The Cerrejon is a bad neighbor

(Translated by Amy Rose Pekol, a CSN’s volunteer translator)

Wayúu Indigenous Hearing in Cabo de la Vela, Colombia
Author: TPP (Permanent People’s Tribunal) &
ONIC (National Indigenous Organization of Colombia)

The Wayúu Indigenous Hearing was successful in terms of the high turnout, but not so considering the weakness and grief of its attendees.  With the enduring energy from the burning sun, the refreshing breeze from the sea and the mirror of the desert, the fifth and last Permanent People’s Tribunal (TPP in its Spanish acronym) indigenous pre-hearing took place in Cabo de Vela, Colombia on June 18th and 19th, 2008.  The meeting coincides with the Latin American Forum and the Final Indigenous Hearing from July 17-19 in Valledupar and Atánquez, Kankuamo Reserve of the Sierra Nevada, respectively.

Mining, fishing, ports and other riches vs. the poverty caused by multinational corporations in the Wayúu territory were among the topics discussed during the two-day hearing.  More than 170 delegates from different regions of the Wayúu community, such as Maicao, Uribia, Mayabamgloma, Barranca, Distracción, Bahía Portete and Puerto Estrella, attended the hearing accompanied by the Embera peoples of Caldas (CRIDEC), the Mokaná peoples, the Kankuamos, the Cerrejón labor union, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, Taganeros and the team from TPP of ONIC.
In Wayúu territories, the Colombian government is supporting multinational corporation projects such as the wind-power park and Cerrejón coal mine, among others, by displacing the Wayúu families from the beaches in Cabo de Vela where they have lived for thousands of years, relying upon tourism and fishing as their primary means of support.  Vice President Santos and foreign investors have recovered this land in hopes of turning the natural beaches into an eccentric vacation spot.  “They want to rid us from these lands in order to make room for hotels and multinational corporations, just like what happened in Cerrejón.”
The irony is that they are exploiting the energy resources in great quantities while the indigenous peoples of these areas lack basic public services.  Just 15 minutes away in Media Luna there is no electricity, according to the testimony of a local community member.  “We can only watch the windmills turn and hope for the rain to fill our jugs with water for our families and animals.  The Media Luna community is located in a coal unloading zone.  They refused to be forced off their land and today suffer the effects with skin rashes, deafness, nutritional deficiency and restriction of movement. Meanwhile, their houses are made with scraps from the mine, since the materials they used to use to build their houses remain inside the area that was closed by the mine.”
Several community members, whose skin has been noticeably weathered by the sun, stated “we can no longer fish the inside sea, but very close to the coast we are finding very large fishing boats that, with permission from the Colombian government, are destroying our ecosystem by taking everything and leaving our (Wayúu) community without any fish, our primary means of subsistence.
Wayúu community leaders asserted that “since the mining began, the communities have lost thousands of hectares of land to the point that the Wayúu no longer have access to the river from as far as Albania because the Cerrejón has privatized all the surrounding areas and floodplains.  The provincial reservation is less than 500 meters from the mine, eating coal and sleeping with the vibrations from the nearby garbage dump and explosions.  A railway and a highway run through the middle of the San Francisco Reservation.
Others pointed out that “the majority of the southern Guajira communities surrounded by the Cerrejón coal mine do not even have enough land for their goats to graze on, much less to cultivate.  And if that weren’t enough, we can’t even visit our deceased because their cemeteries are desecrated in the midst of the Cerrejón.
An old man, weathered more from sadness than the inclement sun, dressed in his traditional clothing, told of “an anthropologist who started investigating the Tabaquito community and concluded that we, the inhabitants of Tabaquito, were not Wayúu, just like everything else is being denied to us.”  Another Wayúu leader confirmed that the mine caused the displacement of this community.  Since the 15 square kilometers from the border with Venezuela were purchased by the mining company and since they didn’t want to sell, they were isolated and completely confined.  The communities of Tabaco and Chancleta, among others, share the same fate due to the Cerrejón’s expansionist plans with consent from the Colombian government.
“The needs are great and the opportunities few,” explained an elderly community leader.  “The Media Luna community doesn’t have any support.  We no longer eat grilled goat but rather charcoaled goat because instead of eating food we eat ashes from the coal.  We no longer die of old age; we die of weakness as they take everything and leave us with only holes and artificial lands.  What they reforest is like a soccer stadium with grass on the surface and rubble underneath.  And from the rubble nothing good ever surfaces.”
Media Luna authorities said “we regret not speaking Spanish, because when the company arrived they said beautiful words to us and now everything is a complete disaster.”  Nowadays, one can’t fish or shepherd because there are no more animals.  “It angers us greatly picking up our children’s dead bodies from alongside the train tracks.  It seems a goat is worth more than a Wayúu person these days as they always respond to train accident deaths by saying it was due to carelessness on our part for not reading the warning signs.  And what are we going to read?  We don’t even understand Spanish well and now we are supposed to understand English?”
“I was a little girl when the Cerrejón mine came.  My father was a fisherman and our area was rich in animals and fish.  We were happy.  But with the mining company’s arrival, my family started living in misery.  Now, we don’t even have a traditional house.  We live with scraps from the Cerrejón mine.  We make our homes from what the company throws away. We can no longer obtain yotojoro because it is all inside the mining zone. The only work to be found for the Wayúu in Media Luna is collecting coal from under the docks.  The Cerrejón is not presenting the community with sustainable solutions.  The Cerrejón is a bad neighbor!!”
Members of Sincracarbón, a Colombian coal-workers’ union, confirm that of 3,500 coal workers, approximately 800 suffer from illnesses related to mining work.  And the Wayúu are only employed in mining clean-up jobs.
Wayúu authorities and community members were pleased with the solidarity shown by the audience. “We hope our words don’t get carried away by the wind or dried up in the sun or scattered in the desert….here, we will continue fighting against the windmills.”
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