From August 31st to September 2nd, 2011, the Grand Convention Plaza and Exposition Center witnessed the seventh annual International Mining Fair, organized by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Regional Government of Antioquia, and Asomineros (Miners Association Chamber) of the ANDI (National Association of Industries). Outside of the event thoe opposed to the “mining locomotive” – proposed by President Santos –were demonstrating against it.
The VII Mining Fair, an international event, took place in the city of Medellin and its visitors agreed upon the fact that the mining industry is at its “boom” stage of exploration in the Colombian territory. Especially since only a few projects have been executed, such as the Buriticá and Frontino projects in the department of Antioquia and the Marmato project in the department of Caldas. Nevertheless, there are many others that are yet to be executed, such as the famous project named La Colosa, in the department of Tolima.
While the fair was taking place within the walls of the Grand Convention Plaza, a group of people were protesting outside the building because the legislation and the National Development Plan disregard them and would make their economical activities disappear only to be controlled by the multinational companies. Among these people there were some independent miners associated withthe National Confederation of Miners of Colombia, some of which are considering to be mining illegally for not possessing mining titles.
Another one of the protestors was Juan Ceballos, an environmental lawyer who has taken to court cases against various multinational companies in Colombia. “You cannot eat money,” he said. The lawyer chained himself to a tree in order to receive more attention to raise awareness about the impacts of the mining industry on the environment, the displacement of the fauna, the destruction of the flora, the pollution of the waters and the violations of human rights again the Colombian population. “Only when the people have felled the last of trees, poisoned the last river and caught the last fish, they will realize that you cannot eat money”. Then, he added: “The young people here protesting worry about the future of their children and that of the children of their children, not the future of foreign investment”.
The speed of the locomotive
According to Luis Alfredo Ramos Botero, governor of Antioquia, the fair welcomed the participation of more than 20 countries, 290 investment companies and 15 thousand visitors, 10 more times than the attendance four years ago, which transforms it into the mining event with the second highest attendance in the world, the first one taking place in Toronto. At the closing time of the fair, deals for up to 350 million dollars had been made, most of which were related to goldmines.
Students and environmentalists in front of
the Grand Convention Plaza rejecting Large-scale mining
Eduardo Chaparro, CEO of the Asomineros Chamber of the ANDI, revealed that between now and the year 2020, the Colombian government expects a total investment in mining of 24 billion dollars. Adding to that, the president of the mining company Goldplata, Georges Patrick Juilland, affirmed that Colombia is the only completely unexplored country in the continent, but that it has a great mining potential.
It was precisely one of the Goldplata projects that the Constitutional Court ordered to stop through the T-129 sentence of 2011, which ruled “in favor of the territorial rights, of the previous consultation (to the indigenous people) and their autonomy (to execute their own plans)”. The sentence is about an exploration concession of about 40 thousand hectares (98.842 acres) in the municipality of Ancadí, department of Chocó. “The High Court, says a report by the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, CRIC, as well as the Constitutional Court, argued in their decisions that one cannot go against the ‘general interest’ and the ‘progress’” to protect an economic group. (For further information in Spanish go to: http://www.corteconstitucional.gov.co/relatoria/2011/t-129-11.htm).
Some of the pulic speakers at the fair focused on the Colombian mining tradition as an argument to support the “boom.” Sergio Restrepo Londoño, president of the Asomineros, emphasized that the mining industry is not new in Colombia. When the Spanish came, the indigenous people had two principal occupations: agriculture and mining. In the XIX century, stresses Restrepo, Colombia was the country with the most mining activity in Latin America and had the presence of several US and British industries.
Strategically speaking, the event was very important to the Colombian government: President Santos bases his development plans on five locomotives that will boost the economy, one of them the mining industry. According to Sergio Restrepo, the mining exports of Colombia in 2010 were equivalent to 9 billion dollars, making up 23.7% of all exports, and the country relied on 2.05 billion of dollars of foreign direct investment (FDI).
In addition to that, the human rights Organization José Alvear Restrepo Collective of Lawyers says that an alarming 85% of Colombia’s exports are primary goods, which entails little economic development for Colombians in the long run. (Further information in Spanish: http://www.colectivodeabogados.org/La-politica-minera-del-gobierno).
The golden rise of the mining industry
Michael Tistl, a German geologist who has lived in Colombia for the last 20 years and is a member of the Condoto Platinum Company, says that Colombia is a country very rich in resources and with many possibilities. He affirms that in the last decade the conditions for development in the mining industry have significantly improved. For some years, says the geologist, the mining activity decreased a lot, mainly for two reasons: the low world prices of precious minerals and the internal conflicts in Colombia, which almost terminated the mining industry. In 1980, says Tistl, there were only two big mining companies: Cerrejón y Cerro Matoso.
According to Tistl, mineral prices have increased partially because of China’s economical evolution and the growth of the world’s population, which doubled in the past 40 years. There is more need, more consumption, more construction work and a higher global demand for coal; and due to all of this, there is much speculation.
China and India are the biggest buyers of gold in the world and according to a report in the 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese business newspaper, a consultant from the Chinese government confirmed that the Central Bank of China plans to buy large quantities of gold in the following years with the objective of incrementing their stocks, which would make the world prices go even higher.
Similar information is given by the Financial Times, an international newspaper. It informs that Chinese Officials have said publicly that China needs to buy 10 thousand tons of gold to project its economical power and support their stocks.
The decrease of the world’s gold production in the last 10 years and the difficult and lasting world economical crisis have encouraged central banks and investors to buy more, leading jewelry consumers to buy less because of the high prices. The dollar continuous to be weak and the interest rate is almost zero, as the banks’ demand for gold goes up. For a number of reasons, gold has been traditionally the most popular alternative currency when other traditional currencies are declining: it is universally accepted, little is affected by the fluctuations of only one economy and the investors do not have to worry about the arrears of the debtors, unlike with other investments.
Prices remain high in the world indexes of gold investments and the current perspective of investors is to bet for a prosperous future based on a mining economy. The gold market was very in decline in the 80s and 90s, but this tendency shifted mostly due to the fears in economy generated after 9/11: people and banks restarted buying gold and other minerals; nevertheless, some economist wonder if the current values could be maintained in the long run, meaning, if this speculative bubble will remain as non-prioritizing and as one that does not take into account the internal production, which is led to satisfy the basic necessities of the Colombian population.
In Colombia, the reserves of gold are estimated to be near 25 million ounces and other minerals also have immense reserves. There are civic demonstrations in many parts of Colombia against of converting the country into a mining country and, yet the Colombian government has distributed 9 thousand mining titles, 30 per cent in Antioquia; and there are 20 thousand more applications for about 40 million hectares, meaning, the 35 per cent of the whole national territory. In addition to what has already been distributed, the government intends to grant at least 18 thousand mining titles in the next few months, according to Francisco José Lloreda, High Presidential Counselor for Security and Coexistence.
In this sense, Lloreda urged companies to hire directly their own security units, since although the National Army has already 12 thousand soldiers assigned to 12 different battalions who are in charge of the energetic and mining security, it would be impossible for them to cover the entire territory of the newly granted mining titles.
In the opinion of Human Rights Organizations, such as the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, security unites hired directly by the mining companies, called by many as paramilitaries, have harassed the civil population, the small mining businesses and unions; they have murdered and dispossessed people of their territory, to serve the interests of such companies. (For further information, go to http://www.coha.org/colombias-gold-rush-the-silver-lining-for-paramilitaries-and-guerrillas/)
Hernando José Gómez, director of the National Planning Department, announced to the attendees of the Fair that the Colombian government would create the National Agency of Minerals, which will exclusively treat mining affairs and will take care of applying fines, much higher fines, for illegal mining. Furthermore, the national government will work extensively during the next couple of years in the reform of the Mining Code. This Code was declared inextinguishable by the Constitutional Court in May of this year, because it does not comply to the procedures of the previous consultation.
Protestor camped out in a tree outside
the Grand Convention Plaza in Medellin
Luis Carlos Villegas, president of ANDI, proclaimed it’s been sought to mark the limits of the forest reserves, which will be subject to technical, economical and social criteria, as well as to clear rules in relation to excludable activities for temporal subtraction in forest reserves. In the opinion of the environment lawyer, Juan Cabellos, protection of the environment needs to increase, not decrease. The megaprojects in Colombia have already caused enormous damage and to exclude a zone from protection would be a crime against nature.
Manuel Mora, president of the Fifth Commission of the Senate of the Republic of Colombia, hopes for Colombia to reach successful mining levels, such as the ones of Brazil and Chile. Notoriously, Brazil, Colombia and Chile are the three countries in Latin America with the highest rates of inequality between the rich and the poor. (For further information in Spanish, go to: http://hdrstats.undp.org/es/indicadores/67106.html). Big mining industries seem to reinforce inequalities, while the people are expelled from their own land with nothing but the clothes on their back and, while it all becomes about the minerals game.
translated by Sandro Aravena perez
Original article written in Spanish can be found at: http://notiagen.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/colombia-vii-feria-internacion…