Environmental Activists in Ibague and Cajamarca

In 2021, the UK will host COP26, this important event cannot happen at a more crucial moment for climate change, biodiversity conservation and the environment.

In 2018 ABColombia led a Delegation of Parliamentarians who met with environmental activists in Ibague and Cajamarca – the Young Social and Environmental Group of Cajamarca (Colectivo Socio-Ambiental Juvenil de Cajamarca – COSAJUCA) – an area which is known as the “bread basket” of Colombia because of its rich fertile agricultural soil.

It is here, in Cajamarca, that there is a proposal for a gold mine by Anglo Gold Ashanti – called La Colosa. The plans are for La Colosa to be an open cast gold mining project, which according to AngloGold Ashanti will be one of the largest gold mines in the world (it is currently in the exploration phase)

As an environmental movement, our demands to respect our rights has been carried out peacefully, through social protest, legal means and the available participation mechanisms; and yet, [despite wining the public consultation] our rights have still not been recognised.

Why we are fundamentally opposed … to the La Colosa project? We undertook several investigations… to identify [the]… impacts that this project could bring… damage to ecosystems, contamination of the soil, water, air...

These statement was made by two of the environmental activists that met with the Delegation. They pointed out that despite the citizens of Cajamarca in a Consulta Popular (official referendum) on 26 March 2017, voting 98% against the Colosa AngloGold Ashanti gold mining project.

According to the young environmental activists, the Anglo Gold Ashanti gold mine, La Colosa, would be open pit, which would cause the “mountain to disappear” and in its place there would be quarries which could be anything up to 2.5 km in diameter and 500 meters deep.

There are important environmental ecosystems in this region, like cloud forest, that play a key role in the dissemination of water. “As an environmental social movement, we believe that the true wealth of our country is not found in mining or underground, but on the surface: in the water, biodiversity, agricultural production…”

The 2018 Delegation heard how they had taken a range of legal actions to protect the environment and defend their constitutional rights. They had undergone training in order to understand the environmental impacts that mining was likely to have on the ecosystems and on agricultural production. As well as, forming a local environmental movement which was linked to the national movement.

As a result explaining the information they had obtained with their locally elected representatives in Cajamarca and Ibague the two local councils started to work with its citizens in an effort to stop the Colosa mine from going ahead. They had followed the legal pathway, complying at every juncture with the law, including holding the local referendum (Consulta Popular).

“… from [Bogota] they are turning us into mining country. These extraction projects are impacting strongly in environmental terms, specifically on the issue of water.

Initially, because some of those who lived in the area were miners the environmental group designed the referendum to only prevent large-scale mining. The kind that used cyanide and mercury, and large quantities of water, and not the smaller scale mining. But due to legal obstacles, the question they had to put in the Consulta Previa was, were people willing to ban all mining. This was something they realised would be much harder to win. However, they spent time explaining to everyone, including the small-scale miners, why it was necessary to ban all mining.

Anglo Gold Ashanti finance NGOs in the municipality of Cajamarca, a group who were campaigning for people to abstain from voting in the referendum…. Because if we did not achieve [a minimum] of 33% [participation] of the electoral roll, the consultation would have no legal validity…

The least they [AGA] can do is respect not only the law of this country, but also the will of the people”

Anglo Gold invested in the hospital, the marketplace, folklore festivals …. They tried to buy peoples conscience in a variety of ways, even so they lost.

Our main concern is that we are seeing the Government instead of respecting – the Colombian Constitution, Law 134/94, Law 1757 of 2015, and a large number of sentences by the Constitutional Court, the Consejo de Estado (State Council) –  wants to reverse these rights that have been recognised by the Constitution and the law.

Our other concern is that they are replacing the armed conflict with these socio-environmental conflicts. That is, they are imposing new types of violence on us.”

They are generating the conditions for new violence and violations of human rights with the possible implementation of this [La Colosa] project. We are going to have to block the company, to block the army that protects the company, and that will effectively generate violence, [we are in danger of] assassinations, something we all want to avoid.

The new Government wants to take away the binding nature of laws that favour people like us. So we also need to strengthen the political issue and not just stay as a movement … today, at the national level, we are trying to see how we can defend those constitutional rights….As an environmental movement, the demand for rights has been made peacefully, through social protest, legal means and participation mechanisms…

Further Concerns were expressed by COSAJUCA

We have already received “pamphlets with threats signed by the Black Eagle paramilitaries.”

The concerns expressed by the environmental human rights defenders were very real as five months after the Consulta Popular in Cajamarca, Tolima, on Friday 28 August 2017, two young environmental human rights defenders that were part of the COSAJUCA were shot and killed.

What next?

The result of the Peoples’ Consultation obliges the town council to formally ban all mining activity from the Cajamarca Municipality. This is the first time a Colombian town council has had to ban large-scale controversial mining projects from its territory. This meant that whatever mining titles had been granted by the national mining agency can no longer be exploited.

[But] when you look at the Anglo Gold Ashanti website, they say that the La Colosa project is suspended because a minority group opposes the project. (Emphasis in original quote)

Anglo Gold Ashanti had thought that the “No” vote would have a “minimal” effect, they claimed that the ban would only apply to titles issued after the referendum. However, legal experts in Bogota Dejusticia explained that this would not be the case because business deals do not transcend state decisions. If an activity is prohibited by law, it becomes an illegal activity. Dejusticia, also pointed out that currently Anglo Gold Ashanti do not “have an environmental license to carry out exploration activities.