By Ludys Ovalle Jácome, EL TIEMPO, November 18, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

They say that Drummond’s “El Descanso” mine places the biodiversity of their community at risk.

From the mountainous chain of the Serranía de Perijá right on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, the progression of dense topography breaks out that makes up the 425 kilometers of its extension (115 kilometers in La Guajíra and 115 kilometers in César).

Among the rugged trails that seal off the high part of this ridge from the colorful vegetation, there are 13,000 Yukpas settled (most recent census), one of the seven Indigenous peoples of César Department.

A people made up of hundreds of children with too-big bellies, men and women of medium stature, bearers of a history inherited in its ancestral culture. They strengthen their legacy in their reservation territories: Sokorpa, Menkue, La Laguna, El Rosario, Iroka, and Caño Padilla.

These Indigenous peoples have not been listened to.

They have lived for decades amid the natural riches offered in their territories, the fishing, the hunting, the gathering of fruit. Then they felt trapped by the planting of illegal crops and confrontations by armed groups outside the law.

“As we are few, they pay no attention to us. Formerly, we didn’t suffer need, because the earth gave us food to eat. Now the soils have been destroyed. We can’t find paca.[1]; 70 percent of the ground doesn’t produce much because the forest has been cut down,” explains a representative of the community.

The farmhouses made of mud and lined with panels of zinc reflect the precariousness that this community is experiencing.

Mining exploration is increasing.

“One of the underlying problems that worries the community the most is health. The closest health center is five hours away on foot, so that prompt attention is difficult. The lack of potable water and a balanced diet have caused malnutrition and diseases of diarrhea and shortness of breath,” said the representative.

The biggest worry that they face at this moment is the mining exploitation. According to them, mines are installed in their ancestral territory “that right now are putting us at risk of physical and cultural extermination.”

They describe that practice as “injurious”, because it affects the biodiversity of their territories, especially the sources of water.

The destruction of biodiversity

“It’s a widespread area, on which many communities, animals and plants, are dependent, but mining activity has been destroying its biodiversity, because it has diverted so many of the rivers,” explained Juan Pablo Gutiérrez, the International Delegate of the Yukpa Indigenous people.

For that reason, this community sees the impact generated by the Drummond group open pit mine “El Descanso” as a threat.

“The mine is one of the biggest in the world; it already measures 430 square kilometers. That means four times the size of Paris (France). It produces 60 million tons of coal every year,” emphasized the international leader.

He adds that according to the most recent report by Intergovernmental Experts on Climate Change (IPCC), a mine with those conditions: “is an irresponsibility for the lives of the human beings on the planet, and an aberration that we must end immediately to preserve the lives of the Indigenous peoples and nations and the whole of humanity,” he maintains.

Effects on ancestral cultures

The coal deposit also affects one of the sacred sites of the Yukpa people, the site where their ancestors are buried.

“This is one of the most important cemeteries for them. Former operators of the mine have even said that on occasion they have found bodies that were from within this community, because they were wrapped in a cover that looked like the ones that have been displayed in other countries and are seen in some museums,” stressed the leader.

The mine

Drummond, the multinational mining company, opened its coal exploitation in 2009 with the “El Descanso” mine, located in an area of 31,559 hectares that make up part of three municipalities in the center of César Department: Agustín Codazzi, Becerril, and La Jagua.

“That is an area designated by the government for possible exploitation. That doesn’t mean that when they are carrying out that activity in the whole area. They choose the site according to the geological information that they have,” detailed Pablo Urrutía, Drummond’s Vice President of Public Relations and Communication.

“The Yukpa reservation is not in the area influenced by any of the mining concessions being operated by Drummond, as the Interior Ministry has verified in recent visits,” emphasized that official.

The company reports that for 2021 it projects that the mine will produce 22.2 million tons of coal.

Social investment in the region

In the area of El Descanso, 1,500 hectares have been restored. In addition, they say that projects that will begin in 2022 will increase those areas by more than 14,000 hectares, counting those in El Bosque Seco, for an investment of nearly $50,000,000.

Historically (as of September of this year), the company has paid royalties in compensation to this country in the amount of $4,917,000,000, and has paid taxes, fees, and contributions of $3,471,000,000.

In 2020, Drummond furnished nearly 67,000,000,000 pesos (roughly USD $17,000,000)

in social investment of its funds.

The quantity of royalty payments received by the department and the municipalities because of the exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons in general, is 823,000,000,000 pesos (roughly USD $208,000,000) biannually.

“Eighty percent of those funds are collected from exploitation of coal. Of that figure, Drummond must be furnishing practically 90 percent. The funds are invested in projects planned in the Departmental Development Plan, to be used to meet the needs in the region,” stressed Alfredo Coronado, Mining Consultant to the Office of the Governor of César Department.

[1] Guartinaja, or paca in Colombia, is a large rodent found in tropical or sub-tropical America (cuniculus paca).

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