EL HERALDO, February 13, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Looking toward the elections for the congress and the presidency, which will take place during the first half of 2022, La Guajira is asking the politicians that will come to legislative and executive power to pay attention, and give priority, to a series of problems in its territory: problems that for decades have been waiting for solutions and getting worse.
The civic leader and social researcher Ángel Roys told El Heraldo that in the northern part of this country, people are waiting for “the development of a public policy for food security”, and some thoroughgoing attention to the problem, and “not just thinking about handing out contracts that benefit private individuals.”
He warns that as long as the problem of hunger “continues to be seen as a business, it will never be solved, because they see the problem as an opportunity to hand out contracts to political or economic sectors that support their campaigns. So a person can see that agencies like ICBF (Colombian Institute of Family Welfare) and the Governor’s Office can generate purchasing of products, assistance to communities, but you don’t see that they design a public policy that is committed to a real and effective presence in the communities that are suffering from these problems, especially for the indigenous people dispersed in the territory.”
Likewise, César Arismendi, an economist at the University of the Andes, suggests that the politicians “develop and work toward overcoming this state of unconstitutional affairs, which is understood to be a deficit of rights for the communities that have very limited access to water, to food and nutritional security, to health, and to participation.”
These four rights, he adds, should be demanded “based on the decision of the Constitutional Court in 2017 regarding the fact that their action plan had not been implemented. It’s important that the politicians recognize the need to support the communities and the children; that meansmaking sure that they are governing with children’s needs in mind.”
For Roys, the other agenda that has been weakened by the politicians in La Guajira is the matter of the Ranchería River dam.
“It’s inconceivable that there would be a shortage of potable water when there is a dam that cost millions to construct, is not being used, and is just benefiting a limited number of farmers with water for their crops.”
He mentions that this dam project “has been being broken down for more than 60 years, and that has been evidenced by debates in Congress.”
The other thing, he adds, is that the lives of the people of Riohacha could be made decent with a supply of potable water, which they have not had and still don’t have.
“Where I live, for example, the water comes on once a week and the sewer problem has to be resolved, because a capital with 300,000 inhabitants continues to dump its sewage into the ocean.”
And on that point, he remembers that more than half a decade ago, the Guajira Association of Professionals organized a forum when Cerrejón was hoping to divert the Ranchería River, which is the tutelary river of the department, and benefits many communities.
“ The experts—including the former Minister of Environment, Manuel Rodríguez—concluded that a decision to change the course of the river would have a tremendous effect, and would destroy the river. Cerrjón not only wanted to change the course of the Ranchería, but also of the creeks, so they could use their streams to get the coal out of the ground. So, it was demonstrated that there would definitely be a real effect, but the interests of the multinationals were to be more privileged. And they were insisting on the diversion of the Ranchería and the creeks.
Arismendi calls attention to the necessity of changing the model of regional economic development.
“The economic development of La Guajira has for 35 years been centered on gas and coal, on mining, but that is affecting marker conditions because both the gas and the coal have a consumption that will be limited by global warming.”
He reiterates that La Guajira is playing an important role in the energy transition in this country and, because of that, “we need a strong convergence to go toward renewable energy.”
He also observes that it’s important to privilege sectors like tourism, based on culture and the need for temperature zones, with both the desert and the perpetual snow that the peninsula has, as well as giving attention to the development of agriculture. “It’s not really true that La Guajira is all desert. There is fertile land near the Ranchería River dam, which is an available space for food production and even some for export.”
Movements by the current representatives in the Chamber of Deputies
The two representatives that La Guajira has in the Chamber are not seeking re-election. In past elections, the Conservative Party and the “U” Party have managed to win the two seats that the department has. In 2021, the Supreme Court of Justice called Congresswoman María Cristina Soto de Gómez to testify about her alleged participation in a case of electoral corruption that she had done, according to the high Court, to win her seat in Congress. Also this year, she experienced the death of her husband, Loreto Segundo Gómez Ospino, who had been a business owner and cattle rancher in the region.
In the last election, she got a total of 40,000 votes and she served on the 7th Committee of the Chamber of Representatives.
The legislator Alfredo Deluque is one of the Representatives in the Chamber who is looking to jump to the Senate, so he is on the “U” Party list for the higher chamber. He is also part of the First Constitutional Committee in the Chamber of Representatives. Deluque got 50,614 votes in his last race, consolidating his elector power in the department and in the region.
It’s important to point out that elections to Congress will take place on the coming Sunday, March 13, along with the inter-party contests.
The Wayuu leaders are expressing their concerns
José Silva, of the NGO Wayuu Nation, cited the annual report, Human Rights in La Guajira, dated last December 31, where he warns that in spite of the promise of development generated by exploitation of coal and, despite the important legal advances adopted in Colombia with regard to the rights of the indigenous people to participate in decision-making, “the Wayuu people are at risk of physical and cultural extermination.” He added that in recent decades, from the heart of the Colombian government, he says, they have been pushing “the compliance with free and informed prior consultations as a fundamental right of the indigenous peoples in the situation of deciding on their own priorities in addressing the development process.” He explains that these decisions are made according to their beliefs, their institutions, their spiritual welfare, and the property that they occupy or use in some way.
However, “The strict compliance with this fundamental right has only been converted unto a distracting sophism for the Wayuu people, or rather, it’s a mechanism for deceit and manipulation,” Silva comments in a conversation with El Heraldo about the needs of the Wayuu people.
The indigenous leader reminds us that the most numerous ethnicity in this country, the Wayuu people, who represent 20% of all the indigenous population in Colombia, live on a peninsula. In this regard, Silva warns that the Colombian government “has failed”, since—as was published in the most recent report of the Ancestral People organization—“there are no guarantees of the continued existence of this people, although they are the subject of special protection in the constitution. The serious violations of the rights of the Wayuu indigenous people invite analysis of the satisfaction of our demands, when you consider our sacrifice of people and territory.”
He also indicates that the debate about a fair energy transition demands examination “of the political responsibility of different global actors, and of our demand for high quantities of energy to maintain our levels of comfort and productivity.” He insists that the Wayuu people are strong and decent, but the “extraction of energy in our territory, the implementation of urbanistic projects for the extraction of hydrocarbons could be unsustainable for our physical and cultural survival in the middle and long term.” He says that the department produces 40% of the coal produced in this country and has 65 wind projects in process.
The 2022 political panorama in the peninsula
For the coming electoral races in La Guajira, the participation of several youthful candidates stands out, even though some are supported by old-time politicians. You see it in the Chamber list from the Historic Pact Party, headed by Luis Fernando Lobo. He started by going around in the 15 municipalities in La Guajira on his bicycle, to explain his proposals. He is on the list with the President of Sintracarbón (Union of Coal Industry Workers), Igor Díaz and Félix Rosanía. We also find two experienced politicians that represent the “U” Party, Alejandro Rutto and the former Deputy, Idelfonso Medina, who are accompanied by Carlos Daza. The Conservative Party is participating with the youthful Juan Loreto Gómez Soto, the son of the current Representative, María Cristina Soto, the Wayuu leader Débora Barros, and Hernando Salom. The Liberal Party will be participating with a list made up of Jorge Martelo Yepes, Pedro “Pello” Pérez and Jarlen Garrido, very well known at the local level. Pedro Arteta Bonivento, Mariela Moreno Osorio, and Jesús Javier Yancy Pertuz are signed up, supported by the Look Party and Colombia Just and Free. For the Colombian Renaissance Party, the list includes the former Secretary of Government of Riohacha, Miguel Pitre Ruíz, the former Mayor of Barrancas Jorge Cerchario, and the director, Teresa Iguarán. And running for the Senate is Alfredo Deluque, third on the list of the “U” Party. Also running for Senate—for Citizen Power—Jorge Guevara, former Secretary General and Legal director for Magdalena in 2020. And for Radical Change, the aspirant for the Senate is the accountant Luis Alonso Colmenares, father of the young Luis Andrés Colmenares.