Meet the people building alternatives to mining in Colombia
by Hannibal Rhoades and Benjamin Hitchcock Auciello | Original source: Red Pepper | 19 April 2018
Hannibal Rhoades and Benjamin Hitchcock Auciello interview local activists and business people determined to kick the mining industry out of their town.
On the 26th March 2017, citizens from the mountainous municipality of Cajamarca, Colombia, voted, with a 98% majority, to ban South African miner AngloGold Ashanti’s vast La Colosa gold mining project, in a ‘popular consultation’ led by grassroots youth activists and small-scale farmers.
One year on, and Cajamarca’s victory has helped inspire a much wider movement of citizens and municipalities exercising their democratic right to participation. 9 other municipalities have held consultations, each rejecting planned mining, gas and oil projects with majorities above 90%. More than 70 others have indicated their intention to do the same.
Springing up across the nation, the popular consultations reflect a growing rejection of the extractive industries, with their track record of social conflict and ecological destruction in Colombia and across Latin America, as an answer to local development needs.
Despite being portrayed as a ghost town by pro-mining media, in Cajamarca new alliances of small-scale farmers, land defenders and businesses are showing that it’s possible to build peace, prosperity and development without mining as Colombia enters a post-conflict era.
This March, Colombian activist Mariana Gomez Soto, ethnobotanist Ricardo de la Pava, and business leader Felipe Macia travelled to the UK to share Cajamarca’s story. Here they describe the importance of Cajamarca’s example as Colombia prepares to elect its first President since peace was officially established in 2016.
Mariana Gomez Soto, Latin American Coordinator of the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network, has been involved in organising popular consultations in her home-town, Piedras, in Cajamarca, and across Colombia.
Mariana tells us about the trajectory, impact and significance of the popular consultations, the challenges they face, and their crucial importance for peace in Colombia.
“Cajamarca proves it’s possible to fight the giant and to win. Since Cajamarca’s popular consultation victory, social movements in the region are confident that they are on the right track and can go out to share their experience with other municipalities that are in the same position.
“The positive impacts have been felt across Colombia, too, triggering a boom in the consultations. There have been other successes, and yet more consultations have been blocked by the Government, which is stopping funding for them to go ahead. Over 70 municipalities have expressed their intention to hold popular consultations, widening the message that people are not just asking for an end to mining.
“By saying ‘No’ to mining, communities are not saying no to development. They’re saying we need to transition to new forms of development that are not based on exploiting non-renewable resources.
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