Vancouver-based Eco Oro sues Colombia for $764 million through the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
In 1994, Vancouver-based Eco Oro Minerals Corporation (then called Greystar Resources) acquired mining rights in the Santurbán Páramo and began carrying out exploration related to their proposed Angostura open-pit gold and silver mine.
Santurban is a high-altitude wetland ecosystem that serves as a source of drinking water for about two million people in the city of Bucaramanga and surrounding areas.
The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) highlights, “Colombian law prohibits mining within páramo limits, but companies take advantage of its ambiguous delimitation to push forward with so-called ‘development’ in the area.”
The Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP), which receives protective accompaniment from Peace Brigades International, has worked to defend this ecosystem.
In February 2016, CCALCP saw success when Colombia’s constitutional court ruled that mining in the páramos was illegal.
The Bogota Post reports, “Previously, companies had been operating under a loophole that exempted mining licenses issued before February 2010. The court deemed these exceptions ‘unconstitutional’ and cited the ecological importance of the páramos, including their role in providing 85 per cent of the country’s drinking water.”
In March 2016, Eco Oro announced that it would take its dispute to international arbitration through the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). It registered its challenge in December 2016.
Mongabay notes, “The company argued that Colombia violated its obligations under the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement when the state implemented measures to protect the Sánturban Páramo, limiting the company’s future prospects.”
While Eco Oro claims to have invested US$250 million in the project, it is seeking US$764 million as compensation for the cancellation of the project.
The World Bank website notes that the “Status of Proceeding” is “Pending” and the latest website update notes, “October 10, 2019 – The Respondent files a rejoinder on the merits and a reply on jurisdiction.”
In search of Eco Oro in Vancouver
The Vancouver address for Eco Oro Minerals Corporation is both listed as “333 Seymour Street, Suite 1430” and “1055 West Hastings Street, Suite 300”. The Eco Oro website itself says, “Website is currently under construction”.
When Colombian human rights defenders from CCALCP and CREDHOS recently visited Vancouver, they first went to 333 Seymour Street. A telephone call to the receptionist there redirected them to 1055 West Hastings Street.
A receptionist on the 3rd floor at 1055 West Hastings confirmed that Eco Oro was located there though there was no evident signage.
Furthermore, the building directory in the lobby listed the same address as “Colombia Crest Gold Corp.”, another mining company with interests in Colombia.
Colombian human rights defenders seeking to protect the United Nations-recognized human right to drinking water from Canadian corporate extractivism face both the opaqueness of the World Bank’s investment tribunal system and even something as basic as the whereabouts of the physical office location of Eco Oro.
Peace Brigades International-Canada continues to monitor this situation.