MAC: Mines and Communities

Urgent action on AngloGold Ashanti in Colombia

Published by MAC on 2011-01-17
Source: Statement (2011-01-07)

Colombia Solidarity Campaign (UK)

7 January 2011

Please support the students, lecturers and community of Tolima so that the environmental impact of the Cajamarca mine can be researched objectively and independently

Students and lecturers at the University of Tolima in Ibagué, Colombia, are voicing their strong opposition to the imminent signing of a contract with AngloGold Ashanti worth £500K/year to carry out the environmental monitoring of the Cajamarca La Colosa gold mine, currently in the exploration phase. AngloGold Ashanti, which was fined last year for not requesting all the necessary environmental permits for the exploration, is now stipulating that any research results must be kept confidential by the university, thereby jeopardizing the objectivity of the study.

The projected site of the Cajamarca gold mine, in the central Colombian mountains, includes an area of forest reserve and 161 water sources. It is an important agricultural hub for the whole country. The results of the exploration so far indicate that the gold mine would be the largest in South America. Opencast mining exploitation, planned to start in three years' time, would result in complete destruction of the ecosystem. The use of cyanide to treat the gold ore would inevitably contaminate water sources for a large area of the Tolima department. The Machín Volcano a few kilometres from Cajamarca presents a potential unimaginable ecological disaster for the region.

AngloGold Ashanti has invested heavily in order to win over the hearts and minds of the people of Tolima. It sponsored the annual carnival in Ibagué last year, as well as Deportes Tolima, the departmental football team. It has organized free trips for farmers from the Cajamarca region to attend the recent national football finals in Ibagué, given away free lunchboxes to children, and donated paint for schools in Cajamarca. Despite widespread opposition to the project, the concern of many is that, if the University of Tolima appears to support the Cajamarca mine, it would legitimize the project in the eyes of the community.

The objectivity of the proposed research is compromised both by having been commissioned by AngloGold Ashanti, and the non-disclosure clause contained within the contract. In addition, the research results are to be reviewed at the University of Antioquía, which has a Faculty of Mining, and is therefore likely to be biased in favour of mining projects. Furthermore, the area where the environmental monitoring would take place is limited to where exploration is already taking place: perforations, helipads and machinery have now significantly reduced the biodiversity of this area. The surrounding area is excluded from the scope of the proposed study.

Please support the students, lecturers and community of Tolima so that the environmental impact of the Cajamarca mine can be researched objectively and independently.

We have prepared a letter for the University of Tolima and others involved in the decision-making process such as the Governor of Tolima and Mayor of Ibagué, urging them not to sign the contract in its current form. Please forward it to them ASAP, if possible before their next meeting which will take place on 13 January 2011. It is vital that they realize that the international community is aware of and concerned about this issue.

LETTER:

London, 6 January 2011

Dear Sir/Madam:

JESÚS RAMÓN RIVERA BULLA
Rector
Universidad del Tolima
B. Santa Helena
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia
jrrivera@ut.edu.co

HUMBERTO BUSTOS RODRIGUEZ
Representante de Profesores
Consejo Superior
Universidad del Tolima
B. Santa Helena
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

MANUEL MENESES
Representante de Egresados
Consejo Superior
Universidad del Tolima
B. Santa Helena Número 546
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

EDGAR RODRIGUEZ
Representante de los Gremios
Consejo Superior
Universidad del Tolima
B. Santa Helena Número 546
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

HECTOR VILLARAGA SARMIENTO
Representante directivas Académicas
Consejo Superior
Universidad del Tolima
B. Santa Helena Número 546
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

ALBERTO LONDOÑO ARANGO
Representante de los ex rectores Consejo Superior
Universidad del Tolima
B. Santa Helena Número 546
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

ÓSCAR BARRETO QUIROGA
Gobernador del Tolima
Carrera 3a. Entre calles 10A y 11
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

JESÚS MARÍA BOTERO GUTIERREZ
Alcalde de Ibagué
Calle 9 No. 2-59
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

GUILLERMO RODRÍGUEZ MORENO
Alcalde de Cajamarca
Calle 6 No. 7-52
Cajamarca, Tolima, Colombia

DIEGO ALVARADO ORTIZ
Procurador Judicial Ambiental Agrario del Tolima
Edificio Banco de la Republica, Calle 11 con Cr 3, Piso 7
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

FREDDY CAMACHO DĺAZ
Contralor Departamental
Calle 11 Carrera 13
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

CARMEN SOFĺA BONILLA MARTĺNEZ
Directora
Cortolima
Av. Ferrocarril con 44 Esquina
Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

ALEJANDRO ORDÓÑEZ
Procurador General de la Nación
Cra. 5 No.15 - 80F
Bogotá D.C., Colombia

We are writing to express our concern over the imminent signing of the agreement between the University of Tolima and AngloGold Ashanti, with the stated aim of: CARRYING OUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING DURING THE EXPLORATION PHASE IN THE ZONE OF INFLUENCE OF MINING PROJECT "LA COLOSA", CAJAMARCA-COLOMBIA. We would like to express the arguments supporting our concerns and outline the reasons that this agreement should not be signed:

1. The agreement involves conducting the environmental monitoring for the exploration phase of the project La Colosa, which has been taking place, according AngloGold Ashanti, since 2007. Such studies should be conducted prior to the commencement of exploration, because these activities in themselves result in a reduction of the biodiversity of the area, and substantial changes in the ethology of the animal species present in the area will have already taken place.

2. One of the main actors of this agreement, namely AngloGold Ashanti Colombia, was fined 74,000 dollars last year by the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development for non-compliance with environmental regulations in Cajamarca, because they lacked the necessary environmental permits. See resolution 1481 of 2010 MAVDT.

3. In the contract, there is a clause that disallows the free dissemination of the research results. This goes against the ethos of objective and independent academic research.

4. The study would be limited exclusively to the area where AngloGold Ashanti is already carrying out exploration. It does not take into account the surrounding areas of Central Forest Reserve where high-Andean ecosystems are present, which by their natural-ecological condition, should be considered strategic ecosystems.

5. The municipality of Cajamarca is an important agricultural hub, specifically for fruit and vegetables of cold and temperate climates. Production of foodstuffs in the area has been taking place for the last 100 years, and will inevitably be affected, given the nature of mining activities, which use highly toxic chemicals, industrial machinery and explosives. Mining activities will result in the contamination of soil, water, air, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, high risk of accidents, etc.

6. The contract stipulates that research is reviewed of by the University of Antioquia, which has strong links with mining. In our view, this makes it unlikely that the research can be reviewed in an impartial manner.

7. From the environmental perspective, it is unjustifiable for these kind of projects to be carried out in ecosystems of high environmental fragility, as are the high Andean ecosystems. In this regard we wish to draw attention to the current social, economic and ecological emergency decreed by central government, as of Dec. 17 2010. According to officially reported figures: 2,121,894 individuals and 415,000 families have been affected by floods and landslides, 257 individuals have died, 75 are missing, 695 municipalities of the 1,100 municipalities in the country have been affected, three thousand homes have been destroyed, 303,155 houses have been damaged and 678 roads affected. This is due, in part, to the indiscriminate felling of forests that support the regulation of river water. In this case we are specifically referring to the upper part of the main tributary of the Coello River.

8. In terms of biodiversity, Colombia has the highest number of species of birds and amphibians in the world, the second highest number of species of flora, the third highest number of species of reptiles, and the fourth highest number of species of mammals. It is one of the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of landscape and culture. This natural and social reality presents a comparative and competitive advantage ideal for the development and promotion of sustainable economic projects and the generation of wealth, to overcome the serious social conflicts that Colombia has as a nation.

In our opinion, the above factors indicate that the proposed agreement would go against the social purpose of the University of Tolima, who institutionally, as a public university, is required to act in accordance with the interests of the region and community of Tolima. As stated in its own mission statement, the University is required to be committed to "socially equitable and environmentally sustainable development, and to the promotion of integral social and economic productivity, that leads to the benefit of regional and national society".

Therefore, we urge you not to sign this contract unless the above points are assessed and appropriate measures are taken, especially with respect to non-disclosure of academic results, in order to support clarity, objectivity and independence in academic research.

Yours sincerely,

Colombia Solidarity Campaign
United Kingdom

With Copies to: Ecotierra, La Reversa, Conciencia Ambiental, Conciencia Campesina, Conservación Natural, Observatorio Ambiental de la Universidad del Tolima, Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de América Latina, Representantes de los estudiantes Consejo Superior y Consejo Académico.

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