by state forces and by the mining corporation INTERCOR, subsidiary of the US multinational EXXON.
Tabaco is a settlement close to the Cerrejón coal mines, inhabited by humble peasants and black people. When the mines first came to la Guajira department, Tabaco was a happy place, productive and prosperous. All that came to an end on 9th August 2001.
Judge Carolina Martinez Padilla arrived with Martha Pealoza, the lawyer for Exxon’s subsidiary Intercor that operates the mines. They were accompanied by armed bodyguards in civilian clothes provided by the corporation, and by 200 anti-mutiny police. All the Intercor functionaries were heavily equipped, including bullet-proof vests. The Civil Defence from Riohacha [main town] lent their cars and uniforms to the multinational to form group of supposed "paramedics", working on behalf of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare. They had instructions to gather up all the children so that their parents could not use them as a human shield.
All this shows that the action that followed was premeditated, a plan to attack and destroy Tabaco, at whatever price.
Bulldozers were brought in. Families were one by one forced from their homes and their houses were destroyed. The legal pretext was an "Anticipated Handover", a highly questionable judgement in favour of Intercor to take six homes. Nevertheless they demolished 20 homes. It was a demented, illegal, corrupt act in open contempt of the people watching their homes being destroyed.
There were some difficult moments. One confrontation lasted for an hour, 10 people were beaten by baton wielding police. At 2.30pm 500 soldiers arrived to reinforce the police, making 15 soldiers and police for each Tabaco inhabitant. All of these had been lodged and fed in the mining compound.
The Tabaco community’s lawyer was not allowed to enter the zone required by Intercor. The deafening noise of the machines, the wails and shouts of the people, and the display of armed might which was a constant provocation threatening and harassing the people in their own village had turned the place into a battle ground.
The inhabitants were forced by the National Police and the Civil Defence to sign a document, which Intercor called a "Voucher", under threat that if they did not sign their children would be taken off them.
This is the latest act of free enterprise by Intercor in la Guajira, a place where they have no friends, only interests. Today it is Tabaco, tommorrow it will be the indigenous and peasant communities of Tamaquitos, Guamachito, Provincial, Roche, Patilla y Chancéleta.
We call on the citizens of la Guajira, of Colombia and the World to surround the people of Tabaco with solidarity, since their dignity and human rights have been assaulted.
Clothing, food, household goods need to get to these people.
We reject the injustices committed, and the violation of social rights.
Solidarity Committee for Tabaco and for People Displaced by Cerrejon Mining Exploitation.
Social Organisation, Black Organisations, Indigenous Organisations, Leaders and Citizens in general, let us unite around the just demands of those affected by the mine.
Armando Pérez Arajo
La Guajira, 12th August 2001
For the latest information on the situation in La Guajira contact Richard Solly at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org