By Prensa Cajar  |  6 April 2022

Solidarity with La Guajira against forced evictions

As human rights organisations that support communities affected by mining in La Guajra, Cajar, Cinep and Censat, we publicly condemn the practice of forced evictions being carried out by government bodies in the department’s south. This practice has been corrupted by serious irregularities and a disregard for international human rights standards.

In the last few months two evictions have been carried out: one in November 2021 encouraged by Carbones del Cerrejón, subsidiary of Glencore, in the vicinity bordering the indigenous wayuu reserve of Provincial, which is under the jurisdiction of Barrancas council. The rural families who have been evicted decry their displacement from land which belonged to their ancestors – the result of the wrongful appropriation of their lands and a purchase agreement which favoured the mining company.

They also report that, although they have presented their case to the Barrancas police inspector, Grettys Leonor Brito Puche, with documents accounting for their family’s history of ownership of the lands, this proof and their rights have been disregarded, due to recurrent and improper conduct by local functionaries who exclusively favour the extractive company’s interests.

The second eviction happened in March 2022 and concerned communities of families living on the San José estate in a rural part of a town called Albania. Most of these families now find themselves in an extremely vulnerable situation. This estate had been bought in 2020 by Corpoguajira to serve its conservation projects in the Montes de Oca forest reserve. However, their acquisition failed to even consider measures to relocate these families or recognise the investment and losses represented by their homes and work on these lands.

There is also the threat and anxiety surrounding renewed efforts to enforce a third eviction of families from the Rocío and Tigre Pozo communities living towards the high and middle part of stream Bruno in the town of Albania. The Rocío community has been warning that the extractive company’s purchase of the lands would lead to their expulsion for several years.

Our complaint and public condemnation has been submitted to the Department of Protection of Citizens’ Rights, the Barrancas ombudsman and that of Albania, the Attorney General’s Office, the National Authority for Environmental Licences, and the National Mining Agency. It calls for each agency, according to its competencies, to investigate these administrative evictions and the actions of the Barrancas police inspector, and to monitor those carrying out evictions of communities who are entitled to special protection given their vulnerability, and facilitate dialogue in order to find alternatives. We also call for independent investigations into these operatives and the involvement of the mining company.

The treatment of rural families has been discriminatory and disproportionate, with elderly people, women, children, victims and generally families in situations of social and economic precarity all affected. Under the intimidation of the security forces, they’ve had their homes and crops destroyed. These evictions are intensifying the inequality, marginalisation and social conflicts endured in a region like la Guajira.

The serious irregularity and arbitrary nature of these evictions is not being investigated, nor have the victims been granted guarantees of relocation and reparations for the violations they have suffered. The local authorities are not acting in accordance with the relevant regulations under international human rights laws or respecting general principles of reason and proportionality with respect to forced evictions. 

We call attention to the fact that these evictions are happening in the context of a systematic pattern of dispossession, land-grabbing and speculation over land sales in the region, which directly or indirectly are linked to the development and expansion of mega open-cast coal mining operations which Carbones del Cerrejón is carrying out in this territory.

In addition to the widely documented and legally evidenced violations committed by this extractive project, the unequal power dynamics, cooptation and unjust influence enjoyed by the company due to its economic might in the region are well known. This makes it imperative that the state authorities take action over this transnational company’s repeated abuses. We are publicising this alarming situation to encourage the state to uphold its obligations over this issue and take corresponding action. We call for rural communities’ right to a home and to subsistence as well as their way of life to be protected effectively, and for no privileging of the private interests of companies or state projects over the rights of communities.

Translated from the original Spanish by Holly Jones