Yet again, there has been a brutal eviction carried out by the Colombian riot police for the benefit of mining company Cerrejón Coal, owned by London-listed multinationals Anglo American, BHP and Glencore – and it was carried out on 28 September, not long before BHP’s London AGM on 19 October. Our friend Emma Banks reports below.
By Emma Banks
In our line of work in Colombia, we constantly witness the imbalance and abuse of power. The Colombian government legally supports the rights of corporations to exploit land over the people who live in harmony with it.
On September 28, 2017 the infamously brutal anti-riot police squadron (ESMAD) destroyed the farm of Eneida Díaz de Barbosa in Patilla, La Guajira. ESMAD and a team of men in construction gear tore down the buildings and fences on the property. Eneida has been using this property, which officially belongs to Cerrejón, with a “comodato” relationship, in which she pays a small fee to rent the land every year. The Cerrejón Corporation has been in negotiations with her for several months about turning over the property. Her understanding was that on September 28, the mine’s administration was meeting with her about turning over the animals to them temporarily for safekeeping while she found a new place to house them. They had told her she would have three months to find a new place. Instead, the responsible parties rounded up the animals they could find, and then proceeded to destroy the farm. The captured animals are now housed temporarily at a private farm inside Cerrejón’s concession. As has happened to many farmers in La Guajira (for example to our friend Tomás Ustate), if Eneida does not find somewhere to move her animals, the company will sell them on her behalf.
According to Eneida, there are still 45 cows, 7 horses [, and over 100 goats still unaccounted for. The company will not allow her to return to the land to look for these animals. She does not have the means to buy a new plot of land on which to house livestock. She sells the meat from her animals at a small restaurant she owns on the roads used by Cerrejón and the neighboring Caypa coal company. She needs land located close by, but because Cerrejón has expanded its operations in this zone, there is almost no land available.
To make matters worse, there was a Wayúu family living on the farm until the time of displacement. Eneida hired this family when they were homeless and living in extreme poverty. She provided housing and subsistence as well as a salary. They were forced to move, leaving them without a home or employment. How will this family feed and care for their children?
Cerrejón has offered no compensation for this incident since the company is the legal landowner of the property. While Cerrejón may not have legal responsibilities, it has moral ones. Eneida is a native of the Afro-descendant community of Roche. Like many others from Roche, she left in the 1990s, when the mining administration first began buying lands. She never received compensation or resettlement. She came to Patilla to start a small restaurant and store. She acquired the farm after saving enough from the restaurant to invest in livestock. Eneida has worked tirelessly to improve her own economic situation by growing her small businesses. Despite having to relocate her home and restaurant more than once as the mine expanded, she has been very successful. She has sent all of her children to university. She employs local women in her restaurant who are in desperate need of income. She has always given back to her community. She faces losing her financial security as a result of this eviction.
At the moment, Roche is undergoing a Prior Consultation negotiation with the corporation and the Colombian state over the violation of their rights as Afro-descendant communities during their resettlement. Evicting Eneida from her farm at a time like this shows bad faith on the part of the company.
Cerrejón should do everything in its power to help Eneida find her missing animals and pay compensation for those that cannot be recovered. The company has a moral responsibility to help her find a new plot of land, which she can afford to rent or buy, and to transport the animals there. The company should assist the Wayúu family in finding a new home and employment.
Cerrejón continues to displace families who depend on land for survival. The administration has continually been dismissive of the importance of land and farming to the communities in the way of its takeover of La Guajira’s territory. If Cerrejón wants to prove it is truly doing “responsible mining” it must respect communities’ needs for land, and help them find a real and long-term solution to access it.