After the Colombian municipality of Cajamarca overwhelming voted to ban mining in their community in March, South African giant AngloGold Ashanti announced Thursday it would end 14 years of exploration work for a project that would have been the world’s largest open-pit gold mine.
A staggering 98.8 percent of more than 6,000 citizens in Cajamarca, in the central western department of Tolima, voted to ban mining. It is the first time that a municipality in the Colombia has successfully voted to ban mining in its community.
“This is the first victory of the peasants who resisted for over 13 years and believe in the possibility of a separate draft economic development,” a member of the environmental group “No a la Minería” or No to Mining, told Colombian outlet, El Espectador.
The member, who chose not be identified, added that while the company had announced to leave, warned they could come back stronger and “not to let your guard down.”
Renzo García, representative of the environmental committee for the defense of water and member of No to Mining, said that the announcement by the company “is a good sign for democracy.”
The vote went ahead after Colombia’s constitutional court overturned a decision that gave the Colombian national government the final authority to authorize mining projects. Following the vote, the titles that mining companies were given — which currently covers 86 percent of the Cajamarca municipality's area — will have to be nullified by its council.
AngloGold Ashanti had been preparing for its “La Colosa” project just outside of the town since 2002. Located in the highlands between Colombia’s two biggest cities of Bogota and Medellin, La Colosa was estimated to have been the largest open-pit gold mine in the world. The company said that the project had an estimated $US2 billion in potential investment.
Originally, the company said that even a “No” vote by the municipality would not halt its operation in the area, but on Thursday it announced that it was abandoning its plan for the project and was to “accept the expressed position of the community.”
In the last decade, the South African company has invested around US$900 million in Colombia and said that it will continue to work with authorities in planning other projects in the resource-rich country.