Colombia allows some miners to work in new national park, sparks debate

Colombians are divided over the government’s decision of leaving an area where mining multinationals have licenses to operate outside the borders of the newly-minted Santurban national park, reports El Tiempo (in Spanish).

The resolution, announced Thursday by Energy Minister, Federico Renjifo, is aimed at protecting an environmentally sensitive region in the country's northeast, known for its gold and silver deposits. The area is also home to hundreds of endangered species in Colombia including the spectacled bear.

While miners that already hold licenses will be allowed to keep working inside Santurban, the authority emphasized that those permits will not be renewed once they expire.

However, critics are questioning the park borders, as well as the government’s motivation to decide what areas to include and which ones to leave out, says the local newspaper.Santurban National Park

The mining industry applauded the news. Canada's Eco Oro Minerals Corp. (TSX: EOM), which is active in Santander province, where the park is located, said on Thursday that its Angostura gold and silver project wouldn’t be significantly affected by the creation of the park.

"The company's initial assessment indicates that the officially declared boundaries do not impede development of the Angostura project," Eco Oro said in a statement.

Since 2002 Colombia has taken steps to stimulate its mining industry, increasing the distribution of permits throughout the country. Yet, some estimate that nearly half of all mining in Colombia is illegal, or conducted by small-scale mines without formal permits.

The government has vowed to make it easier for explorers to acquire legal permits, but there are still at least 6,000 mines in Colombia currently considered illegal, according to a report by Insight Crime.

In early November, President Juan Manuel Santos presented a package of measures, including a proposed bill before the Congress, aimed to make illegal mining a crime punished by the country’s Penal Code.

Apart from the bill, Colombia’s government will issue two executive decrees aimed at defining the concept of illegal mining.

(Image from Library and Archives Canada)

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