The Fight Against Mining's Destructive Consequences in Colombia

Actividad minera

Mining activity. Photo on Flickr from user Bert Kaufmann (CC BY 2.0).

This post was originally published on the blog Globalizado.

In recent years, mining activity in Colombia has taken on greater economic importance, so much so that newly re-elected president Juan Manuel Santos tends to refer to it as the “mining locomotive” to describe the great generator of resources that allows the state to finance social interest projects and generate more jobs to thereby reduce poverty.   

Nonetheless, mining also generates social conflict, human rights violations for vulnerable populations, and a negative environmental impact, among other problems. Even at the governmental level, problems whose solution is considered a priority have been detected, such as the unsatisfactory qualifications of mining land, the use and contamination of water resources, toxic waste management and unstable environmental legislation. 

Citizen initiatives like the one posted on blog No to Mining have emerged in this context. The blog showcases information and displays the actions managed by several groups that are concerned about the impact of mining on human rights and the environment in Colombia. These groups range from academics to community and indigenous organizations. 

In May 2011, the Collective Action and Mining Megaprojects Gathering was organized at the Javeriana University of Bogotá. Professor Aída Quiñonez, one of the organizers, commented

La idea era conocer las problemáticas de las regiones más allá del contexto inmediato, con la conciencia de que este tipo de prácticas económicas, fundamentadas en maximizar beneficios, traen consecuencias estructurales y culturales para el país en cual se asientan.

The idea was to understand the problems of the regions beyond the immediate context, with the awareness that these types of economic practices, based on maximizing profits, bring structural and cultural consequences to the country in which they settle.  

During the meeting, people could hear firsthand testimonies from various communities: 

Se expusieron los procesos de la Asamblea SUR en Bogotá D.C.; la permanente resistencia del pueblo Nasa en el Norte del Cauca; los graves riesgos de violación de derechos humanos que amenazan a las comunidades afrocolombianas e indígenas por la explotación minera en La Toma-Suárez-Cauca; la defensa del territorio por la explotación de las minas en los casos de Caldono, Cauca, la resistencia del resguardo Uradá-Jiguamiandó, el proyecto Mandé Norte, la defensa de Marmato-Caldas, las resistencias frente a la mina la Colosa y por la defensa del territorio -en Cajamarca Tolima, la defensa del páramo de Santurbán en Santander, y el despojo y desalojo de la comunidad de Tabaco en la Guajira por el macroproyecto del Cerrejón.

The processes of Asamblea SUR in Bogotá D.C. were exposed; the permanent resistance of the Nasa village in northern Cauca; the grave risk of violating human rights that threaten the Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities due to mining exploitation in La Toma-Suárez-Cauca; territorial defense by mining exploitation in the cases of Caldono, Cauca, resistance in the Uradá-Jiguamiandó shelter, the Mandé Norte project, the defense of Marmato-Caldas, resistance against the Colosa mine and defending the territory -in Cajamarca Tolima, defending the Santurbán wasteland in Santander, and the dispossession and eviction of the Tabaco community in Guajira by the Cerrejón macro-project. 

After the meeting, a manifesto was drawn up with audience participation and among other conclusions, they recommended: 

Es necesario que se convierta en una responsabilidad de la sociedad colombiana abordar el problema de la megaminería y en general de los problemas sociales y ambientales ligados a los efectos que con esta incursión se generan en las economías extractivas, Asimismo es necesario entender las relaciones que se tejen en marco internacional y en tal sentido identificar los dispositivos para que se asuman las responsabilidades de quienes producen, consumen y contaminan.

Addressing the problem of mega-mining in addition to the social and environmental problems related to the effects generated with this attack on extractive economies needs to become the responsibility of Colombian society. It is also necessary to understand the relationships woven into the international framework and as such identify the mechanisms so that those who produce, consume, and contaminate take on the responsibilities for doing so. 

A few months ago, Global Voices had the opportunity to talk to professor Quiñonez, seen in this video: 

Another organization that shares the same concerns is Conciencia Campesina, created in April 2009 by farmers in Cajamarca following the 2008 announcement by La Colosa, an AngloGold Ashanti gold mining project in a forest reserve. The following was posted on their Facebook page

Creemos que la movilización pacífica, social organizada tiene un papel importante en nuestra lucha para proteger nuestro territorio. En estos años hemos organizado marchas pacíficamente, defendiendo nuestra oposición a La Colosa. […]

En las zonas mineras a menudo hay una alta incidencia de violaciones de derechos humanos, delincuencia y prostitución, queremos preservar nuestra identidad cultural como una comunidad agrícola y tradicional.

We believe that peaceful, organized, social mobilization has an important role in our fight to protect our land. In these years we have organized marches peacefully, defending our opposition to La Colosa. […]

In the mining zones there is often a high incidence of human rights violations, crime, and prostitution. We want to preserve our cultural identity as an agricultural and traditional community. 

Some cases represent a broader resistance, such as that of Sath Tama kiwe in Cauca, who have said “no” to mining and also to any activity that puts them at risk, like planting coca, as they feel they are forced to exercise authority in their territories: 

[…] estando en un proceso de Autonomía Territorial, cuyo objetivo era buscar minería legal o ilegal para la explotación del Oro, encontramos grandes extensiones de siembra de Coca para el procesamiento de alcaloides, por lo cual tomamos la decisión de arrancar y destruir estas plantaciones, pues según se dijo, ya el Ejercito Nacional, en rondas realizadas días antes le habían manifestado a los dueños del laboratorio que siguieran trabajando que por ellos no habría ningún problema.

[…] during a process of Territorial Autonomy, whose objective was to seek legal or illegal exploitation of gold mining, we found large stretches of coca sowing for the process of alkaloids, so we decided to uproot and destroy these plantations, as it was said, since the National Army, in rounds made days before had manifested itself to the owners of the laboratory who continued working since there would be no problem for them. 

The resistance activities carried out over the years have had serious consequences, including the murder of leading activists under unexplained circumstances. Nevertheless, activities continue much like the increasing investment in new mining projects throughout the country. 

Related articles:
Colombia: Mining Debate Continues as New Minister is Appointed
Colombia: The Environmental Heritage of the Country is Threatened by Mining
Colombia: Miners Flee from Killings and Attacks
Colombia: A trip to Colombia's gold mining region

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