Court decision to uphold mining ban in Colombian town impacts AngloGold project

AngloGold Ashanti’s La Colosa project area. (Image by AngloGold Ashanti).

The Tenth Administrative Court of Ibagué, the capital city of Colombia’s western Tolima department, ratified a mining ban in the Cajamarca municipality, thus upholding the result of a 2017 referendum on the matter. 

The ruling was issued in response to a lawsuit filed by lawyer Wilson Alexei Vallejo, who sought to nullify the results of the consultation in which the population voted against developments such as AngloGold Ashanti’s (NYSE: AU) La Colosa gold project.

Discovered in 2006, La Colosa holds an estimated 12 million ounces of resources. Mine construction was expected between 2014 and 2016, with production scheduled to start in 2016 or 2017. However, studies showed that the development would pose serious threats to the environment and locals, jeopardizing a river basin and reducing water supply for agriculture and consumption.

In response to such warnings, in 2017, the Cajamarca Committee Promoting the Popular Consultation organized the mining referendum. Out of 9,296 votes, 6,165 rejected mining in the area, with an emphasis on La Colosa. Since then, the project has been under force majeure.

The Cajamarca Municipal Council validated the referendum results and issued Agreement No. 003 of 2017, banning mining exploration and exploitation activities in the municipality. 

The recent decision, thus, solidifies the validity of Agreement No. 003 of 2017. 

According to the judge, Vallejo’s lawsuit failed to prove false motivation and a violation of the rules.

The plaintiff argued that subsequent rulings by Colombia’s Constitutional Court, namely SU-095 of 2018 and C-053 of 2019, limited the scope of popular referenda and invalidated Agreement No. 003 of 2017. 

Since the Constitutional Court’s rulings were not retroactive, “it is impossible to ignore a citizen participation mechanism that was adopted under previous regulations, despite the fact that the Court has changed its stance,” the Judicial Coalition for the Defense of Cajamarca said in a media statement.

In the Coalition’s view, the ruling protects the citizen mandate and acts as a call to national authorities to effectively implement the results of the consultation, thus updating public policies related to environmental assessments and mining concessions. 

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