The ELN, aware of the need for all of society to participate in the peace discussions, as is indicated in the first point of the agenda agreed with the National Government, considers that mining and energy policy is of strategic importance for the country and therefore requires extensive debate by the people of Colombia. Mining and hydrocarbon exploitation have been linked to the armed conflict, affecting in particular local communities and the environment. To avoid discussing these issues would not contribute in any way to peace in Colombia, but would rather be an obstacle making it impossible.
The urgency of this discussion is reflected among other problems by the demonstrations against La Colosa and Anglo Gold Ashanti in Cajamarca, Tolima; the protests in Arauca demanding independent policies with regard to oil exploitation; opposition to exploitation in El Cerrejón in the Colombian Guajira; and rejection of operations by transnationals in the páramos (high moorlands) and sensitive ecosystems, along with the defence of water as the patrimony of humanity.
On June 10th 2015 social organisations organised in the Agrarian, Rural, Ethnic and Popular Summit presented demands with regard to several articles of the National Development Plan 2014-2018, among them article 173 which they regard as contrary to the Constitution, the environment and the right to water.
Despite the norms established in the Mining Code (Law 1382 of 2010), which modified Article 34 of Law 685 of 2001 expressly forbidding mining prospection and exploitation in páramo ecosystems, article 173 included in its text that within the area designated as páramo it was legal to continue mining exploitation “until completion” and “without any possibility of postponement” in páramo ecosystems if the licence for it was granted before February 9th 2010, or in the case of hydrocarbon exploitation, before June 16th 2011.
The Government’s intention to give preference to the interests of transnational capital over natural resources and national sovereignty was obvious. However, the Constitutional Court, by means of decision C-035 of 2016, declared these paragraphs to be null and void, indicating that the highest degree of protection for these ecosystems must prevail. With this recognition, social mobilisation undertaken by social movements was once again decisive in national issues of great importance.
Nevertheless, with the most recent governments as antagonists, there have been multiple difficulties in achieving a mining policy consistent with the environment and the interests of the communities. Support for big transnational companies, demonstrated in the granting of licences, the facility in seizing local residents’ properties and the appropriation of sensitive ecosystems for extractive activity, has been a constant practice which increased especially with the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez. In his administration licences were granted in areas of environmental protection which, according to the experts, affected 45% of the wetlands protected by international agreement under the Ramsar Convention, while others were granted in areas designated as Forestry Reserves.
The above comes on top of a policy of criminalization of small-scale mining which, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, affects more than 15,000 families working in 3,600 mines which lack a title duly registered with the mining authorities.
Furthermore, this conflict of interests has been expressed in the marginalization of these communities and in their exclusion or limited participation in the formulation of policies on the subject.
Recent attempts by the Government to reform the Mining Code have emphasized the importance of foreign investment to the detriment of the communities, to such an extent that they have been rejected as unconstitutional.
A few days ago, in a stance which appears to take a stand against this exclusion, the Constitutional Court took a decision in favour of the participation of the communities in decisions related to mining activities in their territories. The decision allows the inhabitants of the municipalities to decide by popular vote whether or not they will allow mining activity.
Although the restrictions imposed on companies by the strength of popular mobilization and the requirement of approval by the communities for the development of mining activity are positive measures, they still need to be reinforced in order to guarantee their fulfilment in the next few years in the face of opposition from the companies and their establishment agents.
The National Liberation Army proposes therefore, to environmentalists, to the mining and energy unions, to the small-scale miners and to the whole of Colombian society, the preparation of a mining and energy agenda for peace through a Great National Dialogue. It should have as its basis social and environmental welfare in the application of national sovereignty and the protection of nature. This agenda is necessary for the construction of peace, whose outline is the first point to be discussed between the ELN and the National Government.
The ELN understands that peace implies social, environmental and ecological justice; without these aspects peace will be incomplete. The defence of these territories and the rejection of mining mega-projects should be a goal in the mobilization of all political and social sectors.