In Defence of Life Cajamarca, Colombia

Mariana Gomez Soto, YLNM's Regional Coordinator for Latin America, and Benjamin Hitchcock Auciello describe how farmers, youth and other environmental defenders from Cajamarca, Colombia, have stopped a vast gold mine, re-valued the ‘true treasures’ in their territory and begun to develop regenerative alternatives to mining ‘development’.

Extractivism in Colombia

Colombia spans Amazon, Andes and Caribbean in Latin America. Map: Vardion CC 3.0

The history of large-scale mining in Colombia is inseparable from the violence of European colonialism in the Americas. Prior to the Spanish invasion nearly 500 years ago, gold was extracted on a relatively small-scale and was valued primarily as an ornamental and sacred metal.

The notion of gold’s commercial value was imposed in Colombia during the violence of colonisation. As a currency, an investment, and a speculative commodity, gold has incentivised the feverish greed which continues to bring violence and destruction to communities and territories throughout the continent.

The original colonial ‘discoveries’ of mineral wealth in Colombia were made based on the knowledge of indigenous peoples who were dispossessed of their land and resources in a centuries-long genocide.

The forced labour of these Indigenous Peoples, alongside enslaved Africans, was exploited for the mass extraction of mineral wealth to Europe, where that wealth accumulated.

“The more it is desired by the global market, the more suffering a product brings to the people of Latin America, it is created through their sacrifice." - Eduardo Galeano

Today, Colombia continues to attract companies searching for metals and minerals. In the past 30 years, corruption and collusion between state officials, corporate actors and even armed groups, has helped bring about policies that facilitate the capture of minerals, metals and fossil fuels in Colombia by foreign corporations.

Successive Colombian administrations have argued that mining is, and can be, an ‘engine for development’ and economic growth in Colombia. They have framed it as a sector of national interest and, as set out in the Colombian National Mining Plan established a decade ago (UPME 2009), taken steps to maximize mining production.

Cerrejon Coal Mine, La Guajira, run by the Cerrejon Coal Company, owned by London-listed mining companies Anglo American, BHP and Glencore. Photo: Tananhaus CC 2.0

Yet, as can be observed in many resource-rich nations in the Global South, the benefits of mining in Colombia are often overstated, even on the Government’s own terms, while significant impacts and costs are ignored and shifted onto communities and Nature.

  • Colombia’s mining sector represents a very small portion of the country’s GDP (2.1% in 2016);
  • Tax revenue from the mining sector made up just 0.4% of total state revenue in 2015;
  • Growth in mineral and metal exports has negatively affected other important and regenerative sectors, such as agriculture, making the Colombian economy vulnerable to the volatility of international commodity prices and an economic phenomenon known as “Dutch disease”- a major obstacle to socio-economic development.
  • (Source: "The 15 Myths of Mega-mining in Colombia")

Colombia’s current mining regime does not:

  • Respect international commitments on environmental protection, ethnic minorities or climate change;
  • Prohibit mining in protected natural reserves, which make up 13% of the national territory;
  • And ignores the fact that 25% of the national territory is under collective property titles which belong to Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.

As a result, the mining sector in Colombia has become synonymous with corruption, violence against human rights defenders and the destruction of ecosystems and agricultural land.

In response, Colombia has experienced an inspiring resurgence of social activism to defend territories from mining. This represents a continuation of the centuries-long history of resistance and resilience of indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant communities who have, and continue to, risk everything to defend water, life and territory.

One of the most emblematic examples of emerging grassroots resistance and revival in recent times started in the Tolima region of Colombia’s central Andes, with the municipalities of Piedras and Cajamarca at its heart, and has given birth to what has become known as Colombia’s ‘popular consultation boom’.

Cajamarca: Mountains, Volcanoes and Arracacheros

The town of Cajamarca is carved into the Andes, framed by the snowy peaks of the Nevado del Tolima and Cerro Machin Volcano.

Cajamarca’s municipal territory spans part of the Chilí-Barragán páramos (a high-altitude wetland ecosystem unique to the northern Andes). These páramos, which give birth to several rivers, are the source of freshwater for more than three million people.

Cajamarca is home to several endangered species such as the tapir, the puma and the spectacled bear. Wax palms thrive in fog-filled forests and this land is the home of hundreds of species of birds and butterflies.

Photo: Federico Pardo

More than half of Cajamarca’s 20,000 inhabitants live off the land as peasant farmers. Their arriero identity (that of people who transport goods on horseback) and love for the land stems from the campesino roots of its settlers and the diverse mosaic of geographies that make the territory perfect for agriculture.

Photo: Mariana Gómez

Cajamarca’s fertile soil is the result of centuries of volcanic ash build-up. Its valleys (1,200 - 1,800 metres above sea level) are home to a warmer climate which yields coffee, cassava, banana and colicero (small plantain) crops. More mountainous areas (2,700 - 3,100 metres above sea level) harbour a colder climate which yields pastuza and criolla potatoes (a small and yellow variety), curuba (banana passionfruit) and blackberry. The temperate climate in areas between the mountains and valleys yields maize, guarzo bean and arracacha- all native to Colombia.

Photo: Federico Pardo

Cajamarca is the world’s number one producer of arracacha, an Andean parsnip that is of particular importance to Cajamarcans. Corabastos (the principal wholesale food market in Bogotá) receives daily deliveries of nearly 50 tons of arracacha from Cajamarca alone, which is used to make traditional Ajiaco Santafereño (Colombian potato cream soup).

The common arracacha paliverde, a variety originating from the region, is most commonly planted due to its robustness, intense flavor, yellow-violet color and the soft texture of its bulbous root. Farmers say a sweet arracachuno smell surrounds these crops. This, they say, is Cajamarca’s ‘true gold’.

Photo: Federico Pardo

The Colossus: A Mining Corporation Arrives

In 2003, South African-based multinational, AngloGold Ashanti Colombia S.A. (AGA), began mineral exploration in Cajamarca through its subsidiary Kehdadha S.A.

Four years later, in early 2007, AGA announced the discovery of a massive gold deposit that they named ‘La Colosa’ (‘The Colossus’). AGA estimates that La Colosa holds around 30 million ounces of gold, making it the largest gold discovery in Colombia and among the largest in the world.

Map showing the Department of Tolima, Colombia, home to Cajamarca and the site of AGA's planned La Colosa mining district. Map: Tlaxcala.Int

In the ensuing years, it became clear that AGA’s plans went beyond Cajamarca, and that the company envisaged building up a regional mining district, totalling over 200,000 hectares, where gold would be extracted from open pits and waste stored behind huge tailings dams.

As local people, organisations, academic institutions and their allies learnt more about their project, so their concerns about Cajamarca’s future grew.

Under Threat

Páramos – These vital high Andean wetland ecosystems have an incredible capacity to absorb and retain water in deep layers of moss and soil, then slowly release that water, ensuring a regular flow of freshwater throughout the seasons and in times of scarce rainfall. Despite being a legally protected ecosystem, La Colosa's concessions overlapped with the Páramos. Even where the project would not directly destroy the páramos, they would be threatened by ecosystem fragmentation and other impacts of the project.

Photo: Colombian Paramo ecosystems. Destupinans22 CC 4.0

Waste and pollution – Gold extraction at La Colosa would cause the disappearance of mountains, and involve blasting more than 1 billion tons of rock, what would require more than 500 million tons of explosives and hundreds of thousand tons of cyanide in order to separate the gold from other minerals like pyrite, or “fools gold”.

These processes result in two types of waste: waste rock and tailings. Both have the potential to severely pollute water bodies. La Colosa would produce over 100 million tonnes of waste rock with contents of pyrite, arsenopyrite and other minerals that when in contact with air become sulfuric acid in a phenomenon known as acid mine drainage, as well as sludgy ‘tailings’ - water, chemicals and crushed ore – that would be transported to a waste dam with a capacity of 1,420 million tonnes.

Such dams are collapsing with increasing frequency worldwide, with devastating consequences, like in the breaking dams disasters of Mariana and Brumadinho in Brazil.

Photo: Brumadinho tailings dam collapse. Wikipedia.

Communities and farming - Below the páramos lie the forests, mountainsides and fertile valleys from which tens of thousands of small farmers live, earning Cajamarca its nickname as the ‘breadbasket of Colombia’. The cumulative effects of lost agricultural land from the mining activity itself, combined with the reduced access to freshwater sources, the fragmentation of key ecosystems such as the páramos, and the threat of contamination and acidification of waters and soils by mine waste, would jeopardise the livelihoods of thousands and the identity of Cajamarca as a whole.

Photo: Hills near the planned La Colosa site. Bram Ebus for Mongabay.

Water grabbing - Company reports estimate that there is less than one gram of gold per ton of rock. The extraction of just one gram of gold requires between 500 and 1,000 litres of water.

The Colombia Solidarity Campaign report, La Colosa: A Death Foretold, puts these figures into perspective in relation to the La Colosa Project:

“Calculations … indicate that it is very likely that La Colosa’s operations would use more water than the total domestic water consumption for the whole of Tolima.”

A Decade of Resistance

Almost as soon as the project was announced, people in Cajamarca and neighbouring community Anaime began organising in opposition to La Colosa.

Associations of peasant farmers, young people and environmentalists began to proliferate throughout Cajamarca and Anaime’s veredas (villages) as well as in the departmental capital, Ibagué, to organise resistance to the mining project.

Colombia is the second most deadly nation in the world to be an environmental defender. And mining is the most deadly sector to oppose. Image: Global Witness.

Around the planet, activists and community leaders who defend life and territory are often targeted, threatened, stigmatised, slandered or even killed for intervening in the corporate and state interests that sustain extractive projects. Over the course of their resistance to La Colosa, the people of Cajamarca and surrounding areas were met with this response.

In Cajamarca, two young people, Juan Camilo Pinto and Daniel Humberto Sánchez, members of Youth Collective COSAJUCA, lost their lives in violent acts which the collective links to the threats they faced for their activism against mining.

Another social leader, César Garcia, peasant farmer and a key member of anti-mining group Conciencia Campesina, was murdered near his home in 2013.

Other activists, young people, peasant farmers, and even local government officials have faced serious threats. In 2017, two other members of COSAJUCA were shot at and fortunately were uninjured.

Despite the threats and the violence they have faced, the people of Cajamarca, and Tolima more widely, sustained their resistance for over a decade.

Cajamarca. Photo: Viviana Sánchez/Conciencia Campesina

The strategies employed by social movements in the region during these years are many and varied, with diversity being a major strength of the mobilisation.

Community Platforms

COSAJUCA's banner flies over a mass demonstration against La Colosa. Photo: Viviana Sánchez/Conciencia Campesina

In response to the emerging threat of mining, citizens from different threatened areas began to organise autonomously into platforms and community-interest groups to inform themselves about mining and develop a collective voice to represent their concerns.

Robinson Mejía shares an example of these mobilisations, describing how and why he and a group of friends started the Colectivo Socio-ambiental Juvenil de Cajamarca (COSAJUCA):

“COSAJUCA was born in 2007 with meetings on the park benches in Cajamarca’s main square, with the objective of being by and for young people. It was a response to other organisations that weren’t as inclusive or as empowering of young people. It actually formed a few months before La Colosa was announced. When former president Alvaro Uribe Velez announced the discovery of the deposit we knew that we wouldn’t be able to change the world for the better, starting with Cajamarca, if the mine went ahead.”

COSAJUCA is just one of several locally-organised groups. Others include the Comité Ambiental y Campesino de Cajamarca y Anaime and farmers’ associations.

Regional Networks

A banner made by and for the Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida del Tolima. Photo: ESCR-Net

Over time, activists began to weave connections between their groups. At the regional level, the Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida del Tolima (Environmental Committee in Defense of Life in Tolima) was born in an effort to bringing together isolated efforts at the level of the Department.

One of the Comité Ambiental’s first strategies was to consciously strengthen this networking by creating environmental committees in each of the Department’s municipalities, promoting environmental awareness at a local level. This is how the Red de Comités Ambientales del Tolima (Network of Environmental Committees in Tolima) was formed, which today coordinates the many Environmental Committees that have sprung up throughout the region.

Popular Education

The Water is Life Toolkit in use- one source of popular education in the Tolima Region. Photos: YLNM
"You cannot defend what you don’t know." - Camila Méndez, COSAJUCA and the Comité Ambiental y Campesino de Cajamarca y Anaime.

In 2013, the Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida began offering a free environmental certificate diploma course at the University of Tolima.

To-date, more than 5,000 graduates of diverse backgrounds, ages and livelihoods from throughout the region have completed the course, which empowers its participants with an understanding of mining processes and the environmental impacts they generate, and other topics related to territory and a holistic understanding of ecological interactions.

According to Comité activist Valentina Camacho:

"We were told that we weren’t qualified to talk about the environmental impacts of mining because we were not geologists. So we started a collaboration with the University of Tolima and the environmental diploma was developed to train local people on mining issues, because few people know, for example, what lixiviation (leaching) with cyanide involves."

Non-violent Direct Action

Anglogold Out! A banner held by non-violent demonstrators against La Colosa. Photo: CATAPA

As in processes of resistance to extractive projects around the world, affected communities in Tolima have taken non-violent direct action to stop the development of the mining project by physically blocking the mining company’s operations.

Mariana Gómez Soto, YLNM Regional Coordinator for Latin America shares how communities from Piedras in Tolima, took action to stop AGA’s exploratory works for their proposed mine-waste dam:

“In January 2013, we found out that the company was drilling into the aquifer in a river creek just past the town without asking. The leaders in town created a blockade on the only bridge in and out of the town. In the end there were about 500 people by this small bridge. They made a stall with all their messages on, they brought tents and chairs, a pot to cook, even a TV so they could watch the soap operas! They practically went to live on the bridge for two weeks and the company’s people couldn’t get in or out. Eventually they had to move… but people continued to resist and adapted their blockade strategy by installing an alarm in the first light pole in town to let people know when the trucks and machinery was coming.”

International Solidarity

Activists in Tolima have actively worked with international allies to make their struggle globally visible in the media and apply pressure on AGA as well as the Colombian state to comply with the people’s demands.

One concrete example is the research and publication of a definitive report criticising AGA’s project - La Colosa: A Death Foretold. To produce this report local groups collaborated with international NGOs such as the London Mining Network, and solidarity groups like Colombia Solidarity Campaign, as well as scientific experts.

“Communities need to be connected nationally and internationally to share their strategies and responses to mining. It was very important for us to reach out internationally to learn from others who had stopped mines or have been affected by them”, says Mariana Gomez.

By working with these international allies, the movement in Tolima has also gained a voice at forums like the United Nations.

Consulta Popular Ya! Popular Consultations Now!

A turning point in Cajamarca and the Tolima region's many years of resistance came in 2013, when the small municipality of Piedras, Tolima, organised a ‘popular consultation’ – a local referendum on the future of mining on their land - to give local people a say on whether AGA could build the mine-waste dam for La Colosa in their territory.

Enshrined in Colombia’s 1991 Constitution, a popular consultation is a little known legal mechanism, defined in legislation as follows (1994 Law 136, article 33):

"When a municipality intends to carry out activities and/or projects that generate a significant change in land use, a Popular Consultation must be held. [...] When the development of tourist, mining or projects of another nature threatens to create a significant change in the use of land, which results in a transformation in the traditional activities of a municipality, a popular consultation shall be held in accordance with the Law. The responsibility of these consultations will be the responsibility of the respective municipality."

Importantly, unlike most other mechanisms for participation or consultation elsewhere in the world, Colombia’s popular consultation is binding, rather than advisory in nature, meaning that the Government is legally bound to respect the decision taken by the people.

Piedras's popular consultation ended in a resounding rejection of AGA's planned infrastructure.

Four years later, in March 2017, following years of tireless organising by grassroots groups in Cajamarca and their close allies in Ibagué, the first popular consultation* called by citizens themselves was held in Cajamarca.

(*Note: the earlier consultation in Piedras was called by the municipal government, rather than directly by citizens, and was the first regarding a mining project.)

Mobilised by social movements in the region, 6,241 voters took to the polls in Cajamarca on the day of the vote. Of those people, only 76 voted in favour of mining, while 6,165 voted against- a landslide victory of 98%.

This resounding victory dealt a major below to La Colosa and AGA’s plans in the region. The company has since suspended its operations in Cajamarca, citing the ‘force of the community'.

Cajamarcans gather to vote against the La Colosa project and express their support for popular consultations. Photos: COSAJUCA

Popular Consultation Boom

Since Cajamarca’s emblematic victory, popular consultations have experienced a ‘boom’ in Colombia. At time of writing, ten more municipalities have voted down extractive projects through popular consultations and around 70 other municipalities have expressed their interest in holding popular consultations regarding extractive projects.

Citizens of Jerico, Antioquia, are among those organising their own popular consultations. Photo: Pacifistas

This rapid expansion of effective territorial defence is a result of direct community-to-community exchange. In late 2017, a national movement, the Movimiento Nacional Ambiental (MNA), was formed to bring together communities organising popular consultations throughout Colombia, offering mutual support and solidarity through a series of exchanges.

The MNA was fully consolidated in 2018 at a national exchange convened with the support of the Yes to Life No to Mining Network and many other organisations.

In an attempt to stop this growing movement, the national Government has placed administrative obstacles in the way and sought to challenge popular consultations on legal grounds, catalysing an ongoing struggle to preserve Colombian citizens’ fundamental rights to political participation in the form of popular consultations at Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, following Cajamarca’s emblematic victory, Colombian municipalities like those of Fusagasuga and San Bernardo continue to assert their right to say no to mining and yes to life, by holding popular consultations regardless of state recognition.

Revival: Strengthening Existing Livelihoods, Developing New Alternatives

“We want to build multiple life scenarios that respect the rights of people and the rights of nature." Renzo Garcia, CADV

Since the success of Cajamarca’s popular consultation, and indeed long before, the organisations that came together to resist La Colosa began promoting regenerative livelihoods rooted in Cajamarca’s agrarian identity, shaping a new development narrative.

Cajamarcan farmers. Photo: Federico Pardo for We Feed the World
“We have a critique of the term ‘alternative’, Cajamarca doesn’t need to find an alternative, rather it needs to follow its roots. We already have a non-extractive livelihood and everything we need. What we want is a more just, agroecological system of food production, a circular economy which doesn’t damage the territory”, says Robinson Mejía.

Cajamarca has countered the typical response towards communities who resist mining from Government and corporations who say that they are anti-development.

A number of initiatives are underway that seek to strengthen traditional livelihoods and pioneer new economic activities while respecting the rights of local people and the ecosystems they rely upon.

“People in Cajamarca and Colombia more widely are calling for a new paradigm and a new development model that includes alternatives that are rooted in and serve the well-being of the planet and the people. We cannot and should not base our development pathways on the expansion of the extractive industries”, says Mariana Gomez.


Given Cajamarca’s deep agricultural roots, food and farming have taken centre stage as non-extractive livelihoods and are being promoted and enhanced with the momentum of the popular consultation victory.

Arracacheros at work on the hillsides of Cajamarca. Photos: Federico Pardo

The economic viability of non-extractive, agroecological livelihoods has been bolstered by a partnership formed between socially and ecologically conscious Colombian restaurant chain Crepes&Waffles and a Cajamarcan association of arracacha producers (Asociación de Productores de Semillas Andinas- ASPROSAN).

ASPROSAN has in recent years been able to shift practices towards more biodiverse, less chemical intensive and more regenerative methods of production. Crepes and Waffles has supported this process by offering a stable, fair market with prices multiple times the exploitative market average for APROSAN’s carefully grown, high quality and agroecological arracacha.

“Since October 2017 we have been buying two tonnes of Arracacha a month directly from the Arracacha Growers’ Association at double the market price”, says Felipé Macía of Crepes &Waffles. “We’ve sold more than ten thousand arracacha dishes and are launching some other new products; a lemonade made from a lemon grown in Cajamarca, and raw sugar. We have also been working to encourage other businesses to follow our example. We see ourselves as a pioneer species and we hope to close this year with four Colombian food businesses buying directly from Cajamarca.”
Exhibition of the arracacha portion of Pedro Ruíz's "Oro Vital" (Vital Gold) project which questions the notion of gold as a symbol of value by replacing it with other symbols which represent value throughout Colombia. The boy featured in the painting is Harrison, the son of Bernaín Vargas, leader of ASPROSAN. Photos: Mariana Gómez Soto

COSAJUCA has also supported the development of 18 productive projects to sustain and strengthen non-extractive livelihoods in Cajamarca. These projects are run by women. They are ecologically regenerative and designed to be economically viable after an initial period of support. They include a glass recycling centre, an eco-tourism project, organic greenhouses, and a number of other agro-ecological enterprises.

This celebration of agricultural livelihoods has also acted as a direct rebuttal of attempts by some parts of the Colombian media to portray Cajamarca as ‘hungry’ and a ‘ghost town’ as a result of rejecting mining investment.

Community Water Sources

The paramos are key to sustaining the health of the water. Photo: Pixabay

Formed in 2014 as part of a conservation strategy, the Red de Acueductos Comunitarios de Cajamarca (The Network of Community Aqueducts of Cajamarca) has grown into an alliance of communities managing their access to freshwater and a key strategy to defend Cajamarca from future mining threats.

“If the peasant farmers and the communities formalise their water access rights and obtain the freshwater concessions, if AGA tries to solicit water access in the future they won’t get it. [The right to water] is a right that can’t be violated.” says Robinson Mejía of COSAJUCA.

The Red de Acueductos Comunitarios de Cajamarca has been working with their national counterpart, the Red Nacional de Acueductos Comunitarios de Colombia to help communities formalise their access and guarantee their rights. They are also training and equipping the community members with the tools to perform tests on their local water quality.

Gender Equality

A celebration of arracacha and the women who grow Cajamarca's 'true gold'. Photo: COSAJUCA
“When AngloGold Ashanti returns we will be prepared, not only with more legal and social tools, but also spiritually because we have strong roots in this territory." - Camila Mendez

Observing how mining often impacts women far worse than men, during their resistance to La Colosa, women in Cajamarca formed the Peasant Women’s Alliance of Cajamarca.

Made up of women from the veredas (villages), the Alliance has three areas of activity: economic justice, trainings and self-care practices. It fosters exchange between women, creating a space for them to share their knowledge and skills, and to support each other in processes of collective healing. They have just recently opened a space to feature artisanal, medicinal and agroecological products that members of the Alliance produce.


COSAJUCA and the Comité Ambiental y Campesino de Cajamarca y Anaime are also carrying out projects to empower and educate children and young people, many of whom are the children of women involved in the Alliance or from families engaged in the working of the Red de Acueductos Comunitarios de Cajamarca. These projects help free up time for their parents to participate, while helping to ensure that a new generation of young people in Cajamarca are supported and able to contribute to the collective work of building the community’s non-extractive future.


Changing the Narrative

A poster advertising the Marcha Carnaval in Image, Tolima. Image: CADV
"To stop this greed for metals, we must build our own narratives. For example, the farmers of Cajamarca have expressed that true ‘gold’ is water and arracacha. […] When we started this process we not only set out to rethink our practices but also to rethink our use of language."- Renzo Garcia, CADV.

Celebration, art and storytelling have played a constant role in Cajamarca’s story of resistance and revival. As well as working with renowned artists like Pedro Ruiz, every year for 10-years, people in Tolima have organised a ‘Marcha Carnaval en Defensa de la Vida’ (Carnival March in Defence of Life), in the regional capital, Ibague.

“In 2009 we marched in the carnival of Ibagué for the first time and people became interested and wanted to join in the struggle, this is where the idea of the Marcha Carnaval was born. It’s positive and colourful, it’s a way not just of saying no to the mine but also saying yes to life," says Valentina Camacho, CADV.

The Marcha Carnaval has become an emblematic space for organising the broader movement of resistance to La Colosa and indeed extractive threats throughout Tolima. It is an artistic, theatrical and cultural demonstration in defence of life and a vibrant show of the movement’s strength that clearly centres the territory’s natural and agricultural abundance at the heart of the identity and values of the people of Tolima. The March has grown year on year, and in 2017 gathered over 120,000 people.

New Conservation Strategies

A Tigrillo- one of the species Cajamarcan farmers are caring for by enhancing their practices. Photo: Pixabay

Local agricultural products and fair supply chains are at the heart of Cajamarca´s transition strategy. But growing food does not mean bringing down the forest as it does elsewhere.

Cajamarca’s agroecological strategy is intertwined with a complementary conservation plan. Local farmers are being trained about the importance of maintaining forest corridors in their farms, both for their own productive systems and for the overall regulation of the ecosystem. In partnership with Muisca, a local organization, camera traps are being placed in order to document the migration routes of mammals in the forest.

Crepes & Waffles is also buying tangerines and lemons from the producers in the municipality and will be investing the profit from selling of this product in a large ecological restoration project that will safeguard the habitat of key species through the creation of a new forest reserve.

Community Infrastructure

Through a new tax mechanism implemented in regions of Colombia affected by the country’s decades-long civil war, Crepes & Waffles is helping Cajamarca to realise projects that have community backing- such as the construction of a new school built using sustainable techniques.

“There are also a number of businesses who want to help finance roads, bridges and schools for Cajamarca. These projects, which are already within Cajamarca’s development plan, can be funded through a new law that allows businesses to invest fifty percent of their income tax directly in municipalities that have suffered the worst from the armed conflict”, says Felipe Macía.

The cooperative organising model of youth, peasant and environmental organisations in Tolima - sharing platforms, making decisions collectively and working together on projects and mobilisations - has been key in building an inclusive movement which has allowed whole communities to engage in and benefit from a broader process of transformative resistance. They have also been successful in avoiding division, and the approach to popular education has been essential in building a collective understanding of the threats that mining poses and the ways to move beyond them.

Regenerative projects have put a strong emphasis on feminism and agroecology, on the strengthening of identity, the spiritual connection with land and the economic autonomy of the communities - all of these are mutually reinforcing strategies that help ensure the sustainability and perseverance of these movements.

The Future- Bright but Uncertain

For all of the unique and specific elements of the process in Cajamarca, it is also an experience that resonates and has parallels with countless frontline communities around the world, like those gathered in the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network.

Members of the Amadiba Crisis Committee in South Africa- another community resisting imposed mining projects. Photo: Human Rights Watch

Around the world, mining-affected communities like Cajamarca are demanding the right to decide the future of their land and the vision of wellbeing they hold. For example, in South Africa, the Right to Say No to Mining campaign has been gaining momentum - bolstered by the unwavering strength of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, a grassroots organisation in the village of Xolobeni which has been successfully holding off a mineral sands mining project for decades despite constant threats and enormous state pressure.

Prior to the consultations in Piedras and Cajamarca there was already a growing wave of community referenda against mining projects emerging in Peru, Guatemala, Argentina and Ecuador. However, these consultation processes did not have the constitutionally binding character which has given so much promise to the consulta popular in Colombia.

Pathways to Post-Extractivism in Latin America

As part of the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network's 'Life After Mining' webinar series, in 2019 activists, academics and community leaders came together to discuss how communities across Latin America are resisting mining and moving 'beyond extractivism'.

Watch the webinar in full, here:


Similarly, the right of indigenous peoples, and in some countries Afro-descendant and other racialized communities, to free, prior and informed consent is enshrined in the ILO Convention 169, to which nearly every Latin American nation is a signatory. Yet, in practice, this right is often neglected entirely, circumvented with legal loopholes, or overridden by the claim that state sovereignty supersedes the outcome of free, prior and informed consent processes.

What sets Colombia's popular consultations apart is their binding nature, enshrined in the country’s constitution, laws and judicial precedent. Yet today, this participatory mechanism is being sabotaged by political and economic interests that feel threatened by the power of communities defending their right to life, water and land.

Demonstrators occupy ground in front of the Constitutional Court of Colombia to protest against the dismantling of popular consultation processes. Their sign reads 'Magistrates captured by corporations'. Photo: CADV

It is now more important than ever to give support to movements like the Movimiento Nacional Ambiental in Colombia, and to similar initiatives around the world. A binding consultation mechanism is one of the most effective mechanisms to respect the rights and wellbeing of communities and stop the advance of destructive mining projects that are motivated by the same colonial logic which has brought centuries of violence to communities and ecosystems across the Global South.

It is key that the Colombian Government heeds the calls of its own citizens, and the international community, to respect popular consultations, allowing citizens to take an active role in deciding the future of their lands. Only when this happens will Colombia achieve the peace its people have long been seeking.

This emblematic case is part of the Yes to Life, No to Mining series exploring how communities around our living planet are successfully defending their lands, waters and livelihoods from mining, and building life-sustaining alternatives.

Brought to you by the global YLNM Network. Dedicated to the communities of Tolima. With special thanks to CADV, COSAJUCA and MNA.

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Yes to Life, No to Mining YLNM


Created with images by fe31lopz - "chuquiragua nature national" • kayuli - "tigrillo feline wild" • Michael Lechner - "untitled image"