Roger Moody and Richard Solly of Partizans (People Against Rio Tinto And Its Subsidiaries) visited the La Guajira in October 2000 to study the social and environmental impacts of South America’s largest coal strip mines on the Indigenous Wayuu population and on local farming communities.
The mines are controlled by US-based Exxon and a consortium consisting of three multinationals, Swiss-based Glencore and London- based Billiton and Anglo-American. Over the history of the mining concessions, local communities have been forcibly relocated, with inadequate or non-existent compensation (see ‘Stripping La Guajira Bare’, available from the campaign).
One of the communities still facing relocation, and demanding an adequate relocation assistance programme (which would enable the community to move together to new land sufficient to continue subsistence agriculture), is the village of Tabaco which Roger and Richard visited with Armando Perez, the community’s legal representative, last year.
On 25th June 2001, one of the local community activists was attacked by mining company security guards and detained, together with a Wayuu journalist and a Wayuu cameraman and two other people, while filming environmental damage around Tabaco… it is clear that the perpetrators of the violence were security personnel employed by Intercor, the 100% owned Exxon subsidiary currently operating the mine close to Tabaco. Glencore, Billiton and Anglo-American, however, who together own 50% of that mine, must share moral responsibility for this sharp deterioration in the situation. "Five people – Vicenta Siosi (Indigenous writer and journalist), Jose Julio Perez (President of the Tabaco Community Action Committee), Carlos Epiayu (Indigenous cameraman), Arcadio Pinto (member of the community) and Mario Alberto Perez (working voluntarily as a teacher at the school so that they will not close it) – were brutally threatened with firearms by thirty armed men belonging to the company’s security guard, who forced them to hand over the cine camera with which they were filming the condition of the springs and roads around Tabaco, which are being blocked by sterile material from the mine. This is increasing the isolation of the community of Tabaco.
The security personnel argued that this video was being made for the guerrillas and that the cameraman could therefore not continue filming and had to hand over the camera. The cameraman refused to hand over the camera and this produced a violent response.
Jose Julio was punched on the nose, which was broken as a result. Vicenta Siosi was manhandled and forced to get into a police vehicle by being beaten around the head with a gun. The others were also attacked and detained by the police, who arrived in order to defuse the confrontation between the group of thirty men and the group who were filming. The persons detained were held in the police station at Albania [the nearest town] for around three to four hours.
The police reviewed the video with the security detachment from the mine and realised that there was nothing bad about it. The police then asked the security detachment whether they should give the video back or not (which indicates that the police are completely biased in favour of the company). Then Armando Perez arrived and succeeded in negotiating the return of the video and the release of the detained persons."
Send emails to Edward Bickham of Anglo American plc (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Marc Gonsalves of Billiton (email@example.com) making clear that your organisation is now aware of this incident and concerned about it and demanding that they:
1. Obtain from Intercor their full explanation for this unjustified act of violent assault, theft and intimidation against the five individuals by security personnel in their employ or acting on their behalf.
2. Make clear to Intercor that actions of this sort on the part of its employees or employees of its contractors are entirely unacceptable and that its partner companies (AAC, Billiton and Glencore) expect higher standards of adherence to civilised principles of behaviour and respect for human rights, including the right of the mine’s opponents to express their views and gather evidence to support those views.
3. Make clear to the Colombian authorities that police complicity in human rights abuses, assault, theft and unlawful arrest of people peacefully going about their legitimate business is unacceptable.
4. Explain to Intercor that this incident is being publicised widely and that the behaviour of its employees and contractors in La Guajira will now come under closer scrutiny from international NGOs.
Let us know whatever responses you may receive.
Richard Solly (firstname.lastname@example.org)