Colombian Constitutional Court Rules Local Communities Cannot Ban Mining Projects Through Popular Referendum
Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled last week that local communities cannot ban mining and other extractive projects through popular referendums.
The controversial practice, known as a “consulta popular,” has occurred increasingly in recent years as multiple municipalities have cast ballots overwhelmingly in favor of vetoing the right of corporations to dig nearby, seemingly over-ruling titles granted by the federal government.
The decision, in a 5-1 vote came specifically from a case involving Mansarovar Energy Colombia Limitada and included language saying that the land is property of the state and is regulated by the national government, which had previously granted the firm the right to mine in the area.
The court decision did also say, however, that local communities should be provided with methods for citizens to participate in decisions over land and that the federal government cannot simply impose extractive projects on towns by decree without their input.
“The latest ruling undoes a 2016 ruling in which the court did grant municipalities the right to regulate mining activity within their borders, which led to a wave of requests for local referendums,” reported Medellín based publication Colombia Reports.
Citizens across nine different areas have so far voted to ban extractive projects through local referendums. According to Bogotá-based paper El Espectador, they have been held in the following municipalities: Piedras and Cajamarca (in the department of Tolima), Tauramena (Casanare), Cabrera and Arbeláez (Cundinamarca), Cumaral (Meta), Pijao (Santander), and Sucre and Jesus Maria (Sucre).
South African mining giant AngloGold Ashanti is another company that had been affected by local votes to ban extractive projects.
After citizens in the town of Cajamarca voted 6,165 to 76 in favor of a mining prohibition, the company announced that it would suspend operations at the massive La Colasa gold mine in the department of Tolima.
AngloGold said it made the “unfortunate decision to stop all project activities…until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country.”