MAC: Mines and Communities

Colombia: Brutal evictions of villagers at Cerrejon Coal

Published by MAC on 2016-02-27
Source: Statements, Media Coop

Cerrejon Coal: brutal evictions of villagers resisting relocation

Richard Solly

London Mining Network

26 February 2016

La Guajira, Colombia: On Wednesday 24 February, the last family of villagers who had returned to the old village site at Roche out of frustration at conditions in the new settlement constructed by Cerrejon Coal were brutally evicted by Colombian police. The wholly unnecessary violence was reminiscent of the notorious eviction of the village of Tabaco in 2001 – an event the like of which we had hoped would never occur again.

London Mining Network and LMN member groups Colombia Solidarity Campaign and Global Justice Now are among those who have signed the following statement, based on eyewitness accounts of the operation by our friends and colleagues in the area at the time. Further signatures are expected in the near future.

Cerrejon Coal is owned by London-listed mining companies Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore.


Violent displacement of the African-descent community of Roche, La Guajira, Colombia, in the interests of Cerrejon Coal

February 25, 2016

Yesterday, February 24, 2016, ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron), used excessive violence to expropriate and destroy the home of the Ustate Fuentes family in the community of Roche, an African-descendant community resisting involuntary resettlement in the municipality of Barrancas, La Guajira, Colombia.  The mining corporation CARBONES DEL CERREJÓN initiated this involuntary resettlement.


The Ustate Fuentes family has resisted relocation as part of CARBONES DEL CERREJÓN’s expansion project, because they do not consider the resettlement conditions dignified.  To date, the corporation has not guaranteed the quality of the houses, sufficient land for livestock, drinkable water in resettlements, or compensation for damages and losses to relocated families.

The expropriation was planned for 10 am, at which time approximately 50 members from the communities of Roche, Patilla and Chancleta (which have also been displaced by the company), as well as the human rights organizations Indepaz and Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo accompanied the Ustate Fuentes family.  An independent photographer and journalist from Guatemala Rafael Ríos. who is writing a report on the communities, was also in attendance.

The Municipal Court of Barrancas did not suspend the process despite knowing that the community had presented a legal petition stating the potential human rights violations that could result from the expropriation.

Before the start of the exportation process, members of the Colombian army gathered to block the road to Roche, and according to statements from the community, they did not allow some community members who wanted to accompany the Ustate Fuentes family to pass.

At approximately 11 am, ESMAD members arrived in the community yelling insults, and throwing gas canisters, and rubber and steel projectiles at the crowd.  After 20 minutes of confrontation, two people were injured: Ronald Emilo Palmezano Carrillo (a young man who is intellectually and developmentally disabled) suffered a broken arm after being hit with a projectile thrown by ESMAD and Mr. Angel Pereira suffered open chest wounds also as a result of the projectiles thrown by ESMAD.  Additionally, several people including women and people with disabilities received wounds from the projectiles and choked on tear gas.

The use of excessive and disproportionate force occurred throughout the expropriation process, which was supervised by the Madame Justice of Barrancas.  Representatives from the Human Rights Ombudsman Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Family Welfare Office, the Public Defense Office, the Mayor’s Office, and Cerrejón Coal stood by passively during the violence and abuse carried out by ESMAD against the Ustate Fuentes family.  The absence of the Municipal Ombudsman during the process was also noted.

Around noon (12 midday), members of the Ustate Fuentes family, the Justice from Barrancas, and representatives of the Cerrejón corporation began a dialogue, which, after more than five hours, ended in Tomás Ustate voluntarily surrendering his house under the condition that Cerrejón create a contract confirming its responsibility to find, collect, and move his livestock (some of which are lost and others are currently located in the original Roche), and give him the land and house in New Roche promised in a previous agreement.  This legal agreement was signed and certified.

During the negotiating period, there were several confrontations between police and communities.  ESMAD detained two women after violently assaulting them.  These women were Elis Maria Ustate Fuentes and Yohanna Ustate Fuentes, both daughters of Tomás Ustate.  They were detained after being accused of hitting a Cerrejón employee.  ESMAD also detained and beat Mr. Jhan Carlos Frías of Roche.  Today, all three are in the police station in Fonseca.

As the expropriation process came to a close, ESMAD arbitrarily detained Rafael Riós, a Guatemalan journalist and photographer, and took him to the police station in Albania in – he testifies – a small truck belonging to the Cerrejon Coal company. Before letting him go, the police deleted all of his photographs and videos, violating the prohibition against confiscating, deleting, examining or damaging journalists’ material.

After the signing of the agreement, a bulldozer was brought to tear down Tomas’s house and the remaining uninhabited houses in Roche as ESMAD continued to repress the remaining community members.


In 1985, Cerrejón began displacing communities in the region, starting with Manantial.

On August 9, 2001, Cerrejón displaced the African-descendant community of Tabaco, in the Hatonuevo municipality.  At the time, Cerrejón was co-owned by Carbocol and Intercor.  700 Tabaco residents were forced from their homes as a bulldozer flattened their houses.  A year later, the community filed a legal petition demanding resettlement, which was approved by the court and ordered the reconstructed of the town and its infrastructure.  To this day, the corporation and the Hatonuevo municipality have failed to follow this order.

Eight African-descendant and indigenous communities have been forcibly displaced, and many others have been forcibly resettled using legal mechanisms that allow Carbones de Cerrejón to appropriate ancestral lands for its mining activities.   Resettled communities have many complaints about the unfulfilled agreements with Cerrejón, as well as health and environmental impacts.


We demand that the authorities investigate the conduct of the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron ESMAD during the expropriation of the last family of the African-descendant community of Roche.

In the same manner, the authorities must establish the legality of the detention of those detained during the expropriation, and the conduct of the police in these incidents.

In the case of Rafael Ríos, the authorities must investigate and sanction the confiscation and destruction of his photographic materials by the police, and the intervention of the Cerrejón Corporation in his detention.

The local and national authorities must ensure that the agreements signed between the Roche community and the Cerrejón Coal Corporation are fulfilled, and that these agreements guarantee Roche residents’ economic, social, and cultural rights.

We demand that the Human Rights Ombudsman Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Family Welfare Office, the Public Defense Office, the Municipal Ombudsman and the Mayor’s Office present a report on the incidents that took place during the expropriation process.

We demand Cerrejón respond to the serious incidents resulting from this displacement, which is a direct consequence of the corporation’s use of expropriation, including the aggression against and detention of community members during the displacement, and in particular the detention of journalist Rafael Ríos.

Additionally, we hope Cerrejón’s shareholding corporations  – Glencore, Anglo-American, and BHP Billiton – will investigate this event in accordance with their obligation to uphold intentional human rights standards and conduct ‘due diligence’, a principle which should lead them to take all necessary measures to avoid violating human and territorial rights. These obligations are part of the United Nations guidelines for Business and Human Rights which demand “respect, protection, and redress” from states and corporations.

Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo – CCAJAR
Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz –  INDEPAZ
Asociación para los Pueblos Amenazados, Switzerland
CENSAT Agua Viva – Amigos de la Tierra, Colombia
Andy Higginbottom, Colombia Solidarity Campaign, UK
Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo – CCAJAR, Colombia
Sam Lund-Harket, Global Justice Now, UK
Stephan Suhner and Dominique Rothen, Swiss Colombia Working Group(ask!), Switzerland
Richard Solly, London Mining Network, UK
Sebastian Rötters, Urgewald, Germany
Aviva Chomsky, Salem State University, USA
Emma Banks, Vanderbilt University, USA
Ingrid Guyon, Photographer and Creative Practitioner, UK

Steve Striffler, University of New Orleans, USA

Solidarity groups support demands of Colombian communities displaced for coal

Written by Tracy Glynn

24 February 2016

Reports of El Cerrejón Coal Mining Company failing to negotiate in good faith with the leaders of communities displaced for its mining operation in La Guajira, Colombia, has resulted in a number of international solidarity groups writing a letter to the company on Feb. 22.

Community leaders and the company hold weekly negotiation meetings to resolve ongoing issues in the resettlement process. These issues include access to water and employment opportunities for the community.

Emma Banks, a former delegate with Witness for Peace and researcher who is currently in La Guajira, the coal mining region, has informed the solidarity networks that Cerrejón officials have twice canceled these weekly meetings (on Feb. 12 and Feb. 17) at the last minute, leaving the community leaders of Roche, Tamaquito II, Patilla, and Chancleta frustrated and feeling abandoned.

Many community members are choosing to return to the sites of their old communities because they feel abandoned by Cerrejón in the resettlement process.

The signatories to the letter in support of the demands of the displaced communities include Canadian unions, organizations and networks such as MiningWatch Canada, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Refugees Welcome Fredericton and the Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network.

The letter demands “those responsible at Cerrejón for these negotiations to stop canceling meetings and fulfill their commitment to negotiate in good faith with the communities. We support both the
families who have chosen to their original communities and those who remain in the resettlements. We also reiterate our complete opposition to any unilateral, forceful, or violent action on the part of or instigated by El Cerrejón, including any forced expropriation under any
circumstances. We urge Cerrejón to suspend the expropriation of families remaining in Roche, and the planned expropriations in Patilla and Chancleta.

NB Power has been buying approximately 500,000 tones of coal from Cerrejón, the world’s largest open-pit coal mine, since the mid 1990s. The solidarity networks are in the process of confirming that NB Power has written to Cerrejón’s President acknowledging the problems at the mine.

The letter from NB Power was requested after Francisco Ramirez, Colombian union leader who has survived eight known assassination attempts, met with NB Power in November 2015 and requested such a letter and that the public utility put conditions on their purchase of coal from the mine.

Ramirez, now acting as legal advisor for the union at the Cerrejón mine, reports that the collective negotiations between the company and workers are underway and a strike is a possibility.

It’s all kicking off at Cerrejon Coal

By Richard Solly, Co-ordinator, London Mining Network, with assistance from Julia Lagoutte

17 February 2016

We have just received news that many families from three of the communities displaced by Cerrejon Coal (owned by London-listed companies Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore) in the province of La Guajira, Colombia, have returned to their old village sites because of dissatisfaction with conditions in the new settlements.

Anglo American may have reasons for being grateful that the severe downturn in the mining industry has led it to decide to sell all its coal operations – including its stake in Cerrejon Coal.

Most of the families from the communities of New Chancleta and New Patilla, and some of the families from New Roche, have decided to go back to the sites near the Cerrejon mine from which they were moved by the company, in protest at what they say is the failure of the company to keep its promises about employment skills, productive projects, water and health care in the new communities. They say they will start rebuilding houses in the old sites unless the company attends to their concerns immediately.

Residents of the relocated were complaining about problems when I visited them in June 2014. And the problems have escalated since.

In a letter to the company, the families say: “This is to inform you that as families of the resettled communities of New Chancleta, New Roche and New Patilla, due to the adverse conditions of life that we have encountered for several months now, we have been obliged to return to our original site, in search of a solution, due to the fact that the company HAS NOT COMPLIED with the agreements made with the communities, … but has delayed, for too long, agreements on which the maintenance of our social fabric and the economic stability of our communities depend.”

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