Interrogating Sustainable Development: A Case Study of Large-Scale Mining in Colombia

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Rivera-Sotelo, Aida-Sofia
Juridical Frameworks , Sustainable Development , Representations , Languages , Páramo , Discourses , Social Movements , Colombia , Small Farmers , Small Miners , Large-Scale Mining , Cities , Post-Development
In this thesis, I examine the case of the Canadian-based multinational mining corporation GreyStar resources Ltd. in Colombia. Angosturas is GreyStar’s large-scale gold mining project in the sensitive wet highland of páramo de Santurbán in the northeast of the Andes. Although GreyStar has undertaken explorations in this area since 1994, Colombia’s Ministry of Environment denied the environmental license to the company to start with extractions in 2011. I suggest that the government’s decision must be understood in the context of massive mobilizations against the project in large cities such as Bucaramanga and Bogotá as well as the principle of sustainable development (hereafter SD). The latter forms part of the 1991 Colombian constitution, and thus, through this legal presence, is considered to provide environmental protection in the country. Despite this government’s recent ruling, GreyStar (which renamed itself ‘Eco Oro’ after the 2011 decision) and other mining companies (e.g. Ventana Gold) have continued their quest to gain permission to begin with extractions in Santurbán. I explore why these continued attempts to persuade the government regarding extraction licensing is possible. In doing so, I critically investigate the principle of SD, which is central to the resolution by which the Ministry of the Environment denies the environmental license to Eco Oro (GreyStar). In other words, this thesis asks why SD allows for the classification of large-scale mining as a ‘common-good’ activity, which has negative implications on attempts to designate certain ecosystems (e.g. páramo) as common-goods on the basis that there are to be sustained as such, and therefore, an unequivocal moratorium on large-scale mining in these ecosystems is necessary. What and whose common-good does large-scale mining in sensitive ecosystems represent? I argue that in the scope of SD, commoditized nature is vulnerable to the volatility of markets and corporate profitability. This thesis is a criticism of SD and the limitations it places on hearing certain kinds of languages and discourses that resist the key assumptions of SD. The case study allows for addressing a gap in the existing literature, which is the distinctive situation of no legally considered ethnic minorities (e.g. small farmers, small miners, and the cities).
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