A second municipality in Antioquia, Jericó, takes stand against mining industry, with others expected to follow suit.
With a six to four vote, the Jericó city council approved a draft agreement which prohibits metallic mining in the territory. The move makes them the second municipality in Antioquia to act against the industry after Támesis voted the same way in May, with many other councils in the department expected to take similar action.
Locals cited a need to protect the environment and develop the tourism and agriculture industries in the area. Jericó mayor Jorge Pérez told news outlets that the decision was “a transcendental political event where communities send a message to the national government: we do not want projects and proposals that are not relevant.”
The news follows hot on the heels of a March decision in Cajamarca, Tolima, where 97% of residents voted to ban the La Colosa mining project, which would potentially have become the biggest open pit gold mine in South America.
South African mining giant AngloGold Ashanti has pulled out of the La Colosa exploration and is now facing further losses with the Jericó ban, where they had already began exploratory works.
In an official communication following the Jericó move, AngloGold Ashanti said that while they were respectful of the local and regional authorities, they regretted the council’s decision. Calling it “unconstitutional”, they also argued it “sets a serious precedent for those looking to invest in the country, departments and municipalities of Colombia.”
The statement refuted claims of environmental damage, saying: “We understand the fears of the community regarding mining, but in the 12 years we have been in the territory, there has not been any damage to the environment or pollution of the water.”
Speaking to Semana, resident Verónica Vargas laid out some of the citizen’s concerns: “The problem is that the springs that are born in this mountain feed the Támesis, Jericó and Tarso rivers and that’s where the mining titles are”
Indeed, what looks like a victory for local communities and environmental activists comes as a further blow to mining companies. Colombia is already under pressure from several multinationals such as EcoOro who are threatening lawsuits after being awarded exploration licenses that were subsequently denied. The government stands to lose billions of dollars if those threatening to sue are successful.
As well as the threats of court cases, the instability regarding mineral exploration has ruffled feathers with foreign investors who fear putting money into Colombia amid the uncertainty.
By Laura Brown