PRESS RELEASE: Colombians threatened with death for opposition to mega-mining project as defenders visit UK

PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 15/10/18

Indigenous Colombians threatened with death for opposition to mega-mining project as defenders visit UK

“Death to all these scum”: threats made by far-right paramilitaries promise to “clean” the region of indigenous Wayúu campaigning against mega-mining projects by UK-listed companies in their ancestral lands. They come as a week of action launches in London to highlight the issue. Delegates are arriving from the United States, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, including Wayúu community leader, Misael Socarras Ipuana.

Wayúu Women’s Force is among the indigenous community groups subject to a series of death threats by far-right Colombian paramilitary groups known as Águilas Negras. Leaflets were scattered along the railroad by which coal is transported from Cerrejón, Colombia’s largest open-cast coal mine. The mine, located in La Guajira, is owned in equal share by Anglo-American, Glencore and BHP, and the coal is imported into the UK.

In response, partner organisation [1] Wayúu Women’s Force, an indigenous community campaign dedicated to defending the rights of the Wayúu indigenous people, have requested urgent protection from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and call on the Colombian government to protect them. Wayúu land defenders have previously been forced to flee Colombia due to threats against their lives.

Wayúu Women’s Force say: “Our community will not be cowed by these threats. We have long worked under threat of violence in our communities to defend our water, our territory and the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendent people from the multinational corporations that steal and pollute our land. We cannot surrender. This is already a fight for our lives.”

Visiting defenders, including Misael Ipuana, will be available for media interviews and we are holding a series of events throughout next week, including a demonstration on 17 October outside the BHP annual general meeting. (See Notes for Editors, below.)

To arrange an interview with one of our visitors or if you have any questions, please get in touch. Visitor biographies are available online along with further quotes and community demands.

Press Contacts

War on Want: Marienna Pope-Weidemann
media@waronwant.org 020 7324 5060 / 07983 550 728
London Mining Network: Lydia James
lydia@londonminingnetwork.org 07460 394233

Notes for Editors

Defenders

Misael Socarras Ipuana, indigenous Wayuu human rights defender from La Guajira, Colombia

Leticia Oliveira, campaigner from the Movement of People Affected by Dams, supporting communities affected by Brazil’s worst environmental disaster in history, the Samarco dam collapse.

Rosa María Mateus Parra, human rights and environmental lawyer working to defend the rights of indigenous, peasant and Afro-descendant communities in La Guajira, Colombia.

Lucio Cuenca Berger, director of the Observatory for Environmental Conflicts in Chile, supports communities affected by water and other environmental problems as a result of BHP’s massive copper mining operations in Chile.

Roger Featherstone, director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, that works to protect Oak Flats from Rio Tinto’s and BHP’s proposed mining project, Resolution Copper.

Events:

Monday 15 October, 6-8pm – Coal and Colombia (With community and union speakers from Colombia) – George Street Social, 45-51 George Street, NE4 7JL, Newcastle upon Tyne
Wednesday 17 October, 10-11am – Protesting BHP’s annual general meeting – Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London SW1
Wednesday 17 October, 6-9pm – Public meeting: Protecting lives from the world’s largest mining giant (With speakers from Brazil, Chile, Colombia and the USA) – UCL Institute of Education, University of London
Friday 19 October, 4-8pm – On the Frontlines of Mining Conflict in the Americas – UCL, University of London
Saturday 20 October, 11am-6pm – Extractivism, resistance and alternatives – Bargehouse Gallery, Southbank, London, part of Gaia Foundation’s We Feed the World 10-day exhibition.

The Beyond BHP week of action is co-organised by London Mining Network, The Gaia Foundation, War on Want, Colombia Solidarity Campaign, ThreePenny Festival Collective and Coal Action Network.

About the Cerrejón Mine in La Guajira

Cerrejón, the largest open cast coal mine in Colombia and one of the largest in the world, is owned in three equal shares by Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore. The mine is located in La Guajira, a region situated in the northern tip of Colombia; a remote and impoverished area populated by around 400,000 Wayúu indigenous and Afro-descendant people who mainly live below the poverty line and who struggle to survive in harsh surroundings, made worse by regular drought.

To date, 25 African-descendant and indigenous communities have been forcibly displaced. Resettlements of local communities have led to loss of land for agriculture and difficulties sustaining livelihoods. The lives of those left behind are marred by the mine. Nearby rivers and streams have been diverted or polluted by mining operations, threatening local access to clean water. The damming of the Rancheria river enables Cerrejón to use 17 million litres of water a day while each resident of La Guajira is left with an average of 0.7 litres per day to live on.

Since the mine opened 40 years ago, there has never been an independent investigation into the health impacts that it is having on local people, but locals report skin diseases, stomach problems, eye disorders and respiratory problems.

The text of the leaflets roughly translates as: “We are going to La Guajira to defend the sovereignty[2] of corrupt people who call themselves the Defenders of Mother Earth or Human Rights Defenders, but all they do is stop the progress of the country. We will clean our region of these scum. Death to all these bandits.”

The leaflet is signed and attributed to the far-right paramilitary group Águilas Negras.

[1] Wayuu Women’s Force is a partner of London Mining Network, War on Want and Colombia Solidarity Campaign.
[2] The apparent contradiction between threatening a community with death and defending their sovereignty is a common tactic to generate confusion which paramilitaries often use.

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