Colombia town outlaws open-pit mining, bucks displacement attempts from Gran Colombia Gold
By Nick Magel
January 26, 2012
Colombia is in the middle of a mining bonanza. The national geology and mining regulation body, Ingeominas, reports that between 2008-2010 over 15,000 applications for mining operations were submitted. According to the new report “Mining in Colombia: at What Cost?” (PDF) nearly 40% of Colombia lands are under extraction and exploration licenses. Over 8.4 million hectares have been leased solely for mining, or just about 4x the size of New Jersey.
In the Colombia highlands mining is not a new way of livelihood. Artisanal mining has been a cornerstone of community sufficiency for generations, as is the case in Marmato. Marmato is a small village, in the department of Caldas, with a 500-year history of small-scale artisanal mining. In many ways the community of Marmato embodies the growing struggles of communities that sit on Colombia’s resource rich lands. In this case it’s gold. Marmato sits on “Montana de Oro”, or Mountain of Gold, so it is no surprise that large multi-national mining companies are anxious to tap into the area’s known deposits.
Canadian-based, Gran Colombia (formerly Medoro) has had its sights on opening an open-pit gold mine at Marmato. They have run in to fierce opposition from a community that does not want the human rights abuses, the waste, and the threat to clean water associated with these large-scale mines. However, the dominant contention of the community is that Gran Colombia will have to totally remove the village on Marmato, displacing the entire population. Gran Colombia has stated their commitment to remove the village of Marmato in order to build a major open pit gold mine. In fact they have been audacious enough to start building a new town center while in the midst of the turmoil.
For over 6 six years a number of companies, including Gran Colombia, have been chomping at the bit to develop a mine in the area, and for over six years the community as resisted. They have resisted bribes and threats, have faced intimidation, and dealt with the murders of community leaders for standing up against mega mining. The resolve of the Marmato has not been broken; in fact it has been emboldened.
The saga of the community vs. Gran Colombia started another chapter a few weeks ago as the Municipal Court of Marmato made some remarkable changes to their Land Use plan. The plan was altered with a number of declarations ranging from a ban on open-pit mining to keeping the city center in the historical center of Marmato, rejecting any notion of resettlement. Here are the declarations as laid out by the courts from a media release from Marmato Defence Committee and Regional Indigenous Council of Caldas (CRIDEC):
1. Maintain the name El Llano (La Betulia) (Translator's note: this is the current name of the community to which the historic centre of Marmato was to be resettled to make way for an open pit mine) and erase the name “New Marmato” from all articles.
2. Keep the municipal centre in the Historic Area, including the Mayoral and Council's offices, the church, the educational institute, the police headquarters and all other institutions central to the social and institutional dynamic of this centre.
3. Prohibit open pit mining in the municipality of Marmato, Caldas, in accord with Article 33 of Law 136 and Article 313 of the National Constitution. Provide support for artisanal and traditional mining.
4. Declare El Llano (La Betulia) as a populated urban centre and its expansion areas as urban (El Tejar, Guayabito), and ensure that it has the necessary infrastructure to serve the needs of the current and future population.
5. Maintain the perimeter of the urban centre and of the Historic Area in accord with limits established in the Land Use Plan of 2004. The Municipal Council will regulate the nature of extraction taking place within this area in accord with the law.
6. Ensure strict monitoring of any drilling for minerals taking place within the municipality.
7. Carry out the necessary steps before respective authorities in order to remove mining titles from areas located within urban areas, populated areas, areas designated for rural development, sources of water, and protected areas within the municipality.
8. Prioritize public intervention in improving the environment within the municipality, in which not more than 15% will be used.
9. Maintain the rural character of San Juan de Marmato, also recognizing that the majority of the indigenous community within the municipality lives in this area. As a result, San Juan de Marmato will be categorized as a rural parish (corregimiento) (Article 311 of Decree 1333 of 1986) and as indigenous territory (Decree 1386 of 1994). Two populated rural areas will be established: San Juan and Agrovillas Jiménez.
10. The Central Plaza and surrounding area will be have its own special management regime such that its presence remains a testimony to the history of ancestral, colonial and republican mining in Marmato, and at the same time as the risk level of the area is taken into consideration. As a result, the demolition or resettlement of cultural heritage within the sector will be prohibited and its maintenance ensured such that it is conserved. Ensure the maintenance over time of the residents, public institutions, and private establishments within the sector of Atrio and other sectors within the Historic Area, which are in an area in which risk levels can be mitigated. As a result, classify as a high priority those works necessary to mitigate risk in these areas, as recommended by the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Caldas (CORPOCALDAS).
11. Carry out the necessary steps with the Governor's Office of Caldas, the Ministry of Culture and UNESCO to have Marmato declared a World Heritage Site.
12. Undertake a review of the water system and protect sources of water for the needs of the population.
(From Colombia Support Network, translated by Teresa Welsh. Edited by John Laun)
These reforms are a strong rebuke of the federal government’s inability, or unwillingness, to support communities opposed to large-scale mines. The local courts took the steps because they could no longer contend with inaction from Bogota. As with many communities dealing with the new Latin America gold rush, Marmato finds little support from a federal government determined to build national capital with unprecedented rates of resource extraction investments.
Marmato Defence Executive Committee, Regional Indigenous Council of Caldas (CRIDEC) went on to finish the release by declaring:
We demand that the Colombian authorities, the Canadian government and Gran Colombia Gold (formerly Medoro Resources) respect the sovereign decision of the people of Marmato. At the same time, we call upon all of the miners in Marmato to ensure the immediate application of the Mining Manual of Coexistence in order to ensure an improvement in the quality of life of the population and the respect of Mother Earth.
You can read the entre release HERE, compliments of our friends at MiningWatch.
The conflict of community’s self-determination vs. multi-national corporations is not a new one and will only be exasperated by this gold rush. Marmato's actions create a primer for similar communities to follow. Hopefully, Marmato’s steps will help to lay the groundwork for other communities to take autonomous actions to block operations that threaten their health, safety, and livelihoods.