MAC: Mines and Communities

Colombia bans mining in country’s vast moorlands

Published by MAC on 2016-02-09

Colombia bans mining in country’s vast moorlands

Cecilia Jamasmie

9 February 2016

Colombia has officially banned all mining activities in its paramo regions (moorlands) after the country’s Constitutional Court revoked Monday a regulation that had allowed mineral exploitation in the area.

Mining in the paramo — the area of the Andes mountains covered with subalpine forests above the continuous tree line, but below the permanent snow mark — had been prohibited since 2011, but concessions granted before such ban had continued to date.

The court said such exemption was invalid and ordered all extraction activities to be suspended, which will affect about 347 mining concessions, local paper El País reported (in Spanish).

It argued that mining for gold and oil in the fragile ecosystem could cause irreversible damage.

The "paramos" are mainly found between an altitude of 3,000m (9,850ft) and 5,000m. Covered by grass and shrubs, they act like massive sponges, storing water in the rainy season and releasing it in the dry season.

The ruling is good news for Colombia’s major cities, which rely on paramos as a source of water. These areas are believed to store water for around 70% the country's population. The Chingaza paramo alone, located just outside of Bogota, serves around 20% of Colombians, El Espectador reports.

The same court dealt another blow to the development plan of President Juan Manuel Santos, abolishing a law that had allowed projects of “strategic interest” to supersede the rights of the those dispossessed of their lands.

Previously, evicted landholders were given plots of lands outside areas deemed to be of strategic interest.

But the Constitutional Court said the rights of victims of land dispossession must be respected, and that their claims to their lands will have to be honoured.

In the past year, Colombia has worked on improving the country’s mining standards. Authorities have adopted a “zero tolerance” stance when it comes to illegal mining and taken steps to expedite permit approvals. They have also tightened regulations to establish a project's area of influence in order to improve mitigation of environmental and social risks.

Other than gold and coal, Colombia holds vast and untapped reserves of emeralds, silver and oil.

Colombia Constitutional Court revokes mining licenses

by Gwenyth Gamble

The Jurist

10 February 2016

Colombia's Constitutional Court on Monday revoked the mining licenses of all 347 private mining companies that had previously been granted approval to develop the ecologically endangered Colombian Andes. The resolution contradicts part of the National Development Plan organized by the National Planning Department, which had banned the granting of new mining licenses, but had kept those already granted intact. The change in policy comes as an effort to protect the South American Paramo, a delicate tropical mountain ecosystem stretching along the Andes through Colombia to northern Peru. Additionally, the court revoked portions of the National Development Plan that prevented previously war-displaced individuals from reclaiming lands and that allowed courts to forcibly expropriate land for certain projects.

In November Amnesty International (AI) reported that the Colombian government should prioritize the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities above corporate interests. Similarly, in November 2014, AI released a report detailing its concern that people hoping to gain their land back under the Victims Land and Restitution Law [Law 1448] in Colombia may face problems ranging from bureaucracy to intimidation, causing them to fail to receive their land. The report, entitled "Colombia: A land title is not enough: Ensuring sustainable land restitution in Colombia", describes that those trying to restore land rights were likely to meet violent resistance and economic hardships in doing so because of the ongoing armed conflict.

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