By Emma Banks, University of Tennessee, currently resident in La Guajira
On November 29, three delegates from the German Company EnBW, which buys coal from Colombia including from Cerrejón, came to La Guajira. Johannes Laubach, Lothar Rieth and Dirk Keller visited the resettled Wayúu community Tamaquito II during their tour. The Cerrejón administrators arranging the Germans’ visit intended only to bring them to speak with resident of Tamaquito II without visiting other resettled communities. Cerrejón has consistently used Tamaquito II as an example for the international community of a “successful resettlement” without mentioning the failures of other resettlements. However, leaders from several communities communicated the day before the Germans’ visit to arrange a delegation of representatives to attend the meeting. During the short visit, various community representatives presented their conflicts and problems with the Cerrejón mine including: the threats of displacement in El Rocio over the diversion of the Arroyo Bruno, the violation of human rights in Roche during an expropriation in February, the lack of compliance in resettlement agreements including water provision, lack of employment opportunities for community members who have completed training to work in the mine, the use of pressure tactics and manipulation during prior consultation negotiations in Chancleta and Patilla, and the lack of recognition of Afro-descendant communities’ constitutional rights.
However, the EnBW visitors did not have the goodwill to listen to communities. What I witnessed during the meeting was another example of how little respect these companies have for local people. The EnBW delegates repeated several times that “they needed something concrete in order to take action” despite that fact that the community representatives were providing concrete cases and facts. They even cut the meeting short while the leader of Tamaquito II, Jairo Fuentes Epiayu, was speaking. When the Cerrejón employees in charge of the EnBW tour arrived, they began to argue with community representatives, accusing the leaders of manipulating the situations and exaggerating problems. The meeting was originally scheduled to be two and a half hours long, but in the end was only one hour and ten minutes. One hour is certainly not enough to understand the panorama of problems facing communities impacted by mining.
After the meeting, several leaders commented that what happened was yet another demonstration that the mine and the coal buying companies do not respect their perspective. Cerrejón, EnBW, other coal buying companies, and the shareholding companies should change the way in which they interact with local communities. These communities have lost their territory, their health, their way of life, their traditions and their economic practices so that these companies can buy and sell coal. At the very least, they deserve to be heard.