Colombia’s mining industry needs to get more responsible, an energy expert told a local newspaper on Thursday.
After attracting more than 50% of Colombia’s $15.8 billion in foreign direct investment in 2012 and becoming one of the main drivers of growth in the country, the mining industry has also earned a reputation for environmental ruin and human rights violations.
German Corredor, a Professor and Director at Colombia’s Energy Research & Development Center, told local financial magazine Dinero in an interview that the government must use, “shock policies against the negative social and environmental impacts that the mining energy ‘boom’ has brought to the country.”
One of the main worries is water on Corredor’s mind is Colombia’s water resources.
Corredor warned that “the country could be doomed to a situation of water shortage in some localities,” as a result of contaminated run-off from mining processes grows in stride with the industry. And the royalties and tax revenues derived from letting companies mine, added the Professor, are unlikely to compensate for the damage.
But the woes left in the wake of mining are socially complex as well. Corredor says that one big question is how to formalize and legalize established mining production for groups that have worked the mines for many years, but who don’t have mining titles.
The social knots make mining a tough question, and it is one that President Juan Manuel Santos has said he wants to address. The reason for the complexity is that Colombia’s mining sector ranges from companies with legitimate titles issued by the state, to artisanal small-scale miners who normally work as part of a guild, to armed groups who use illegal mining as a means for funding their existence.
Getting illegal mining sorted out is a priority for the Santos-led government. In 2011, an estimated $600 million in tax revenues was lost due to illegal mining activities.
Some efforts have been made on the environmental side. AngloGold Ashanti, a multinational mining corporation, was ordered to halt operations for illegal practices earlier this year. It was then put under investigation for suspicion that the company was using drinking water to fuel industrial processes.
But human rights violations plague the industry in Colombia. Despite being an ‘engine of growth’ for Colombia’s economy, the mining sector also tallies an overwhelming majority of human rights violations. In 2011 Peace Brigades International found that “80% of the human rights violations that have occurred in Colombia in the last ten years were committed in mining and energy-producing regions, and 87% of Colombia’s displaced population originate from these places.”
Recently, small and medium-size miners went on strike to protest the poor conditions they say the government has dealt them. They claim that the government is ostracizing them, preferring policies that help large-scale multinationals to small, artisanal mining. But the President’s rhetoric insists otherwise. He has declared that his political moves are made with the intention to halt criminal mining only.
Making progress on where to draw the line on mining policy has been difficult for the President’s administration’s progress with the industry.
In November of 2012, the Confederation of Colombian Miners rejected a proposal made by President Juan Manuel Santos to eliminate illegal mining.
“What concerns us,” said the group, “is that the Government has not distinguished between informal mining, traditional and ancestral, and criminal groups that operate outside of the law.”
“If the government draws this dividing line,” the miners explained, “we would be quiet.”
Confederacion de mineros dicen que no son criminales (El Espectador)
Colombia FDI Statistics (Colombia Reports)