Cauca River starts in the country’s most important watershed known as the Colombian Massif. The river has a length of 1,350 kilometers and separates two of the country’s three major mountain ranges, eventually passing through a massive wetlands area before it joins with the country’s largest river La Magdalena.
Sources: PORTAFOLIO ‘¿Qué impactos socioeconómicos deja la crisis en Hidroituango’; MOVIMIENTO RÍOS VIVOS ‘No en nuestro nombre’; RADIO NACIONAL DE COLOMBIA ‘El río Cauca: un patrón agonizante’; EL ESPECTADOR ‘Los enredos jurídicos tras la sequía del Cauca’; THE BOGOTA POST ‘Cauca river recedes as Hidroituango dam closures threaten environmental catastrophe’; MONGABAY ‘Colombia’s disaster-ridden hydropower project runs second largest river dry’
The first of YLNM’s free ‘Life After Mining’ webinar series focused on the emergence of people-led resistance and alternatives to mining in Latin America.
“What steps has the continent taken? What are some of the strategies being applied at a local level to declare mining-free territories? What are some of the alternatives being built bottomup that tackle the extractive model?” were only some of the few questions that were addressed during the first webinar with the contribution of Latin American experts and community leaders from Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia.
More info about upcoming webinars can be found here.
Felipe Márquez, president of AngloGold Ashanti Colombia, affirms that they will remain in Colombia even though their mining operation has been suspended by two municipalities, Cajamarca and Jericó.
Marquez informs that the company reserves an investment budget of between US $ 70 and US $ 75 million to continue exploration activities in the projects of Gramalote (gold) and Quebradona (copper) above all. “It is a year in which we hope to advance in both projects. In Gramalote the task is to continue with the resettlement phase and the consistency plan with the artisanal miners. And in Quebradona, we hope to settle first basement and to obtain the environmental license.”
Regarding the mining prohibitions through the agreements by the municipal councils and the prior consultations set up by the communities, the businessman claims that anti-mining groups cannot put people against the wall and pressure them to choose between extractive activity and other activities. He condemns activist groups to have ties with politics (funny indignation though, as if Anglogold Ashanti has no ties with politics) and argues that they only seek to impose the false paradigm that if there is a mining operation, no other economic activity can be developed. He argues that “studies they have done have proved that the majority of the population in those cases wants a coexistence between mining and agricultural activities. “
He furthermore affirms that the national interest in mining and the support of the Constitutional Court luckily opens their
way to further mining possibilities by judging “correctly” that municipalities are not allowed to prohibit mining activities. “Although, mining projects must be developed with dialogue and consensus, it is still a collective acceptance”, according to Márquez. He supports a debate with all stakeholders to put the points around impact and mitigation on the table for discussion.
As far as the La Colosa project in Cajamarca is concerned, he says that there are no further plans on the table. “We do not yet
have the required permits within reach. Moreover, the people of Cajamarca are not yet ready for our return. The consulta popular has left wounds, which we also have to learn from. Although the decision of the Constitutional Court might possibly give us the green light to return, it is not yet time to do so.”
Source: PORTAFOLIO ‘‘Destinamos US$75 millones para la operación en 2019’
Mining and Agriculture
President Duques National Development Plan 2018-2022 (PND for its Spanish acronym) confirms openly its neoliberal vision on economic growth. After reading chapters as “Farmland as progress: an alliance to boost the development and productivity of rural Colombia” and “Pact for mining-energy resources for sustainable growth and the expansion of opportunities” we can assure that Colombia is facing another deepening of the extractive and agroindustry.
With an economy based on the exploitation of resources, Colombia was shaped as a pilgrimage country for big capital, which deepened an economic and political dependence on the countries that dominate markets and power relations worldwide. Nonetheless, it’s exactly the importance of this same sector that is justified once again in the bases of the PND as one that attracts more foreign investment and promotes territorial development. Under the sophism of “a regulated and responsible use of the soil”, the PND opens the doors to expand the mining frontier even more. Therefore, primary goods such as coal, gold, petroleum, palm oil, sugar cane and banana, particularly, are the most promoted.
Additionally, the extractive model is deepened and ‘perfected’, with the facility that mining-energy companies can cancel a mayor part (up to 50% according to some experts) of their taxations through the execution of social projects in the regions. This can be seen as a facilitation for extractive and polluting companies to improve their relations with the opposing communities. In short: the construction of roads, potable water projects, construction of schools or health posts, which is supposed to be the responsibility of the State, will be more frequently executed under the direction of multinationals with their corporate logo.
The agrarian and rural development aspects in the PND are mainly resumed in the pact for entrepreneurship. The main core of the country’s vision on agriculture can be defined as a pact of inequality for the peasantry and power for the big industries and landowners in the country.
Another consequence of the NDP seems to be the militarization of environmental management. This measure does not seem to focus on ecological protection but rather on replacing illegal mining activities with others that are legal in the sense of being granted by the State. The measures in national security and defense of natural resources will be in hands of a force called “Integral Environmental Protection” formed by military and police forces, coordinating with the environmental authorities. In this way, police and soldiers are supposed to be the new protectors of “biodiversity”.
Summarized, the new PND fails to straighten the economy, does not attack structural problems or accelerate the transition to clean energies. This only predicts more years of mining, industrial soil-exhausting agriculture and huge profits for large companies.
Source: BLOGS EL ESPECTADOR ‘Gudynas Eduardo’ ~ Se militariza la gestion ambiental y territorial?’; LA SILLALLENA ‘El Plan Nacional de Desarrollo no es un “pacto por Colombia” sino por el extractivismo’; RADIO MACONDO ‘El campo en el Plan Nacional de Desarrollo: Se institucionaliza el atraso’
On January 26th, the Town Hall of Jericó suspended the mining activities of the Quebradona Mining Company. The daughter company of Anglogold Ashanti previously ignored the 010 Agreement from the Municipality Council, which prohibited all metal mining activities since December 2018.
The Mayor passed the suspension order to the environmental authority that is in charge of sanctions and regulations of concerning issues: the Autonomous Regional Corporation- Corantioquia. The Corporation received the order, studied the situation and decided that the mining company was using the water through legitimate concession. Therefore, it did not find any merit on taking any sanctioning decisions against the company so they ended up ignoring the decision of the Mayor.
The position of Corantioquia has been questioned as they ignored the Municipality’s decision oriented towards the protection of ecological and cultural patrimony of Jericó. Additionally, the 010 Agreement has not been invalidated by the only competent authority that could do so: the Administrative Court of Antioquia. However, AngloGold Ashanti, shielded by the Corporation and its questionable decision-making, has continued with the illegal mining activities.
Sources: YES TO LIFE NO TO MINING ‘Anglogold Ashanti’s illegal mining continues in Jericó, Colombia’; EL TIEMPO ‘Corantioquia levantó medida preventiva que suspende minería en Jericó’
The communities of Acacias, Meta, denounced an environmental emergency after the rupture of a pouring pipe from the oil company Ecopetrol in the village of La Unión, where the leak contaminated at least 900 m² of wetlands.
Local farmers blamed Ecopetrol’s delay in its reaction to the environmental emergency given that the oil company waited more than nine hours to start repairing the pipeline after the owner of the property informed the company. The facts were reported to the Corporation for environmental issues in the area (Cormacarena), however, the farmer corporations did not receive a response from the environmental authority.
It’s not the first time a leak provokes environmental damage in the area. According to the fishermen, there is proof of a raised fish mortality due to contamination with crude oil.
Source: CONTAGIRADIO ‘Ruptura de tubo de ecopetrol generó emergencia ambiental en Acacias, Meta’
The fire remained four days, from Tuesday 7th of February till Sunday 10th. Firefighters, peasants and indigenous tribes made efforts to extinguish the forest fire that occurred in the village of Tabor, municipality of Güicán, Boyacá.
The access to the burning area was only possible in vehicle until a certain part. The firefighters had to walk the rest of the passage, a mountain range which delayed them 10 to 12 hours. According to preliminary reports, the estimated loose of about 2,129 hectares of páramo vegetation due to the fire would be classified as the worst and largest natural disaster in the Cocuy Natural Park. The area that was affected is part of the U’wa indigenous tribe settlement and authorities presume that the fire was started by an individual as a result of a “controlled burning” in order to prepare the crop season.
Source: EL TIEMPO ‘Incendio afectó 2.000 hectáreas el Nevado del Cocuy’
On Wednesday, February 13th, environmentalists and NGO’s lost the battle they undertook to return the power of community referendums (consultas populares) related to mining and hydrocarbon projects.
Unanimously, the magistrates of the High Court knocked down article 33 of the norm that establishes the rules of operation of municipalities (Law 36 of 1994). That article established that when the development of projects of a tourist, mining or other entity threatens the use of the land by significant changes leading to a transformation in the traditional activities of a municipality, a consulta popular should be carried out according to the law. By declaring this measures unenforceable, the High Court upholds the position it expressed in October 2018, when the results of a referendum held in Cumaral (Meta) were
not recognized by its judges.
The High Court ratified its position in the sense that although the Constitution recognizes the competences of the territorial entities to establish land use, this proper function must be exercised in a coordinated manner with the competences of the Nation. Therefore, the High Court decided to drop down the cornering article for “defects of procedure”.
It is anyhow worth remembering that in the veredict of October 2018, the Court ordered the Congress to define one or several mechanisms of citizen participation and instruments of nation territory coordination and concurrence as soon as possible…
…nothing perceived yet.
Sources: SEMANA ‘Corte se mantiene: consultas populares no pueden vetar la minería’; EL ESPECTADOR ‘Proyectos mineros podrán hacerse sin consultas populares previas’; CANAL 1 ‘Imponen restricciones a consultas populares en municipios y departamentos’
Collection, summary and edition by Sam Packet and Karlijn Van den Broeck
Download Mines & Territory, January 2019 here.