(Translated by Stacey Schlau, a CSN volunteer translator)
“Electricity isn’t food,
Electricity is good, but with a full stomach”
Testimony of peasants from the Oriente [East] of Antoquia
Regional Forum for the Right to Public Services
The video was shown at the Regional Forum for the Right to Energy Service in eastern Antioquia, which took place in the sports center of the town of Santuario on Monday September 24. In the video one can see and hear the voices and faces of the peasant communities of the neighborhoods of El Viadal and La Merced, in the townships of Cocomá and Granada. These people suffer daily the real scarcity of public services in the region. The video was made by the Audiovisual and Investigative Observatory of community and resistance processes, section of Communications Department, Peasant Association of Antioquia. EL RETORNO Productions, 2007
Report published in the newspaper El Colombiano about the Forum that took place yesterday.
The Mario Giraldo Sports Center in El Santuario was entirely full the whole day yesterday at the Energy Forum of the Oriente. “From our water comes the energy, which they deny us every day” proclaimed the invitation banner.
They asked that the peasants’ debts be cancelled.
Plan of Action for the Oriente
September 25, 2007
By Francisco Javier Arias R.
mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org, Medellín
Don Luis Alfonso Moncada left his ranch in the neighborhood of La Aurora, in the township of Granada, in the hands of its owner—el Corazón de Jesús—“who only uses up a light bulb once in a while and a bouquet of flowers daily, which he grows himself,” in order to go to El Santuario to participate in the forum about public services in the Oriente. And there he complained that in his neighborhood there are several transformers that have been burned out for months and not changed “but we all keep right on receiving the electric bill.” And he said that on the ranch, which produces beans, corn, and potatoes, he had to change a meter which, when financed, cost him 75,000 pesos. But he was surprised when the first bill arrived, for 79,000 pesos. “Then, I had to go to EPM [Public Works of Medellin], in La Alpujarra, and my bill was reduced to 27,200 pesos.”
His complaint was one of many made by about 2,000 peasants from various townships of the Oriente, to directors from EPM, ISA, Isagen, The Ministry of Mines and Energy, and the Supervising Office of Public Services. And they noted the paradox that many neighborhood have not had energy for several years or have never had it, yet they are located near to the dams and power stations that produce it.
Debts of Displaced Persons
Don Enrique Giraldo, president of the Community Action Committee of El Choco, in Cocorná, said that many displaced families returned to their homes to find them without energy services and with many unpaid bills. “One of those affected is Mrs. Edilma Arias, who has a bill of 1,260,000 pesos and has had no electricity for ten years.”
Benito Guarín, Vice President of Large- and Medium-Size Producer of the Oriente of Antioquia (Asoproa), one of the sponsoring organizations of the forum, said that “the electric companies have not been capable of providing efficient energy. We ask that there be quality and coverage of service and that it be affordable . . . In many places they do have energy, but people can’t use it, because of the cost . . . It is unfair that in a region so rich in energy sources, which are being exported, the people have to have a forum like this one to demand better service.”
Gloria Elsy Ramírez, also from Granada, spoke similarly: “Many families have to allow their electricity to be turned off, because they don’t have the means to pay, especially the displaced people who have returned.”
And they called for more efficient energy service “not just for days or a short time, but permanently.”
Similarly, other leaders at the forum said that 17 neighborhoods of Sonsón have never had energy, although “it would be very easy to provide it, especially to the areas of Rioverde Los Montes and Rioverde Los Henaos, which border on Argelia.”And they said that what is needed is political will and working with the communities to solve the problem.
“We will not remain silent and we will go wherever we need to go,”affirmed a leader of El Jordán, of the township of San Carlos. “It is sad that we are selling energy to Ecuador and we have none,” was said in one of the small groups.
Orlando de Jesús Aguirre, leader in Granada, considered that “it is not just that, with burned-out transformers and the lines in such bad condition, they charge us for electricity without service. . . . They should help us solve the problem.”
There is a plan of action
The EPM’s directors listened carefully to the peasants’ demands and offered explanations and solutions. First, the company started from the recognition that the quality of service and condition of the electrical networks was affected by the long process of definition of the integration of the Antiochan Energy Company into the Medellín Public Works (EPM).
And secondly, they reported that work with mayors and communities of the area had already begun to re-establish service where there is none and improve it where it is already offered.
Juan Guillermo Osorio, director of the Energy Distribution Headquarters, explained to them that there will be a plan of action, which will begin in October, to revise billing and to improve service. Another source from the EPM indicated that they would review one by one the bills of displaced families, publicly certified by the Social Action Program of the Presidency of the Republic, to reduce or cancel their debts.
In order to offer more precise information to the communities about this process, special sessions will take place in each municipality. Also, Luis EduardoVillamizar, director of Energy of the Ministry of Mines, told the peasants that the integration of Eade and EPM should cause a drop in prices in those areas, starting the first semester of next year. And, about the structure of rates, he explained that it is the same for those who are close to a power station as for those who are far away. “This is a way to bring low-cost energy to those areas that are far from the dams,” but he did demand greater effort by the EPM to improve the quality of service in those regions.
They asked that displaced persons’ debts be cancelled
The sponsoring organizations of yesterday’s forum in El Santuario presented several proposals to the national government (complying with the National Constitution, which guarantees the right to electrical service) and they asked the Public Works of Medellín to study the cancellation of energy debts for all families who are victims of the social and armed conflict in the region “either because we are displaced or because we have resisted under precarious conditions.”
As well, they asked for guarantees to access to energy service in rural communities that have never turned on a light bulb and where they still cook with wood, “in spite of being near the dams and power stations that produce it.” And they requested of the Commission for the Regulation of Energy and Gas (CREG) that different rates be established for each township, according to its socioeconomic standing. And they emphasized that the electric companies “owe a high social debt to those communities and that their profits should be redistributed.”
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