Colombians in two towns voted Sunday against inviting corporate mining industries into their mountains, terminating a fight which began in the early 2000’s and shutting down all municipal mining projects.
"The citizenship here endorsed constitutionality and legality. We have waited to arrive at this moment for more than nine years. The atmosphere today is festive and joyful, we only expect the central government to respect the decision of this municipality that is clearly agricultural," said Monica Florez, who promoted the public voting process.
With a final vote of 4,312 against and 38 in favor, Arbelaez joins seven others towns which have already shut down all exploitation of hydrocarbons which have carved through the mountains since 2013. The mining activities, which began in 2010 in Arbelaez will finally come to an end.
Pijao had similar results with 2,613 citizens voting an emphatic “No” against the 26 supporting votes, resulting in a 97.76 percent landslide. The Electoral Observation Mission reported only half of the municipality's registered voters participated in the initiative, with the bulk of these being women and seniors.
Some believe this may be due to the reduced number of voting stations in the Quindio region, which were cut in half, making the effort to vote a time-consuming project.
"I do not stay in bed for God to help us, free us and favor us; I voted for 'No,' because of the danger that mining is," Leonilde Nino, 90, told El Tiempo, stating she was one of the first to arrive at the voting booths.
In the weeks preceding the mining vote, environmentalists and activists tipped the scales by moving to the small Colombian village to support the land preservation.
"This is a greater exercise of democracy," said environmentalist Nestor Ocampo who added that prior to voting, a number of town sectors were very active in promoting and educating citizens and municipal powers.
The victory holds greater significance when considering Colombian environmentalists’ rocky history, registered as Latin America’s most dangerous country for human rights activists in 2016 by the advocacy group Front Line Defenders.
At least 45 percent of the activists killed were linked to the defense of the environment, land and Indigenous people’s rights. Others include people working on corruption, journalists, and others who used the media to denounce abuses, the report says.