AngloGold Ashanti Suspends Operations at La Colosa Gold Mine in Colombia After Local Vote Against Mining
South African mining giant AngloGold Ashanti today announced that it will suspend operations at its La Colosa gold mine in the Colombian department of Tolima following a near-unanimous local vote last month against its extraction plans.
In a statement, the company said that: “Diverse reasons — which range from the institutional, the political, and particularly the social, with the recent referendum — oblige us to take the unfortunate decision to stop all project activities, and with it all employment and investment, until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country and in Tolima.”
According to the industry outlet Mundo Minero, the decision means that more than 400 people working in the operation, administration, and logistics of the mine will be laid off and compensated in a manner compliant with Colombian labor law.
Photo: Though AngloGold Ashanti’s La Colosa gold mine has yet to produce for the company, local residents feared the site would be turned into a giant open-pit mine resembling the company’s Sadiola mine site in Mali seen here. (Credit: AngloGold Ashanti)
Though no official plans have been made public, the local opposition to AngloGold Ashanti’s exploration of the site, which dates back some 14 years, is rooted in the company’s desire to turn the location into a giant open-pit mine. Such a process would aid in the recovery of the roughly 28 million ounces of gold that the company believes may be present at the site. Many residents, however, fear the effects that such a massive undertaking would have on local water supplies, the environment as a whole, and the local community generally.
In a referendum on March 26 in the municipality of Cajamarca, just 76 voted in favor of further mining and exploration in the town while 6,165 people voted to prohibit mining. The landslide outcome was hailed by environmentalists and social rights advocates as a major victory for the local community.
But in the aftermath of the ballots being counted, public officials in Bogotá, namely Minister of Mines Germán Arce, said that a local ballot initiative could not supersede mining titles awarded by the federal government. While he acknowledged the town’s right to prohibit future exploration, he stated that the outcome of the referendum could not be applied retroactively to a mine that has been held and invested in for more than a decade.
Regardless of the legal underpinnings of the dispute, the community opposition put the project into doubt, as local officials in Cajamarca reportedly felt compelled to abide by the results of the vote. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has also ruled previously that municipalities affected by mining have the right to prior consultation on planned projects, a decision that helped spur the March 26 vote.
“AngloGold Ashanti’s statement is a major victory for Cajamarca that had been told by the national government their vote was irrelevant,” wrote journalist Adriaan Alsema of Colombia Reports.
Though AngloGold Ashanti today restated that it believes that mining, agriculture, livestock, and other commerce can all coexist in this area of Tolima, the company said that it “accepts the position expressed by the community.”
It expressed frustration that, after 14 years of investment and planning, La Colosa still has not produced any gold and has gone “without concrete progress for several years.” But the company added that it “will continue working in the search for a constructive and sincere dialogue that is necessary for the mining sector in Colombia” while “accepting that local communities are a fundamental part of the debate.”
In addition to La Colosa, AngloGold Ashanti owns additional mining rights in Colombia, notably its holdings in the Gramalote gold mine.