With the FTA, Colombia would lose the right to enforce environmental regulations on transnational oil and mining corporations such as Canada-based multinational Greystar which seeks to create a huge open pit gold mine in the Andes using explosives and sodium cyanide leaching basins. The proposed site, the páramos (or high altitude moors) of Santurbán, is the source of water for the department of Santander. Local people protested. Artist David Navarro got attention for the cause when he took 17 co-conspirators up to the páramos where they stripped off their clothes and Navarro photographed an eloquent series of images: fragile bodies and fragile ecosystem, one woman holding a lamb in her naked arms.
A few years ago, activists presented 2 million signatures to the legislature seeking a Constitutional amendment, similar to one passed in Uruguay, recognizing clean drinking water as a human right. The proposal would prohibit water supply privatization, something only too likely to be imposed under “free trade.” So far the activists have not prevailed, but the environmental movement keeps growing and holds broad appeal as it promises grassroots empowerment and change without the Marxist orientation that polarized the population and scared many citizens away from reform.
There’s potential here to transform a long-suffering country. In the 1960s, inspired by the Cuban Revolution and spurred on by unconscionable exploitation and injustice and the all-too-frequent and predictable murders of political reformers, many of the most idealistic Colombians concluded there was no alternative to violent resistance. They went to the mountains and the jungles to join the armed struggle. Today, it seems when activists head for mountains and rainforest they go peacefully in defense of the environment. On March 14th, to mark the International Day of Action for Rivers, communities around the country, with significant youth participation, protested against dams and hydroelectric megaprojects. In January, in Putumayo in the Amazon basin (where no paved road exists between the department capital and its major city), a nonviolent coalition of indigenous people and Afro-Colombians blocked — at least so far — the construction of a highway through their territory for the benefit of an oil consortium.
Meanwhile, back in Santander, after a groundswell of protest against the Greystar gold mine, Carlos Rodado, the minister of Mines and Energy, reviewed the company’s environmental impact and technical study and said the gold mining project was not viable. Translating his words: “If the operation of Greystar’s mine is going to be of the same quality as the studies that have been presented, we have serious reason to be worried.”
The Uribe administration seemed more interested in catering to foreign investors than in protecting the environment. Under Santos, there are signs of change but this welcome shift is threatened by passage of the FTA. Does it make any sense for Colombia to lose the right to protect the environment at the very moment when that power is being used?
Author’s Profile: Diane Lefer
Republished with the author’s permission from New.Clear.Vision.
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