Minar o no Minar, esa es la cuestión - Consulta Popular en Tolima, Colombia

To Mine or not to Mine, that is the Question – Referendum in Tolima, Colombia

Basado en la publicación original de Andy Higginbottom para Colombian Solidarity Campaign

Una movida sin precedentes fue realizada por el Alcalde entrante de la ciudad de Ibagué, Tolima (Colombia), al presentar la pregunta propuesta para una Consulta Popular respecto a temas mineros y actividades afines, ante el Concejo Municipal, quienes determinarán el siguiente paso de la implementación de este instrumento democrático. Si el tramite jurídico se cumple, se espera que la Consulta Popular se lleve a cabo a mediados del presente año a pesar de la oposición del sector minero.

Los habitantes de Ibagué están preocupados que los proyectos mineros en la zona, incluyendo el proyecto La Colosa de la empresa Anglo Gold Ashanti, podría traer serios impactos si se llevan a cabo. Esta Consulta Popular en una capital regional de 650,000 personas, para tomar decisiones respecto a la minería a gran escala, es probablemente la primera en llevarse a cabo a esta escala en el mundo. Existe una creciente oposición a la minería en la región, pues el pasado Junio marcharon por la vida unas 50,000 personas por las calles de Ibagué, como signo de protesta.

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El proyecto La Colosa está ubicado en un poblad cercano a Ibagué llamado Cajamarca, conocido por sus tierras fértiles para la producción agrícola en manos de pequeños productores campesinos. De hecho, Cajamarca se conoce como la despensa agrícola del país. También es hogar de ecosistemas importantes como el bosque altoandino de niebla y el páramo, únicos para la región Andina. Existe una alta preocupación porque el proyecto La Colosa esté sobrepuesto con zonas de paramo, pues las montañas circundantes son fuente del agua vital para toda la región, lo cual se pone en riesgo si las operaciones mineras se llevan a cabo.

Un aspecto particularmente controversial ha sido el establecimiento del dique de colas de los residuos tóxicos de la mina. Este dique contendría sustancias peligrosas y contaminantes como compuestos de cianuro y otros metales pesados a perpetuidad, décadas después de que la mina cierre su operación. De acuerdo con las figuras expuestas por la misma compañía, el dique de colas de La Colosa sería uno de los más grandes del mundo. En el 2013, la Anglo Gold Ashanti estimó que las tierras planas de producción arrocera del municipio de Piedras serían ideales para la construcción de este dique. Sin embargo, de manera inesperada para la compañía, el Alcalde de Piedras también tramitó una Consulta Popular, que contó con la participación del 60% de los posibles votantes en la cual más del 99% de los votos manifestaron su rechazo a la minería, tal vez el más significativo hasta el momento.

El desastre sucedido recientemente en la mina de la BHP Billiton Samarco en Brasil, con el colapso del dique de colas causando el desastre ambiental más grande de este país, ha despertado mucha preocupación entre los habitantes de Ibagué. Desde que se llevó a cabo la Consulta Popular de Piedras, la empresa ha comentado la posibilidad de la construcción del dique de colas en el área de Cajamarca, a pesar de las advertencias del geólogo experto Robert Moran, respecto a las empinadas pendientes, los estrechos valles, la actividad volcánica y el riesgo sísmico del área. El colapso de un dique de colas en Cajamarca traería trágicas consecuencias para la ciudad de Ibagué, la cual se encuentra a 30km río abajo por el río Coello.

Los habitantes de Ibagué se disponen a ir a las urnas y ejercitar el derecho democrático de participar en la toma de decisiones que afectarán su futuro. Si las personas rechazan la minería y actividades afines, el proyecto La Colosa nuevamente se verá enfrentado a un contratiempo muy serio. La empresa ya no podrá aclamar que “cuentan con el apoyo de las comunidades locales”, pues este argumento será imposible de creer y de sustentar. Esta puede ser una muy mala noticia para los inversionistas pues La Colosa puede tener un destino similar a aquel del proyecto Pascua-Lama en la frontera entre Chile y Argentina, el cual (junto con otra mina en la República Dominicana) recientemente llevaron a la empresa canadiense Barrick Gold a anunciar una baja en sus balances de alrededor de 1-1.2 billones de dólares.

Próximos pasos para la Consulta Popular de Ibagué

El Alcalde de Ibagué ya presentó la pregunta ante el Concejo Municipal, quienes tendrán que darle luz verde a la Consulta Popular para seguir con el proceso jurídico ante el Tribunal y la Registraduría. El Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida, el movimiento ambiental más fuerte de la región, tiene un gran reto por delante: llegar a todos los habitantes de Ibagué, exponer la importancia de la aplicación de este mecanismo democrático y de su participación en el mismo, y generar conciencia respecto a las amenazas de la minería, para ellos, sus formas de vida, su futuro y las generaciones venideras.

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Más información sobre el proyecto La Colosa

Para más información detallada sobre el proyecto de minería a cielo abierto La Colosa, lea el informe LA COLOSA: una muerte anunciada (in English) (en Español).

Based on original post by Andy Higginbottom for Colombian Solidarity Campaign

In an unprecedented move, Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo, the newly-elected mayor of Ibagué (Colombia), has presented the proposed question in order to hold local referendum on mining and related activities within the municipality to the city council, for their agreement as the next step to take this democratic instrument to reality.  If the legal process is sorted out, the referendum would be expected to take place sometime around summer of this year, in spite of bitter opposition from the mining lobby.

Residents of Ibagué are concerned that mining projects in the area, including AngloGold Ashanti’s La Colosa project, would result in serious environmental impacts, if allowed to go ahead.  Such a referendum (or in Spanish, consulta popular) – in a regional capital of 650,000 people – to debate the fate of large-scale mining, is probably the first of its kind in the world.  There is a growing opposition to mining in the region – last June 50,000 people from all walks of life took to the streets of Ibagué in protest.

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La Colosa project is located in nearby Cajamarca, an area known for fertile farmlands held by small-scale campesinos. Indeed, Cajamarca is famous for being an agricultural hub for the whole country.  It also hosts important ecosystems, including rich biodiverse cloud forest and páramo, an ecosystem which is unique to Andean region.  There has been significant concern about parts of La Colosa project overlapping with the páramo.  Furthermore, the mountains in the area provide vital water sources for the entire region, which would be at risk if the mining operations go ahead.

A particularly controversial issue has been the whereabouts of the mine tailings dam.  The tailings dam would be used to store toxic waste containing cyanide compounds and heavy metals in perpetuity, long after gold mining operations have ceased.  According to the company’s own figures, the La Colosa dam would be one of the largest in the world.  In 2013, AngloGold Ashanti deemed that the stable, flat land in the rice-growing municipality of Piedras would be suitable to construct the tailings dam.  However, unexpectedly for the company, the mayor of Piedras held a referendum with a 60% turnout in which over 99% of people voted against the proposed mining-related activities.  This massive show of rejection has probably been the greatest setback to the project so far.

The recent disaster at the BHP Billiton Samarco mine in Brazil, where a tailings dam collapse caused the country’s worst environmental disaster ever, has led to increasing concern among the people of Ibagué.  This is because, since being rejected in Piedras, AngloGold Ashanti has proposed constructing the tailings dam in Cajamarca itself, despite warnings from geologist Robert Moran who pointed out that there are “steep cliffs”, “narrow valleys”, “volcanic activity” and “seismic risk” in the area.  A tailings dam collapse in Cajamarca could have tragic consequences for Ibagué, which lies 30km downstream along the river Coello.

Soon the people of Ibagué will be taking to polls, and exercising the democratic right to have a say about their future.  If people reject mining and related activities outright, the La Colosa project will suffer yet another serious, this time potentially fatal, setback.  The company’s claim that they have “widespread support from local communities” will be practically impossible to substantiate.  Ultimately, this may result in more bad news for investors: the La Colosa project may have a similar fate to the Pascua-Lama project in the Chile-Argentina border, which (together with another mine in the Dominican Republic) recently led the Canadian company Barrick Gold to announce 1-1.2 billion dollars in writedowns.

Next Steps for the Ibagué Referendum 

The question has been submitted by the Mayor to the City Council, who now have to vote in favor of the Referendum in order to continue the legal process in the Tribunal and the Registry. The Environmental Committee in Defense of Life (Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida), a strong environmentalist movement in the region, has a great challenge ahead: reaching out to all the inhabitants of Ibagué, introducing the importance of the applying this democratic mechanism and their participation, and building conscience about the threats of mining for them, their livelihood, their future and the generations to come.

ConsultaPopIBG

Further Reading about the La Colosa Project

For more detailed information about La Colosa open-cast gold mining project, see the comprehensive report LA COLOSA: A Death Foretold (in English) (in Spanish).

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