Colombia Caught in Mining Politics

March 4, 2014

 

In January the Colombian government halted coal exports from a port operated by Drummond, an American miner, due to allegations of pollution. Colombia's mining minister, Amylkar Acosta, said that if Drummond made improvements to the port facility it could resume exports later this month. The concern is that Drummond has been dumping coal into the Bay of Santa Marta which is in turn leading to the contamination of nearby beaches. Last year, environmentalists took photographs of Drummond dropping nearly 500 tons of coal into the bay to stop a barge from sinking.

 

In February six employees at the port were charged and face possible jail sentences while Drummond was fined $3.6 million and told to clean up the area. Because of the halt on exporting, Drummond is believed to be losing nearly $66 million each month in royalties and taxes.

 

The Drummond incident highlights an ongoing problem for Colombia. The government initially welcomed foreign mining companies seeing the immediate payoff but has since cooled its reception due to a backlash from the public. In addition to environmental issues with cleanup and spills, many in Colombia are also questioning the distribution of mineral wealth.

 

In the mid-2000's Colombia opened up to foreign miners and made it easy for companies to obtain mining exploration and extraction licenses. This created a rush to exploit previously off limits territories and for several years the government turned a blind eye to how mines operated, several in blatant violation of environmental protection laws. Now that news of these infractions are becoming public there is a movement for accountability both from the government of current president Juan Manuel Santos and the companies mining Colombia's natural resources.

 

In a recent review of mining projects, Colombia found that of the 10,000 that hold licenses, 92% were failing in some way to comply with their conditions. This comes after the government rejected 90% of 19,000 license applications that had been waiting for approval since 2011.