Colombia is also doing well economically. The country has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin-America. It has a great wealth of natural resources such as oil and gold, and a very fertile soil. The rapidly growing economy is not only fuelled by these natural resources, but also by the economical policy of the government. The National Development Plan 2014-2018 of President Santos focuses on five ‘locomotives’: infrastructure, housing, mining and energy, agro-industry and innovation. An important goal of this development plan is to attract foreign investors, which develop large-scale agriculture, mining and energy projects.
Unfortunately, the arrival of domestic and foreign multinationals and the big projects they set up, are leading to new conflicts on the Colombian territory. Local indigenous groups and farmers are being evicted to make space for various megaprojects. Worldwide, Colombia is the second country with most internally displaced people, and this issue continues to exist because of the government’s investment-friendly policy towards investors which claim large areas of land to develop megaprojects. Moreover, this development plan has a big impact on the biodiversity and the various ecosystems of the country.
Colombia’s soil has an abundant supply of natural resources. Not only does it boast the largest charcoal reserves of Latin America, it also has considerable reserves of gold, nickel, copper, silver, platina and emeralds. President Santos in his 2010 inaugural speech called mining one of the country’s five locomotives driving Columbia’s growth.1
After over half a century of armed conflicts between the state and guerilla movements (including FARC), Colombia’s economy is now prospering. The country is one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. Apart from the available natural resources, its fast growth is also the result of the government’s economic policy. President Santos’ National Development Plan for 2014-2018 focuses on five ‘locomotives’, viz. infrastructure, housing, mining and energy, agro-industry and innovation. One major objective of his development plan is to attract foreign investment in order to develop large-scale agricultural, mining and energy projects.
Unfortunately, the arrival of domestic companies as well as foreign multinationals establishing huge projects has given rise to renewed conflicts within the Colombian borders. Local indigenous groups and campesinos are being expelled from their land to make room for various mega-projects. Colombia is the world’s second in terms of the most internally displaced people, yet this problem persists due to the government’s investment-friendly policy towards investors who develop mega-projects for which huge stretches of land are claimed. Indeed, the Colombian government sees the royalties from the mining sector as one of its chief resources to finance the post-conflict era. However, the richest supplies of natural resources are found in the country’s poorest and most vulnerable regions, which are focal points of the rural development plans in partial agreements. Right there, the government granted a substantial number of mining licences to multinational enterprises, thus often creating serious social unrest on the local level.2
Besides, the development plan has a considerable impact on the country’s ecosystems and biodiversity. A UNIDO (UN Industrial Development Organisation) report reveals Colombia as one of the world’s biggest polluters when the use of mercury in traditional mining is concerned. On an annual basis, between 50 and 100 tons of mercury are spilled in the gold extraction process.3
Gold and silver played a crucial role throughout Colombia’s history. Some local peoples including the Muisca, Quibaya and Tarona are believed to have had an economy partly based on gold. Even before the Spanish invasion, there already were communities with full-time miners. The Buriticá site in the mountains of northern Antioquia is the most renowned in this respect. From there, part of the surplus gold was traded to the Quimbaya and the Muisca, whereas the major share was meant for the population further north, i.e the Dabeida.4
When the Spaniards disembarked in 1499, gold was what interested the colonizer. Cartagena became the heart of an economy centred around gold mines. Thus, Colombia grew to become the most important gold producer of the 19th century. Gold production between 1537 and 1886 is estimated at $ 639 000 000 next to a huge amount of silver.5
Three large regions in Colombia have gold supplies, viz. the Andes region, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria Mountains and the Guyana Highlands. The Andes region is home to a large number of the country’s major cities and can be divided into three cordilleras (central, eastern and western). Much of the gold extracted in previous centuries came from this region, especially the Department of Antioquia.6
Up to the mid-twentieth century, Colombia was one of the world’s major gold exporters. After that, mining declined somewhat but there has been a renewed interest in gold mining recently.7 In the last ten years, Colombia has attracted a rising number of foreign investors. They took advantage of mining legislation adopted and facilitated by the governments led by Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) and Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010).8
Apart from the large projects, many individual entrepreneurs operate in the Colombian mining sector. The 2011-2012 Mining Census claims that approx. 314,000 people are engaged in small-scale and middle-scale mining. The majority work in traditional mining activities, which in its most rudimentary form means panning for gold in river sands.9 In addition, there is plenty of illegal mining, which often results in crime and violence.
For the last few years the mining sector has been expanding. CETEC, an organization of small peasant communities in Cali, made a calculation and concluded that since 1990 there has been a tenfold increase in mining profits: from 2.5 to over 25 billion dollars annually.10 This amount doubled between 2010 and 2014. The increase in gold extracted shows a similar curve.11 In 2015, the mining sector accounted for 2.3% of Colombia’s GDP and ensured a 18.8% share in the country’s exports and 17% of foreign direct investment.12
Millions of kilograms of gold have been discovered in Colombia since 2000. One of the largest explorations is the La Colosa mining project of AngloGoldAshanti, the company that appears so eager to start mining in the surroundings of Tolima.
The future location of the La Colosa mine in Cajamarca, Colombia