Water or Gold? Colombians decide in unprecedented referendum

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Thu Feb 11 00:44:46 GMT 2016

<http://colombiasolidarity.org.uk/index.php>Colombia Solidarity Campaign

- Fighting for Peace with Justice -

Mine or not to Mine, that is the Question
Saturday, 06 February 2016 21:04

Water or Gold? Colombians to Decide

Andy Higginbottom

In an unprecedented move, Guillermo Alfonso 
Jaramillo, the newly-elected mayor of Ibagué 
announced that a local referendum will be held on 
mining and related activities within the 
municipality.  The referendum is expected to take 
place in May, in spite of 
opposition from the mining lobby.

Residents of Ibagué are concerned that mining 
projects in the area, including AngloGold 
Ashanti’s La Colosa project, would result in 
serious environmental impacts, if allowed to go 
ahead.  Such a referendum (or in Spanish, 
consulta popular) - in a regional capital of 
650,000 people - to debate the fate of 
large-scale mining, is probably the first of its 
kind in the world.  There is a growing opposition 
to mining in the region - last June 
people from all walks of life took to the streets of Ibagué in protest.

Yes to Life, No to Mining

Yes to Life, No to Mining. Credit: Vivana Sánchez

La Colosa project is located in nearby Cajamarca, 
an area known for fertile farmlands held by 
small-scale campesinos. Indeed, Cajamarca is 
famous for being an agricultural hub for the 
whole country.  It also hosts important 
ecosystems, including rich biodiverse cloud 
forest and páramo, an ecosystem which is unique 
to Andean region.  There has been 
concernabout parts of La Colosa project 
overlapping with the páramo.  Furthermore, the 
mountains in the area provide vital water sources 
for the entire region, which would be at risk if 
the mining operations go ahead.

A particularly controversial issue has been the 
whereabouts of the mine tailings dam.  The 
tailings dam would be used to store toxic waste 
containing cyanide compounds and heavy metals in 
perpetuity, long after gold mining operations 
to the company’s own figures, the La Colosa dam 
would be one of the largest in the world.  In 
2013, AngloGold Ashanti deemed that the stable, 
flat land in the rice-growing municipality of 
Piedras would be suitable to construct the 
tailings dam.  However, unexpectedly for the 
company, the mayor of Piedras held a referendum 
with a 60% turnout in which 
99% of people voted against the proposed 
mining-related activities.  This massive show of 
rejection has probably been the greatest setback to the project so far.

disaster at the BHP Billiton Samarco mine in 
Brazil, where a tailings dam collapse caused the 
country’s worst environmental disaster ever, has 
led to increasing concern among the people of 
Ibagué.  This is because, since being rejected in 
Piedras, AngloGold Ashanti has proposed 
constructing the tailings dam in Cajamarca 
itself, despite 
from geologist Robert Moran who pointed out that 
there are “steep cliffs”, “narrow valleys”, 
“volcanic activity” and “seismic risk” in the 
area.  A tailings dam collapse in Cajamarca could 
have tragic consequences for Ibagué, which lies 
30km downstream along the river Coello.

Soon the people of Ibagué will be taking to 
polls, and exercising the democratic right to 
have a say about their future.  If people reject 
mining and related activities outright, the La 
Colosa project will suffer yet another serious, 
this time potentially fatal, setback.  The 
company’s claim that they have “widespread 
support from local communities” will be 
practically impossible to 
substantiate.  Ultimately, this may result in 
more bad news for investors: the La Colosa 
project may have a similar fate to the 
Pascua-Lama project in the Chile-Argentina 
border, which (together with another mine in the 
Dominican Republic) 
led the Canadian company Barrick Gold to announce 
1-1.2 billion dollars in writedowns.

Marcha Carnaval 5 June 2015

Marcha Carnaval 5 June 2015. Image Credit: El Oflato

About AngloGold Ashanti

Johannesburg-based AngloGold Ashanti has an 
appalling track record in environment and human 
rights.  In 2011, 
reported that it had been awarded the Public Eye 
award for being the World’s Most Irresponsible 
Company, following contamination of community 
drinking water in 
Rights Watch also revealed that AngloGold Ashanti 
financed paramilitary groups in Democratic 
Republic of the Congo, 
fact that the company itself has been forced to 
admit.  Recently, in South Africa, there have 
of disrespectful treatment by the company to 
former employees dying from silicosis.

Further Reading about the La Colosa Project

For more detailed information about La Colosa 
open-cast gold mining project, see the 
comprehensive report LA COLOSA: A Death Foretold 

Map of Ibagué and surroundings

Map of Ibagué and surroundings. Credit: La Colosa Una Muerte Anunciada
Download this file (AGA_and_the_DRC.pdf)
[AGA and the Democratic Republic of the Congo]139 Kb
Download this file (AGA_and_the_DRC.pdf)
[Colosa_Investor_Day_Slides.pdf]1321 Kb
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