Mineral interests challenge Colombia under FTA

International environmentalists are condemning Vancouver-based Eco Oro Minerals' announcement that it will initiate arbitration against Colombia over its new policy to protect sensitive highland ecosystems. Eco Oro has stated its intention to sue Colombia under the investment chapter of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement over suspension of its proposed Angostura gold mine in Santurbán, Santander department, seeking "monetary compensation for the damages suffered." The case concerns a ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court last month that revoked all licenses granted to companies that sought to carry out mining activities on páramos, the high alpine meadows that protect watersheds. The company maintains the Colombian government did not adequately demarcate the Santurbán paramó before giving a license for the project, which has received backing from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

Countered Carlos Lozano Acosta of the InterAmerican Association for Defense of the Environment (AIDA): "From the beginning of Angostura it has been clear that the constitution and applicable nroms protect the páramos, and that the project would affect Santurbán, and therefore it could not be authorized. States should not be sanctioned for protecting their sources of water, and complying with their national and international obligations." (El Tiempo, March 17; CIEL, March 14; Eco Oro Minerals press release, March 7, via PR Newswire)

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement took force in 2011, despite concerns over human rights and environmental standards.