Mines & Territory, May 2019

Laura Garcia | Colombia, Colombia, Mining, Mines&Territory, Mines&Territory, Mining

MONTHLY ONLINE REVIEW ON EXTRACTIVIST ISSUES IN COLOMBIA

ISSUE 05
May 2019

Collection, summary and edition by Sam Packet, Karlijn Van den Broeck and Laura García

Download Mines & Territory, May 2019 here.

MINES & TERRITORY

May 2019

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.

Terrorist attack against Francia Márquez and other leaders of black communities in Northern Cauca

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’.

 

Members of Cosajuca and the Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida threatened again by Águilas Negras

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’.

 

Another law proposal by the Duque administration aims at making it easier for mining companies to access natural resources

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’.

 

What the march for the Páramo of Santurbán in the province of Santander revealed

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:

  1. In some points, the area of ​​influence of the project is only 20 meters below the current páramo frontier.
  2. The mine will work 24/7 for 25 years.
  3. It will most probably get rid of its pollutants on a stream that supplies the aqueduct of Bucaramanga.
  4. It will decrease flows in the basin of one of the rivers which provides water to the aqueduct.
  5. Heavy traffic will take over public roads and it is not clear if Minesa is willing to share the roads that would be built.
  6. The ground where the project will be built has actually no mining vocation.
  7. They must remove vegetation that as of now is forbidden to cut down.

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’.

 

Yopal (province of Casanare) approves the prohibition of fracking in its municipality

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’.

 

New legal setback for AngloGold in Tolima

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’.

 

Update Jericó: tension grows about large-scale mining in Jericó, Antioquia

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’.

From the polls to the tribunal: The farmers of Cajamarca suing mining multinational Angolgold Ashanti

Karlijn Van den Broeck | Colombia, Mining, News

From the polls to the tribunal: The farmers of Cajamarca suing mining multinational Angolgold Ashanti

Cajamarca, Colombia
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”

Official communiqué to the public opinion legal action defending the ‘consulta popular’ of Cajamarca

Laura Garcia | Colombia, Consulta popular, Mining, News

Official communiqué to the public opinion legal action defending the 'consulta popular' of Cajamarca

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.


Mines & Territory, April 2019

Sam Packet | Colombia, Colombia, Mining, Mines&Territory, Mines&Territory, Mining

MONTHLY ONLINE REVIEW ON EXTRACTIVIST ISSUES IN COLOMBIA

ISSUE 04
April 2019

Collection, summary and edition by Sam Packet, Karlijn Van den Broeck and Laura García

Download Mines & Territory, April 2019 here.

MINES & TERRITORY

April 2019

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.

Controversial video reveals Minesa’s strategy to avoid the rejection of its mine in Santurbán

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’.

 

Camera approved the construction of one of Latin America’s biggest port in Tribugá, Chocó

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 the construction of a new port in their bay

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?’

 

What did the social leaders who installed the ‘humanitarian shelter’ in Bogotá accomplish?

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?’

 

Prosecution requests precautionary measures for environmental damage of Hidroituango

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’

 

5th meeting of the National Environmental Movement in San Vicente de Chucurí, Santander

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’.

 

Local leaders and social organizations in Jericó show their outrage over ‘Public Debate

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 call of the ‘Democratic Center’ to the “public hearing”.
  • Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s Twitter message about his opposition to mining projects in the southwest.
  • The presence of Mario Uribe in the audience.
  • The perception of some media outlets considering that “Uribismo recharges anti-mining agents in the Southwest.”
  • The failure to appreciate the set-up of the event by social and environmental organizations

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’.

 

President Duque did not have the courage to listen to the mingueros and mingueras of the Colombian southwest. The Minga sets an appointment for a new meeting in May.

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’.

 

Protesters reject policies of Duque in national strike of Colombia

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 warns that Colombia is not ready to fracking

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’.

Various

Uranium seems to be in large proportion in California, Santander

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’.

 

Magdalena river marshes threatened by water pollution

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 organizations succeed to stop a hydroelectric construction in the east of Antioquia

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’.

Mines & Territory, March 2019

Mattijs Vanden Bussche | Colombia, Colombia, Disaster, Disaster, Ecuador, Ecuador, Mining, Mines&Territory, Mines&Territory, Mining, Peru, Peru

MONTHLY ONLINE REVIEW ON EXTRACTIVIST ISSUES IN COLOMBIA

ISSUE 03
March 2019

Collection, summary and edition by Mattijs Vanden Bussche, Sam Packet and Karlijn Van den Broeck

Download Mines & Territory, March 2019 here.

MINES & TERRITORY

March 2019

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.

Organizations ask the UN for intervention to protect the páramo of Santurbán, threatened by mining projects

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’ .

 

ANLA denies appeal environmental license filed by oil multinationals

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’.

 

Anglogold Ashanti drop plans for several mines in Colombia and Argentina to focus on the mines in Quebradona and Gramalote

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 reinstates the earlier suspended course financed by AngloGold Ashanti

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’.

 

Indigenous communities of Sierra Nevada declare Environmental Emergency in the region

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.’

 

Jericó awaits definite green light to stop mining in its municipality

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’.

 

Communities stand up against the construction of dams in Quindío and Antioquia

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 prohibits mining

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.’

 

12th march ‘Por la vida y el agua” en Cauca

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’.

 

Court rules that Colombian Government has to find a substitute for asbestos

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’.

 

27 Congress members ask President Duque to prohibit fracking in Colombia

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’.

 

Minga indígena: indigenous communities block the Panamericana and demand visit of President Duque to obtain guarantees for their rights

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’.

 

World Water Day

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’.

Appendix: LATIN AMERICA

Mines&Territory's extra section on remarkable events that happened in other Latin American countries concerning extractivism.

Mexico

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.

 

Peru

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.’

 

Ecuador

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.’

 

Brazil

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’.

The role BMW may play in creating a world-class environmental disaster in Ecuador

Carlos Zorrilla | Ecuador, Mining

The role BMW may play in creating a world-class environmental disaster in Ecuador

Carlos Zorrilla, 27 March 2019

There is a rush these days to gain access to copper deposit and other key minerals driven by the expected increase in electric vehicle usage world wide.  These vehicles, including the hybrids, use nearly 3 times as much copper as a internal combustion vehicles. Thus, it is estimated that by 2027 switching over will result in a nine-fold increase in the amount of copper currently going to the automotive sector. That may sound like good news for the composition of the atmosphere, but it will spell doom to other parts of the biosphere, including its biodiviersity, forests, rivers, as well as trampling human rights. In this context, I welcome the United Nations recent realization that the biodiversity crisis is as dire as climate change. Worse, the UN also recently concluded that resource extraction is responsible for 80% of biodiversity loss and 50% of the world’s carbon emissions.

Concurrently, with the rush by transnational mining companies to secure mining rights, there is another rush to green-wash the dirty business of extracting metals like copper from biodiverse corners of the world, such as Ecuador’s Intag’s cloud forests. The latest green-washing effort was born out of an agreement signed in November 2018 between the German automaker, BMW, and Chile’s mining giant, Codelco; the world’s larges copper producer. They named their deal, the “Responsible Copper Initiative”.

The agreement is reminiscent of another green-washing effort, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, created by the Chinese government and a few private mining companies, and of which Damlier is a member.  Cobalt is a key ingredient in electric car batteries, and considered a conflict-mineral due to the human-rights abuses associated with its extraction. As the rush to extract copper extends to all corners of the planet, it is only a matter of time before red metal joins the macabre list. 

Which brings us back to Ecuador’s Intag’s cloud forests and the role BWM may end up playing in its destruction. 

According to the information reported on the BMW website, the main goal of the Responsible Copper Initiative is to “…achieve a commitment to ecological and social responsibility in the copper industry”

Given the social and environmental contexts in the mining area where Codelco is currently planning on extracting copper in Ecuador, it is inconceivable that it, or BMW, will be able to live up to the professed goals of the agreement. More than likely, they will both be held responsible for creating one of the world’s great environmental and social disasters; along the lines of the recent and horrific mining catastrophe at Brumadinho, Brazil. It is entirely possible that BMW may want to cherry pick the mine where they’d want their copper to come from, but it doesn’t work that way. As any marriage, you take the good with the bad. And, in this case, the bad by far outweighs the good.

To get an inkling of why it will be impossible for BMW not to dirty its reputation for being involved with a company that may destroy the habitat to hundreds of species in danger of extinction and be responsible for widespread human rights violations, it is essential to understand a few of the risks involved in mining in this part of Ecuador.

In 1996, upon the request of the Ecuadorian government, a reputable Japanese agency conducted a preliminary Environmental Impact Study for a small copper mine in this region. They predicted the mine would provoke massive deforestation; contaminate rivers with heavy metals- including lead, cadmium and arsenic; impact endangered species of animals, directly impact 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) as well as relocate hundreds of families from four communities. Two years later, the mining company reported to have found five times more copper.  However, after the latest exploration by Codelco, and as recently as November of 2018, the press reported the ore deposit may hold 17 times more copper than the original estimate of 450,000 tons. In other words, the impacts will be incalculably worse than what the Environmental Impact Study reported in 1996, which already were bad enough. Based on these recent estimates and layout of the land, today, not less than six communities and hundred additional families would have to be relocated to make room for the large-scale mine and all the infrastructure that comes with it.

 

A unique biological jewel

Intag’s forests are part of the most biodiverse region of the world, the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot. This region is so biologically diverse that it is hard to comprehend. The diversity is mainly due to its geographic position (on the Equator) and the difference in elevation, climate and rainfall created by the mountains. Orchid diversity is specially rich, with the forests containing more orchids than most nations in an area of just 1,500 square kilometers. Animal diversity is no less diverse. At the proposed mining site and surrounding forests, 279 species of animals in danger of extinction have been reported. Several are critically endangered, including two monkey and three frog species. In the case of one of the amphibians, the Longnose Harlequin Frog had been listed as extinct by the IUCN until a biologist rediscovered it in 2016. And, as recent as March of 2019, National Geographic reported the discovery of a glass-frog new to science in a nearby forest patch. The frog immediately went into the critically endangered list. According to the magazine, corruption and mining are the main threats this new species have to face. Intag’s forests and streams, now threatened by mining, are the only place on the planet where these amphibian species are known to exist.

Apart of biological risks, the area where copper was found gets over 3,000 millimeters of rain and the topography is very steep, which increases the chances of major environmental disasters. In stark contrast, Codelco gets all of its copper from the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world. As it is the case for most of the Andes, Intag’s mining site also sits in a seismically active zone. There are many more factors that explain why it is a huge mistake to mine in Intag.

 

Intag’s long conservation history

During the past 24 years, with a lot of support from national and international organizations as well as individuals, the communities and organizations in Ecuador’s Intag region have worked tirelessly towards the conservation of the region’s forests, biodiversity and watersheds. DECOIN, the small grass-roots environmental organization that I helped found and currently work for, has been at the forefront of Intag’s conservation work. To date, we’ve been able to create 41 community and local government-owned watersheds and forest reserves, protecting over 13,000 hectares of watersheds, forests and the hundreds of endangered species they harbor. Besides the initiative’s conservation value, the reserves also provide clean drinking water to thousands of local residents. We, along with other organizations, have also been busy developing sustainable alternatives to mining, such as shade-grown coffee and community ecotourism. Since mining would, without a doubt,  destroy what we and the communities have so hard worked to preserve, it was only natural that a good deal of our work would focus on stopping mining development. Which we have. Since 1995.

In spite of the fact that since 1995  two transnational mining companies had to abandon Intag due to local resistance, they keep coming back. The latest threat manifested itself full-fledged in 2014, as an outcome of a bi-lateral agreement between the governments of Ecuador and Chile, signed in 2011. The main objective was to have Codelco help Ecuador’s mining company, Enami, develop the Intag mineral deposit. Curiously enough, the agreement is considered a state secret in Chile, with the Chilean courts prohibiting government agencies from revealing its content.  One does wonder what kind of cat is in that bag. 

 

Exploration begins, and so do Human Rights violations and environmental impacts

In May 2014, EMSAEC, Codelco’s Ecuador subsidiary, together with Ecuador’s national mining company, were able to begin exploring in Intag’s forests after a fifteen year lapse due to local resistance. They were able to do so only after being “escorted” to the mining concession by hundreds of special police units and military personnel. Ecuador’s government also saw it necessary to impose a de-facto state of emergency on the whole Intag region. The exploration took place in primary forests that members from two local communities were managing since 1999 as part of a successful community-run ecotourism project.

As soon as exploratory activities began, so did the impacts. The communities, aided by DECOIN and the Municipality of Cotacachi, denounced violations of the permits, licenses and the Environmental Impact Study, as well as serious human rights violations. These included illegal arrest and incarceration of a community leader, contamination of the Junin river, illegal logging, unauthorized land-use, and impacts on the community tourism businesses. But every time the communities denounced the illegalities, backed up by solid evidence, the authorities rejected the denunciations, or simply looked the other way. It could not be clearer to communities that the authorities were openly biased in favor of the mining companies.

However, all that drastically changed on January 25th, 2019.

 

An extremely inconvenient report*

On that date, Ecuador’s Comptroller General made public the final draft of an in-depth investigation of the Llurimagua mining concession – as Intag’s mining project is now known as.  What the Comptroller found, confirmed what the communities have been denouncing for years. But the report revealed much, much more, including dozens of irregularities by State institutions, showing a total disregard for the regulation of mining activities. The lack of oversight, the report contended, made it possible for the Codelco-financed exploration to contaminate the Junin river, log trees illegally, start mining activities without an environmental license, and even utilize 258 million liters of water without proper authorization, among numerous other violations. In essence, the report highlights just how impossible it will be for the companies to abide by directives of the Responsible Copper Initiative, and avoid being implicated in gross environmental and human rights violations.

One of the draft report’s main conclusion was that, due to the lack of oversight and multiple violations, the project should have been suspended. In light of the aforementioned Brazilian mining disaster, a disaster that is, in large part, being blamed on the lack of government oversight, BMW should seriously consider withdrawing from the agreement with Codelco. Better yet, Codelco should reconsider altogether mining in areas as biodiverse and fragile as Intag.

It is indisputable that we must stop the rise of C02 in the atmosphere. It is also true that, in order to do so, we will need new techologies that will require metals like copper and cobalt. However, blindly adopting new technologies that will result in undoing other key components of the biosphere while trampling human rights is, at least, criminal. It is more so when we know that the new “green consumer goods”, such as electric cars, will benefit a very small portion of the planet’s inhabitants, as well as the fact that they will keep alive the wasteful consumption practices that have taken us to where we are today.

It is in this light that we, as consumers, along with BMW’s shareholders, can play an essential role in helping to create a healthier biosphere. We can do so by consuming responsibly: knowing our choices can cause tragic environmental and social impacts. On the other hand, shareholders should reject the company’s green-washing, and demand the company not to participate in creating environmental and human rights disasters in places such as Intag’s forests and communities.

————————————  

* The final report was due to be released during the first trimester of 2019. We are still waiting.

The irresponsibility of Vale has led to a second big mining disaster in Brazil

Youssef Bouarada | Disaster, Mining, News

The irresponsibility of Vale has led to a second big mining disaster in Brazil

Youssef Bouarada, 27 February 2019

On January 25th, a catastrophic failure of a tailings dam in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, in Brazil led to a human and environmental disaster that cost the lives of 166 individuals and the release of millions of cubic meters of tailings into the environment.

 

This disaster was simply a result of an ongoing race to the bottom that encourages mining companies to turn a blind eye to safety and hazard standards and it has to stop right now!

Before digging into the subject, we wish to join all our partners and all the community beyond to pay our grievances to the 166 deaths and our thoughts and prayers to the people that are still missing, hoping that this tragedy won’t be repeated.

Again, this race to the bottom must be immediately halted. We are, more than ever before, convinced that business-as-usual practices are not effective when it comes to reaching the ideal of zero harm in regards with mining activities. This ideal is stressed by the mining sector in their own sustainability practices and commitments reports. And Vale was one of the companies that committed to this goal.

The tragedy of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh sparked the will to change when it came to rising the standards related to safety in the work environment to an acceptable level. This desire of change was rightfully met by the civil society components who worked conjointly with private companies to ensure the enforcement of hazard and safety standards. This is a good example of possible positive cooperation between corporations and civil society in order to commonly operate a shift to better practices in the business environment. It must be applied to the mining sector.

Brumadinho, Mount Polley (Canada, 2014), Samarco (Brazil, 2015) and many other tragedies have common causes and parameters. Yet, no real critical self-questioning was raised within the dominant actors from the mining industry. The Canadian center of Alternative policies already warned right after the Mount Polley accident that if nothing changes, we can expect tragedies occurring at a rate of two disasters per decade.

The disaster of Brumadinho in Brazil was not the first of its kind, not in the world, not even in Brazil. Vale had received 11 fines in the last 8 years that can be summed up to more than 102 million euros, and this concerns only the site of Brumadinho. Therefore, the model of open tailing dams placed on high slopes is not sustainable from any perspective. Up to this day, Vale haven’t paid a single cent of this amount.

The accident of Samarco that contaminated the Rio Doce in 2015 is another example of the attempt to get away with impunity. Vale claimed that there were no funds available for the cleanup. In this case, Brazilian justice showed teeth by freezing their assets and obliged them to commit to paying 8 million US dollars. This kind of strong leadership must be translated into concrete action to achieve better commitments and implementation of norms governing safety and hazard. Eventually, a convergence of national arsenals of laws must set new, more rigorous norms around the world and within the different branches of power. Legislators and executors must look up to the Brazilian independent judicial power as an example of ending corporate impunity.

Therefore, something has to change regarding the regulations and the practices.

This change has to be radical. Companies like Vale must be held entirely accountable for the mess that hey caused and pay the entire bill for cleaning it. In the Canadian case, the Province of British-Colombia paid back Imperial Metals, the responsible company, 23 million Canadian dollars -from Taxpayers money, the same people that suffered the tragedy- as a form of fiscal incentives after cleaning. Gaming the system that way is definitely a barrier to the effectiveness of a new, socially and environmentally responsible mining regime. Brazilian justice has to shimmer the example. This is going the right way since the public prosecutor of Minas Gerais threatened to seize the equipment of Vale in the scenario of nonpayment of fines.

The reaction to Mount Polley disaster by the provincial government of British Columbia in Canada was the concretization of the adage “One step forward then two steps backwards”. Although the government had implemented 20 out of the 27 measures that appear in the Mount Polley guidelines, it had not insisted on the importance of carrying out independent inspections, therefore, no real change in the quality and integrity of the inspections was operated. This is not the way to go.

So, what needs to be done?

Firstly, stop developing networks of “expert agencies” that produce “counter expertise” with the sole goal of preventing any improvements when it comes to initiatives to enforce safety commitments. This is the ultimate demonstration of defiance and lack of courage from the mining industry to get behind the standards that regulate the safety of people and surroundings that rule every industry. Everyone must acknowledge that the pursuit of profit cannot be done at all costs.

Recognizing the recommendations of the Expert Independent Panel of Mount Polley, backed up by the UN environment report, is a red line that cannot be put under negotiation. Conversely, the reports issued by mining companies contain no trace of mentions of best available technology (BAT) and, therefore, they have weak commitments that cannot help to achieve the goal of zero harm. Although this is a key step for the mining industry to adopt better ethics.

Assuring independent inspections by third-party bodies that are paid for by companies is not negotiable either. In order to prevent such disasters from occurring again, we must end upstream tailing dams and come up with better studies to monitor suitability areas for waste storage with reinforced conditions, such as augmented distance from surrounding human settlements.

It is about time that everyone starts paying more attention to the voices that are rising from local communities expressing their concerns and warnings for years. Catapa had always joined efforts of warning against the bad impacts of tailing dams located near human settlements and on high slopes.

Undoubtably, there’s the crucial need of developing a coherent disaster management system and emergency response schemes to provide those who were struck by similar tragedies with immediate medical assistance. And in order to achieve this, companies must rebuild livelihood resilience and provide fair compensations for the damaged ecosystem.

Finally, assisting the ones who lost their families with moral and financial support during their period of mourning and grievance is necessary.

Satellite images and pictures displaying the valley around the mining site before (Antes) and after (depois) the Dam failure. Source: UOL Noticias.

Satellite images displaying the mining site before (Antes) and after (depois) the Dam failure. Source: UOL Noticias.

Living under risk – Copper, ICT and Human Rights in Chile

Charlotte Christiaens | Catapa in de kijker, Chile, Chile, Chile, Chile, Report, Mining, Mining, Mining, Mining, Publications, Publications, Publications, Publications, Report, Report, Report

Living under risk

Copper, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Human Rights in Chile

Catapa published this report together with War on Want. You can read it here.

CHILE, COPPER & ICT

Chile is currently the largest copper producer in the world, holding 29% of the world reserves of the red metal. Copper represents a crucial portion of the Chilean economy and the copper industry -as will be shown in this report- is highly influential in national politics.

But the extent and intensity of copper extraction across Chile’s territory has precipitated negative impacts in the environment and on communities that resist extractivism.

Through the analysis of a case study, this report unveils the adverse socio-environmental impacts of copper extraction and discusses the role of the company, the national government and international actors in addressing the consequences brought by the copper mining industry.

Within this last group, this report highlights the role that ICTs –which represent 24% of the usage of copper (Comisión Chilena del Cobre, 2016a) – could play in the improvement of social, environmental and labour conditions at the local level.

 

The case study

Caimanes is a small agrarian town situated in northern Chile that has been at the centre of opposition to the Los Pelambres (hereinafter MLP or the Company) mining project, the fifth largest copper mine in the world. The community does not have political relations with national or local elites, and therefore, as will be seen, its opportunities for mobilisation have been mostly limited.

Yet, the local community reacted against the construction of El Mauro tailings dam –the largest in Latin America- identifying various negative socio-environmental impacts on issues of water, health and security. As will be detailed in this report, the capacity of the community to mobilise resources has varied across the 20 years of struggle. Through its history of resistance, the community has gone through different phases of mobilisation: from a period of direct action to a process of formalising its demands in a judicial lawsuit, which has marked the last 10 years of mobilisation.

This case also reveals a process of countermobilisation to the protest. Given the significant scale of the project, and its high
levels of associated investment, the mining project has been assiduously defended by the state and the Company, restricting the possibilities for social contention. As will be seen throughout the report, both the Company and the state have deployed direct techniques of repression such as forced displacement, the criminalisation of local leaders, and use of police forces to suppress protests. Additionally, the corporate-state nexus, has also used more sophisticated forms of counter-mobilisation such as using company-community interactions to divide the inhabitants of Caimanes, and diminishing their capacity to decide in formal spaces of community engagement.

By analysing the mechanisms that explain the rise of the Caimanes mobilisation and its main shifts, this report explores the
emergence of micro-dynamics of contention in territories that lack political opportunities and resources. Its insights allow us to understand episodes of protest in an unfavourable context for social contention; and how, despite this restrictive context, the community has been able to create opportunities, resources and solidarities at different stages of the conflict.

The report begins with a contextualisation of the political economy of copper in Chile, highlighting how it relates to consumption at a global scale, with a specific emphasis placed on the consumption of ICTs. It then generates a process-tracing analysis of the episodes of contention marked by two significant stages of protest: (i) a period during which the community aimed to, and were successful in receiving compensation from the company and (ii) a period during which the community sought to legally demonstrate the negative impacts of the project. This part of the report includes a discussion about the interlinked relationship of the community with a growing labour movement that has not yet been able to coordinate their demands with the socioenvironmental movement. The concluding section summarises these two periods of
protest highlighting the most important elements that have generated conflict in the last 20 years. It also shows how the global consumption of copper (especially from ICTs), the closed political opportunities at the national level, the process of countermobilisation by the Company and lack of networks have ended up dividing and isolating the community, diminishing its capacity to self-organise.