It is unheard of that the Ministry of the Interior should violate the law to facilitate El Cerrejón’s ability to change the course of the Ranchería River

Author:  Jorge Enrique Robledo

Translated by: Steve Cagan


Bogotá, June 12, 2012


Minister of the Interior


Re.: It is unheard of that the Ministry of the Interior should violate the law to facilitate El Cerrejón’s ability to change the course of the Ranchería River



In the department of La Guajira the El Cerrejón firm, which is the property of the multinational companies BHP Billiton, Xstrata y Anglo American, intends to change the course of the Ranchería River for a length of 26 kilometers in order to extract 500 million tons of coal. The project is located in an area in which there are several indigenous communities, which makes a “previous consultation” a requirement.

In an interview in the daily El Tiempo, Roberto Junguito Pombo, the President of El Cerrejón, explained that “up to this point this project is in the pre-practicability stage,” and he affirmed, “we have not asked for a simple formal permission, because we are still evaluating this. Not until the end of this year will the moment arrive when we will decide which project is going to be carried out.” ( Likewise, on May 16 the Minister of the Environment explained to me that El Cerrejón had not formally asked for an environmental permit to change the course of the Rancheria River.

However, the Ministry of the Interior is moving ahead with a “previous consultation” on charging the course of the Ranchería River. Functionaries of this body have accompanied El Cerrejón to meetings called “pre-consultation” and “previous consultation,” in which they point out to the communities the “advantages” of the project. This has been denounced by the Indigenous Authorities in two letters to the President of the Republic, which I enclose.

To move a “previous consultation” forward without El Cerrejon’s having asked for the environmental permit is a violation of law, because Article 12 of Decree 1320 of 1998 provides that previous consultations must be carried out after the interested party solicits the respective environmental permit and publishes the technical studies that support the project. This requirement is fundamental, since it is not possible for the indigenous communities to understand the impacts of a project if they do not know what the project will be and the way it will be carried out. Without that, it is impossible that the consent of the ethnic groups be free and informed, as the law demands.

In another area, the so-called “pre-consultations” do not exist in the Colombian legal codes. If the Ministry is using the name pre-consultations for meetings in which agreements are reached with the communities on the procedures for carrying out the consultation, these also cannot be done before it is known what the project will be that El Cerrejón intends to move forward.

There does not exist any rule or judicial decision that allows the Ministry of the interior to move ahead with the previous consultation or “pre-consultation” which is being demanded of El Cerrejón in order to change the course of the Ranchería River. And, as you know, Minister, functionaries can only do what the law expressly allows them to do. That is why the meetings that El Cerrejón is having with the support of the Ministry of the Interior are clearly illegal.

For the reasons given, I request that you suspend the application for the “previous consultation” that El Cerrejón has entered to change the course of the Ranchería River. I also request that you tell me what the rule is that allows that Ministry to have “pre-consultations” before the request for the environmental permit and what regulates their application. Finally, I respectfully request that you send me a report that details the meetings that the multinational has had with you and the indigenous communities, by sending copies of the minutes of these meetings

I make the current request under the authorization of Article 258 of the 5th Law of 1992.


Thank you for your attention.


Jorge Enrique Robledo



cc: Procuraduría General de la Nación [“The Inspector General of the Nation.” But this Inspector General has the power to sanction officials—SC], Defensoría del Pueblo [“The People’s Defender,” essentially a human rights ombudsman at the national and regional level—SC], Constitutional Court.



Final Declaration of the forum: Impacts of Mega-mining in la Guajira

Riohacha, Guajira, June 11, 2012



“La Guajira says no to changing the course of the Ranchería River, to the mining project in the Cañaverales springs, and to the new system of Royalties.”

This is the main conclusion of the Great Forum on the Impacts of Large-Scale Coal Mining, which has carried out in Riohacha, Guajira on June 7th and 8th, 2012, based on the philosophy of the traditional thinking of its indigenous peoples who consider a physical intervention in the river to be a violation of the sacred space of all the people of Guajira.

At the event, which more than 600 persons attended, political leaders of the region, parliamentary representatives of La Guajira, representatives of the University of La Guajira, national leadership of the Polo Democrático Alternative [the Alternative Democratic Pole—SC] and the Liberal Party, the municipal government of Riohacha, experts on mining subjects, delegates of national and regional social organizations, indigenous authorities, Black organizations, representatives of the multinational corporations, federations of large-scale miners, and labor organizations were present. This politically and socially representative attendance, unanimous in their unity on the criteria, declared themselves opposed to changing 26.5 km of the course of the emblematic Ranchería River.

Likewise, the communities through their organization, unionists, indigenous people, Black people, students, environmentalists, civic activists, called for unity and civil resistance by all the people of La Guajira, who in their different expressions, declared their unbending decision to oppose the expansion of large-scale mining, which wipes out customs and ways of life, as well as national sovereignty.

Those in attendance rejected the current projects of the transnationals El Cerrejón and CCX for expansion and exploitation, respectively, as well as the effects on water resources and the environment, reflecting the level of understanding and conviction that society in Guajira, in all its expressions, has in the face of the negative impacts that changing the course of the Ranchería River and mineral exploitation in the Cañaverales springs would have. Of the proposals that came out of this Forum, we emphasize:

1. To call for a great march on August 1 of all the people of La Guajira, to reject changing the course of the Ranchería River, the effects on the springs and the new system of royalties and the mining locomotive of the Santos government [President Santos has projected the image of extractive industries as the economic “locomotive” for Colombia—SC], and to demand that the national government abstain from issuing environmental permits that legalize the ecological and economic disaster which the implementation of these actions against our territory would cause.

2.  To invite all the people La Guajira to the expedition along the Ranchería River, from the Chirigua Lagoon to the Riito Delta, from the 16th to the 20th of August, an initiative of the Wayuu people who live on the river shores.

3. To work for unity among the communities, sub-regions and rural settlements based on their right to self-determination and the protection of their cultural diversity.

4. A public letter to the President of the Republic and the Presidents of El Cerrejón and MPX, expressing the rejection by the people of La Guajira of changing the course of the Ranchería River, of the effects on the spring of Cañaverales and the new system of royalties, signed by all the sectors and active forces in the department, including political leaders.

5. To invite all the organizations and communities who are not yet represented on the Civic Committee in Defense of the Ranchería River, the spring of Cañaverales and the royalties to join and strengthen our collective defense of our territories and our country.

6. To promote a great artistic and cultural festival to emphasize the water and environmental wealth of La Guajira and to consolidate a harmonious and sustainable relationship with nature.

7. To create pages and virtual actions in the social networks which increase regional and national support for the protection of the Ranchería River and the spring of Cañaverales.

8. To promote open discussion about productive vocations in the department and the ways to generate an autonomous economy with activities other than mining.

9. To call together the Departmental Assembly, the mayors, the Municipal Councils, to implement local strategies in defense of the Ranchería River, the spring of Cañaverales and the royalties, organizing municipal forums in which the risks of mega-mining and of the specific projects that today threaten our territory are explained.


University of la Guajira

Departmental Government of la Guajira

Assembly de la Guajira

Municipal Government of Riohacha

SINTRACARBON [Coal miners’ union—SC]

Center for Coal Studies Censat- Agua Viva

José Alvear Restrepo Collective

RECLAME [The Colombia Network against Large Scale Mining—SC]– Guajira branch

AACIWASUG (The Association of Authorities of Wayuu Indigenous Council of the South of Guajira)

Junta Mayor de Palabreros Wayuu. [“Executive Group of Wayuu palabreros”) [The palabreros are people who carry and express the traditional laws and lore of the Wayuu people—SC]


Organización Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu. The Wayuu Women’s Strength Organization

CUT [Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombioa, perhaps best translated as “the United Workers’ Federation”—SC] of Guajira

MANE (Mesa Amplia Nacional Estudiantil—“Broad National Student Group”—SC] of Guajira

SINDESENA. (Union of public employees of SENA, the National Learning Structure of the Colombian state—a broadly accessible sort of extension program offering training in a variety

FECODEMIGUA (Federation of Communities Displaced by Mining in Guajira)

Mesa Concertación Wayuu, capitulo Uribía (Uribía chapter of the Wayuu Unity Roundtable)

Comité Universitario en Defensa del Río Ranchería (University Committee to defend the Ranchería River)

ASOCOMUNALES {Associations of the Juntas de Acción Comunal—this is a structure that brings together people who have been elected in base communities—SC]

Liberal Party

Polo Democrático Alternativo (Alternative Democratic Pole, a left political party—SC]

Asociación de Ediles [Ediles are members of the Local Administrative Boards (JALs) that govern the comunas (into which cities in Colombia are divided) and corregimientos (a level of organization of rural communities)]

Zenu Indigenous Reservation.

Asorocheros [One of the affected communities—SC]

Location: Bogotá

Date Published: June 12, 2012


 (This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.)


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