TAUSA, Colombia (AP) — The people of this remote village in central Colombia pray every day that authorities don't close the small coal mines that have sustained them for as long as anyone can remember.
Tausa has 800 residents, few streets and a cold climate. The villagers must hike on foot for half an hour each day to reach the La Flauta mine, one of the small-scale, "artisan" mines that allow them to supplement their meager farm incomes.
They worry that La Flauta will be closed if authorities declare the area a nature reserve in which mining is prohibited.
"I live near the mine on a small farm with my five small children," said Sebastian Echeverria, 45, who has been the administrator of the mine for 11 years. "I have a cow and plant potatoes, but one can't live on that."
He said 200 people live directly off La Flauta, which is in Cundinamarca province. Miners say they earn about 600,000 pesos ($318) every two weeks.
"That is very little," Echeverria said. "The mine is legal ... but now we have a bigger problem: They want to declare the area a nature zone as a highland moor."
Government officials say there are no plans for now to close Tausa's mines.
"The decision to close the mines ... in the Tausa zone has not been made," said Natalia Gutierrez, deputy minister of mines and energy.
Gutierrez said the plan to declare the area a nature reserve is being reviewed by the Environment Ministry. "The reality is that at this moment no mine has been closed and there is no reason to close them."
That doesn't calm the fears of Tausa's residents.
If La Flauta is closed "everyone here would be left without work," said the village's mayor, Javier Pachon.