How many people you know would gladly turn down a billions-of- dollars-worth offer just to save the environment for our future generations? You are fortunate if you can name more than a few.
Yet, people seem to be much more reasonable and environmentally conscious than many thought so, at least the residents of a small Colombian town.
To save their homeland and the environment, these locals rejected a $35 billion gold mine project.
In 2017, around 98 percent of the Cajamarca population rejected the plan of the South African company AngloGold Ashanti to build a gold mine, called La Colosa in their hometown.
This decision was a result of concerns that the gold mine, which was intended to be the largest one in South America, would seriously endanger the environment and pollute the water sources.
The national government attempted to persuade people to accept the offer, claiming that it was a chance for them to recover from war with Marxist rebels.
Yet, in the referendum, out of 19,000 people living in the town, only 76 locals voted in favor of the gold mine, and 6,100 voted against.
As one 21-year old student Camila Méndez explained that day:
“I voted no for the future generations. I have two nephews of seven and three years old. Even though they do not live in Cajamarca, I know that I want them to enjoy the little I’ve been able to enjoy so far, as it concerns the countryside. If we win…we’d show the complete world that Cajamarca is able to defeat a huge multinational enterprise, a mining monster as AngloGold Ashanti.”
Colombian Mining Minister German Arce was not happy with the results, claiming that campaigners misled residents, and added that the exploration license has already been issued, and their decision cannot be applied retroactively.
Moreover, he pointed out that the national government is still in control over any underground riches, even though local authorities may control the land.
Therefore, in case AngloGold Ashanti was awarded the environmental license that allows it to continue with the project, it would be up to the courts or Colombia’s congress whether the local or national authorities prevailed.
However, the victory of the locals is another example of the way collective action can oppose big businesses. As national media reported it:
“Water won over gold in Cajamarca”.
The bravery of these people has inspired other Colombian cities and towns to hold similar votes and reject the building of mines in their area.