Buriticá: A Story of Change

Jaime Arteaga  y Carlos Sucre

Jaime Arteaga y Carlos Sucre

Seen from the main square, one could hardly imagine that the town had once been a haven of peace. The inner town succumbed to the pressure of a rampant flow of immigration six times larger than the local population and the sanitary emergency was evident, against the deafening roaring of motorbikes and loud party music. Still, and despite the hiking prices, local businesses thrived thanks to the abundance of money created by the illegal mining of gold.

By 2014, fear had altered the meaning of the word “peace” for the inhabitants of Buriticá, a small town amid the mountains of northeastern Colombia. A sharp increase in illegal and criminal activity came hand in hand with the arrival of 13,000 immigrants who sought fortune in one of the country’s richest gold deposits. Goldseekers were quickly followed by local youths, dreaming of getting a share of the wealth that in turn poured into the newly opened bars and brothels of Buriticá.

Determined to find solutions to the Buriticá crisis, local leaders caught the attention of high government officials. The Inspector General of the Nation demanded immediate action to be taken, thus initiating Operation Creta –one of the largest in Colombian history– whereby the Governor of the Antioquia Department closed hundreds of illegal mines that had the local government against the ropes.

Four years later, the efforts yielded even more results, drawing support from USAID and the IDB Group[1] to rally, for the first time ever, national, departmental and municipal authorities, as well as representatives from civil society and the mining sector to join forces around the monitoring of the commitments undertaken by all actors involved.

The driving force behind the town’s renaissance has been the collaborative endeavor between the company that is building Colombia’s largest gold mine, the national, departmental and municipal governments, and, very especially, the local leaders. By demanding the Government to be part of the solution, local leaders have been instrumental in the creation of a coalition that serves as a space for dialogue between the community and government institutions. Plan Buriticá is a space where the community and municipal leaders settle their differences and undertake commitments. The plan has paved the road back to legality by bringing government institutions to a remote location and facilitating dialogue opportunities for the community, to converge around communication and solve concerns for the welfare of its citizens.

Buriticá is now frequently cited as a story of success in Colombia. Over the last five years, the homicide rates, teenage pregnancy and school dropout have decreased by half, and the presence of government in the municipality has gone up from 4 to 20 institutions.

Without doubt, the ongoing participation of social leaders and civil society representatives in inter-agency committees has played a central role in the success of this dialogue strategy. This has been made possible, in part, by the constant promotion of a space for targeted, sustained, and independent dialogue that monitors, reports and follows up on the issues affecting the community.  

Plan Buriticá – implemented by Jaime Arteaga y Asociados (JAA)–focused its efforts on 3 main lines of action: (i) lead the inter-agency coordination committee where different actors meet once a month to monitor and revise compliance with the commitments; (ii) raise nationwide awareness about the situation in Buriticá, and publicly denounce any actions that may lead back to illegality; also, they (iii) implement an intensive strategy that promotes cultural change through dialogue, artistic and communication actions in order to reinforce the conviction that Buriticá cannot afford to lose the ground gained.

Buriticá is now better prepared to face the challenges of development, as attested by a comparison of two opinion polls conducted in 2015 and 2019[2]: The inhabitants of Buriticá are more optimistic now than four years ago, and perceive continuous improvement in the areas of education, health and sanitation.

 

Buriticá is a story of change in Colombia. The big challenge ahead is to continue working with the government, the private sector and civil society towards a legal, responsible and sustainable mining sector by implementing initiatives along the lines of Plan Buriticá.

Despite the progress made towards legality, the threat of illegal gold extraction persists. Achieving the sustainability of Plan Buriticá is a priority for all the actors involved, who are committed to advancing its crucial role in denouncing irregularities and mobilizing its members to continually defend its territory. Monitoring and permanent social engagement with the different actors led by an independent third party guarantees the legitimacy of the process. Also, the involvement of the IDB Group’s governance system has secured the continuity of Plan Buriticá as a driver of change for this community. 

Plan Buriticá will be made sustainable by transitioning to a financing plan that is tied to the mining project, separating financing from execution. The company will gradually assume the expenses of Plan Buriticá in conjunction with the national and departmental governments, and it will continue to be executed by an independent third party. These actions seek to ensure dialogue continuity while contributing to the sectoral governance and inclusive development of Buriticá.

 


 

[1] IDB’s assistance to Plan Buriticá has been funded by the Canadian Extractive Sector Facility (CANEF). The financing of Plan Buriticá, executed by Jaime Arteaga y Asociados, has coincided with the programmed support to local micro and small enterprises with a view to strengthening and integrating them into the sector’s value chain carried out by the Medellin Chamber of Commerce for Antioquia, and with plans aimed at raising awareness on gender violence and community environmental oversight executed by the NGO Vamos Mujer.a asistencia del BID al Plan Buriticá ha sido financiada por el Fondo Canadiense para el Sector Extractivo (CANEF). 

[2]The poll was conducted by Centro Nacional de Consultoría. The sample for both polls (2015 and 2019) consisted of 350 individuals, with an error margin of 5.6% and a confidence level of 95%.

 

Jaime Arteaga  y Carlos Sucre

Jaime Arteaga y Carlos Sucre

Jaime Arteaga is the Director of Jaime Arteaga y Asociados, a development consultancy that currently implements the programming of Plan Buriticá.

Carlos Sucre is an Extractive Sector specialist at the Department of Infrastructure and Energy and a leader of the programming team for Plan Buriticá.