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Colombia: International mining investments in rural Colombia threaten Andean communities

Author: International Institute for Environment and Development, Published on: 29 July 2020

“Investment disputes from below: whose rights matter? Mining, environment and livelihoods in Colombia” – 23 July 2020

Colombians call this misty Andean ecosystem páramo. A precious carbon sink, the páramo of Santurbán has sustained social identity and cultural fabric for centuries. As we trek on a winding dirt track some 3,800 metres above sea level, Victor – a slim, quiet 50-something from the nearby village of Vetas – recounts the many generations whose lives unfolded on these slopes: the indigenous Chitareros; the European conquistadores, founders of Vetas; the gringos who over a century ago came searching for gold; and the artisanal miners whose livelihoods today depend on the gold hidden in the belly of these mountains. To millions of people living in the lands below these high moors, the páramo is life: an essential source of water, and a deeply felt presence towering over their existence. In recent years, this ecological and cultural site has come under growing commercial pressures that have raised probing questions about the role, and the limitations, of law in reconciling environmental, social and economic imperatives. Over the past two decades, the páramo of Santurbán experienced a surge in large-scale mining exploration, prompted by shifting public policies, rising gold prices and a bloody battle that, at the turn of the century, dislodged the local guerrilla units...Ten years ago, when Canadian mining company Eco Oro (then known as Greystar) [now Minesa, part of Mubadala Investment] sought an environmental licence for an open-pit mine, Erwing helped build a broad anti-mining coalition. Ranging from environmental activists to business groups, the coalition organised mass demonstrations – he estimates that at one point some 40,000 people marched in the streets of Bucaramanga..These days, Erwing and the committee are mainly concerned about another company’s proposed project (Spanish language), which, if approved, would mine close to the mountain village of California, below the páramo line, but still raising public concerns about water flowing down to the lowlands. 

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Related companies: Eco Oro Minerals (formerly Greystar Resources) Minesa, Sociedad Minera de Santander (part of Mubadala Investment Company) Mubadala Investment Company