Ongoing negotiations between Colombia’s government and small and medium-sized mining companies are complicated over the issue of formalizing recently started mining projects, the government said Monday.
Vice-minister of Mining and Energy Natalia Gutierrez indicated that the parties have not come to any sort of agreement over who would be included in the proposed legal umbrella that would encompass “informal” mining activities currently deemed illegal by the government.
“The biggest problem that we [in the government] have had is that the representatives of the National Confederation of Colombian Miners insist that we have to recognize as traditional or informal miners even those who have been participating in that activity for two years or less,” said Gutierrez Monday.
Miners in various parts of the country have been protesting for as long as three weeks over the perceived demonization on the part of the government of small, traditional and artisan mining activities.
Meanwhile, the government has consistently emphasized the prevalence of criminalized mining operations in places like Bolivar in northern Colombia, and continues to blame much of the unrest on the interests of illegal armed groups and other profiteers.
In the same press conference, for example, Gutierrez claimed that of the 66 tons of gold Colombia produced last year, only 20 were mined legally. Negotiations, she said, are being hijacked by people who have only began mining recently, as the price of gold and other resources has gone up, and drug cartels and guerrilla groups have turned increasingly to mining as a means of financing armed conflict.
Strengthening her claims is the otherwise willingness of the government to make concessions to embittered miners. The government has said it will clarify the difference between individualized and illegal mining, allow some mechanization to enter artisan mining practices, set aside areas for small-scale mining activity and adopt plans to compensate for environmental damage, all of which were important topics behind the protests.
The government claims it is in favor of granting rights to individuals with a history of mining activity, and that it only wants to formalize small-scale mining practices so that they can be regulated from an environmental standpoint and distinguished from the troubling and environmentally destructive criminalized exploitation that occurs in many rural areas.
“There’s no need to demonize dredges,” said Gutierrez, referring to the hotly contested introduction of machines into traditional mining practices, “but [the people using them] should have environmental permits and [official] mining titles.”
Still, representatives of Conalminercol left the negotiating table recently over the exclusion of recently converted miners from the proposed deal, and have since doubled down on rhetoric condemning what they have called the government’s “attack” on Colombian mining professionals.
Negotiations are scheduled to recommence August 8th, at which point the government will try to reach an agreement with the miners before the massive nationwide work stoppages set to break out August 19th throughout the health care, education, agriculture and trucking sectors.