We Are Bruno: Citizens Caught Between An Absentee State And A State-Like Corporation During Water Conflicts In La Guajira, Colombia
Emma Banks, Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University
ABSTRACT: In natural resource frontiers, local communities are on the frontlines of resisting corporate takeover of their lands. Based on ongoing fieldwork in La Guajira, a frontier region on Colombia’s Northeast coast, this article describes how indigenous groups, Afro-Colombian communities, labor unions, and urban social movements have united to oppose the impacts of coal mining on local water sources. Since 2014, these actors have come together to oppose the Cerrejón Corporation’s plan to divert the Arroyo Bruno stream in order to access the coal reserves that lie underneath. This article argues that in opposing the Bruno project, local people are demanding a more accountable state that checks corporate power. However, Cerrejón has often stood in for the state in providing water access to local communities, complicating where corporate responsibility ends and state responsibility begins. Cerrejón administrators and pro-mining civic actors argue that the corporation is more accountable to local needs than state institutions. Thus the struggle over the Arroyo Bruno reflects a deep ambivalence and uncertainty about the nature of state power in La Guajira. This article concludes that the literature on state formation should take into account how corporations shape the ways in which people imagine, experience, and understand state power.