‘Communities not important’ says former Colombia mining head in leaked video

A video of Santiago Urdinola, head of private firm Minesa and former president of the Colombian Mining Association (ACM), has been leaked on Twitter and Facebook where he is shown saying the only perceptions that matter are those of regulators in Bogotá, not local communities.

Urdinola’s comments, recorded during an undated company meeting, are in relation to Minesa’s application for an environmental licence for its large Soto Norte underground gold project in the province of Santander, which would produce 400,000 gold ounces a year.

Soto Norte is downstream from the former Greystar Resources’ Angostura gold project, which was halted due to environmental worries related to water supplies pollution.

The comment was made during a meeting about Minesa’s application for an environmental licence for a large underground gold project in the Colombian province of Santander

It is also located just outside of the Paramo, an area of the Andes mountains covered with subalpine forests above the continuous tree line, but below the permanent snow mark, where mining has been banned since 2011.

Soto Norte’s setting alone has already ignited opposition from locals, as "paramos" are key water supplies, storing it in the rainy season and releasing it during the dry season.

The company has tried appeasing the surrounding community by vowing to respect the limits of the Santurbán Paramo region, and mine without using mercury and cyanide, among other promises.

The leaked video, however, shows Urdinola saying that it doesn’t matter if thousands oppose his company’s project as long as “Bogotá feels it’s fine.”

He goes on to say that the best way to minimize the possible effects of those voicing concerns about the project is “to develop a narrative that portraits protesters as activists linked to Colombia’s current administration’s opposition.”

Asked about the video, Minesa told MINING.com the project complies with Colombia's rules of conservation and environment protection. It also noted that reports saying the company will take over about 50 families' lands are inaccurate and misleading as the miner has been working with locals for more than two years to minimize unwanted effects.

The Committee for the Defence of Santurbán Paramo, which released the video, said it would send a letter to the country’s environmental regulator ANLA asking it to take the video into consideration when making a decision on an environmental licence for Soto Norte.

Minesa responded by saying it will take legal action against those trying to taint the company's name. The miner plans to invest $1 billion in the project over the next five years and permanently employ 1,000 people, with another 4,000 indirect jobs being generated once the mine is up and running.

The company also says Soto Norte would strengthen Colombia’s position in the world market, making it the 14th largest gold producer.

You can watch the first part of the leaked video here (in Spanish):