Colombia: illegal mining the ‘new coca’?

An unprecedented ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court last year protecting alpine wetlands or páramos from mining operations is apparently going unenforced. Coal-mining continues in the Páramo de Pisba, a supposed protected area in Boyacá department, according to Anastasio Cruz of the Network of Rural Waterworks (Red de Acueductos Rurales), who said that the mining operations over the past 12 years have left over 20 local sources dry. The operations are carried out by companies operating on the margins of the law, which he said are also seeking to re-activate an old iron mine in the area. Cruz made his statement to the press ahead of a National Meeting of Páramo Defenders held in Tasco, Boyacá, last moth. (Contagio Radio, Aug. 5)

Meanwhile, protests were held in Ibagué, capital of Tolima department, over the failure of city authorities to call a consulta or popular vote on mining operations within the municipality. The consulta was mandated by a vote of the municipal council on Feb. 29. Repeated demonstrations have been held outside the Tolima Administrative Tribunal., which has failed to approve the consulta. (El Espectador, July 28)

Of Colombia's approximately 14,000 productive mining units, more than 60% are illegal, by official figures. Outlaw mining operations have emerged as an important sideline for Colombia's narco networks, in a nexus with paramilitaries and local businessmen. Journalist Raúl Zibechi charges that Los Rastrojos and Urabeños paramilitary groups are funded by "protection" payments from mine operators. He warns that illegal mining is becoming Colombia's "new coca"—but taking a far greater ecological toll than cultivation of coca leaf ever did. (Informes, Aug. 18)