An environmental lawyer who has already helped several towns ban mining in their territory, on Monday said he will help create a provincial assembly in western Colombia with more powers to exclude mining.
Juan Ceballos, a lawyer with a passion for the environment, plans to help residents in the Antioquia department in western Colombia form a Provincial Constituent Assembly in order to protect their land from mining projects.
“I am talking to 23 municipalities who want to protest against mining and protect their territory. I already have 80 local councillors and six or seven mayors signed up,” Ceballos told Colombia Reports. “They are prepared to fight.”
Colombia allows people to form consultative assemblies with some autonomy from the departmental authorities. The new attempt by Ceballos to help the people of southwest Antioquia ban mining in their territory follows his assistance in three other municipalities within the department, Tamesis, Jardin and Urrao where he helped create declarations to ban mining within their boundaries.
The declarations are created by the mayor, councillors and residents. Ceballos intends to help four other municipalities do the same in February, followed by an attempt to create the provincial assembly in March.
“The local people, civil society, have rejected mining,” said Ceballos. “I am just giving them practical, constitutional tools to help them in their struggle.”
The multinational mining companies AngloGold Ashanti and Solvista Gold operate in the area which is supposed to be mine-free. In the municipalities already on board with Ceballos, mining concessions cover 90% of the territory.
Provincial assemblies are used in Colombia to create participatory democratic forums. But since central government policy is to encourage mining in addition to claiming rights over the country’s subsoil, it remains to be seen whether the legal tools Ceballos is working with can truly be effective.
The crusading lawyer has also initiated class action lawsuits against four multinational mining projects, notably, AngloGold Ashanti’s La Colosa project. He is working alone and says he is currently looking for funding to take those cases forward.
“I am also working to help people develop local [self-sufficient] economies,” said Ceballos. “With the help of civil society and local authorities we can do this.”
Mining analysts have recently talked down Colombia as an attractive proposition for mining due to uncertainties in regulation, including uncertainties over where mining is actually permitted.