Colombian town rejects AngloGold Ashanti in local votePublished by MAC on 2013-07-30
Source: EFE, IPS, Colombia Reports (2013-07-28)
The first article below has been translated into English by MAC.
Colombian town rejects AngloGold Ashanti in local vote
28 July 2013
Bogotá.- The inhabitants of the Colombian Municipality of Piedras rejected big mining projects yesterday in a local referendum. The population was summoned to respond if they agree with the development of "exploration, exploitation, processing, transformation or transport of minerals from large scale gold mining, and the use of toxic compounds which could carry risks to health and the environment".
To this question, 2.971 people voted "no" and 24 voted "yes", and 12 votes were null, reported the Colombia electoral authority known as Registraduría.
A total of 3.007 participated in the referendum, 58,9% of total inhabitants in capacity of voting (5.105) in this Municipality of the Tolima Department, in the center area of the country.
The referendum responded to the local concerns about La Colosa, located in the neighboring Municipality of Cajamarca, owned by mining giant AngloGold Ashanti and mentioned as one of the biggest undeveloped gold deposits in Latin America.
The multinational mining company also carried out exploration studies in Piedras, but they were suspended in March this year due to local opposition and while the referendum was organized.
Town Says ‘No' to Gold Mine
Inter Press Service (IPS)
29 July 2013
CAJAMARCA, Colombia - People in a farming town in central Colombia voted overwhelmingly against global corporation AngloGold Ashanti's La Colosa gold mine.
In a popular vote on Sunday, whose results are binding, 99 percent of the 2,995 people in the municipality of Piedras who cast ballots - out of a total of 5,105 local people eligible to vote - said "no" to the South Africa-based gold mining company's operations in the area.
Piedras, in the central province of Tolima, is 96 km west of La Colosa, the largest open pit gold mining project in the northern Andes, located in the district of Cajamarca, known as "Colombia's breadbasket."
Early last decade, AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) arrived in these hills of cloud forest and peasant fields.
La Colosa, which is still in the feasibility study stage, is the third-largest mining project of AGA, which is the world's third-largest gold producer, with 21 mining operations in 10 countries.
According to the report "Mining in Colombia - Foundations for going beyond the extractivist model", published this year by the office of the comptroller-general, La Colosa will produce a total of 759 tonnes of gold over 20 years. The estimate is based on 2008 figures from AGA.
AGA Colombia's director of communications, Sandra Ocampo, told IPS that the material removed would yield one gram of gold per tonne.
AGA estimates the mine's useful life at 20 years, although Ocampo said it could be longer, since the firm's technicians "are still making discoveries that increase its size, in the project's direct area of activities and in surrounding areas."
The company thus does not rule out the possibility of mining gold in La Colosa for up to half a century.
But that depends on whether "the preliminary exploration can move forward so AGA manages to assess what there is in the area," Ocampo said.
In the battle over La Colosa, AGA filed a lawsuit in January against Piedras Mayor Arquímedes Ávila, because a roadblock by local residents was blocking the circulation of the company's employees, vehicles and machines.
But the attempt to sue the local government, which according to the company had failed to take action to prevent the roadblock, did not go anywhere.
The Tolima environmental authority brought AGA's activities in the area to a halt on three occasions, most recently in March, when it announced penalties for repeated irregularities.
AGA decided to install the processing plant for La Colosa in Doima, a rice-growing village in the municipality of Piedras, whose residents began to mobilise as soon as they found out about the plans, in January.
Activities to block the gold mining project have continued since then. Ávila called on the 5,105 eligible voters in Piedras to come to the polls on Sunday to respond "yes" or "no" to one question: do you support AGA's mining activities in the area?
The 12-line question asked local residents whether they accepted the "exploration, exploitation, treatment, transformation, transportation and washing of materials" from the company's large-scale gold mine.
It also asked if they accepted the "storage...and use of materials harmful to health and the environment," like cyanide and other toxic substances, and "the use of surface and underground water" for gold mining, which threatens the water supply for human consumption and agricultural use.
But AGA argued that "the description included in the question does not reflect the way we operate." The firm complained that it had not been listened to, and that Sunday's vote was not "an informed and coherent decision" but one that was "induced by prejudice".
Under Colombia's law on plebiscites, the result of the vote is binding if at least one third of voters participate - in other words, a minimum of 1,700 voters in the case of Piedras.
However, different interpretations of the law's jurisdiction mean a legal battle is looming.
The ministry of mines and energy claims municipalities cannot decide on gold-mining projects within their jurisdictions, and that authorisation by the ministry or by the national environmental permitting authority takes precedence over popular votes or plebiscites.
According to Colombia's statistics office, 33.5 percent of the people in Piedras and 28.3 percent in Cajamarca were poor - defined as "unsatisfied basic needs" - as of June 2012.
In a communiqué, AGA said mining would generate 1,500 direct jobs and 60,000 indirect jobs, as well as 477 million dollars in taxes and royalties over the next 20 years.
"La Colosa is a golden opportunity for Tolima...that will bring progress and well-being," it stated.
But many people in Cajamarca who spoke to IPS were sceptical.
"The mining company is buying up farms, and those who don't want to sell find themselves hemmed in and without a future," said one mulberry grower who preferred not to give his name.
"Without permission, AngloGold uses private roads to drive in with a hellish number of trucks," said a local woman who was also fearful of having her name published.
Although her restaurant has benefited from the influx of company personnel, she said she preferred to leave a healthy environment to the young people in her family.
AGA created the civil organisation Sí a la Mina (Yes to the Mine), which divided the community. And the local leaders who have not been won over feel isolated.
The majority of the population in Cajamarca supports mining and believes that everyone will benefit, and that in 30 years, everything will be back to normal, because AGA told them it would cover the mine with greenery after it is finished.
At least, that is what rural children say the mining company has told them.
Local people who spoke to IPS said the children live in remote rural areas of Cajamarca, where they never even see cars, and where they walk several kilometres to school each day.
On Saturdays, AGA sends vehicles to pick them up at their homes to take them to parties it has organised. The company has also distributed laptop computers to local students. When they come home from these events, the children argue with their parents about why they are opposed to the mine.
The mayor of Cajamarca, Evelio Gómez, has accepted the mine. If a school needs painting and reforms, AngloGold pays. It also makes gifts, like ambulances.
"And the mayor doesn't do anything," a local resident of Anaima, in Cajamarca, told IPS. Most of the people in that village are united against La Colosa - as are the people of Piedras.
Colombia orders AngloGold Ashanti to stop illegal mining exploration activities
13 March 2013
The environmental authority of Tolima on Monday has ordered multinational gold miner AngloGold Ashanti to stop its controversial activities in a central Colombia village, saying it broke rules on mining exploration and water use.
The company's mining activities, which have been going on for a year in the Piedras municipality of the central Tolima department, caused local protests in February as the community blocked roads in an attempt to stop the passage of company personnel and equipment into the area.
Now the Autonomous Regional Corporation of Tolima (CORTOLIMA) says AngloGold Ashanti has engaged in "exploration activities without permission", potentially causing damage to the protected riverbed in the village of Camao, Piedras and its surrounding area.
"They (AGA) had not informed us that they were doing industrial processes, but we discovered two [drilling] platforms, one of which reaches 44 meters deep," said Jorge Enrique Cardozo, director of CORTOLIMA.
According to the local Territorial Legislation of Piedras, adopted in 2000, the affected area is officially registered as an agricultural and agro foresting area for pastoral and local peasant use.
"The activities were taking place in a highly fragile agricultural site, and were generating imminent risks and long term damage to the area's land and water" said Cardozo.
The presence of the multinational gold miner in Piedras has caused controversy in the area ever since locals discovered the company was considering the area for a processing plant for its proposed "La Colosa" gold mine.
In a related investigation the water company ACUAGYR SA ESP is being investigated for allegedly supplying drinking water to AngloGold Ashanti for industrial use without permission.
The suspension of activities has included the seizure of vehicles, equipment and mining equipment, including two 20-meter drilling rigs. A disciplinary investigation has been opened.