By Alejandro Reyes Posada, El Espectador, February 6, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
All the talk about defending the environment in Colombia comes crashing down with the realities in La Guajira, where a thousand-year-old people like the Wayuu, experts in surviving with hardly any water, are up against the multinational company Cerrejón Coal, which diverted the stream known as Bruno, a tributary of the Ranchería River in the Media Guajira, whose source is in the Montes de Oca. The company is eliminating the scarce dry forests that survive between the Municipalities of Albania and Maicao, with the fishing and the water for the people’s herds of sheep and goats, which supply their food. The stream emerges from an important aquifer that Cerrejón Coal is drying up in order to reach a layer of coal that they want to extract before their concession expires.
In 2016 the Autonomous Regional Corporation of Guajira (Corporguajira) , without consulting the affected communities, issued Cerrejón Coal a permit to divert the stream and create another, artificial, stream which does not carry any water. It took the Constitutional Court to order the suspension of the work on the diversion, by means of Decision 698 of 2017, a decision with which, it appears, the company has not complied. Paying no attention to the Court’s ruling, the company built a plug to dry out the stream and no more water runs through it. This caused the loss of trees and biodiversity and a food supply crisis for 34 Wayuu communities as well as for some Afro-Colombian people, all of whom depend on the stream to live. This water supply crisis is added to the atypically prolonged summer in La Guajira, because the scarce rain has stopped falling for four years, aggravating the food crisis and the infant malnutrition that the Wayuu people have had to endure.
If the conflict between a defenseless thousand-year-old people and a powerful multinational corporation results in the extermination by hunger and thirst of these defenseless people in pursuit of the desperate capture of earnings by the company, then the indigenous people have no government to protect them and the multinational has nobody to control it. The blockage of the stream also says a lot about the weakness and corruption of the environmental authority of Corporguajira, but worse still, it says that the decisions of the Constitution Court in defense of the fundamental rights of the Wayuu people are not worth much in contrast to the sacred right of a multinational coal company to keep on worsening the contamination of the planet’s atmosphere up to the point when the world manages to make the transition to a greenhouse-gas-free economy.
Colombia is the world champion of social-environmental conflicts. But the conflict over the diversion of an important desert stream where water means survival, just in order to excavate the coal that sleeps below the stream in exchange for a fistful of dollars to be returned to foreign stockholders, at the expense of a people living on the edge of hunger and thirst who yet claim their dignity, is the conflict that brings together the two extremes of the climate catastrophe: the irremediable loss of water for survival in order to keep on sending carbon gases into the atmosphere. This will end up making irreversible the extinction of humanity.
Instead of such contempt, Colombia ought to value the ancestral wisdom that has allowed the Wayuu to survive in a future world of water scarcity that will some day affect great regions of the planet. If Colombia does not force the company to unblock the stream, which it plugged illegally and abusively, and restore the ecosystem that it damaged, it will be too late to learn from the survival of the masters of the desert, because they will have disappeared.