MAC: Mines and Communities

Request for Urgent Action on the El Cerrejon Coal Mine

Published by MAC on 2003-06-08

Request for Urgent Action on the El Cerrejon Coal Mine

Richard Solly of Colombia Solidarity Group (UK), 8th June 2003

It is a long time since I wrote to you about the coal mine at El Cerrejon in the Department of La Guajira in northern Colombia and the communities displaced because of the mining.

The former residents of the community of Tabaco, close to the mine site, still await an adequate relocation settlement from the mining company, Carbones del Cerrejon. It is now more than a year since the May 2002 decision of the Colombian Supreme Court ordering the company and the local municipality to provide land and funds to rebuild the village in another location.

Carbones del Cerrejon is owned by a consortium of three European-based companies: Anglo-American and BHPBilliton, with offices in London, and Glencore, based in Switzerland. At the Anglo American shareholders’ meeting in London on April 25th, company Chair Sir Mark Moody Stuart announced that Carbones del Cerrejon had just made land available to the local municipality of Hatonuevo for the relocation of Tabaco. But neither the residents nor their lawyer, Mines and Communities editorial group member Armando Perez, were consulted about the location of the land. They have no idea whether it is adequate, and still await official written confirmation of the offer.

Meanwhile, Armando Perez is being harassed by the La Guajira Attorney’s Office. Armando denounced a local judge for allowing the August 2001 destruction of Tabaco by the mining company. He was put under house arrest for over a month in December 2001-January 2002 for supposedly ‘falsely denouncing’ the judge. He accused the Attorney’s Office of corruption and incompetence for illegally imprisoning him and he is now being accused by the Attorney’s Office of slander and perjury for doing so. If he were judged guilty be would face another prison term. The case against him was pursued without his knowledge for many months, hampering his ability to mount a defence.

Please write to the Colombian national Attorney General, Dr Luis Camilo Osorio, to demand that he intervene to ensure that the Supreme Court decision of May 2002 is obeyed and the harassment of Armando Perez is stopped. Below is a model letter in Spanish (an English translation is below it). The letter is written in fairly general terms to avoid any further accusations of slander being levelled at Armando Perez. Please send it to and copy it to the Anti-corruption department at

Doctor Luis Camilo Osorio
Fiscal General de la Nación
Santa fe de Bogotá

Asunto: Impunidad

Muy estimado Doctor Osorio,

Queremos su mayor preocupación para intervenir en los casos que la Fiscalía General de la Nación tiene con relación a hechos violatorios de los Derechos Humanos en el Departamento de la Guajira, asociados a la actividad de las empresas carboníferas frente a las comunidades afectadas. Hasta ahora el balance de la Fiscalía es simplemente ridículo y es menester su directa intervención para remover si fuera el caso a los Fiscales involucrados en evidentes casos de corrupción, quienes han llegado al indeseable extremo de utilizar esa institución para agredir y perseguir a los defensores de las comunidades que han creído en la resolución de sus controversias acudiendo a la ley colombiana.

De manera urgente solicitamos conformar una UNIDAD ESPECIAL que se dedique a examinar la cuestión judicial relacionada con los ataques y destrucción del corregimiento de Tabaco y demás desarrollos que se han producido luego de ese penoso y censurable episodio delictivo.

Atentamente, (name)


Re: Impunity

Dear Doctor Osorio,

We urge you to intervene in the cases that the Attorney General's Office is pursuing regarding violations of human rights in the Department of La Guajira. These violations are associated with the activities of coal mining companies in communities around the mines. To date the activity of the Departmental Attorney’s Office has been simply ridiculous and your direct intervention is necessary to dismiss where appropriate those officers involved in clear cases of corruption. Some of these officers have even gone to the lengths of using this institution to attack and persecute the legal representatives of the communities, who have believed in resolving their disputes according to Colombian law.

We urge you to establish without delay a SPECIAL TEAM dedicated to the examination of the judicial questions related to the destruction of the settlement of Tabaco and other developments which have occurred since this appalling criminal act took place.

Yours sincerely, (name).

If you have time, please also write to Anglo American and BHPBilliton. The following is a suggested text:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Re: Carbones del Cerrejon and the settlement of Tabaco

The people of the village of Tabaco in La Guajira, Colombia, are still waiting for Carbones del Cerrejon and the Municipality of Hatonuevo to relocate their community according to the terms of the May 2002 decision of the Colombian Supreme Court. Although the company has now apparently made land for relocation available to the Municipality, the people of Tabaco were neither consulted about the location and quality of the land nor even officially informed about it in a timely manner. I urge you to ensure that the land made available is of sufficient quality and in such a location as will be acceptable to the community.

I also understand that the community’s lawyer is being harassed by the Guajira Attorney’s Office because of his work to defend the interests of the community of Tabaco against the activities of Carbones del Cerrejon. I urge that your company make clear to the authorities that this harassment is entirely unacceptable.

Yours sincerely, (name).

Send this letter to:

Anglo American:

Karen Ireton, Group Manager, Sustainable Development:

Dr John Groom, Safety, Health and Environment:

Pamela Bell, Corporate Communications:

Edward Bickham, External Relations:


Ian Wood, Vice President, Sustainable Development:

Michael Campbell, Vice President, Investor and Media Relations:

Matthew Taylor, Sustainable Development:

Please let me know if you send a letter and if you receive a reply. I will inform Armando Perez.

Thank you very much.

Richard Solly

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