Colombia Solidarity Campaign

- Fighting for Peace with Justice -

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Suggested letter to British MPs concerning coal mining by British companies in Colombia Print
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Areas of Work - Mining
Tuesday, 20 February 2007 18:52
Please send a letter to the British government about the gruesome activities of British mining companies in Colombia. Below is an example letter.

To:
Margaret Becket MP, Foreign Secretary,
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH.

Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for International Development,
DFID, 1 Palace Street, London SW1E 5HE.

Alastair Darling MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry,
DTI, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET.

Dear Foreign Secretary/Secretary of State for International Development/Secretary of State for Trade and Industry,

I am concerned about the impacts of British-based mining companies? operations on Black and Indigenous communities in the north of Colombia, representatives of which visited the UK during the period 26 January to 6 February this year.

The Cerrejon mine in the province of La Guajira is apparently the biggest open-cast coal mine in the world, and it helps supply British coal markets. Since it began in the 1970s, a number of farming communities around the mine itself and Indigenous communities around the port from which the coal is exported have been forcibly removed from their land with minimal, or no, compensation.

Although it began in the 1970s as a joint venture between the Colombian State and Intercor, a subsidiary of US company Exxon, in early 2001 a consortium of three companies ? Anglo American plc, BHPBilliton plc and Glencore ? bought out the Colombian State?s 50% share. Anglo American is based in London. BHPBilliton is jointly listed on the London and Australian Stock Exchanges. Glencore is a privately owned Swiss company.

In August 2001 most of the village of Tabaco was demolished without warning, and its inhabitants violently evicted with the help of hundreds of armed security personnel, to make way for mine expansion. The rest of the village was demolished in January 2002. In February 2002 the consortium bought out Intercor and took over operation of the mine, which it exercises through Cerrejon Coal Company, a Colombian company in which each of the multinationals holds a one-third share. The demolition of Tabaco seems to have been timed specifically to assist the new operators of the mine. Residents who have held out for community relocation have yet to receive the relocation package that they are requesting from the company.

In March 2006, Glencore's share of the mine was bought out by another Swiss-based company, Xstrata plc. This company is also listed on the London Stock Exchange and has important offices here. So now all three companies involved are London-based and London-financed.

Many pension funds invest in these companies. Many ordinary working people in Britain, without knowing it, are benefiting from the destruction of farming communities in La Guajira by some of the world's richest mining multinationals.

I understand that the companies say that they regret the way that the community of Tabaco was treated, but that they offer reasonable compensation for those facing removal from their land, that the mine contributes enormously to the national and provincial economy, and that they invest in small-scale economic activities in communities affected by their operations. Anglo American and BHPBilliton have reputations for good corporate citizenship and social responsibility.

But community representatives seem to be telling a different story: that householders in communities around the mine are still being individually pressured to sell up for inadequate sums, told that they must agree to individual settlements or get nothing, and intimidated if they hold out for collective negotiation; that self-respecting, independent agricultural communities are being impoverished, broken up and scattered in the face of an economic model being imposed from on high because it represents ?progress?. Many see the company-sponsored economic projects as an example of charity being offered instead of justice. Despite taxes and royalties paid by the mine, La Guajira suffers extremely high levels of unemployment and malnutrition and there is no safe public supply of water.

The trade union representing workers at the mine, Sintracarbon, included the communities? demands in its own negotiations with the company, which were concluded at the end of January 2007. It was unable to persuade the company to accept community demands. Nonetheless, the union and the communities continue to insist on collective negotiation leading to community relocation and realistic levels of compensation, so that people can continue their agricultural lives as communities on other suitable land in the area. Tabaco has already chosen a plot for rebuilding and the landowner is willing to sell ? but unless there is adequate compensation, they do not have the money to buy.

My request is that you urge both the Colombian Government and the British-based companies involved to pay more attention to the impacts of the mining on surrounding communities and ensure that the communities? wishes are respected. Specifically, I ask that you urge the Colombian Government and the companies to accept the following demands of communities that have been or will be displaced by the mining:

? collective negotiation between representatives of the communities of Tabaco, Roche, Chancleta, Patilla, Tamaquitos, Los Remedios and Provincial, and the Cerrejon Coal Company, in the presence of the Sintracarbon trade union and international observers

? community relocation for the people of Tabaco, Roche, Chancleta, Patilla and Tamaquitos

? adequate levels of financial compensation for all community members.

I would welcome a copy of any response that you receive.

Yours sincerely,

 

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London Mining Network

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The London Mining Network (LMN) is an alliance of human rights, development and environmental groups. We pledge to expose the role of companies, funders and government in the promotion of unacceptable mining projects.