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colombia: defending the paramo del almorzadero

In the early 1990s, Friends of the Earth Colombia/Censat Agua Viva was invited to the municipality of Cerrito in northeast Colombia, by communities concerned about a mining company exploring for anthracite coal in the Páramo el Almorzadero. The locals knew little about coal but they understood that their rich waters, flowing from the páramo, were threatened.

Colombian forum in defence of the ParamoColombian forum in defence of the Páramo.Through the democratic and participatory process that ensued, the inhabitants concluded that the jobs and economic resources mining might generate would never replace the security provided by agriculture, water and land. The peasants and the local population mobilised and organised themselves, and the company left the area and the coal project was shelved. Instead, the leaders of the resistance promoted agroecology as a means of protecting the páramo, creating food sovereignty, and strengthening their cultural and territorial identity.


However, by the end of the century, the threat of coal mining was back. The defence of the Páramo El Almorzadero became a key campaign for the Garcia Rovira province once again, and a variety of activities were initiated, including the National Congress of

Páramos and High Andean Forests, the first National Seeds Market, and the National Meeting of Peasant Markets. These provided new and broader spaces to strengthen resistance, disseminate information, and construct alternatives.

 

 

Eventually the various social organisations decided to create the ‘Surveillance and Monitoring Commission for the Protection of the Páramo el Almorzadero’, which includes Friends of the Earth Colombia. In its quest for a permanent solution this Commission submitted a People’s Legislative Initiative signed by over 800 people, calling for the Cerrito Municipal Council to declare the part of the Páramo El Almorzadero in its jurisdiction a mining-free area. In August 2010, the Municipal Council finally approved the initiative, and the Mayor passed it.

 

This also inspired the neigbouring Chitaga Council to pass a similar municipal regulation covering their part of the páramo.

 

“The Paramo El Almorzadero is a living territory; there is no place here for mining, only for native species, lagoons, marshes, rivers, and therefore for peasants who have always lived here.”

 

Maria Stella Sandoval Rincon, Friends of the Earth Colombia

“In is important to stay united: if we said ‘no’ to coal exploitation, we have to respect it. Even more so when we see what happened in other places with mining extraction activities, where you only see poverty. For us, water is first, we struggle for life.”


Isaias Villamizar, peasant from Cerrito, Santander


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