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LatinNews Daily - 14 June 2016

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CC delivers heavy blow to Colombian gov’t economic development plans

Development: On 13 June Colombia’s constitutional court (CC) struck down a series of resolutions approved by the national government which created ‘strategic mining development areas’ in 20 of the country’s 32 departments.

Significance: The final ruling is a heavy blow to the efforts by the government led by President Juan Manuel Santos to continue to promote the development of Colombia’s increasingly significant mining sector, which in recent years has become one of the main drivers of the domestic economy. The Santos government decided to make the development of the sector one of its main priorities as a way to encourage the development of the country’s economically depressed regions and to generate more wealth and employment in support of the peace process that it has been advancing with the country’s leftist guerrillas. However, its plans are objected to by local communities and environmental groups, all of which are concerned about the dangers associated with the rapid expansion of industrial mining activity in the country.

  • The ‘strategic mining development areas’ initiative sought to promote mining activity by actively identifying potentially rich mineral areas across the country and designating them as apt for exploitation and the awarding of mining concessions. The initiative, which affects around 20% of Colombia’s national territory, was approved by the national congress in 2011. But local environmental groups led by NGO Tierra Digna warned that the measure could lead to the unchecked spread of mining activity at the expense of Colombia’s rich natural environment.
  • Tierra Digna joined forces with 15 rural and indigenous communities from the remote north-western department of Chocó to present a formal complaint against the initiative before the courts. They argued that the national government had failed to appropriately consult local communities of its plans to designate areas located in their territories as being apt for mining exploitation, in violation of the right to prior consultation of local communities enshrined in Colombia’s 1991 constitution.
  • Yesterday the CC made public a ruling it issued in December last year, in which it sided with Tierra Digna. The CC ruled that the government had not satisfied the necessary prior consultation procedures; and that the initiative could also potentially violate communities’ rights to access to water, a clean natural environment and even damage their cultural heritage. The CC ordered the suspension of any mining concessions awarded under the initiative until the government “exhausts the prior consultation process and obtains the free consent…of the communities”.

Looking Ahead: The ruling was hailed by the national ombudsman office, which said that it reaffirmed communities’ rights to prior consultation. But it has been criticised by the Asociación Colombiana de Minería (ACM) private mining sector lobby. ACM president Santiago Angel Urdinola complained that the ruling “changes the rules of the game” and would inevitably affect mining investments, remarks that the Santos government would not be happy to hear.