MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Colombia: Exxon subsidiary Intercor attacks community at Tabaco again

Published by MAC on 2001-10-15

Colombia: Exxon subsidiary Intercor attacks community at Tabaco again (with extra urgent action on Armando Perez)

In October, 2000, Richard Solly and Roger Moody of the Mines and Communities Network visited the small community of Tabaco in the department of La Guajira, Colombia, to assess the impact of Intercor's huge coal strip mine, El Cerrejon Norte, on the community's human rights and immediate environment. Intercor is 100% owned by US-based corporate giant ExxonMobil. The company wants the whole community at Tabaco to move out so that the strip mine can expand.

Intercor's pressure on the community increased during 2001, and on August 9th 2001 agents of the company, assisted by Colombian police and military, demolished 29 of the houses in the community, wrecking their surrounding fruit trees and gardens, confiscating people's possessions and injuring several of those who resisted.

Now Intercor has struck again, demolishing more houses in the village. Personnel from Intercor, accompanied by police, entered the community and bulldozed more houses in the week of December 9th, 2001.

If you can, please send messages to Exxon (either at the UK subsidiary address given below or in your own country) and to the President of Colombia, demanding that the rights of the people of Tabaco be respected, that if they have to move they should receive a relocation package enabling them to move as a whole community to an alternative site where they can continue to live by farming. The Intercor compensation package of 2,400,000 pesos (just over US$1000 or £700) is completely inadequate and will only lead to homelessness and unemployment.

Exxon:
Ansel Condray, Chairman, Exxon UK, St Katherine's House, Kingsway, London WC2.
Email: hilaryfaulkner@exxonmobil.com.
Phone +44 (0)20 7412 4585 Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 4133.

President of Colombia:
Doctor Andres Pastrana Arango, President of the Republic, Palacio de Narino, Santafe de Bogota DC.
Email: rdh@presidencia.gov.co.
Fax: +57 1 336 2109/337 1351/286 7434/286 6842.

Please send copies to:
Richard Solly: richard.solly@talk21.com,
Colombia Solidarity Campaign: colombia_sc@hotmail.com,
Armando Perez Araujo (the community's lawyer): perar@hotmail.com


Background:

Accounts of the August 9th demolitions as told by Tabaco residents at a community meeting held on 20th October 2001
(Notes taken by Richard Solly of the Mines and Communities Network)

During the demolition, Intercor workers took people's household goods and personal possessions and kept them. This matter was to be taken to the Fiscalia in Riohacha because it was illegal. Armando Perez Araujo had met with the Minister of the Interior who had agreed that the actions of the Judge on the day of the demolitions were illegal. The Minister was also informed that most of the inhabitants of Tabaco are African-Colombians, which gives them particular rights under the Constitution. The people of Tabaco have not previously claimed these rights because they did not know about them. There is a national office of African-Colombian affairs.

During the demolition, some of the inhabitants of Tabaco were beaten with clubs. Some of those whose houses were demolished were sick, including the children of community leader Jose Julio Perez. One of the women said that a man's head was badly wounded by a wooden club and his daughter, who was trying to help her father, was also attacked by the police, who beat her leg with wooden clubs.

Emilio Perez was attacked by fifteen men - either policemen or Intercor security personnel - as soon as he left his house. He was clubbed unconscious and left on the ground. He spent eight days in hospital and still suffers from bad headaches and forgetfulness.

Agents of the company demolished 29 houses before stopping. They threatened to demolish more and to come back and demolish the school and other public buildings. It may only have been the people's resistance that stopped them destroying more. This shows that it was not a legally enforced juridical process but a form of pressure and threat, which makes the Judge's involvement even more remarkable.

Another woman was hit by a rock in her side, which still hurts her. Her husband was attacked too. He fought back, and because of his agility in struggling against his attackers, they said that he must be a guerrilla - a false accusation which, in the current circumstances in Colombia, could lead to police reprisals or paramilitary attack. The police attempted to wound his eyes, which became covered in blood as they beat him. He recovered.

Intercor had also been threatening to dig up the cemetery and move the bodies, but there were no details given of these threats.

Intercor was offering each homeowner 2,400,000 pesos in compensation for moving and losing their houses and land. This is a little over US$1,000 or £700. Even at Colombian prices, little could be bought with this sum - it would certainly not compensate for the loss of livelihood and community which residents are facing.

There were originally more than 300 families living in Tabaco. The community had grown up over a period of just over a century, on the initiative of its inhabitants, who moved to the area when local conflicts among its original Wayuu inhabitants had left it depopulated. The people of Tabaco enjoy good relationships with the local Wayuu community at Tamaquitos, a few kilometres away. But the local municipal authorities, the Alcaldia of Hatonuevo, made regulations about how Tabaco should be laid out, then claimed the existing roads (constructed by its inhabitants) as public spaces, then stated that many of the community's houses were illegally situated.

During the demolition, the houses of those perceived as leaders of resistance to Intercor were demolished first, then the houses of those who followed those leaders. The house of one family that had been friendly to the company was left standing while the next house was destroyed. The process was clearly discriminatory.


ARMANDO PEREZ HAS BEEN RELEASED

December 25th 2001

To confirm, subsequent to urgent action below, Armando Perez, lawyer for the community of Tabaco in Colombia, has been released from detention at the office of the Fiscalia in Riohacha and is now under house arrest in his own home. No further action is requested for the moment. Many thanks to all who protested against his arbitrary imprisonment.

December 21st 2001

On 20th December, 2001, Armando Perez Araujo was arbitrarily detained in the Fiscalia in Riohacha, the capital of the Colombian Department of La Guajira. Armando is the lawyer representing communities in La Guajira facing relocation as a result of coal strip-mining activities by Exxon subsidiary Intercor.

Armando had filed a legal 'denuncia' against Intercor for the demolition of homes in the village of Tabaco on 9th August 2001. The company, with police and military assistance, demolished the homes to pressure
residents to move out. The 'denuncia' also accused the Judge who had approved the demolitions of acting illegally. Last week, Intercor returned and demolished more houses. This week, Armando's denuncia' was heard and judgement was given in favour of Intercor. Armando was then accused of filing a false 'denuncia' and detained. Essentially, he has been imprisoned for losing the case.

Armando's partner, Remedios Fajardo, is President of Yanama, a Wayuu Indigenous organisation. She asks that we contact the Director of the Fiscalia in Riohacha and demand Armando's immediate release. She also asks that we protest against the judgement given in favour of Intercor in the case which Armando had brought against them.

Remedios was unable to give email addresses. She asks that we telephone the following:

Senor Wibbert Guerra, Director of the Riohacha Fiscalia (where Armando is detained): 00 57 57 27 0446 or 00 57 57 27 4677

Please also contact the National Attorney General (Fiscalia General de
la Nacion) to protest against Armando's detention in Riohacha and demand his immediate release:

Senor Camilo Osoria, Fiscalia General de la Nacion, Tel: 00 57 1 570
2000

If you do not speak Spanish, please try to telephone anyway, and do your best to say: 'Armando Perez esta detenido en la Fiscalia en Riohacha. Insisto en que este liberado.' (Armando Perez is detained in the Fiscalia in Riohacha. I insist that he be freed.)

ADDITIONAL NOTE

Contacts for Fiscalia de la Nacion

Fax: 00 571 570 2022 (If the call is answered, say 'Fax,por favor' and
wait for the signal)
E-mail : fiscal@colonsat.net.co

Fiscalia General de la Nacion,
Diagonal 22B 5201
Apartado Aereo 29855
Santafe de Bogota, Colombia
Telegram: Fiscal General, Fiscalia General, Bogota, Colombia

Thank you for any help that you can give.

Please post any responses to colombia_sc@hotmail.com

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