By: Brent Patterson
A massive march of more than 100,000 people took place in the city of Bucaramanga, Colombia on Friday May 10. All of the media coverage of that protest is in Spanish. What happened that day and why?
A mobilization to protect drinking water
El Espectador reports that the protest march was in opposition to "extractive projects in the ecosystem that supplies water to more than two million people in eastern Colombia."
The name of that ecosystem is the Páramo de Santurbán.
Mayerly López, a member of the Committee for the Defense of Water and the Páramo de Santurbán, is quoted in that news article, explaining that "the water we consume daily is supplied from Santurbán and that is why we invite massively to reject extractive projects in the ecosystem."
The newspaper Vanguardia also notes, "The Páramo de Santurbán ecosystem has an aquifer richness, so complex, that it has a total of 26 lagoons; In addition to the large amount of liquid that reaches streams and rivers."
And it highlights, "It's not just water! The Páramo de Santurbán is also home and refuge of 293 species of fauna and 457 varieties of plants."
A transnational mining company seeks to mine in a fragile ecosystem
The most imminent threat to the ecosystem comes from a mining company called Minesa.
Their website states that Minesa, is a "Colombian gold mining company focused on the development of the Soto Norte project which is located in the department of Santander in north-central Colombia."
It adds, "We are supported by our shareholder, Mubadala Development Company, an investment and development company owned by the government of Abu Dhabi."
As many readers will know, Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates.
The government's licencing and boundary drawing process
According to Vanguardia, in February “Minesa submitted an environmental licence application to start extracting more than 9 million ounces of gold and other minerals in a sector known as Soto Norte, very close to Santurbán."
Vanguardia also highlights that the Ministry of Environment is "holding meetings with communities about the new delimitation of the páramo.”
That new boundary of the ecosystem will be announced by the government by July 16.
The concern is that the boundaries of the páramo will be redrawn in a way that allows the mining company to mine within the ecosystem, but on paper still be outside of it.
The concern is also that the mining will be so close to the boundary of the páramo that it will still impact the water within the ecosystem.
Municipal and state opposition to the mining project
The march against mining in or near the Páramo de Santurbán had the support of the municipality and the state.
El Tiempo reports, "The Government of Santander and the Mayor of Bucaramanga decreed a civic afternoon on Friday so that citizens could go out freely to defend the Santurbán páramo."
Protests in other cities
Protests also took place in Cúcuta and Bogota.
In advance of the march, Blu Radio reported, "In Bogota, in front of the headquarters of the offices of the National Agency of Environmental Licenses, citizens will develop a sit-in so that this entity does not give license for the exploitation of the gold mines located in that area of Santander."
CCALCP and Peace Brigades International
From the march, the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP) tweeted, "We demand respect for our rights to water; to life in dignified conditions for communities and end consumers; and that environmental authorities take real, effective measures for the protection and conservation of the moors."
The Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project, which provides protective accompaniment to human rights defenders who are at risk of violence, has stated, "Since 2010, CCALCP has supported causes that defend natural resources, especially water, in Santander department."
Their post highlights, "The case of Santurban moor is very relevant. The moor is an important natural resource for Colombia and the source of drinking water for many municipalities in the department of Santander and North Santander."
It also adds, "Nevertheless, as in other cases in Colombia, concessions have been granted to multinational companies for exploiting mineral resources, which are causing serious environmental impacts."
Peace Brigades International-Canada is organizing a speaking tour with CCALCP and CREDHOS (the Colombia-based group Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights) this coming November that will visit Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. More on that soon!
Brent Patterson is Executive Director of Peace Brigades International-Canada, a political activist, and a writer.
To read more about grassroots efforts in Colombia to protect the ecosystem and drinking water, please see the rabble blogs Vancouver mining company Eco Oro sues Colombia over protection of Santurbán wetland and Colombian human-rights group CREDHOS opposes fracking, seeks to protect freshwater. You can also watch the MiningWatch Canada video (starting at the 1 hour 27 minute mark) of a recent Skype presentation by the Comité Santurbán to their annual general meeting.
Image: Comité Santurbán/Twitter