Between 2005 and 2008 a plan came together by a Canadian mining company – now called Cosigo Resources Ltd. and referred to here as ‘Cosigo’ – to build an open pit mine in the Colombian Amazon Rainforest in a sacred area called ‘La Libertad’, in the Vaupes Department of Colombia. The local Indigenous communities opposed this action and took the necessary actions to block Cosigo’s plans and what has ensued is more than fifteen years of legal and administrative battles to resolve the issue.  

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Yaigojé Apaporis National Park is one of those hidden treasures of biodiversity in the world. Its majestic waters, its endless forests and the mythical Indigenous cultures that protect it were immortalized in the famous book by the Canadian ethnobotanist and great National Geographic explorer, Wade Davis. It is a sacred territory for many ancestral communities with one million hectares of virgin and exuberant forest. For this reason, when in 2009, the Canadian mining company asked the state to develop an open-pit gold mining project there, the scientific community and environmentalists shouted to the sky. (copied from here)
  • Very few Colombians know about Apaporis, but those who have traveled and studied it agree on the extraordinary value it has for the planet. “A mine in the Apaporis is like an oil well in the Sistine Chapel,” Wade Davis himself summarized. “Putting a mine to extract gold in a river like the Apaporis which is a sacred river for all the indigenous groups of the Amazon is ridiculous.” (copied from here)
  • It is important to note that under the Colombian Constitution and consulta previa laws, indigenous and Afro-Colombian people have the right to “free, prior and informed consent” regarding mining or other activities that affect their land.
  • And, convention 169 of the Indidenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of the International Labour Organization (ILO 1989) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UN 2007) protect the cultures and livelihoods of Indigenous peoples. They enshrine Indigenous peoples’ right to access and own (ancestral) land and they guarantee the right to Free Prior Consultation and Informed Consent (FPIC) regarding decisions concerning the governance and use of their lands and territories. 
  • It isn’t possible for Indigenous communities to do the level of research and fact-finding accomplished here for each concession in their territories and for every company that wants to mine in their territories. It is therefore imperative that more rules and stronger rules are designed and deployed to force responsible conduct of those companies wanting to mine in the Amazon and elsewhere.
  • There have been many legal and administrative rulings against Cosigo in Colombia but yet they persist, even though it’s clear that the local Indigenous communities do not want them there.
  • It is generally accepted in the region that Cosigo has damaged communities by dividing local people and leaders. They have disrupted the ecology in some places and have acted in bad faith in their negotiations. These mechanisms have been deployed to block the rights of local Inidgenous people to territory and their right to free prior consultation and informed consent.
  • After almost 16 years there is still a threat to the local communities in the area as Cosigo continues to threaten more gold exploration and exploitation in the area. 

The timeline above explores the cut and thrust between Indigenous people of the Yaigojé Apaporis in Colombia, Cosigo Resources Ltd., the Colombian courts, the Colombian government, Gaia Amazonas and others.

It shows that Cosigo and its directors do whatever they can to obfuscate, disrupt and overrule locals and the courts to get its way, against the wishes of local people and Indigenous communities. Even when they win, we’re going to lose because of the exceptional lengths the Yaigoje-Apaoris have to go to to stop the destruction of their most sacred place. The rights of Indigenous people are not being honoured or respected by companies like Cosigo.

It also shows that even when the Colombian Constitution guarantees Indigenous rights and the Supreme Court of Colombia upholds decisions taken in the territory that Canadian companies keep coming. Without better rules, these territories will be worn down by hundreds of mining titles and the relentless pursuit by Canadian mining companies no matter what the indigenous people who live there say. The creation of the park helped this one case, but we need a better approach immediately.

It is unfair that a Canadian junior mining company composed of a small group of Canadians should be allowed to put Indigenous people in the Amazon through all of this. Thousands of people are affected in the forest – all in the name of speculation and profit for a small number of people in Canada. And none of this benefits the local people or Canadians..

There is already a considerable amount of pressure on Colombia and Colombians because of mining activity there and with recent dramatic increases in mining concessions in the Amazon it is now imperative and urgent that mining regulations and processes are strengthened in Colombia and strong rules of engagement for Canadians companies are established in Canada to safeguard the Amazon from open pit mines, further fragmentation and more profiteering.

New regulations must include strong measures for due diligence in order to transfer the onus of responsibility surrounding human and Indigenous rights and ecological rights on to the companies wishing to exploit resources in Colombia and in the Amazon Rainforest.