Colombia: courts uphold local power over mining

Colombia's Constitutional Court announced a decision Feb. 16 upholding the power of municipalities and "territorial entities" to block mining on their lands. The decision cited Law 685, which modified the Mining Code in 2001, bringing it into conformity with constitutional provisions on regional autonomy. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 16) The ruling clears the way for Ibagué, capital of Tolima department, to hold its planned consulta or popular vote on mining operations within the municipality, seen as model for similar votes around the country.

However, there are further charges that the Constitutional Court's landmark 2015 ruling protecting alpine wetlands or páramos from mining operations is going unenforced. The Comptroler General of the Nation issued a statement Feb. 12 finding that mining is continuing within páramos due to the failure of the responsible authorities to demarcate them. The statement called on the Environment Ministry to urgently take up this work, especially citing threats to the páramos of Santurbán (Santander department) and Miraflores (Huila). (Contagio Radio, Feb. 12)

Local protests against such extractive projects continue around the country. In recent weeks, thousnads of campesinos marched in La Esmeralda vereda (hamlet), Mercaderes municipality, Cauca, to demand that local authorities take a stand against mining projects they say would threaeten their water resources. (El Espectador, Jan. 26) Similar mobilizations have been ongoing at Pio XII, Guamal municipality, Meta, to oppose the planned Trogon oil platform, being developed by the companies Ecopetrol and Repsol. (Colombia Informa, Feb. 8)

In a move unfavorable to peasant and ecological interests, the Constitutional Court also issued a ruling this month upholding the law creating so-called Rural Economic-Social Development Interest Zones (ZIDRES). A challenge to the law had been brought by campesino organizations and their supporters in Colombia's Congress. (El Tiempo, Feb. 8) Opponents say the ZIDRES, agri-business enclaves to be favored with aid and credit, pose a threat to the peasant autonomous zones created in many areas of the country under the previous agrarian reform policies.

Struggles over access to land also continue across the country. On Feb. 22 the National Police anti-riot squad ESMAD used tear-gas and rubber bullets to evict some 300 families displaced from their own communities by political violence who had been occupying private lands in Cúcuta municipality, Norte de Santander. (Colombia Informa, Feb. 23)