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  • Small gold mine in Marmato, Colombia

    Small gold mine in Marmato, Colombia | Photo: EFE

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The Indigenous and Afro-Colombian community of Marmato won a major court victory in their 10-year fight against a massive Canadian gold mine.

On Tuesday Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the residents of Marmato, a small Indigenous and Afro-Colombian community in the center of the country, in their 10-year fight against a massive open pit mine project by Canadian gold giant Gran Colombia Gold Corporation.

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The court ruled that Colombia's Interior Ministry must first complete community consultations before the Canadian company can proceed with the project, which would require the demolition and relocation of the community.

The court also recognized the land rights of the Indigenous Cartama and Afro-Colombian Asojomar communities, as well as their traditional small-scale mining practices, which had been protected under Colombian law since 1946.

Judge Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva ruled that because 80 percent of the local population depends on subsistence mining activities, and because the project would require the displacement of the entire community, the initial 2007 concession granted to the Canadian mining company had to be reviewed.

Since 2007, the community has fought the project both in the courts and on the land.

In 2011, Father Jose Reinel Restrepo, the local parish priest, was murdered after returning from the capital Bogota after registering the Church's objection to the project.

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"The church declares itself in defense of the poor, and the small scale miners of Marmato are at real risk of losing their jobs in this situation," Restrepo said in a video statement made four days before his murder. "The company doesn't provide them with an alternative to their jobs because the company wants to use open-pit mining, displacing the population and exploiting this area in a short period of time."

"They will have to kill me with bullets or machetes to get me out of there," he concluded.

On Monday of this week, Gran Colombia launched a US$700 million lawsuit against the Colombian government and local officials, accusing them of violating the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement by not proceeding with the relocation of the community.

In the lawsuit, the company also accuses the ELN guerillas of interfering with its mining installations.

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