Report of Colombia Solidarity Campaign Delegation to the Communities affected by El Cerrejon mine, La Guajira.
(12 – 14 August 2007)
Summary of Problems Encountered:
Health – In all communities, residents reported respiratory and skin problems as well as more minor problems such as head aches and vomiting which they blame on the fine coal dust of the mine.
Environment – The seizure of large tracts of farm land and fishing waters by the mine has done perhaps the greatest damage to these agro- fishing communities. Much of what is left is contaminated by the coal dust generated by the mine’s activity.
Collective negotiation – This is a key principle for each community in resistance. After 10 years of resisting against the pressure to displace many are selling for knock down prices.
Ethnic Identity – The community of Tabaco talk of “ethno-cultural expropriation”. Their identity as an afro-Colombian community must be recognized within their claim to ‘ancestrality’ over their land. They also call for their ethnic identity to be taken into account when looking at the damage incurred by displacement (to the cities and neighboring departments and countries). The effect on the indigenous Wayuu has been most pronounced because of their close economic, social and cultural connection to their ancestral land.
Unemployment – Despite the close proximity to the mine, this is a huge problem in all the settlements visited, who traditionally rely on agriculture. Members of the displaced community of Tabaco claimed that there existed a de-facto employment bar from the mine because of their resistance.
Adequate Compensation – In all the communities visited, compensation has been minimal, inadequate to meet the needs of residents and often unimplemented. Furthermore what has been implemented does not, in many cases, meet international standards on relocation of displaced peoples. The damage done to the social fabric of each settlement has been devastating and divisive.
Located just 1km from the mine, community members reported a strategy of pressure from the mine for them to displace. These are the concerns of community members interviewed:
Unemployment. Some community members have benefited from mine financed vocational courses at the SENA technical colleges. Others say that these people are being selectively employed as a way of dividing the community and buying off individuals.
Effect to infrastructure of houses from mine explosions: At 2:45 the houses shake as if in an earthquake.
Security: Fear of guerillas in the local mountains and also of mine security that threaten them and steal their livestock.
Local transport: Local roads are being cut off by mine expansion. One recent closure has made their trip to the nearest town 3 times longer.
Health: The local community possesses a first aid clinic only. Each 4-6 months the mine sends a [non – independent] health brigade. The residents that we spoke to report misdiagnosis and insufficient treatment of the severe health problems caused by the mine. The delegation took photographs of children as young as 7 years with extensive skin rashes brought on by fine coal dust.
This was the most remote community visited by the delegation. It has lost much ancestral farm land and fishing waters to the mine. Unlike the others, it is exclusively Wayuu and has suffered the effects to their way of life most severely.
“We are being trapped by the mine” (Enrique Epiallu, Traditional Authority of the village).
Health: There was a baby with diarrhea which was blamed on the effects of the mine. This is an effect of the coal dust that has been reported elsewhere.
Roads and infrastructure: Neglected and at times impassable by car.
Security: There is an ever present pressure from local mine security. Community members are unable to go near ancestral rivers to fish because they are stopped by mine security. The community also reports being the victim of assassinations by the Army, and state intelligence bodies DAS and SIJIN.
The delegation found a largely deserted town. Just 20 habitations remained of a once thriving community with its own school and clinic. The community has been under pressure to sell houses since 1976 from the mine security and administration. Since 1997 the pressure has intensified. The delegation was shocked to see that the majority of the houses had the red and white paint on their fence posts to show that they belonged to the mine. Those that remained in the town ranged from children to elderly and had been unable displace. They are very much stranded and rely on the infrequent visits of outsiders in vehicles.
A spontaneous meeting of around 20 community members was held in this village of around 280 people. They reported that international solidarity had prevented a forceful expulsion along the lines of Tabaco from occurring to them. They have also received help from the Collectivo de Abogados (Lawyers Collective). Despite this, they were very desperate and made impassioned calls for assistance to the delegation. The delegation had the impression that it is very much a dying community.
These were the problems encountered by the delegation:
The need for satisfactory evaluation of properties: A census that takes into account holistic, cultural value of the space and not just its physical price
Health: This is a particularly high risk area for health problems. Those interviewed reported smell, head aches and lung problems. There is no health centre in the settlement so the community relies on the hospital in Barranca. We were told that the hospital is dependent on a 5000,000,000 peso donation from the mine. Residents of Chancleta believe that the health care is purposefully inadequate as part of the discrimination they receive as a community in resistance.
Negotiation: The community is fighting for a collective bargaining process with El Cerrejon. In March 2006 the community won a table of negotiation with the relevant authorities after a road block they staged in protest at a 3 month water shortage.
Security: The mine security officers, who appear on foot, horseback or motorbikes, are seen as the biggest threat to resident’s security. There have been 5 homicides in 10 years. Residents tell of a past attack on 2 brothers from the Consejo Communitario (Community Council) by the DAS (secret police), who were accompanied by mine security and accused the brothers of being guerillas.
Some quotes from community members:
“Today we are abandoned on a national, regional and local level”
“We are contaminated. The children are ill, we are all unemployed and we are selling our houses one by one for food. We need negotiations, NOW!”
“We want to leave. I don’t want to die here, but they only want to give us a few pesos for our house”
“We want negotiation quickly or we are going to die here”
“We are totally abandoned by the Sate here”
Resettlement: The community has not received proper indemnification for their displacement. The only compensation they have won is the allocation of new houses ‘house by house, meter by meter’ – that is to say a property of equal size in the town of Barranca.
Electricity cuts: Residents report that the electricity (provided by El Cerrejon) is periodically cut for periods of up to 25 days. They believe this is part of a strategy to displace them.
Lack of a health center
Negotiations: each 2 – 3 months there are public meetings in Chancleta and Patilla. There are reports of intimidation because mine officials come accompanied by the army and the DAS secret police.
Loss of farm land