To Look Beyond Mining, the Caldas Town of Supía Is Aiming to Boost Tourism by Showcasing Its Rich Culture and Beautiful Murals
Supía, a small municipality in Colombia, is emblematic of the good things that can happen when local leadership works together with responsible mining.
Top photo: Supía Mayor Marco Antonio Londoño Zuluaga speaks during a recent walking tour of the town. (Photo credit: Loren Moss)
Already a local tourism destination, the town of Supía, located in Colombia’s coffee-centric department of Caldas, has set its sights on becoming a national and international destination with its welcoming population, social inclusion, and easy access.
To achieve this goal, it is getting support from a partner that may surprise some, the Canadian gold-mining company Collective Mining (TSXV: CNL, OTCQX: CNLMF).
Finance Colombia Executive Editor Loren Moss recently traveled to Supía to take a walk through the town with Mayor Marco Antonio Londoño Zuluaga, and they shared the following conversation about the town’s development in recent years and ambitious aims to further showcase its culture.
Loren Moss: Can you explain the project and the work that you have been doing here?
Mayor Londoño: There is a municipal site, which has around 14 roads that were in very bad shape — very damaged — because they had been built about 25 years ago. So, we introduced an investment project here of about 2.2 billion Colombian pesos, and we have already completed about a 25% of the construction to transform this entire sector and push for economic growth.
There are many commercial establishments, and this is a main throughway that connects the north side of town with the south side, where of course a lot of commercial components have developed.
Loren Moss: So, the idea would be that it is more touristic and more people come to visit?
Mayor Londoño: That’s right. The north side of town is very active during the day, and the south side is very active after 4 or 5 pm, more or less until 10 or 11 pm. The north side is very saturated, so with these investing works what we want is to invigorate this area of the municipality, where there are parks that have just been renovated, such as Colón park, the park and neighborhood of Los Colores where we have some very large murals made by national artists who are known internationally. Here, in Los Colores, is where we want to promote urban art and history through large murals. This entire area comes alive with those works, with roads, with parks, and with cultural sites.
Loren Moss: W are the economical driving forces here?
Mayor Londoño: There are different economical driving forces. One that is very important is the entire mining process that has developed in Marmato, for example. Marmato is a site that generates no less than 2,000 jobs for the Supieños [people from Supía] and their families.
In this sector, the commercial side is very strong, with the bakery, bean shop, restaurant, pharmacy, butcher’s shop, and cafes around the park. Also, for the town, clay mining is very important.
Everything related to glassmaking is very important in the municipality. Of course, there is agribusiness, too. There is avocado, coffee, sugarcane. It’s very important and it has a lot of value for the municipality. And with all these works, the commercial component — the entrepreneurial component — is also strong, very strong.
Loren Moss: Tell me about your plans, your vision. What do you want to achieve during your term as mayor here?
Mayor Londoño: Really, we are already coming toward the conclusion — because we will be finishing in December 2023 — and we believe we are going to deliver a municipality with better urban infrastructure and rural infrastructure as well, with some parks and some sites of common interest that have transformed as well, mostly for the families.
There is commerce that has, directly and indirectly, benefitted from all these investments developed in the area, and that generates employment and economic dynamics.
I believe Supía is a developed municipality in the region. We are located in a place where the municipalities of Río Sucio, Marmato, Caramanta, and Anserma converge. We are a sort of axis. We connect the region, and that has resulted in that we are a strong goods and service provider in the region and, obviously, in the municipality as well.
Loren Moss: How have you seen the arrival of Collective Mining here as a new neighbor — not just as the mayor, but as a resident and someone from this region?
Mayor Londoño: I believe that, in Supía, we are very used to taking in developers interested in the region, right? Investors, traders, businessmen. But I believe the most important thing for a municipality when it receives investors and interested people interested — or new neighbors — I believe the most important thing is to be able to develop a coordinated, concerted process, especially a respectful one too.
With Collective Mining, we have found that it is a company that respects the communities, respects the authorities — a company that takes a chance on an industrial process, like mining, but also works hand in hand with the communities. It tries to provide support, development, and investments. And the processes, for example, are extensive processes in terms of capital, but they also need to be extensive in social investments.
That’s what we have been accomplishing with Collective, with good attention to the communities, being good colleagues with the municipality administrations, with the communal action points, with all the different actors that converge in a territory.
If I had to define Collective Mining in a word, I would define them as a respectful company.
Loren Moss: Are there other mining companies in the area? I know there’s also artisanal mining. What is the key so artisanal mining can exist side by side with commercial mining?
Mayor Londoño: I had the opportunity of working in a private company — in the electrical sector in the city of Medellín — and for me, the topic that Collective implements and that is implemented in the region, is not a new topic.
It’s a topic I know about. I know how it works. I would think that one of the successes of a business like the kind Collective Mining desires — and does lead — in the region is that the company, and its shareholders, can grow and generate resources and value. Because of that, they will finally develop a project, and because of that, they have interest.
But I would think that, inasmuch as artisanal or ancestral miners achieve the same thing, at that moment is when you can generate a good and healthy coexistence. Do I make myself clear? If Collective Mining is a company that develops a mining process, and has a wide, sufficient knowledge from a geological viewpoint — and it has a good financial capacity to close these projects — why not, in an exercise of social and business responsibility, help the artisanal or ancestral miners achieve the same thing? The investors of a company like Collective can have as much value and as much wealth as investors and owners of small mining companies.
So, I think, it’s at that moment, when Collective or the larger companies help the smaller ones grow, be responsible for the environment, make good capital investments, and teach to invest resources properly.
Because, here in the region, we also see that there are communities and ancestral and artisanal miners that have good economical capacities as well. But sometimes they don’t invest those resources well. They make the wrong decisions, or they prioritize liquor and women instead of prioritizing their investments.
Loren Moss: That is a key aspect. We have seen in other towns here in Colombia that they leave the artisanal mining uncontrolled, and without formalization it then becomes illegal mining. They have problems, as you said, with vices and with crime, even in small towns. This area here, I think, is very touristic, very healthy, with a lot of security. Of course, it’s very important to maintain that level of formality.
You also mentioned the environment. Because I have seen some success stories where commercial miners support the artisanal ones, saying, “Look, we can buy your gold and regulate it and do everything legal and keep everything in line. Or we can process your finds so you don’t need to touch chemicals ,like mercury or cyanide, we can help protect your health, your family, and the environment.
Mayor Londoño: That’s right. As you said, I believe those with the financial capacity to develop more modern processes — more rigorous ones with environmentally friendly techniques and socially friendly processes as well — they could teach and share that knowledge and those abilities to those who haven’t done it that way or those who don’t know better. It is also a cultural issue, isn’t it?
There are people who traditionally or historically have developed a process without meeting certain standards. We can’t force them to go from one end to another. But we can help them a little bit to get to legal and more prosperous processes.
Loren Moss: Shifting directions a bit, what is the tourist offering of Supía? Why should people come and visit Supía?
Mayor Londoño: Supía’s main assets, I think are, first of all, the climate. Fortunately, we have a very, very valuable geographical location, which generates a municipality with an average temperature of 25° Celsius [77° Fahrenheit]. Normally, we have some pretty hot days here and that makes outings very attractive: being in the pool, the hostels, or vacation centers. We have several estates for rent where the owners have a vacation center with twelve cabins, and in each cabin you can have up to eight people. It has the only wave pool in the department.
We have been generating other attractions around the parks where you can have healthy recreation, share time with your family, have a nice coffee. The whole gastronomical culture has been very strong as well, both ancestral and traditional, from the region, as well as more specialized gastronomy that has been emerging in the municipality.
The other important asset Supía has is the geographical location. We are in a place where we can easily get to the departmental capital city, Manizales. We are about an hour away, 70 kilometers. From Pereira, where there is an international airport, we are at about 85 kilometers away, about an hour-and-a-half. From Medellín, once the Pacífico 3 highway is done, we will be able to get to in about two-and-a-half hours.
Our municipality also welcomes ethnic, indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities. A lot of tradition and culture has been generated around these communities: gastronomy, dance, music. There is a large amount of added value — or more like competitive advantages — that our municipality has. The people, too! Here we have, as we say, a culture that is very similar to the paisa culture, the Antioqueña culture.
We tend to people very well. It’s a municipality where there is relative tranquility, from the point of view of safety, and some strong institutions that aim to guarantee public services for safety, mobility, and different topics that are important for visitors.
Loren Moss: How has mining overall played into the culture in Supía?
Mayor Londoño: They have played a part of the history of our municipality. In a mural over here, there are some traditional elements from our municipality: mountains, panela [cane sugar product], colaciones [sweets], the church, one of the many birds we have in the municipality. And this one specifically is a mural that recognizes mining, because mining for us has been part of our development, right? Mining for some families or some sectors, artisanal mining, with the metal washing pans, right?
Especially in these areas you can see at the front — in Sevilla, Bajo Sevilla, Alto Sevilla, over the Supía river — this type of mining, which they call bank mining, has been very developed. The subject of mining is captured in the culture and the tradition that we have.
Collective Mining has also participated. They have helped us make this a reality. They painted the front of some houses, too. This is a neighborhood, an area of the municipality, that was built in the 1990s more or less. There are around 1200 houses in this entire area, and in this specific neighborhood there are 90. It’s an area with different and heavy social conflicts. Yesterday, for example, we had a homicide in that area a little up there, about 100 meters from here, unfortunately.
That’s what we want to change, isn’t it? So that tourists arrive — and foreigners — and we start making the economy of this area more dynamic so that it doesn’t depend, as it so often happens, on drug trafficking and such things. So that there are alternatives, like tourism. I don’t know if you are familiar with, in Medellín, in Comuna 13, with the graffiti tour there, but it’s a bit similar to our murals here.