Colombia: ‘consulta’ on mineral project approved

The city council of Ibagué, capital of Colombia's Tolima department, voted Feb. 29 to a approve a popular "consulta" on a proposed mineral project for the municipality—two months after Mayor Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo proposed the ground-breaking move. AngloGold Ashanti hopes to develop an open-pit gold mine at La Colosa in neighboring Cajamarca municipality, which could impact the Río Coello that flows into Ibagué and provides much of its water supply. Another downstream municipality that depends on the river, Piedras, declared against the project following a similar popular consultation in 2013. But the upcoming Ibagué vote marks the first time a departmental capital will hold such a process on a development project. Jaramillo cites Law 136 of 1994, which gives municipalities the right to determine the development of subsoil resources within their territories. (El Espectador, El EspectadorEl Tiempo, Feb. 29; El Tiempo, Feb. 25)

Controversies over citizen participation surround several pending extractive projects around Colombia. After two years of talks with the government over plans for mineral development in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia's north, representatives of four indigenous groups—the Kankuamos, Koguis, Wiwas and Arhuacos—warned last month that the dialogue is in risk of collapse. The mamos (spiritual leaders) of the indigenous groups accused the Interior Ministry of intransigence on the issue of prior consultation. (El Tiempo, Feb. 20)

On Feb. 11, some 150 indigenous leaders met in the Sierra Nevada town of Chemesquemena (Cesar department), to hold a public meeting on the nearly 400 mineral and energy projects pending in the mountain range. The insisted on the right to prior consulation on any projects that cross the Línea Negra (Black Line), which was drawn to demarcate their traditional territories in 1974. (El Espectador, Feb. 14)

In a decision that could affect oil exploitation throughtout the country, Colombia's Constitutional Court on Feb. 24 ordered a halt to operations at Pacific Exploration & Production's  Campo Quifa oilfield in Puerto Gaitán, Meta department, pending a consultation process with the local Sikuani indigenous people. The court found that the Sikuani resguardo (reservation) of Vencedor Pirirí is within the project's "area influence." Canada-based Pacific Exploration operates the well in a partnership with the parastatal EcoPetrol. The fourth most productive oilfield in the country, it had an average production of 56,000 barrels per day last year. (HSB Noticias, Feb. 27; El Tiempo, Feb. 24)

The Constitutional Court issued two related decisions last month concerning the Awá indigenous people of Putumayo department. On Feb. 1, the court called a halt to Canadian PetroMinerales operations at Orito pending prior consultation, but on Feb. 23 turned down a petition to similarly halt Gran Tierra Energy's operations near Puerto Asis. (El Espectador, Feb. 25; El Espectador, Feb. 23; El Tiempo, Feb. 19; El Tiempo, Feb. 18)

Both Pacific Exploration and PetroMinerales are owned by Pacific Rubiales.