Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled Thursday that municipalities do not have the right to permit or block mining or subsoil activity within their jurisdictions.
The decision drew from the existant mining code as written in the Constitution, which states that “no local or regional authority may establish sectional areas of territory as permanently or temporarily excluded from mining persuits,” and would seem to nullify the common practice of sending mining proposals to one form of voter referendum or another.
Minister of Mining and Energy Amylkar Acosta told the El Tiempo newspaper, “If the court is going to make such a decision as this, without any real warning, the population has no way to get their opinions heard.”
The official went on to explain that such measures should not mean that the government becomes an autonomous body in total control of mining projects. Some sort of open forum for discussion should be put into place, so that community matters can be taken into account.
Indeed, in its decision, the court emphasized that competent national authorities must consult local populations in the event that a mining project poses implications for the cultural, environmental or physical health of the neighboring communities, according to El Tiempo. This would seem to undermine the court’s broader ruling, however, as these issues are precisely the reasons activists have typically advocated for local approval measures.
A failed 2010 attempt at reform would have incorporated such steps into national mining law, but as the court pointed out in its ruling, the current statute explicitly grants full authority in subsoil matters to the national government.
In a statement before the court, the Prosecutor General’s Office requested that the constitutional article in question be made more public, so that citizens and communities affected by mining are more aware of the law and their rights.
After showing dramatic growth in the previous decade, large-scale mining has slowed recently, with labor strikes and permit delays holding up the expansion of an increasingly controversial industry.
At the time of publication, Colombia Reports was unable to reach the Ministry of Mining for further comment on how the decision will affect national mining policy.