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News > Colombia

Cerrejón Mine Breaches 14 Court Rulings Favoring the Wayuu

  • As worker strikes at the Cerrejon mine enter their sixth week, union president Igor Diaz lays out workers concern and the bad faith behavior of the company, which has already breached 14 court rulings. Hatonuevo, La Guajira, Colombia. October 9, 2020.

    As worker strikes at the Cerrejon mine enter their sixth week, union president Igor Diaz lays out workers concern and the bad faith behavior of the company, which has already breached 14 court rulings. Hatonuevo, La Guajira, Colombia. October 9, 2020. | Photo: Twitter/@LASCDublin

Published 9 October 2020

The report "Coal Mining and De-mining: Ethnocide and Ecocide in La Guajira" was presented this week, examining the impacts on the Wayúu communities, small farmers and Afrodescendants who live in the vicinity of the Cerrejón coal mine.

The work was carried out by the intercultural team of the Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP) and presented in the 61st edition of Noche y Niebla magazine, where they give an account of "the unfulfilled promise of development after more than 40 years of mining exploitation in La Guajira," an extractive action that for two decades has made visible that this act of "development" has been nothing more than an intensification of the poverty experienced by the communities of La Guajira.

These violations contrast with 14 judicial rulings that support the violations by Cerrejón and the Colombian state of the rights to life, water, and health of the indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and Guajira communities that are victims of coal extraction.

This "ethnocide and ecocide in La Guajira" is a product of the 32 million tons of thermal coal extracted and exported from this coal mine and leaves more than 25 Wayúu, Afro, and peasant communities vulnerable. These communities have not only been affected by the chemical residues but have also been displaced, dispossessed, and confined by this extractive activity that has occurred starting 1985.


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One of the most evident impacts, according to CINEP, that Cerrejón has generated in La Guajira with the exploitation of 14,493 hectares, in addition to the dispossession and privatization of 69,393 hectares, is the 150 kilometers of the railroad line that crosses the Guajira transporting coal, which has exterminated 17 streams, 30 more have been deteriorated, causing irreparable damage to the Rancherías River; thus plunging the Guajira into a water crisis, where access to potable water is a privilege that few have.

This environmental impact-focused directly on water sources is the result of a mining operation that uses 24 million liters of water per day, according to Cinep, "enough water to satisfy 150,000 people."

At the same time, they indicate that before the extraction activity, the communities found a water supply only 5 meters deep, "today you have to climb between 20 and 30 meters below the ground to find freshwater," water that at the same time contains high levels of contamination, generating considerable effects on the health of those who consume it.

According to the research center, the most common health problems caused by mining are "DNA alterations, chromosome instability, cellular changes, and imminent risk of cancer, heart attacks, and other health problems."

This serious humanitarian crisis that the community of La Guajira has been going through for more than ten years has significantly affected the Wayúu children and, with them, a legacy of indigenous people that could be exterminated as a result of extractivism.

On September 25, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Environment and Human Rights highlighted the need to suspend mining activities in the communities of La Guajira, especially those living in the Provincial Reservation, recognizing the impact this has had on the health of children in this territory.

At the same time, different social organizations, environmental collectives, leaders, and members of the academy have joined in a letter supporting and recognizing the historical work that indigenous, campesino, and African women have led against extractive industries in the Guajira.

Inhabitants of the region, like María de los Ángeles García, lawyer, president of the Akuaippa citizen oversight office and vice-president of the Community Council (CONRCIMACRU), say that regardless of the corporate power that the Carbones del Cerrejón company has in the Guajira, its mining activities cannot continue to violate the fundamental rights of entire communities.

The report adds that the various judicial decisions and rulings of the Court show that this is not the first time that a case has been resolved against Carbones del Cerrejon Limited for putting at risk and generating affectations to the environment and health of the nearby populations.

These complaints have been backed up and sustained by legal and scientific evidence presented by the women who lead these processes in the Guajira, showing a historical and repeated context of violations of the human rights of these communities, which have been further aggravated as a result of the environmental pollution from extractive activities.

María de los Ángeles also points out that the aforementioned extractive companies' intervention has created a rupture in the culture of the Wayúu communities and puts their survival and that of their territories at risk.

At the same time, they reject and regret the responses offered in recent days by the Colombian government by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which "not only ignores the evidence documented and compiled by the communities and groups of experts, but also delivers messages that far from contributing to the defense of indigenous communities, the territories and the environment, worsen the context of stigmatization, persecution, and violence suffered by the social leaders who work in defense of the environment."

Finally, they call on the international community, mainly the Australian, Swiss, and English communities, where the multinational shareholders of Carbones del Cerrejón belong, "to activate pressure campaigns on their governments so that these companies stop violating human, environmental, and territorial rights against the Wayúu, Guajiro, and Afrodescendant peoples."

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