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How a popular vote of a local community can halt a gold mining mega project

In the Colombian town of Cajamarca, ten years of fighting the ‘multinational predator’ in their lands has ended in warm embraces and tears of joy. Español


  The majority of Majamarca reject the mining activities of AngloGold Ashanti, Colombia. Photo: ¡PACIFISTA! Some rights reserved.

This article has been published as part of the partnership between ¡PACIFISTA! and democraciaAbierta. You can read the original article here.

In Cajamarca, a town in central Colombia, after years of protest and mobilisation by the local communities, on 26 March, finally the population were asked in a popular consultation whether it agreed with the mining activity planned in its surrounding lands. The mine, known as ‘La Colosa’, has the potential to be South America’s largest gold mine, and is licensed to the South African giant AngloGoldAshanti. 97.2% of the people, unequivocally, have said ‘no’. Anthony Rondón Camacho gives us his account of the local victory:

Like a river that runs calmly to the sea, so too did the mass mobilisation of citizens go to participate in a process of popular consultation that would define the environmental, eco-systemic and productive future of the municipality Cajamarca, in central Colombia. 6,165 inhabitants made their decision clear that in Cajamarca NO mining activities would be carried out; proof of not only the strength and solidarity of the locals, but a confirmation that popular consultations are tools that can be used to resolve environmental conflicts that happen within national territory – conflicts that are a consequence of mining megaprojects, oil companies and hydroelectric plants that go against the grain of local dynamics.

We are celebrating this victory of expression in Cajamarca, and indeed in Colombia, because it is a clear statement that the region’s vast biodiversity and water supply could not be profited from by the greed of just a few.  The popular consultation, initiated by the people of the area, managed to redefine such a rich region, not as a commercial opportunity, but as a source of food from its fertile soils, buried within its green mountains, from which magnificent rivers are born which feed the valleys.

Today, the dawn in Cajamarca brings something different. The town’s history is already filled with tales of great emotion that fill the hearts and imaginations of those who visit us. But that throbbing pulse will now grow stronger, as the town can now add the tale of its inhabitants joining their hands and defeating the multinational predator who intended on exploiting their lands.

The firm embraces and tears of joy, while they celebrate this victory, are a sign of the humility and tenacity involved in over ten years of fighting their cause. It teaches the world a lesson: we have the capacity to believe that we are all brothers and sisters, children of nature, part of the landscape that surrounds us, and builders of the future. Cajamarca has proven to be the greatest examples of non-violent struggle, where it showed the world that when we are united, we have power.

On this point, it is important that we now act to defend the collective decision of ‘no’ that has come out of the popular consultation. It’s time to continue the fight with the same determination, united as activists, and fulfil this popular mandate.

Let’s celebrate, Cajamarca is for everyone. In the end, we are all children of this planet, the planet that today can experience some calm from its part in resisting the barbarism in these Peruvian mountains. It is time for us all to take this struggle as an example. It is time to alter our misconceptions surrounding what we consider to be ‘development’. It is time for us to become more active in our own territories.

Today we celebrate with absolute joy. It is difficult to express in such few words what emotion this struggle of so many years brings, but today the heavens have opened and the horizon gives us hope.

Despite the victory, the struggle certainly isn’t over. Colombia’s Mining Minister, German Arce, has questioned the outcome of the popular consultation and AngloGold Ashanti seem determined to continue with the project. As several other Colombian communities plan for similar popular consultations in opposition to mining projects, the story of Cajamarca is inspiring.

About the authors

Pacifista es un proyecto VICE enfocado en contenidos sobre la terminación del conflicto armado y la construcción de paz en Colombia.

Anthony Rondón Camacho is an agronomist and a member of the Environmental Committee of Tolima.

Anthony Rondón Camacho es agrónomo y miembro del Comité Ambiental de Tolima.


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