Operations at Colombia’s Cerro Matoso nickel mine were temporarily suspended after a group of 6,000 indigenous protesters blocked the facility’s entrances late Wednesday.
Protesters reportedly agreed to allow access to the facility, in exchange for three-party negotiations with representatives fromthe Colombian govenrment and BHP-Billiton, the Australian-based multinational mining company that owns the Cerro Matoso title.
Members of the nearby Zenu tribe had been protesting for roughly two weeks prior to Wednesday’s shutdown, calling for relocation assistance from the Colombian government and indemnization payments from the company.
The protesters claim that the various health epidemics facing their communities are the result of chemical residue from the mine, the world’s second-largest open-pit ferronickel operation, and that 30 years of pollution have rendered their lands inhabitable and poisoned their water.
Reports have tracked a series of health abnormalities in the area neighboring the Cerro Matoso mine, with high observed rates of cancer, asthma, stillbirths, miscarriages, degenerative skin conditions, hair and nail loss and general sickness, as well as several documented instances of birth defects, including children born without anuses or sex organs.
Experts maintain that dramatic levels of nickel and silice in the fields, houses and clothing of the surrounding communities explain the widespread health problems, while community leaders report that the toxic chemicals have lead to crop losses and left the local rivers undrinkable and un-fishable.
In a previous press release, the company denied responsibility, claiming that the community’s health problems are part of a larger regional trend, according to studies it failed to specify.
Press releases from the Ministry of Mining and Energy indicate that protesters rejected government offers made over the course of the past week to establish a new indigenous reserve in the area and sponsor a study into the health and environmental effects of the mine, insisting instead on full compensation from the mining company.
The government has yet to release any information regarding the protester’s shift in position, though in publications released yesterday, the Ministry of Mining claimed it would take necessary measures to “guarantee public order” and end the shutdown, which it deemed “illegal” and claimed would cost the Colombian government $175,000 a day in lost tax revenue.
The Cerro Matoso mine supplies roughly 4% of the world’s nickel, a reported 47,000 metric tons a year. Earlier this summer, BHP’s title was extended through 2029 by the Colombian government, despite vocal protests from local communities.
Neither officials for the company nor the Colombian government were available for comment on the most recent development.
- Ministry of Mining Press Release
- Ministry of Mining Press Release 2
- Ministry of Mining Press Release 3
- Update — C0lombia’s Cerro Matoso nickel mine partly reopens (Reuters)
- Por bloqueos, mina de ferroniquel para sus actividades (Portafolio)
- Mina de ferroniquel paralizada por protestas (El Espectador)
- Los estragos de niquel en Cerro Matoso (Las 2 Orillas)
- Colombia’s Cerro Matoso Nickel mine partly reopens (Yahoo News)
- Cerro Matoso, frenado por protesta indigena (Prensalibre)
- Protests shut down BHP-Billiton’s Cerro Matoso megamine in Colombia (New Free Press)
- Desperate indigenous group brings Cerro Matoso to a halt (Mining.com)