democraciaAbierta

#ConsultasPopulares in crisis in Colombia

The case of ‘consultas populares’ (public consultations) in Colombia demonstrates the existing tension between local communities and multinational extraction giants. Español

DemocraciaAbierta
22 October 2018
consultapop.png

Panorama of the operational area of Yanacocha. La Minera Yanacocha is the business that exploits this area in which the largest gold mine of Latin America can be found. Wikimedia Commons.

Public consultations as a means to determine the future of a territory is a constitutional right in Colombia, but now it’s in danger.

This mechanism of citizen participation has been designed to allow local communities to make decisions and to provide them with territorial jurisdiction. The result of the consultations must be complied with by the authorities. 

However now, this democratic exercise is in danger. A ruling by the Constitutional Court on the 12th of October declared that communities can’t use public consultations as a mechanism to stop mineral extraction projects and hydrocarbon exploitation. 

In 9 municipalities of Colombia, when asked “would you like this project to be carried out in your territory?” more than 90% of inhabitants responded with a resounding NO. It’s clear that these consultations are an enormous obstacle for those who promote extraction and mining projects. 

The joy of environmental activists who celebrated the enshrining of this right into the constitution lasted for a short period of time. Now, their frustration is immeasurable.

That’s why we present 3 keys to understand the crisis of public consultations in Colombia.

The decision to end public consultations is anti-democratic

It’s clear that public consultations have been one of the most representative mechanisms created by the democratic system, with the desire to give a voice and vote to citizens about issues affecting their territory.

The growth in popularity of this tool among the Colombian environmentalist movement led to many consultations taking place as a means of tackling mining and extraction projects and providing less aggressive alternatives to current development models. 

The growth in popularity of this tool among the Colombian environmentalist movement led to many consultations taking place as a means of tackling mining and extraction projects and providing less aggressive alternatives to current development models. 

Putting an end to the use of such mechanisms is an attack on democracy itself, and on an empowered public that valued this constitutional right.

One of the magistrates that voted in favour of the sentence decided to use his dissenting vote (known as voting bailout or salvamento de voto in Colombia) to protest against the fact that the court is making a regressive and anti-democratic decision given that this is an unjustified limitation on citizen participation in processes that directly impact their ecosystems.

 The world’s largest moorland in danger

A large process of citizen mobilisation came together to protect an ecosystem that is one of a kind: the Colombian moorlands. Sumapaz, a region in the south of Bogotá that hosts the largest moorlands in the world, already brought forward two consultations in two of its municipalities to detain fracking.

With the decision of the Constitutional Court, those who engage in public consultations feel that their right to active participation and the legitimate exercise of their right to define the future of their territories has been violated.

One of the fundamental contributions of these consultations is the increasing awareness of environmental issues that has allowed many to understand the drawbacks of mining projects.

It has become evident that in many regions affected by mining projects, poverty has worsened. These projects that promised to promote development bring only tragedy to local communities and territories that are only left poorer once it has drawn to a close. 

Thanks to public consultations, citizens have learnt the clear social and environmental disadvantages of the macro-exploitation of hydrocarbons in the moorlands and they have rejected these projects in their majority. 

The environment and human life at risk

As declared by an inhabitant of Cajamarca, one of the municipalities that voted no to petrol extraction in their territory on the 26th of March: “Our lives are at risk with this public consultation. We aren’t just facing a threat to the environment, but also to economic life, the legitimacy of the political regime, and the possibility of constructing a stable and lasting peace.”

It’s clear that the fundamental tension lies within the rejection of an overwhelming model of economic development that regards extraction as a method of wealth accumulation for the lucky few. 

What is really at stake in this conflict between the Colombian state and public consultations is the power of multinationals and their economic agendas up against the democratic exercise of empowered communities to defend their lives and their territories. 

What is really at stake in this conflict between the Colombian state and public consultations is the power of multinationals and their economic agendas up against the democratic exercise of empowered communities to defend their lives and their territories. 

The uses of territory, economic development, institutional strengthening and protection of environmental democracy are fundamental issues at play.

In the case of Colombia, how this conflict is resolved will undoubtedly affect many other processes in the region, a region rich in natural resources yet threatened by an extraction-based economy that benefits the minority. 

Unete a nuestro boletín ¿Qué pasa con la democracia, la participación y derechos humanos en Latinoamérica? Entérate a través de nuestro boletín semanal. Suscríbeme al boletín.

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram