|April 23, 2012|
Public Audience: Taraira, Vaupes Province, Colombia
|On Thursday April 12th, the Ministry of Environment held a Public Audience, with approximately 150 people in attendance, in the town of Taraira, Vaupes Province, in south eastern Colombia. Presenters were allowed to formally register their concerns and/or support of the Forestry Reserve Subtraction requested by Cosigo on its flagship Machado Project in Colombia. This Forestry Reserve Subtraction is required in order for Cosigo to commence the next phase of its exploration and drill program. |
It truly was an exciting day. Andy Rendle, the VP South American Operations and some key members of the Colombian Team were in attendance. Andy was updating Cosigo management in Vancouver by email, with notes and pictures as each speaker gave their presentation. It was an absolutely amazing use of today's communications technology. Andy was sitting in an open meeting hall that had a roof and no walls - open to the outside - with a front table where two administrators sat and controlled the meeting - a little PA system - a map as a backdrop - and the audience in rows of chairs facing them. Andy was 4,000 kms away in the upper Amazon jungle and sending us a blow by blow from his cellphone. His emails were coming through about every 30-45 minutes. We couldn't leave our computers in anticipation of what the next presenter would have to say.
Each speaker had to register in advance. During the Public Audience, they were called up one by one, from the approved list of speakers. They were allotted 5 minutes each. There were young people, members of the community, natives, colonials (local non-natives), a few Cosigo employees, artisanal miners, property owners, businessmen, mayors, lawyers, Colombian government ministry representatives, as well as the past and current governors of Vaupes Province.
The majority did seem in favour of Cosigo receiving the Forestry Reserve Subtraction and being allowed to explore. They seemed to recognise jobs could be created this way and opportunities arise for them. Those that opposed Cosigo's plans - and there weren't many - seemed to have personal rather than communal motives. Some were unlicenced artisanal miners who appeared to resent Cosigo's legally awarded mineral license. Others had concerns for the environment - as , I should stress, do we.
The main points that caught all of our attention were:
• the people recognized and respected the fact that Cosigo was the legal title holder of the mineral license.
• they felt confident from Cosigo's dealing with them that they would be treated fairly now and in the future - as has been the case for the past 5 years. Whereas the few artisanal miners who were making good money for themselves, were not creating any benefits for the community.
• protecting the environment was mentioned several times and they trusted that Cosigo could do that while creating opportunities that would improve their quality of life.
• there is a group of artisanal miners called ASOMIVA who have a small claim east of the Machado project. They agreed that everyone has to work together to succeed. They too are looking for a Forestry Reserve Subtraction for their property.
• many of the Indigenous presenters also mentioned, as part of their presentation, that they were against the Yaigoje Apaporis Natural National Park that the Colombian government recently established over a large area south and west of Machado. The presenters contended that the park was formed without consulting them - and therefore the park is illegal. Ironically, the formation of the park seemed to be the contentious issue to the natives and local. The Public Audience was a venue for them to voice those concerns to the government. Cosigo was happy to help allow this meeting to be the way the locals could finally communicate their real worries to the visiting government.
At noon everyone took a lunch break where Cosigo hosted a delicious luncheon of local fare for the Public Audience participants, and those attending as observers (locals, visiting guests, and ministry delegates). It provided an additional opportunity for people to get to know each other and understand why the majority of the locals support Cosigo.
Overall, the message was: Approve the Forestry Reserve Subtraction.
A videographer was hired by Cosigo and all the presentations have been digitally recorded for verification of the actual verbal commentaries. Copies will be passed on to ministry officials in Bogota.
Almost every inquiry we have received has asked: "What is the time frame going forward?" From our understanding of protocol, there will now be short period of time for written submissions from people and organizations that weren't able to attend the Public Audience in person. They will present their submissions to the Ministry of Environment, in Bogota. Cosigo will be advised of any valid concerns by the official handling the file. Cosigo will then address those concerns and respond with a mitigating solution. We estimate that this step will take from 20 to 60 days.
Things are definitely starting to move forward now. It started at a snail's pace, but we are now getting traction. It was pointed out at the Public Audience presentation that Cosigo has been very patient, played by the rules, and has very strong support by the Indigenous people and the local non-natives to proceed with exploring the Machado Project.
Public audience attendees making their way to Taraira
Public audience underway in the town of Taraira