I am under the impression that when mining is the subject of conversation, most people forget Colombian history taught in third and fourth grade in elementary school. Maybe it seems like a good idea to erase our pass with a single brushstroke. For many, our land has always been seen for its agricultural use. It is very common to hear this argument among the statements of purpose attempting to prohibit mining in a territory. It is also typically heard in universities and in mining and anti-mining forums.
One thing is for certain – mining in an important part of Colombian history, dating back to before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. Among our indigenous tribes were the Quimbayas, the most important metalsmiths in pre-hispanic America. Also, there were the Muiscas, who didn’t just leave us the precious raft that can be found today in the Gold Museum, but also extracted magnificent emeralds, which are the object of legend and national pride. In addition, they owe a large part of their grandeur in commerce to the salt that they found in the Nemocon and Zipaquira mines.
Mining continued to be an extremely important activity during the colonization. At one point, it was thought that the gold extracted from Popayan, Choco, and Antioquia, along with the silver that came from Mariquita, were the basis of sustenance of the viceroyship of Nueva Granada.
This occurred, in large part, due to the mining of gold that the department of Antioquia currently views as an example of strength and development. Since the middle nineteenth century, new and beneficial techniques have been continually introduced that entailed an increase in mining activity. In the twentieth century, as a result of this, Antioquia was in the sights of two major mining companies: the Frontino Gold Mines from Segovia and Pato Gold Mines from Zaragoza. The need to develop mining as an industry brought with it more development, including the creation of banks and the Antioquia railway, to name just a few examples.
Coal, at the same time, continued to play an important role, as well in the second half of the twentieth century. The Siderurgica Nacional Paz del Rio Companu was created. Later, in the 80s, they began operations in the Guajira and Cesar departments, which led to significant profits for Colombia, which is currently the fifth largest coal exporter in the world.
Nowadays, there are close to 8,500 authorized licenses, most of which authorize exploration and mining for construction materials. There are several projects with environmental permits for gold mining in Antioquia, Cajamarca, Tolima, and the newly found la Colosa. This latter could be the largest gold mine in all of South America. This is something we hope to speak of later on.
As you can see, our history is interwoven with that of mining. It makes us who we are, just like our indigenous, Spanish, and black blood, just like Castilian Spanish and Catholicism. For this very reason, I simply can’t understand why we try to disown it, because by doing so, we disown ourselves, our identity, and our origin. From my point of view, it is impossible to understand how some people can say, without shame, that mining threatens to end our coffee-growing tradition in Antioquia. Maybe others were taught a different version of our history.
Author: Ángela María Salazar