The True Interests within the Ministry of Mines and Energy

(Translated by Richard Henighan, a CSN Volunteer Translator, edited by David Van Den Brandt)

Source: Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo
The True Interests within the Ministry of Mines and Energy

Public Communique from Social Organizations
Thursday, March 6, 2014

We are making a call for the Country to debate the behind-the-scenes defense of corporate interests, which make up the Colombian State and its Institutions. We’re calling upon the country to demand transparency on the part of the President and the Minister. They ought to explain the interests that are hidden behind the construction of public policies regarding our Natural Resources.

In September of last year, President Juan Manuel Santos named Amylkar David Acosta, from the Department of Guajira, as Minister of Mines and Energy. During his long career in public office and in academia, and from his direct knowledge of the impacts of coal mining on his region, he had shown himself on different occasions to be in disagreement with the policies of privatization and the minimal controls on the social and environmental impacts of mining activity. Acosta even praised the opening of an official investigation against the then Ministers Carlos Caballero and Juan Manuel Santos for the sale of the State’s share of the El Cerrejón mine to CARBACOL.

With Acosta’s acceptance of the Mines & Energy Portfolio, given his prior profile, it was thought there could be discussions with those effected by the mines and those who dissented from mining and energy policies. To the contrary, he declared himself aligned with the privatizing and extractive policies he’d previously criticized, as well as the irregularities in practice that continue within the Ministry. He justifies this with the claim that what before he had found to be incoherent in the Government’s policies was just the views of a freethinker who was not then in the Cabinet. So we ask ourselves: Which interests does he, or anyone else in his place, have to respond to? Which interests require him to abandon his criticisms and embrace the policies of privatization and the devastation of Nature? Is his being named to a high public office some sort of negotiation on the part of the Government of President Juan Manuel Santos with its detractors?

The new minister came to be appointed as part of the rotating door between high State positions and large businesses in the mining-energy sector—a practice long denounced. Just so, the Vice-Minister appointed at the same time was Cezar Díaz, who comes from being an executive at the Colombian Mining Chamber. The case of Mr. Díaz raises concerns about transparency and impartiality due to his closeness to the private sector. However, there also remain unresolved issues about the reasons for his loss of a license to develop coal reserves in Guachetá in 2000, and about what became of the severance payments for his employees.

These supposed practices within the Ministry of Mines & Energy are not the only ones raising alarms. Minister Amylkar Acosta’s own declarations about the need “for a popular mandate for mining” contrasts with his public opposition to the popular will not to permit mining and petroleum exploration, as expressed in the referendums completed in Piedras-Tolima and Tauramena-Casanare. We are dealing with a rigged language game in which the social and environmental conflicts related to extractive processes are only considered in depth when the communities involved act to decide their own future, and are hidden otherwise in statements like “The wealth underground is the Nation’s” or “Mining activity is a public utility”. Thus we can see clearly how this Ministry and other Institutions of the State seek to protect private interests over the Community’s rights and will.

Now, in the last few days, President Santos, at the Third Mining Congress called upon the mining companies to gain the trust of local communities since many “activists with political interests” use the mechanism of the prior referendums with the intent of “paralyzing responsible investments”. This outright defense of the business sector ignores the serious arguments presented to all of Colombia by the popular organizations and some parts of the State itself, discussing scientific and technical perspectives, including objective information about the social realities in the areas where there is exploration or mining. Otherwise, it is disgraceful that the National Leader and his Minister turn their backs on the popular will that has shown itself through various mechanisms of community participation. The prior referendums showing the demands of these communities have sought a dialogue about the policies that now are evident to be only in the interests of Business.

We call upon the Country to debate the behind-the-scenes defense of the Corporate interests that make up the Colombian State and its Institutions and to demand transparency on the part of the President and the Minister. They ought to explain the interests that are hidden behind the construction of public policies regarding our Natural Resources.

Censat Agua Viva- Friends of the Earth , Colombia
Jose Alvear Restrapo Attorneys Collective (CAJAR)
Latin American Institute for an Alternative Society and Laws
Tolima Environmental Committee for the Defense of Life
The Western Environmental Belt (COA)

(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)

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