A Colombian state authority has called for the Bruno Stream to be returned to its natural course, in the face of Cerrejon Coal’s failure to do so after diverting it to gain access to more coal. The Bruno Stream is the main tributary of the Rio Rancheria, the only major river in the arid province of La Guajira, where the Cerrejon mine, Latin American’s largest opencast coal mine, affects the lands and livelihoods of many communities of indigenous Wayuu people, people of African descent, and other small-scale farmers. Cerrejon is owned by London-listed multinational mining companies Anglo American, BHP and Glencore. The following summary of this new development is from Colectivo de Abogados Jose Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR), the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective.

Auditor General finds inefficient management in compliance with the judgment passed in favour of the Bruno Stream.

The Auditor finds in favour of the communities defending the freedom of the Bruno Stream and its non-exploitation by the Carbones de Cerrejon Company.

Tuesday 14 July 2020, by Communities Affected by Megamining and Social Organizations

The Bruno Stream is irreplaceable, we will continue to raise our voice so that thIS disaster does not continue and one of the main tributaries to the main river in the Guajira, the Rio Rancheria, is not exploited and destroyed.

The Auditor General of the Republic has undertaken an audit and compliance report, regarding some of the environmental aspects of the diversion of the Bruno stream. This relates to the follow up of the sentence SU-698, from 2017, and orders the protection of the rights to water, food sovereignty and the health of the Wayuu community, rights which have been violated by the Carbones del Cerrejon Limited Company, with the diversion of an important water source to the department of The Guajira.

According to the research, the reports final finding fell into the INEFFICIENT range, finding a total of 14 management errors, 7 of which could face disciplinary consequences. Moreover, the report highlights that these failings impact on the compliance of the orders of the judgement previously set by the Constitutional Court.

The body of control ordered the management of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MADS), the National Authority of Environmental Licenses (ANLA) and Corpoguajira, who, among other public institutions, form an inter-institutional board which absurdly is part of the company Carbones de Cerrejon.

The Auditor General maintains that the report from the interinstitutional board deviates from the judgement passed by the Constitutional Court, regarding the provisional measures and does not follow ‘strict compliance with the requirements of Law SU 698/17, as required by the Eight Order”. In other words, there has not been, from the Interinstitutional Forum, a committed, participatory and sustained decision to maintain the diverted stream, which would mean actions in contempt of the judgement of the Constitutional Court.

Bear in mind that the Constitutional Court had allowed that a future provision to return the waters to their natural source, could be taken, if necessary, from an environmental point of view, and could be applied as a precautionary measure to maintain the integrity of the Bruno stream, whilst a study is undertaken to investigate the series of 7 questions or variables which were not considered at the time of authorizing the deviation and destruction of the stream.

In particular, the Auditor General has addressed the lack of respect to the culture and spirituality of the Wayuu people. The report states:

‘Disregarding the rights of the communities signifies an impact on the culture and an undervaluation of the spiritual relationship of the Wayuu community, taking into account that their interaction with nature is not mere proximity to the stream but a relationship far more profound than distance. As the Wayuu community themselves mention, the distancing from the stream ‘’would break their roots and the communication that exists between the mountain and those beneath it’’.

It is important to understand the people-ecosystem relationship as a whole and not attempt to apply it to a particular space or area, which would imply a lack of real knowledge about the territory and the ecosystemic benefits offered. The Wayuu community understands the land and its cultural and spiritual elements, meaning that for them the Arroyo stream is ‘a living being, important in its totality and not in fractions or pieces’.

The Auditor also questions whether the decision to maintain the diverted water source was largely based on an economic viewpoint, and in this sense has questioned the rigorousness of the use of a Cost-Benefit Analysis as the most effective tool, taking in to account all the various ecological aspects at stake. “The ecological elements of a highly sensitive, fractured and decimated ecosystem, like the Dry Tropical Forest or in particular like the Bruno Stream, with its structures and functions, have ecosystemic services which cannot be substituted for the communities. This means that even if trying to analyse value from a market economy perspective, the cost is priceless because of these inherent and immeasurable characteristics. These are higher values than can be analysed in the framework a Cost Benefit Analysis.

The findings relating to mismanagement, with possible disciplinary action, take note of the fragile environmental institutions and find in favour of the communities in their historic claim of co-opting by government companies in the public decisions, which erode citizens’ rights and condemn their livelihoods in favour of multinational companies. One example of this is the shown in some of the elements highlighted by the Auditor’s report, reinforcing the claims made by the communities on a number of occasions by the communities.

(Below is a summary of the findings of the Auditor General report)

  1. It stresses the seriousness that the Inter-Institutional Board had decided not to return the waters of the stream to its natural course and to maintain the diversion based on weak, superficial, incomplete and biased information, without generating spaces for participation and without considering the irreversible damage that it could cause for the population interacting with said ecosystem.
  1. Highlights that the (Inter-Institutional Board) report that supports maintaining the diversion of the stream lacks information regarding the monitoring of the natural water source, groundwater, aquifers, fauna and flora affected in the natural channel.
  1. Strongly maintains that the situation represents a risk of asymmetry and possible moral risks to the information, given that the development of the report of the Board is supported by documents and information primarily supplied by the same company, Cerrejon Limited.

4. Confirms and reiterates that the entities and company have ignored the judgment passed by the Constitutional Court in terms of the community participation.

5. Recognises that the Company has not established means of compensation which meaningfully ease the impact of the intervention in areas of great ecological value. Which, for these communities is impossible given the irreparable nature of the damage and the necessity to protect the stream from being exploited.

6. Reaffirms that the (Inter-Institutional Board’s) report preferentially favours the information in support of the construction and operation of an artificial canal built for the diversion of the stream, overlooking information about the natural course of the stream affected by the diversion.

7. Highlights the lack of attention paid to comparative advantages and disadvantages to returning the stream to its natural course, or not.

8. Questions the absence of observations and evaluation of environmental and social benefits to returning the flow of water to the stretch of natural channel to its source, such as the restoration of natural conditions and the benefits that have been lost.

9. Strongly maintains that the needs and rights and the communities were not taken in to account with regard their right to water. Neither the related risks to the possible depletion of local and regional water sources by the project of diversion and the advance of the mining pits were taken into account.

10. Underlines that nowhere in the (Inter-Instutional Board’s) report is there data relating to the stream’s water supply flows through the year, in its lower basin, the data of the towns water flows and needs of each community. It is also not clear if these flows are supplemented or not with other related water sources and the report also does address the ecological flow of the Arroyo Bruno and its tendencies, deficiencies or conditions related to the communities’ water supply and the needs of the townspeople.

11. Notes that the construction of the new channel caused a change to the hydrogeological system and recognizes that temporarily returning the waters to their original channel would entail the eventual restoration of natural conditions and the recovery of environmental benefits that were lost or caused by the diversion.

12. Recalls that the Corpoguajira has failed to review, modify and/or adjust any compensatory measures as set out for Cerrejon Limited in relation to the diversion of the Bruno stream, which had been identified by the Auditor in an audit carried out in 2017.

This report by the Auditor General supports the claims of the indigenous Wayuu communities, the Afro descendents, Guajiro, social organizations, environmentalists, academics and of human rights defenders, who for years have opposed the diversion of the Arroyo Stream to advance coal mining by the Carbones del Cerrejon Limited company, with the approval of the entities of the Colombian State.

The Bruno Stream is irreplaceable, we will continue to raise our voice so that the disaster does not continue and one of the main tributaries to the main river in the Guajira, the Rio Rancheria, is not exploited and destroyed.

Signed by:

Wayuu and Afro communities of the Guajira in defence of the Bruno stream, Cajar, Cinep, Censat, La Guajira le habla al pais – The Guajira is talking to the country #LiberenAlBruno / #FreeTheBruno