Home truths: bringing the Cerrejon struggle to Britain
Jose Julio Perez, President of the Social Committee for the Relocation of Tabaco, and Armando Perez, the community?s legal representative, were in Britain in late January and early February. They were joined for part of their visit by Alirio Uribe, President of CAJAR (the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers? Collective in Bogota), who is helping them in their struggle for justice.
They were seeking political and practical support for the communities displaced, or facing displacement, by the Cerrejon mine in the northern Colombian Department of La Guajira, a mine owned by three British-based multinational mining companies.
Meetings were held with members of the Colombian community and the Colombia Solidarity Campaign committee, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Amnesty International, Transparency International, Justice for Colombia and a number of lawyers? organizations. The visitors also met with Jeremy Corbyn MP, Lord Beaumont (Green Party) and Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrats), obtaining commitments to write to the British Government and to the companies and to raise the issue in Parliament. As a result of meetings with staff at the offices of Green Party MEPs Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas, interventions will also be made in the institutions of the European Union.
A public meeting, co-sponsored by the ABColombia Group of development agencies, was held in the auditorium of Amnesty International?s UK offices in London.
Other public meetings were held in Bristol, Canterbury, Hull and Oxford. Bristol Colombia Solidarity Campaign is committed to continuing support for the communities and has made strong links with local climate change campaigners. Canterbury and Hull were new venues for Colombia Solidarity and meetings were organized with the help of WDM, Green Party and peace groups. Oxford Solidarity for Colombia organized the meeting at Ruskin College, Oxford, with the help of the Oxford Trades Council and other solidarity groups. The auditorium was packed with students, trade unionists and activists. The Colombian speakers joined Sue Branford of Latin America Bureau and Dr Humberto Brios Labrada, a Cuban organic farming expert who not only explained the contribution of organic farming to Cuban food sovereignty but sang a song which he had composed about it as well!
On the final day of the visit, Jose Julio and Armando met with Marc Gonsalves and Claire Divver of Xstrata plc, one of the three London-listed multinationals which own the Cerrejon mine. The meeting was both cordial and frank and gave the visitors some hope that there might be a positive change of approach on the part of Cerrejon Coal, the subsidiary which operates the mine. But even Marc Gonsalves said that he did not expect them to trust his words until they could see them put into practice. So we must wait and see.
During the visit, Sintracarbon, the union representing workers at the Cerrejon mine, settled its dispute with the company. In the end it was unable to force the company to include community demands in the agreement, to the bitter disappointment of both union and displaced communities. But its effort to do so is unprecedented and there is no doubt about its commitment to continue supporting the communities in their struggle for justice.
The visitors emphasized the importance of campaigning for the fulfilment of the 2002 Colombian Supreme Court decision ordering the reconstruction of the destroyed village of Tabaco. They also seek physical accompaniment as a way of ensuring their safety against attack; political solidarity to strengthen the communities? organization in the face of the enormous power of the companies; financial help to equip a community office, to mitigate hunger among the children and if necessary to buy land; medical assistance because so many are ill because of contamination from the mine; academic assistance in researching and proving the social, medical and environmental impacts of the mine; support from British trade unions for Sintracarbon?s work of solidarity with the communities; and practical help and professional solidarity for Armando Perez in his struggle against the judicial persecution unleashed against him because of his work for the people of Tabaco.
Jose Julio has left with the Campaign some beautiful craft work made by people from Tabaco. Money raised will go directly to the people of Tabaco. To buy woven shoulder bags, friendship bracelets or gourdwork, or to help support the communities in other ways, please contact Colombia Solidarity.
The Campaign wishes to thank the ABColombia Group, PBI UK and the Society of St Columban for their support and assistance in organizing this visit.