Marmato, Colombia has an impressive mining history; for nearly 500 years, gold and silver have been artisanally extracted by indigenous peoples, afro-Colombians, and mestizos. In 1954, the top of the mountain was declared a Zona de Pequeña Minería, a designation meant to protect this small-scale livelihood[i].
In 2005, an open-pit mine proposed by Medoro Resources (which merged with Toronto-based Gran Colombia Gold Corp. in 2011), threatened the way of life in Marmato. The project would be one of the largest of its kind in South America, with a goal of extracting the mountain’s estimated 9.8 million ounces of gold and 59 million of silver within 20 years[ii]. Despite the region’s designation as an area for small-scale mining, the interests of the multinational company were supported by the Colombian government. INGEOMINAS, the national geology and mining institute, helped secured access to the mountain by declaring it to be too vulnerable to landslides, therefore requiring the relocation of the town of 1,200[iii].
Despite the fact that the project would require an entire community, its institutions, and history to be uprooted, there has been no significant consultation process. For the most part, the community was against the proposal, expressing concern for potential employment loss, cultural damage, and environmental degradation. It is alleged that the September 2011 murder of Father José Reinel Restrepo, a strong advocate against the resettlement, may have been a means of silencing his protest[iv].
After six years of struggle, the efforts of the Marmato Defence Committee, local indigenous groups and other concerned citizens were successful, leading the Municipal Council to issue a ban on open-pit mining in December 2011[v]. The decision will be integrated into a municipal land use plan that will also promote the interests of traditional miners and offer protection for the town’s historic center as a testimony to the local mining heritage. While this represents a significant step against a project that proposed to destroy 475 years of heritage for 20 years of profit, whether the local level decision will be respected by the national government is not clear. In January of 2012, Gran Colombia Gold Corp. continued exploration in the area.
[i] Defending Land and Life in Marmato, Colombia: A Call for International Solidarity. Canadian Council for International Co-operation. http://ccic-ccci.blogspot.ca/2012/02/defending-land-and-life-in-marmato.html
[ii] El espejismo de Marmato: Su párroca fue asesinado y el pueblo está siendo trasladado. Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie. http://www.pasc.ca/es/article/el-espejismo-de-marmato-su-p%C3%A1rroco-fue-asesinado-y-el-pueblo-est%C3%A1-siendo-trasladado
[iii] Gran Colombia progressing with Marmato resettlement. Gran Colombia Gold. http://www.grancolombiagold.com/Newsroom/News-Releases/News-Releases-Page/News-Releases-Details/2012/Gran-Colombia-progressing-with-Marmato-resettlement1127857/default.aspx
[iv] Asesinato José Reinel Restrepo (Cura párroca de Marmato, Caldas). Projet Accompagnement Colombie.
[v] Marmato municipal council prohibits open pit mining and resettlement of historic centre. Mining Watch. http://www.miningwatch.ca/news/colombia-marmato-municipal-council-prohibits-open-pit-mining-and-resettlement-historic-centre