Colombia: court protects more lands from mining

Colombia's Constitutional Court on June 11 overturned a government decree from 2012 that would allow mining in nine areas of the country, together making up 20% of the national territory—a collective area approximately the size of Minnesota. The designated "Strategic Mining Areas" were decalred by the National Mining Agency in decrees 180241 and 0045 of February and June 2012, respectively, affecting lands in some 20 departments, from the Pacific coast to the interior Amazon. The challenge was brought by the NGO Tierra Digna on behalf of several indigenous and campesino groups within these areas, who said to the decrees violated their right to prior consultation. The ruling virtually ends the government's declared ambition to make mining the “motor” of the Colombian economy. (El Tiempo, June 13; Colombia Reports, June 12; El Espectador, June 11)

June 3 saw a mass mobilization against minig in Tolima department, with some 100,000 filling the streets of the capital, Ibagué. The "Carnival for Water" was called to build support for a popular "consulta" or referendum on mining operations in the area—approved earlier this year by Ibagué authorities but now stalled due to the opposition of the national government. 

After the demonstration, pamphlets appeared on the streets of Ibagué signed by the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles) paramilitary group and addressed to the march organizers. The text read: "Our armed group has full knowledge of your intentions… You are ordered to cease your activities now." (El Espectador, June 8)

Other such "consulta" initiatives have been launched around the country. Activists have collected some 50,000 signatures in support of "consulta" on mining operations in Quindío department, like Tolima in the Colombian Andes. (El Tiempo, May 24)

A Constitutional Court decision late last year protected páramos, or alpine wetlands, throughout the country from mining. But this year has seen a wave of assassinations of ecologists and peasant leaders across Colombia.