José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective and

La Prensa Rural

September 9, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The principal open pit coalmines are in the provinces of La Guajira and Cesar. For more than three decades, they have converted those areas into sacrificial places where environmental devastation is intertwined with the economic impoverishment of the population, damage to the social fabric, and focal points of particularly high levels of contamination that violate and threaten the fundamental rights of the people that live there.

The social organizations and groups of human rights defenders that have signed this message are calling on the national government and the mining companies that operate in the provinces of Cesar and La Guajira to comply with their economic, social, environmental and human rights obligations while they are planning the economic reactivation of the mining sector.

With the crisis in coal prices in 2020, the transnational mining companies Prodeco and Colombian Natural Resources (CNR) asked the National Mining Agency (ANM) for permission to suspend operations temporarily; however, with the agency’s refusal to approve the request, CNR announced in October of 2020 that it had decided to submit to the rules governing insolvency. Prodeco, for its part, announced in February of 2021 that it was surrendering its mining titles in Cesar Province.

The decisions by those companies generated some worry among the communities and labor and social organizations, because there was a risk that they would leave the country without presenting a plan for closing the mines, and without resolving the social and environmental problems they had created. We complained about that in a public communication in February of 2021.

That concern was supported when hundreds of mine employees were laid off, and also by the effects on the local economy and with the suspension of the process of resettlement of the campesino population in the town (vereda) of El Hatillo. It had been waiting for its relocation since 2010, because the high levels of environmental contamination had made that town unlivable, since it bordered on the mines belonging to Drummond, Prodeco, and CNR, as confirmed by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, evidenced by Resolutions 970 and 1525 in 2010.

Along with all of that were the differential effects produced on children and young people in the community by coal mining; they make up 48% of the population and they have been forced to be born, grow up, and live in a contaminated environment without the rights that belong to them as children. The Committee on Children’s Rights pointed that out in 2015 when it demanded that the Colombian government and the companies involved carry out evaluations and plans to mitigate the impacts of the mining activities on the environment, health, and human rights of children in El Hatillo. They also demanded their prompt resettlement in conformity with international rules, and with adequate indemnification.

Noting the suspension of the El Hatillo community resettlement process, the National Environmental License Authority (ANLA in Spanish) on last April 23, in Order 02382, requested the mining companies to present a work program with individualized activities for each of them, so as to furnish complete compliance with the Resettlement Action Plan (PAR in Spanish) and not to leave the resettlement up to their joint action, since CNR states that it cannot furnish any funds to the common fiduciary fund, which was created for that purpose.

In the last month of August 2021, the three mining companies presented ANLA a work program with individualized obligations, and showed it to the community for comments. This generated new concerns among the people, because it ruled out the collective resettlement completely, considering it unworkable, disregarding the deterioration in the living conditions of the families that had chosen to resettle. The families wanted to continue working their communal property and return to their social and cultural practices that they had been doing throughout history in “las Sabanas Comunales de El Hatillo”, which is what was contemplated in the PAR. ANLA has until September 15, 2021 to make a decision on the merits on the companies’ program of individualization.

During the last two months, there have been new events that have raised alarm about the implications of reactivating the mining sector without the necessary legal and political deliberation concerning the negative results of the coal mining projects as a motor of national and regional development.

This past July, Prodeco, a subsidiary of Glencore in Colombia, announced the purchase of interests in the Australian company BHP, and the British company Anglo-American, in the integrated operation of Carbones de Cerrejón (Cerrejón Coal) in La Guajira. That purchase was carried out parallel to the process of giving up its principal mining titles in Cesar Province, a surrender that at first was disallowed by the National Mining Agency, but on last September 5, 2021, the agency finally accepted it. It authorized the devolution of titles 109-90 and 285-95 to the La Jagua Mine, and title 044-89 to the Calenturitas Mine, which is still obligated to resettle the population of El Hatillo, in El Paso Municipality.

At the same time, last August 31, 2021, the mining multinational Colombian Natural Resources (CNR) announced the reactivation of its mining operations, thanks to the acquisition of all of its stock by Fondo Key Industries, with national capital. With this purchase, the current owner expects to come up with a rescue plan for the mining operation, which had been reduced after CNR was subjected to the insolvency rules, and to begin a business reorganization process, making use of the procedures in Statute 1116 of 2006.

With all of this going on, the local communities are complaining about the worsening of the effects on the world situation by burning coal, and uncertainty about the announcements by the NMA (National Mining Agency) and ANLA, the National Environmental License Authority, in support of the mining companies. For that reason, we are reiterating that it is the obligation of the Colombian government to protect and guarantee the rights of the communities that have been affected historically by the open pit mega-mining of coal. We demand that:

*          The decision by ANLA on the program of individualization of obligations that was ordered in Order 02382, should not be carried out by disregarding the collective resettlement, nor may they pressure the families to move individually, as that would violate the individual and collective rights of the population, disavowing agreements reached with the PAR company in 2018.

*          Approval of the devolution of mining titles by Prodeco requires that ANM, the Ministry of Mining and Energy, and ANLA perform an appropriate follow-up and evaluation of the mining company’s legal obligations in economic, labor, social, and environmental areas.

*          The follow-up and evaluation of compliance with legal and contractual obligations must be made in observance of the environmental, social, and economic obligations from the perspective of human rights, especially with regard to the timely implementation of the action plans for the resettlement of the local communities whose rights have been violated.

*          We request that the authorities immediately call together the communities that are in the process of resettlement, through their legitimate representatives, to inform them of the implications of these new events, and use their participation to create a road map leading to the reactivation of the Resettlement Action Plans.

*          Carry out a collective and dignified resettlement for all of the people in the community, especially for the children, who will be the most affected by an individual move, because they are the ones who have made the closest connections with their home areas.

Finally, we believe that the economic reactivation of this country requires a debate about the necessity of eliminating the extraction of coal, with the perspective of a proper energy transition that guarantees the economic abandonment of extractivism in these regions, and that permits the transition to the construction of economic diversification initiatives on a base of sustainable projects for the lives of the communities and their territories.

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