In Colombia, national mining policies favor the interest of large-scale mining companies over the interest of local small-scale miners. In the law both small- and large-scale miners belong to the same categories. It is difficult for small-scale miners to live up to the mining procedures and rules that apply to big organizations.

In Colombia, mining activities are regulated through the Mining Code of 2001. This Code basically distinguishes two mining categories; artisanal mining that requires no mining title and any other mining venture that’s being supported by mechanical equipment. The latter does require a mining title.

The Code stipulates that ‘Artisanal’ in a gold mining context means completely by hand. It does however not differentiate on aspects regarding economic capacity, size of the mining area, or technology level. This means that small-scale miners using hoses and pumps formally belong to the same category as large-scale companies. As a consequence, they have to live up to the same expensive procedures and complex rules for obtaining environmental licenses and mining permits.

At the national and regional level, the National Minerals Agency and departmental administrators issue mining titles and enforce mining regulations. Exploration and exploitation rights are granted through a Mining Concession Agreement. Concessions are granted for a period of up to 30 years, and may be extended with 20 years.

Local officials have to implement and enforce laws and regulations related to mining and environmental conservation. They have the authority to close mining operations that do not meet environmental and safety standards. In practice, regional and local authorities have difficulties to enforce the law. Also, the money that comes from royalties is not properly spent by the local governments. The gold-producing municipalities in the country, such as the communities in Chocó where GOMIAM researchers work, have the highest levels of poverty in Colombia.

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