MAC: Mines and Communities

Colombia's resistance to Canadian mining

Published by MAC on 2017-02-08

There are at least 27 Canadian mining companies active in the country

The following article reviews diverse experiences of resistance to Canadian mining in Colombia.

According to its autor, Fernanda Sánchez Jaramillo, the most organized community  is in the province of Santander.

The Colombian National Agency of Mining says there are 27 Canadian companies operating in the country with 42 mining titles for copper, silver and gold.

See more about Colombia here:

Colombia's resistance to Canadian mining interests is multi-faceted and fearless

Fernanda Sánchez Jaramillo

February 7, 2017

Edith Taborda is an Indigenous mother of two girls who belongs to the Embera Karamba community in Quinchia (Risaralda). She is also an activist against mining projects.

Since 2011 her community has observed the actions of Canadian company corporations such as Batero Gold Corp through its Colombian subsidiary Minera Quinchia SAS and Seafield Resources Ltd. in their territory.

Early on, some people thought their presence was good but local opinion quickly turned against the mining companies.

Seafield Resources' Miraflores mining project in Quinchia aims to extract "a total of nearly 709,000 ounces of gold over 14 years," according to an assessment published by Mining Markets.

In 2011, the community sent a letter to Seafield asking to remove their machinery from Santa Sofia, which they did. At the time, it seemed like a victory; however, the company continued with their plans for the Miraflores project because they have permission from the government.  

According to the Colombian National Agency of Mining there are 27 Canadian companies operating in the country with 42 mining titles for copper, silver and gold. The list provided for this article, however, doesn't include Seafield Resources.

"The governor of Miraflores told me about this. We recommended that he should tell Seafield that we must have a prior consultation process over this project.  The governor followed through, but the company responded arguing that there were no Indigenous people in Quinchia," says Taborda.

Despite this apparent failure, Taborda didn't give up. She and her community challenged the corporation at the Superior Tribunal of Pereira, in the capital of Risaralda. In 2013, the tribunal ordered Seafield Resources Ltd. to stop activities until the Interior Ministry certified the presence of Indigenous people.

In 2014, the tribunal also ruled that a prior and informed consultation process for the Miraflores project should be undertaken. Seafield and the community started the process and had eight meetings. "But we didn´t get past the pre-consultation process," Taborda indicates.

Taborda became the Indigenous governor of her community in 2012 and received complaints about this company. Residents' main concern was the possibility of being forcibly displaced from their ancestral land.

The key to challenging the mining corporations was engaging community members. Toward this end, Elmer Agudelo played an important role. Elmer, another leader of the Indigenous community, helped to promote critical thinking about mining. Youth, kids, adults and elders have been participating in rallies, protests, and meetings to respond to the presence of the mining companies.

"Now that we have the peace agreement between the government and the FARC guerrilla we know that the pressure will increase. It is now when we will use all means possible to close the door to these extractives’ projects. We ask people if they want mega-mining in their area," comments Agudelo.

Civil mobilization

In the province of Antioquia, Conalminercol, the national confederation of Colombian miners supported a strike organized by miners from the communities of Remedios and Segovia this past September. As a result, on Sept. 28, 2016 the Colombian government set up the Resolutions Negotiation Table for Segovia and Remedios.

Ruben Dario Gomez is General Secretary of Conalminercol, which protects miners' right to work and is fighting companies such as Continental Gold Inc., which has two mining projects in Antioquia: Buritica and Berlin. In the past, Conaminercol achieved a small victory with this company: eight subcontracts for short periods of time.

Ruben also participated in national mobilizations organized by Conaminercol in 2015 against the breach of four government agreements with the company, which included the recognition of small-scale miners' traditional mining practices.

Ruben admits that traditional mining has environmental impacts on the land, but indicates that is not all their responsibility. "We are depicted as the enemy because we disputing territory and resources with big capital.  We are against the extractive model that is disadvantageous for our economy, agriculture, environment and cultural traditions."

Further, the grassroots organization Western Environmental Belt (COA by its initials in Spanish), has stood up to the Caramanta Conde Mine in Antioquia that was fined several times due to environmental problems.

"Solvista Gold Corp., IAMGOLD, Angel Gold Corporation and Caramanta Conde Mine SAS are Canadian mining companies that have had projects in Antioquia. Solvista has been there for five years, but changed its name, making it difficult to follow their projects closely," reflects a member of COA. (Solvista Gold is now called Rockcliff Copper Corporation)

COA engages citizens through vigils, festivals and the walk around the mountain, translated directly from Spanish as "Giving the Mountain a Hug." During this walk, which took place from August 8 to 14, 2016, myths, arts and culture were used to spread the message of environmental justice.

People interviewed for this article identified the most organized resistance in Colombia as being in the province of Santander.

Activists in the city of Bucaramanga, Santander are proud of their major victory against Canadian Greystar Resources Ltd, which changed its name to Eco Oro Minerals Corp in 2011. The environmental license for its Angostura project was denied because it would affect the Santurban moorlands or páramo, high altitude wetlands that supply water for Bucaramanga city and other towns downstream.

The message against this project was simple, but powerful, and easy to communicate: the impact of big mining on water sources.

"The experience of Santurban awoke civic consciousness about the importance of páramo. This provided a positive context for the final decision of the Constitutional Court, which ruled against mining in the páramo," indicates Carlos Lozano, a senior lawyer for theInter-Americann Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA).

Challenging extractive industry

Carlos Lozano says that the struggle against Eco Oro Minerals Corp., is a citizens' resistance, which has joined forces among unions, schools, the trades and professional associations: "It has captured the attention of politicians and the media regarding this project. Even recently, the World Bank,one of the investors in this project, presented a report admitting that the environmental impacts of this project weren't taken into account," Lozano adds.   

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) World Bank Group has since divested its investments from Eco Oro Minerals. "The IFC constantly evaluates its portfolio of investments based on its development role and consideration of market conditions.  Given Eco Oro’s decision to suspend indefinitely the Angostura project, on November 25, 2016, IFC divested its investment in the Company," indicates a statement from the IFC.

Oscar Sampayo, a member of the Magdalena Medio Research Group on Extractives Industry, the Environment and Society (GEAM), explains that resistance in Santander and the Magdalena Medio has had some success due to public education.

This allowed communities to better understand the impacts of extractive projects. "We contribute with capacity building and strategies to defend human rights; also making visible Colombian leniency with Canadian companies such as Eco Oro Minerals Corp., in Santurban and Parex Resources Inc., in Simacota. We also tried to expose the ties between politicians and transnational corporations," comments Sampayo.

Union activists also challenge the extractivist model. A few years ago, Francisco Ramirez denounced the negative impact of Canadian corporations in Colombia.

Nowadays, Ramirez is a member of Funtramiesco, a Workers Federation of the mining and energy sector in Colombia. He is responsible for legal international actions against corporations, and belongs to the National Movement of Victims of Multinational and Transnational Corporations (MNVC).   

Ramirez says that the goals of union activists include the nationalization of resources, sustainable development and meeting community needs. "Even as a union, we propose to close some mines and move the workers into infrastructure work," he says.

While Ramirez continues fighting corporations after 20 years, Edith Taborda the Indigenous governor continues to do the same in her beloved community in Risaralda.

Alejandro Pulido, a social researcher from Bogota, reflects on the narratives of resistance:

"The first is an environmental discourse. However, there is no discussion about access and dispute of these resources. A second discourse is about Indigenous, afro-Colombians and farmers communities fighting for their right to stay on their land; a third narrative comes from unions about labor conditions; and a fourth, from academics, questioning the economic model, the low profit from mining with some encouraging the nationalization of mining. It is interesting that many times these narratives don't dialogue," Pulido concludes.

"Finally, the extractive model is creating a new war for water, a new war is building up."

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