MAC: Mines and Communities

Indigenous and Farming Workers Targeted by Security Personnel at Colombian Mine (3 Jul 01

Published by MAC on 2001-07-03

Indigenous and Farming Workers Targeted by Security Personnel at Colombian Coal Mine owned by Exxon, Anglo-American, Billiton and Glencore - 3rd July 2001

Roger Moody and Richard Solly of London-based Partizans (People Against Rio Tinto And Its Subsidiaries) visited the Colombian Department of Guajira in October 2000 to study the social and environmental impacts of South America's largest coal strip mines on the Indigenous Wayuu population and on local farming communities. The mines are controlled by US-based Exxon and a consortium consisting of three multinationals, Swiss-based Glencore and London-based Billiton and Anglo-American. Over the history of the mining concessions, local communities have been forcibly relocated, with inadequate or nonexistent compensation. (See footnoted background paper for more details.)

One of the communities still facing relocation, and demanding an adequate relocation assistance programme (which would enable the community to move together to new land sufficient to continue subsistence agriculture), is the village of Tabaco, which Roger and Richard visited with Armando Perez, the community's legal representative, last year.

On 25th June 2001, one of the local community activists was attacked by mining company security guards and detained, together with a Wayuu journalist and a Wayuu cameraman and two other people, while filming environmental damage around Tabaco. They have been released, but Armando has asked us to make known what has happened as widely as possible, because it represents a very disturbing escalation in the companies' violation of local people's rights. From the account which has been sent to us, it is clear that the perpetrators of the violence were security personnel employed by Intercor, the Exxon subsidiary (100% owned by Exxon) currently operating the mine close to Tabaco. Glencore, Billiton and Anglo-American, however, who together own 50% of that mine, must share moral responsibility for this sharp deterioration in the situation.

Translation of the information received from Guajira on 1st July 2001 (the original Spanish is at the end of this email should you prefer to read it).

"Five people - Vicenta Siosi (Indigenous writer and journalist) Jose Julio Perez (President of the Tabaco community Action Committee) Carlos Epiayu (Indigenous cameraman) Arcadio Pinto (member of the community) and Mario Alberto Perez (working voluntarily as a teacher at the school so that they will not close it) - were brutally threatened with firearms by thirty armed men belonging to the company's security guard, who forced them to hand over the cine camera with which they were filming the condition of the springs and roads around Tabaco, which are being blocked by sterile material from the mine. This is increasing the isolation of the community of Tabaco.

The security personnel argued that this video was being made for the guerrillas and that the cameraman could therefore not continue filming and had to hand over the camera. The cameraman refused to hand over the camera and this produced a violent response.

Jose Julio was punched on the nose, which was broken as a result. Vicenta Siosi was manhandled and forced to get into a police vehicle by being beaten around the head with a gun. The others were also attacked and detained by the police, who arrived in order to defuse the confrontation between the group of thirty men and the group who were filming. The persons detained (Vicenta, Jose Julio, Mario Alberto, Arcadio, Carlos) were held in the police station at Albania [the nearest town] for around three to four hours. The police reviewed the video with the security detachment from the mine and realised that there was nothing bad in it. The police then asked the security detachment whether they should give the video back or not (which indicates that the police are completely biased in favour of the company). Then Armando Perez [legal representative for the Tabaco community in its dispute with the mining company] arrived and succeeded in negotiating the return of the video and the release of the detained persons.

Possible actions suggested by Armando Perez:

1. Speak to NGOs and tell them what happened.

2. If possible, these NGOs should organise a visit to the area to see the situation, which is getting worse by the day.

3. Organise an international campaign to ensure respect for the rights of the community of Tabaco.

4. Pressure the national government of Colombia to maintain a presence in the area." (Translation ends)

Roger Moody and Richard Solly also suggest the following action (especially for British-based people, because Anglo-American and Billiton are based in London) as well:

Send emails to Edward Bickham of Anglo American plc and Marc Gonsalves of Billiton making clear that your organisation is now aware of this incident and concerned about it and demanding that they:

1. Obtain from Intercor their full explanation for this unjustified act of violent assault, theft and intimidation against the five individuals by security personnel in their employ or acting on their behalf.

2. Make clear to Intercor that actions of this sort on the part of its employees or employees of its contractors are entirely unacceptable and that its partner companies (AAC, Billiton and Glencore) expect higher standards of adherence to civilised principles of behaviour and respect for human rights, including the right of the mine's opponents to express their views and gather evidence to support those views.

3. Make clear to the Colombian authorities that police complicity in human rights abuses, assault, theft and unlawful arrest of people peacefully going about their legitimate business is unacceptable.

4. Explain to Intercor that this incident is being publicised widely and that the behaviour of its employees and contractors in La Guajira will now come under closer scrutiny from international NGOs.

5. Let you know whatever responses they may receive.

Thank you for any help you can give to our colleagues in La Guajira.

Richard Solly.

Message received from La Guajira on 1st July:

1.vicenta siosi (periodista y escritora indigena)

2.jose julio perez (presidente de la junta de acciòn
comunal de tabaco)

3.Carlos epiayu (camarografo indigena)

4.Arcadio pinto (integrante de la comunidad)

5.Mario alberto perez (maestro voluntario de la escuela para que no la cierren)

Fueron brutalmente hostigados con armas de fuego por 30 hombres armados pertenecientes a la guardia de seguridad de la compañia, obligandolos a entregar la camara filmadora con la cual estaban filmando las condiciones en las que estan los caminos y fuentes de agua cerca a tabaco,las fuentes de agua y caminos estan siendo taponadas por el material esteril que se extrae de la mina. Esto ayuda al aislamiento de la comunidad de tabaco. El grupo de seguridad argumentaba que ese video era para la guerrilla y que por lo tanto el camarografo  no podìa seguir filmando y tenìa que entregarles la camara, el camarografo se opuso a entregar la camara y esto produjo que se diera la violencia.

El señor jose julio (a quien ustedes conocieron al
venir al departamento), fue golpeado en la nariz y le partieron el tabique nasal. La señora vicenta siosi fue obligada a empujones y con golpes de arma larga en la cabeza a entrar al carro de policia. los demas tambien fueron agredidos y retenidos por la policia que se presento para calmar el enfrentamiento entre el grupo de los treinta hombres y el grupo que estaba filmando las personas agredidas (vicenta, jose julio, Mario alberto, Arcadio carlos) fueron detenidas en la estacion de policia de albania por
aproximadamente 3-4 horas.

La policia estuvo revisando el video con grupo de
seguridad de la mina y comprobaron que el video no tenia nada malo, luego de esto la policia le pregunto al grupo de seguridad de la compañia si devolvian el video o no(lo que indica que la policia esta completamente parcializada a favor de la compañia). Luego llego armando y gestionò la entrega del video y la liberaciòn de los retenidos. Armando permitìo que liberaran a los retenidos y que entregaran el video. la camara la dañaron.

Posibles acciones a tomar por ustedes :

1.Hablar con las Ngo's y contarles los acontecimientos.

2.Si es posible que esas Ngo's organizen un viaje a la zona para que vean la situaciòn que cada dia emperora màs.

3.Que se organize una campaña internacional para hacer respetar los derechos  de la poblaciòn de tabaco

4.Presionar al gobierno nacional para que este haga presencia en la zona.

BACKGROUND: Stripping Guajira Bare

The village of Tabaco in central Guajira could be a picturesque place. It is surrounded on three sides by woods and fields. A small river runs by it, and its well-kept houses are surrounded by coconut palms and mango trees.

But on the fourth side lies the biggest coal strip-mine in Latin America - Cerrejon Norte. It is operated by Intercor, a wholly-owned subsidiary of US multinational Exxon. It is owned by a 50/50 Joint Venture between Intercor and Carbocol, until late last year the Colombian government's own coal-mining agency. In November 2000, Carbocol was bought by a consortium comprising Anglo-American, Billiton and Glencore. Anglo-American is the second biggest mining company in the world (after British-Australian Rio Tinto), backed by South African capital, closely linked to the De Beers family empire, and now headquartered in London. Billiton began life as the mining arm of oil multinational Anglo-Dutch Shell but was bought out by Gencor of South Africa. In the late 1990s its headquarters were moved to London, partly to raise capital for re-investment in South Africa. It has expanded enormously in recent years - into Asia and Latin America, but not Africa. It is now the world's third biggest miner. Glencore is a Swiss-based commodities trader, probably the most rapacious buyer of relatively cheap mines around the world.

Villagers in Tabaco complain that their houses are cracking up because of blasting from the mine and that their main water source is polluted with coal dust. Pasture land is being lost as mining operations come closer. Many villagers have already left, accepting the company's financial 'compensation offer', which is based on prices determined by the company itself and is insufficient to enable villagers to buy enough land to practice agriculture elsewhere. But remaining villagers are insisting on a proper relocation programme based on the principle of 'land for land', which the government has supposedly accepted.

Meanwhile, Intercor/Carbocol is attempting to persuade the residents to accept its derisory compensation offer by making life in Tabaco less attractive. The church has been ruined: Intercor/Carbocol bought it from the local bishop (even though it was the local people who built it and paid for it with their own money) and wrecked it. The communications centre and the clinic were closed by the local authority at the company's insistence. The hope is that villagers will simply give up and leave.

Other communities have fared worse. Nearby Manantial and Carracoli were simply broken up by violence and dispersed without compensation. At Espinal, police trucks arrived one day to remove the villagers to a new site at Rio de Janeiro. Those who co-operated received some funding for new community facilities. Those who demurred were forcibly removed at night to an unproductive, waterless site a few kilometres from Rio de Janeiro. A hundred kilometres to the northeast, on the coast, the Wayuu fishing community at Media Luna was broken up by armed force in 1982 so that Intercor could construct a port for the export of coal from Cerrejon Norte. The port (Puerto Bolivar) is heavily guarded. The railway from the mine cuts across Wayuu ancestral territory and was constructed in 1982 without Wayuu consent a year after the Colombian government decreed the area an Indigenous Resguardo.

Immediately to the south of the Cerrejon Norte concession are the concessions of Cerrejon Central and Oreganal. From 1995 - 2000, these were mainly controlled by Rio Tinto. In early 2000, Rio Tinto sold its stake to Billiton, which now controls the area in consortium with Anglo-American and Glencore. The mine at Oreganal has had similar impacts to the Intercor operations further north. At Viejo Oreganal, Rio Tinto, Billiton and Glencore bought up all the pasture land around the community and then started pressuring inhabitants one by one to sell up for similarly derisory prices to those offered at Tabaco. As soon as a villager sold up, the company would construct large earth banks around the property. These banks collected standing water and became breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The church, school and community centre were deliberately destroyed and left as standing shells. Meanwhile, mining operations and test drilling move ever closer to the community.

Resistance followed. A Relocation Committee was set up to demand land for land. The companies offered a compromise: they would pay for the construction of housing and infrastructure on land provided by the municipality (in this case, Barrancas), but housing would only be available to community members who already owned what the company considered to be a decent house, and land would only be available in the form of small back yards. Many community members accepted, for want of anything else on offer. A new village, Nuevo Oreganal, was constructed a few kilometres away. Others continue to resist by remaining in Viejo Oreganal, demanding an adequate relocation package. They are constantly harassed by company security patrols.

The Colombian State decided to invest in coal production in the early 1980s when the price of coal was high. Enormous quantities of public money were pumped into the infrastructure (especially rail construction) which Intercor needed to make Cerrejon Norte profitable. But because of its huge indebtedness, there was no way the Colombian State could recoup its costs during the projected fifty-year lifetime of the Cerrejon mining concessions. The sale of Carbocol last year was a response to pressure from the IMF to open up the Colombian economy to greater foreign corporate control and cut the State's losses. But Carbocol was sold at a fraction of its real value. The buyers now control coal exports which were expected to amount in 2000 to 5 million tonnes from the Oreganal/Cerrejon Central zone and half the total 15 million tonnes from the Cerrejon Norte zone - out of a Colombian total of 34.41 million tonnes.

The Thatcher government had a direct interest in the mining of Colombian coal. British government teams visited Colombia to look for coal before the Thatcher regime began its assault on British mining communities in the early 1980s. The destruction of these communities depended on the destruction of agricultural and fishing communities in Guajira. The British government wanted cheap coal and British miners' pay was too high. Coal from Guajira would be cheaper: costs could absorbed by villagers removed with inadequate compensation, workers who could be paid much less than British miners, and the Colombian government with its investment in infrastructure. The European Union imports over 70% of Colombia's coal, with Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain being among the biggest recipients. The privatisation of the British economy was assisted by Colombian coal. British workers, Colombian farmers and taxpayers and Wayuu communities paid the price.

Richard Solly, with assistance from Roger Moody, January 2001

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