Cerrejon Coal, operator of the huge Cerrejon opencast coal mine in the department (province) of La Guajira in northern Colombia, is in last-ditch negotiations with families in the village of Old Roche, aimed at relocating families so that the mine can expand.
But the company is holding a knife to the throat of the villagers: if they will not accept the company’s terms within the next few days, they will be forcibly evicted on Thursday 29 August.
Cerrejon Coal is owned by three enormous London-listed mining multinationals: Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore Xstrata.
Negotiations have dragged on for some years because the families want to move to land where they can carry on farming and herding cattle, and they want compensation for the privations they have suffered over the years that the mine has come ever closer to their village. The company is unwilling to provide what the villagers want.
Many villagers, under extreme pressure, have already settled with the company and moved to a new, semi-urban site where there is insufficient land for cattle herding. Remaining villagers are struggling to protect their rural livelihoods. But they fear a repeat of what happened at the village of Tabaco on 9 August, 2001, when company bulldozers moved in, accompanied by hundreds of armed police and security personnel and flattened most of the village to force remaining villagers to move.
Protests are to be held in London and in Boston in the USA on Tuesday 27 August, demanding that Cerrejon Coal and the Colombian state abandon the eviction plan.
In la Guajira, plans are under way for a general strike next month, partly in protest at the activities of Cerrejon Coal.
But the response to organized opposition has been alrming. On 4 August, a Colombian paramilitary group calling itself ‘Los Rastrojos, Comandos Urbanos’ issued a threat against Colombian opposition parliamentarians, lawyers, trade unionists and anyone else ‘standing in the way of the progress generated by multinationals like Glencore, Drummond, Pacific Rubiales, AngloGold Ashanti’, declaring all such people ‘military targets’. Like Glencore, AngloGold Ashanti is a mining company listed on the London Stock Exchange. London-linked mining companies appear to have some brutal and ruthless friends.
The Colombian Government condemned the threat, but it is the Colombian Government which is pursuing mining expansion at breakneck speed and stimulating massive opposition around the country. Many communities are rejecting either mining itself or the involvement of huge foreign multinationals. At Cerrejon, mine workers have allied themselves with residents in the villagers surrounding the mine, calling for just resettlement agreements.
Join the London protest on 27 August and demand a just settlement for the people of Roche and an end to forced removals and death threats.
Death threats sent by the “Los Rastrojos” paramilitaries to Colombian human rights organisations, trade unionists and individuals
The threats, sent on August 4, state that those mentioned are military targets, because they are blocking President Santos’s peace process and hampering the work of mining companies. Although the Ministry of the Interior responded swiftly to this serious paramilitary threat, by publicly repudiating the threat and promising to increase protection measures for those threatened, President Santos himself has not made a public announcement, nor explained how those responsible will be brought to justice. The mining companies mentioned, including Glencore and AngloGold Ashanti, which are listed on the London Stock Exchange, do not appear to have publicly rejected the threats.