Mandé Norte/Murindó, Colombia
In 2005, US-based Muriel Mining Corporation was granted nine mining permits in the Choco and Antioquia departments in northwestern Colombia. The concessions held by Muriel Mining encroach upon the ancestral territories of Afro-Colombian groups and the Embera people, an indigenous group deemed at risk of physical and cultural extinction. In 2009, Muriel Mining began exploration within the Urada Juguamiando reservation, at Cerro Careperro, one of the Embera’s most significant ancestral sites.
Apart from the threat to ancestral territory, the legitimacy of the project’s consultation process has been questioned. According to ABColombia, the consultation process was characterized by “deceit, misinformation, and manipulation”, and those most affected by the project were not included. Muriel Mining primarily met with individuals who did not have the authority to represent the community, and did not consult with the wider community. Furthermore, the process was only conducted in Spanish, which many in the community do not speak. An independent consultation process organized by the community and involving 77%, showed that the community was unanimously against Muriel Mining’s exploration.
The arrival of Muriel Mining coincided with the increased militarization of the area, which already had a significant presence of both guerrilla and paramilitary forces. On January 30, 2010 the Alto Guayabal community was aerially attacked by the National Army, injuring four, including three children. While the Colombian government claims the bombing was in error, members of the Embera community suspect it was organized in partnership with Muriel Mining Corp. as a way of clearing the land for exploration. Muriel Mining has taken advantage of the increased tension in the area. In 2009 the company accused Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz and Peace Brigades International, both advocates of indigenous and Afro-Colombian rights, of being aligned with guerrilla groups. Such an accusation could have deadly consequence for members of these organizations, given the presence of right-wing paramilitary groups in the area.
Open-pit mining in the region could have a drastic impact on the health and livelihoods of residents, and on local biodiversity. The Jiguamiando River and its tributaries are important both as a source of drinking water and for subsistence agriculture, and thus the use of cyanide in the heap-leaching process is expected to impact health conditions and livelihood sustainability. The region is also home to many endemic plant and animal species that could potentially be lost if the mine goes forward.