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Colombian environmentalists reject mine that threatens the country's drinking water

Photo by Peace Brigades International.

On Sunday May 26, the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project accompanied lawyers from the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective (Corporación Colectivo de Abogados Luis Carlos Pérez) at a public consultation in the city of Bucaramanga.

That lawyers' collective, made up entirely of women, speaks out on critical environmental issues including the protection of the Santurbán páramo.

The collective requires protective accompaniment because it works in a context where more than 400 Colombian lawyers were murdered between 1991 and 2009.

The public consultation focused on the delimitation of the páramo, a sensitive ecosystem that supplies drinking water to more than two million people in eastern Colombia.

It is currently at risk from the proposed Soto Norte gold mine backed by Minesa, a transnational corporation based in the United Arab Emirates.

One concern is that the boundary of the páramo will be redrawn by the Colombian government in a way that allows mining within the ecosystem, but on paper appear to still be outside of it.

Another concern is that the mining will be so close to the boundary of the páramo that it will still impact the water within the ecosystem.

The public consultation was significant because Colombian environment minister Ricardo Lozano was in attendance and because the new boundary of the ecosystem will be announced by the government by July 16.

The Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective, also known by the acronym CCALCP, spoke clearly against the mine at this consultation.

CCALCP member Andrea Nocove told the consultation, "We want the conservation and preservation of the water authority and future generations.”

And CCALCP lawyer Julia Figueroa expressed her concerns to the Minister of the Environment about the failures of the process of citizen participation for the delimitation of the páramo.

A leading group opposed to the Minesa mine, as well as other proposed mines backed by transnational corporations, is the Committee for the Defense of Water and the Santurbán Páramo.

On the day of the public consultation, the Comité Santurbán tweeted, “We will not fall into the deception of delimiting Santurbán to open the way to the Megaminería in our high mountain Santander.”

BLU Radio has reported (in Spanish), “Since the morning of this Sunday [May 26], citizens and social organizations have presented their proposals, the majority, aimed at the protection of the ecosystem and the non-intervention by multinationals that intend to exploit gold in that area of Santander and Norte de Santander.”

This is part of an ongoing popular campaign.

On May 10, the Comité Santurbán was instrumental in organizing a massive march of more than 100,000 people in Bucaramanga against the mine and in the defence of drinking water.

From that march, 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."

On Monday June 17, Comité Santurbán members Luis Jesús Gamboa and Hernán Morantes will be in Ottawa to share more about this situation and to help launch the report Extraction Casino by Jennifer Moore and Manuel Perez Rocha.

They will also be highlighting that the Vancouver-based mining company Eco Oro Minerals Corp. is suing Colombia over that country’s rejection of the transnational’s proposed Angostura gold and silver mine project that would have been located in the Santurbán Páramo.

To find out more about that public forum, please click here.

In addition, this coming November a speaker from CCALCP will also be in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver to provide a further update on the situation and to speak broadly about human rights violations in Colombia.

Please follow Peace Brigades International-Canada on Twitter for more on this and other pressing human rights concerns.

Brent Patterson is a political activist, a writer, and the Executive Director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. 

Photo: Peace Brigades International

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