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Thoughts on mining in Latin America


It seems that this blog has some fans as the lack of a post last week was missed by some. Many thanks for your support and appreciation.

I have also received several emails asking my opinion about the settlement of the civil strike in the Segovia-Remedios area. I am writing a thought piece on this for CGL #74 that will be published on 2nd October, but my initial impression (which may change) is that the settlement is a government fudge that ended the crisis by kicking the can down the road and into the territory of the next government of Colombia. The interests thus carried the day.

And whilst researching this topic I found that I have been a liar. I thought that Colombia had banned the use of mercury as a signatory of the 2013 UN Minamata convention but it appears that, as Winston Churchill would say, this is true but incomplete. Colombia did indeed sign the convention in 2013 along with 140 other nations but as I found out, Colombia’s Congress has yet to ratify it by enacting it within domestic legislation. Until it does so, it is nothing more than a good intention. The government only introduced the bill in October 2016 so the aim to ban mercury use from 1st of January 2018 could see execution creep. Considering that Colombia was one of the country’s leading the push to create Minamata (and it received international prizes for doing so) it seems that one could file this in the same draw as Barrack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.

So, why the delay? The Comptroller General says 21 of the country’s 32 departments are affected by mercury contamination, some 400 municipalities. World mercury monitoring NGO Mercurywatch estimates that up to 180tpa of mercury enter the environment almost exclusively as a result of illegal mining, such that thousands of Colombian citizens suffer from mercury poisoning, particularly in Antioquia, Córdoba, Chocó, Bolívar and Sucre, the main zones devastated by illegal mining. The UN estimates that the Segovia region of Antioquia is one of the world’s most contaminated places by mercury.

The interests are still carrying the day, which means that the government is still playing house! (listen to the Green Velvet track on the 18th August blog to understand this reference).

As an aside, the Roman god Mercury was the patron god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, communication, travelers, luck, trickery and thieves. With the exception of the last two (other than being on the receiving end), that pretty much defines my career over the last twenty years. Mercury was also the guide of souls to the underworld but I don’t think my career path will take me there.

Who’s on first

The government is also still playing house about who has the final say about where mining can occur. So we have a Who’s on First?, situation and Abbott & Costello explain the Colombia situation quite well. Recent months have seen a spate of municipal authorities going beyond their purview and attempt to ban metallic mining, despite the national government (rightly and legally) saying no. The latest on this particular bandwagon is Titiribi in Antioquia that has advanced the most specious of arguments yet. The town council wants to ban gold mining but the local coal mining (very contaminating and unsafe and that has resulted in multiple deaths in recent years) is ok because it is ancestral. The council conveniently ignored the fact that gold mining is THE ancestral activity at Titiribi as the town was founded by gold miners. The Independencia mine operated 1848-1950 and its owner, the Zancudo company, issued its own currency. For a history of Zancudo click here.

The Titiribi attempt to ban mining highlights the hypocrisy and ill-informed origin of such initiatives that seek to stunt local development by the demonisation of private investment by foreign companies. Marxism rhetoric posturing in environmental robes! In general terms, private, foreign capital is seen as being the devil and its deployment is a form of economic colonialism that should be resisted, after all Colombia threw-off the yoke of Colonialism some 200 years ago. Such moves are advanced to safeguard entrenched local economic interests that do not want to see competing sources of employment, wage inflation, increasing state presence or anything else that can challenge the almost feudal existent status quo. Local rural populations are often unaware that by voting against the development of modern mining that they are rejecting an opportunity at development that no one else is going to provide. The interests are carrying the day.

Colonialism arguments are conveniently and selectively applied. Latin America used to celebrate Columbus Day in commemoration of the discovery of the Americas by Cristobal Colon in 1492. In recent years it was renamed and rebranded as Race Day (Dia de la Raza) following pressure from indigenous communities that successfully argued that they were already in the Americas and so it was not discovered. And also because Colon brought with him persecution, genocide, disease, enslavement, theft and general misery on indigenous populations and therefore his arrival is nothing to be celebrated. Race Day is now a celebration of diversity and indigenous people.

Perhaps the main thing Colon brought with him (or that he was forced to take with him) was Catholicism. The Catholic church was and continues to be the spiritual and cultural Colonial power par excellence in Latin America and one could add economic to that as it is one of the world’s largest businesses. It was also directly and indirectly responsible for many of the abuses suffered by indigenous peoples. So, we have the contradiction of a society with members that reject what they see as modern-day economic colonialism yet euphorically embrace a visit by God’s representative on earth, the figurehead of hundreds of years of spiritual and cultural Colonialism.

During his visit, pope Francis refrained from religious sermons and focused on the need for all to contribute to peace and prosperity in Colombia, and to basically treat each other well. And he graciously turned  the other cheek and may have let slip a Dios Mio after the driver of his vehicle dabbed the brakes too hard and sent the leader of the Roman catholic church crashing head first into the Plexiglas, an almost daily experience for anyone that rides the bus or a taxi here, so good to see him entering into the local culture.


Great news this week that Metminco received a permit from the local environmental authority to build a 2km exploration tunnel / underground mining development at its Miraflores gold project in Risaralda. Congratulations to William and his team.


CGS2017 continues to build a head of steam. Bezant Resources will present on its platinum project in Choco and we have reached minimum numbers for the short course about the metallogenic zones in Colombia that Dr Stewart Redwood will give on Monday 13th November. For those of you who want to get up to speed on Colombia’s geology this will be the best US$500 you have ever spent (or US$800 including entrance to the Colombia Gold Symposium) as Stewart will be providing a wealth of documentation. Pen drives are a modern wonder.

For music, here is Black Grape. If anyone can find out the link to this weeks blog  I will a free entrance to CGS2017 (a US$400 value). Answer next time.

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