Colombia’s State Council ruled Tuesday that municipalities do have the right to ban oil and mining from their territory, contradicting a recent ruling by the Constitutional court.
The constitutional court ruled earlier this month that the soil and subsoil of Colombia’s national territory belongs to the state, which cannot be overruled by local initiatives to ban the controversial oil and mining sectors from municipalities.
Despite the fact that the Constitution recognizes the competence of territorial entities to establish the use of land, the function of this must be exercised in a coordinated manner and concurrently with the competences of the Nation.
In what appears to be a clash between the high courts, the State Council ruled the exact opposite and returned the right to decide what happens within municipal borders to local government.
The State council had been asked to revise the matter by the town of Urrao in Antioquia, which is organizing a vote to ban mining from their municipality, but saw this initiative blocked by the court ruling.
After Antioquia governor Luis Perez, a.k.a. “Luis XV” for his alleged demand on 15% in kickbacks, objected the town’t decision and sued the municipality before a lower court, which agreed with the governor.
The town’s people appealed and took the case to the State Council, which surprisingly nullified the lower court ruling and took the case to the State Council, which now ruled in favor of Urrao and its inhabitants and against the Constitutional Court ruling.
Curiously, the State Council decision came a day after the top court was formally informed of the Constitutional Court decision, which in a previous ruling reaffirmed what the constitution says: that municipalities and not the national government decide what happens within their borders.
The current stalemate between the two courts leaves the latest Constitutional Court ruling without effect until that court is asked to revise the constitutionality of the State Council decision and decides to overrule it.
What is going to happen is that the ruling of the Council of State will go up to the Constitutional Court. Eventually, the Council’s decision may be reviewed by the Court. However, the Council of State’s ruling is valid and must be complied with until the Constitutional Court eventually take up the case, re-examines it and decides to change it.
Constitutional expert Javier Santander via El Colombiano
According to national government statistics, Bogota has granted 18,060 mining titles over the past two decades in what has been called “a mining piñata” in the media.
Mining Minister Maria Fernanda Suarez welcomed the initial court ruling, telling El Tiempo that “the Constitutional Court ruling is an important signal for the legal security of the [mining] sector and the strengthening of dialogue and citizen participation.”
Nariño governor Camilo Romero regretted the decision. “While in the countryside we defend territory, the environment and life, today the Constitutional Court denies the people, the municipalities, the right to reject mining through referendums,” the governor said on Twitter.