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Getting to Know La Jagua de Ibirico, Colombia

This week I am in La Jagua de Ibirico, a municipality in Cesar Department, in northeast Colombia, bordering Venezuela.

This is one of the two municipalities in Colombia where IRI is working to promote local development with citizen participation and accountability in extractive industry zones.

According to Colombia’s national statistics authority, the population of La Jagua de Ibirico is approximately of 22,000 people, with 15 per cent living rural areas. According to the same source, almost 30 percent of its residents recognize themselves as Afro-descendants, organized in four community councils, two of which are recognized by the government.   

The city is located in Cesar’s coal belt together with the municipalities of Becerril, Agustín Codazzi, Chiriguana and El Paso.  However, La Jagua hosts the biggest mining projects including three multinational companies and a consortium of small companies.   

View of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada from La Jagua, showing a mine site at the foot of the sierra.

Mining is big business here.  Under Colombia’s New General Royalty System (NSGR), in place since 2012, thirty-six projects are moving ahead in La Jagua. This represents 37.7 percent of the total projects approved for Cesar. But this is just a small part of the total budget approved for the municipality—approximately of US$30 million.

Such affluence is not new. Coal has been mined in La Jagua for almost 30 years, slowly surpassing traditional agricultural activity as the main revenue source.  Historically, the municipality has had a hard time dealing with this.  Many previous mayors were removed, in some cases accused of mismanagement and misappropriation of resources. The current mayor, Didier Lovo, understands the complications of being located near abundant natural resources and is on track to be the first in more than a decade to complete his term.  

People I talked with in La Jagua expressed appreciation for projects enabled by the investment that has come to their town. The paving of streets and roads, as well as construction of sidewalks top the list.  They say that a sports complex, a shopping mall, and a computer center that has a library, an auditorium for 150 people and a lab room with 30 computers need to be accompanied by policies that promote their use and ensure real benefits for the community.  If authorities draw on citizen inputs, they most likely will.  

Paving streets and expanding infrastructure are some of the benefits that have come to La Jagua from extractive industries.

October 25, La Jagua de Ibirico will hold local elections, like every other community in Colombia. Three candidates, two of whom are women, are currently running for mayor. Altogether, more than 60 candidates are vying for nine city council seats. It’s vital that voters get to know which ones are qualified, which understand the issues, and which have the best proposals.  To help in that regard, IRI is partnering with the local TV channel to hold a debate so that mayoral candidates can present proposals on key issues of citizen concern: environmental protection, development that helps the community, and public safety.  Following the election, IRI will stay engaged to help citizens, authorities, and representatives of the industries themselves reconcile differences and work toward their common goals.  

Candidate posters adorn the streets of La Jagua in anticipation of the October 25 municipal elections.

 

Posted by

Gabriela Serrano

Regional Program Director, Bogotá, Colombia
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