Mining in Colombia – at what cost?

Gold fever in Northeast Antioquia

The political discourse of Juan Manuel Santos’ government has centered, in the first six months of his presidency, on two principal themes. On the one hand, it has started discussions about the millions of victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. To that end, a law is being debated in Congress that proposes a legal basis for reparation, including the restitution of two million hectares of stolen land. On the other hand, the Government is pushing a development agenda based in the exportation of primary materials and the creation of infrastructure for this purpose, as established in the National Development Plan 2010-2013, which focuses on the development of the mining and hydrocarbon sectors.

The so-called Victims Law tackles the plunder of the land of victims of forced displacement, one of the most severe crises in Colombia in recent years. Around 5.4 million hectares—a territory larger than Switzerland—were abandoned due to violence between 1998 and 2010. And although the initiative would mean a considerable advance of rights, many questions remain for the victims of forced displacement. It is worthwhile to note that during just the past year, 40 human rights defenders and representatives of displaced communities paid for the struggle for their rights with their lives. Many more have been and continue to be threatened, and suffer various forms of repression, as the article in this newsletter about the social movement in Barrancabermeja demonstrates.

Through the project “Vision 2019, Colombia Mining Country,” the Colombian Government seeks to convert the country into a worldwide reference for mining extraction, under the legal framework of the recently reformed Mining Code. This law promotes foreign investment in mining, permits land expropriation for mining development, and declares small-scale mining illegal. The already established laws for the protection of ancestral cultures and the environment have been violated in the past by mining companies, as seen in the case of Muriel Mining Corporation in the Chocó, or in the current discussion about mining in the moorland of Santurbán, Santander.

The question therefore remains: will the demands of victims be incorporated in the Law being debated in Congress, and will this government be capable of guaranteeing respect for the rights of ancestral peoples and environmental law for sustainable economic development?

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