Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Colombia government overrules Cajamarca mining ban referendum

The Colombian government says it will overrule the result of a referendum held in the town of Cajamarca, where 98% of residents voted against a major gold mining project.

Locals fear it will damage the environment and pollute their water sources.

Mining Minister Germán Arce said the referendum was not legally binding.

La Colosa, in Central Colombia, has the potential to become South America's largest gold mine.

Mr Arce added that the South African mining giant AngloGold Ashanti had already been issued a licence to begin mining for gold in the area.
"Exploration licenses retain their validity," he said.

The company has been granted 19 exploration licences in Cajamarca between 2006 and 2009, RCN radio reports.

In a statement after the vote, AngloGold said it regretted the outcome because the country and the region were "at risk of not receiving the benefits of well-done and responsible mining".

The authorities in Colombia worry about the possible development of illegal gold mining in Cajamarca and other areas.

Mr Arce says, however, that the vote will not affect foreign investment in Colombia's mining sector.

"For the first time in 20 years we will have three major projects in execution phase," he told RCN.

He said campaigners had misinformed voters.

"We're not talking about an open-air mine here," he said. "Nor are there a hundred rivers at risk."

Campaigners were angered by Mr Arce's comments.

The opposition to President Juan Manuel Santos also criticised the government's stance on the issue.

"Santos and the Mining Minister agreed to disregard Cajamarca's decision on La Colosa. Democratic mobilisation will also defeat them," tweeted opposition Senator and presidential hopeful Jorge Robledo.

Only 76 residents of Cajamarca, in the central province of Tolima, voted in favour of the mining project in Sunday's referendum, while more than 6,100 of the town's 19,000 inhabitants voted against.

Several other Colombian cities and towns are planning to hold similar votes to try to block mining projects in their area.

BBC      News.