I know that in my first column that was published, I announced that I would go slowly. I started with why minerals are useful, and I will get to topics like the delimitation of the paramo and the legal nature of common questions. True to my promise, on this opportunity, I thought about writing about ground and subsoil ownership. But recent rulings force me to stop for a moment and move forward on some ideas that I had initially thought to write about later on.
When I graduated as a lawyer, I swore to defend the law. Every day of my life and of my legal career, I recall the words of the Dean when he handed me my diploma. “May God, the nation, and this staff reward you, or may God, the nation, and this staff punish you.”
I recall, as well, in my Constitutional Law classes, that they taught me about vested rights. This means that previous laws cannot deny rights that someone already believes they possess. This idea is what our current legal system is based upon and enables us to trust the Colombian State.
This foundation, which Colombian law relies upon, has begun to be marginalized. This is particularly true in decisions related to mining. The clearest example of this was made by the Constitutional Court in sentence C-035 from 2016. The Court stated that environmental protection prevails over the economic interests of individuals.
The aforementioned ruling was widely praised by the vast majority of Colombians. It implied that mining activity in the paramos would be prohibited, regardless of the existence of concession contracts that were legally granted with a valid environmental license. However, this vast majority did not consider the rights given to people that were acting according to the law. I also believe that those who did, in fact, consider this, concluded that it was proper. Their point of view was that the multinational corporations were the ones whose rights were taken away.
Whether we like mining or not, I think that we should have thought about the fact that this ruling did not take into account legally obtained rights by some companies to conduct mining activities. Tomorrow, the right to cultivate the land could be put into question. After all, agriculture uses highly toxic substances and huge amounts of water. Maybe it’s our livestock that is threatening the environment. Or our houses that endanger a right or an asset – these are being considered at the highest level of government.
Since the day I read about that ruling, the Pijao case, the Marmato ruling, the decision that called for re-delimiting Santurban, and most recently the press release about the Cerromatoso decision, I haven’t stopped thinking about Martin Niemoller’s poem. It ends with this line of destruction and despair, “When they finally came for me, there was no one left to fight.”
Author: Ángela María Salazar