The Slow Death of Río Ranchería

(Translated by Buddy Bell- CSN Volunteer Translator, Edited by Shanise Faust)


At the same time that the mining company Cerrejón uses up more than 17 million liters of water, the people only use 0.7 liters per day and the situation continues to grow worse. The slow death of Río Ranchería parallels the death of the Wayuu people.

Into the mid-90s San Vicente, Yabruma and La Horqueta were the seats of the Wayuu, who lived along the Arroyo Bruno, in Albania municipality, south of La Guajira. It is said that the inhabitants did not own title to their land, but there, life was delicious and the people hunted all types of animal, they raised goats, and they fished.

During the year 1998, the mine came to try and negotiate a land sale from the elders. In effect, their plan of mining expansion would raise La Puente dam and divert the Arroyo Bruno, since below its bed, there were more than 40 million tons of coal. Even though it was clear then that ethnic communities had a legal right to previous consultation over their ancestral lands, whether registered as a reservation or not, the company would end up forcing the land sale on half of its market value, advising the Wayuu that they could be evicted by the army, as was done years later in the El Manantial, Tabaco, and Oreganal communities. The elders acceded to the terrible deal, and with the money from the sale they bought other land to resettle themselves close to the Arroyo Bruno.

Eighteen years later, in the midst of a most scandalous situation of drought, malnutrition and humanitarian crisis in Guajira, in which more than 5,000 Wayuu children are said to have died, the company and the government maintain a firm intention to divert the water of the Arroyo Bruno. Besides that, the mine and the private military it finances have squeezed closer and closer to the traditional pastures, hunting grounds, and access to the river. The imposition of mega-mining as a form of development for Indigenous and Afro communities, under an argument of political utility, is one of the most palpable manifestations of racism and exclusion spread throughout the region by the Colombian state. Fundamentally, this is because they pose conditions for the Wayuu that make it impossible to remain and live they way they have been living, which is alternative to the economic model being imposed.

The diversion of the arroyo is an aggression against the flow, aquifers, and recharging zones of the Río Ranchería, the principal water source in La Guajira. Certainly, the Wayuu call attention to the fact that in their region: “Malnutrition is not because of the lack of government help, it’s because of a lack of water to cultivate food.” Still, the mine is not the only project hoarding the water supply in this department. At the source of the Río Ranchería, the communities of the Sierra have come to denounce the construction of the “El Cercado” reservoir, which the Attorney General and different organs of the State have admitted doesn’t complete any of the proposals for which it was built, and which, on the contrary, negatively affects the usability, the quality, the hydrobiology, and the sheer volume of water that passes through the river. Arroyo Bruno’s history has occurred to at least 17 other rivers that we have seen diverted or completely destroyed by the coal mining of Cerrejón.

In none of the interventions to the Rio Ranchería have the authorities, companies, or the justice system considered it necessary to work with the participation of the communities that actually live on the river’s waters. In the various cases, this is because, according to their experts, “In the zone of ‘influence’ you do not find ethnic communities.” For years, the Cerrejón has denied the presence of Afro-descendent communities, and has resisted carrying out the policy of previous consultation with them. This is a clear exercise of negating the cultural identity and the special relationship that Afro-descendant peoples have with their territory.

On August 28th, the national and local governments visited the river communities of Bruno in order to present official titles and land assessments, a reservation constitution, supply of water, and a compensation plan for the diversion of water, among other measures, which do not exceed the historic debt which the State has with this region since the initial start of mining operations.

Do not be surprised that the government and Cerrejón offers compensation to the same communities on which they have held that have not been affected by the diversion of water; although for the Wayuu words are reassuring, they are clear that the list of the State’s broken agreements with its peoples is long.

“I say that the mine made off with the livelihood we used to have, the livelihood that one is given who lives at the bank of a river,” said one of the settlement leaders, pointing out that even if the promises are completed, it will be difficult to cover the full debt of the history of permitting the displacement of millennial people over the span of 40 years, along with their livelihood and culture, consigning future generations to die of thirst. While Cerrejón is allowed to use more than 17 million liters of water each day, individuals are only using 0.7 liters per day and the situation continues to grow worse. The slow death of the Río Ranchería parallels the death of the Wayuu.

The companies have shown the environmental impacts of wasteful water use as a consequence of climate change. Nevertheless, they don’t explain their disproportionate use they have made of the water, nor their contribution to global warming. Coal extraction centers of the world consume water that could otherwise respond to the basic needs of more than 1 billion people. At the same time, the burning of coal produces ¾ of greenhouse gas emissions. All this means that both in its production and in its consumption, coal is environmentally and ethically unsustainable.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

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