Here's some good news: Colombia recently announced the quadrupling in size of a protected wilderness area, the Santurban Regional National Park. The expansion is intended to protect the unique high-altitude páramo ecosystem from large-scale mining and other extractive development. Home to both the Amazon and the páramos, Colombia is a country rich in biodiversity.
Unlike other countries in Latin America, however, Colombia has seen little mining development until recently, in part due to ongoing conflict between the government and armed insurgents. But now, in the midst of negotiations between FARC, the largest rebel group, and the government, Colombia has signed free trade agreements that have opened the gates to a deluge of resource extraction companies looking to tap into Colombia's mineral-rich land.
That's why this announcement is so important. It marks an important protection against an onslaught of irresponsible mining development. Unfortunately, the move could also bring about lawsuits from companies who have begun exploring or invested in the affected areas.
It's also a welcome change from the policy of former president Alvaro Uribe, who has been criticized for granting mining concessions to companies in national parks and protected areas.
Mining companies too often receive concessions in areas legally designated to prohibit exactly such development—not just in Colombia but also around the world. This is why one of the Golden Rules in our No Dirty Gold campaign is that mining companies should not operate in protected areas.
It's an issue Earthworks will delve into further in the coming months. For now, it will be interesting to see how mining companies with concessions in the area will react.