The Colombian Ministry of the Environment should ensure that there will be no large-scale mining in the páramo of Santurbán
(Bogotá, Colombia) The Colombian Ministry of the Environment has announced the limits of some 76% of the Santurbán páramo, while concurrently making worrisome declarations with regard to the future of large-scale mining in the area. This poses a serious risk to this páramo ecosystem, a source of water for some two million people, principally in Bucaramanga and Cúcuta.
Last Friday, the Minister of the Environment, Gabriel Vallejo, announced that 98,954 of 129,743 hectares of páramo in Santurbán would be protected. Nonetheless, the Minister was vague about whether or not large scale mining projects would or would not be permitted in the páramo. Vallejo indicated that companies that have mining titles and environmental licences will continue operating in the area, subject to “strong environmental controls.” But he did not specify what scale of mining activity he was referring to. This is relevant given the presence of small-scale mining in Santurbán.
“The Minister did not release the administrative act pertaining to this decision and refused to confirm whether or not this would affect the Angostura mine project, or any other large-scale projects. It is positive that 98,000 hectares have been recognized as páramo, but this will mean very little if the government interprets existing mining licenses as vested rights and allows them to continue operating there,” remarked Carlos Lozano Acosta, lawyer for the Inter American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) in Bogotá.
Despite national and international norms that prohibit mining in páramo, mining titles have been granted to transnational mining companies in Santurbán. The Canadian mining company Eco Oro Minerals is one of these, which aspires to build the Angostura gold mine in this ecosystem.
In addition to being a source of water, the páramo are home to endemic species and species at risk of extinction. It also acts as a carbon sink, contributing to climate change mitigation.
“The Ministry of the Environment has been very unclear with regard to decision making over Santurbán. We demand respect for the source of water for two million people and that mining be effectively prohibited in all of the páramo. We will continue to work and organize until this comes about,” stated Miguel Ramos for the Committee for the Defence of Water and the Páramo of Santurbán in Bucaramanga.
The Committee brings together more than 40 organizations from the department of Santander. Since 2010, it has mobilized tens of thousands of people against the Angostura mining project and all other large-scale mining projects in Santurbán, in order to ensure water for communities in the area.
Currently, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), part of the World Bank Group, is conducting an audit of its investment in Eco Oro Minerals’ Angostura project based on a complaint made by the Committee in June 2012 to the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman.
“Despite the lack of a coherent decision on the part of the government regarding large-scale mining in the páramo of Santurbán, the IFC – a shareholder of Eco Oro – must decide based on its own environmental and social policies whether it can support a project in a protected ecosystem,” commented Kris Genovese for the Centre for Research on Multinational Companies (SOMO).
According to Colombian law, setting the boundaries of the páramo is a means by which to protect this ecosystem from activities that could damage it, especially large scale mining, such that this process should not be used as a means to justify this activity. The Colombian Government is obliged to take this course of action.
- Miguel Ramos, Committee for the Defence of Water and the Páramo of Santurbán (Bucaramanga, Colombia), +57 3209915526, equipojuridicopueblos.sder(at)gmail.com
- Carlos Lozano Acosta, Inter American Association for Environmental Defense (Bogotá, Colombia), +57 300 56 40 282, clozano(at)aida-americas.org
- Carla García Zendejas, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) (Washington D.C.), +1 (202) 374-2550, cgarcia(at)ciel.org
- Kristen Genovese, Centre for Research on Multinacional Corporations (SOMO) (Amsterdam), +31 20 639 1291, k.genovese(at)somo.nl
- Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada (Ottawa, Canada), (613) 569-3439, jen(at)miningwatch.ca