MAC: Mines and Communities

Urgent action in support of communities displaced by coal mining in La Guajira, Colombia

Published by MAC on 2005-11-06

Urgent action in support of communities displaced by coal mining in La Guajira, Colombia

6 November 2005

Communities around the massive Cerrejon Norte coal strip mine in the northern province of La Guajira, Colombia, are still waiting for justice from the Colombian government and the multinational mining companies who own the mine.

The mine has since early 2002 been owned and operated by a subsidiary of multinationals Anglo American, BHPBilliton and Glencore.

Numerous communities have been forcibly removed since mine construction began in 1980. In 2001 the village of Tabaco was demolished and its remaining residents evicted to make way for mine expansion. Those residents are insisting on a just settlement from the company.

At the time of the evictions, the mine was operated by a subsidiary of ExxonMobil but 50% owned by the three companies which now control it. At BHPBilliton's Annual General Meeting for shareholders in London on 20 October 2005, company Chairman, Don Argus, stated that the company is 'not comfortable with what happened under the mine's previous ownership' but does not accept responsibility for it. He said that the previous owners of the mine had operated a relocation plan at Tabaco; that 195 families out of 213 had agreed to this plan; that there are now only seven outstanding claims; that much effort had been put in to get a resolution of outstanding problems; and that the company is committed to World Bank guidelines on involuntary relocation.

Don Argus did not mention that the reason that most of the residents of Tabaco agreed to relocation was that they were told that there was no alternative: that they must accept totally inadequate compensation or get nothing at all. People who did not have legally recognized title to the land they lived on were simply expelled without any compensation and the company refuses to consider compensating them despite the destruction of their livelihood. Former residents are now living scattered in various parts of northern Colombia, some of them without the means to support themselves and relying on the charity of other displaced community members. The families who have still not settled are demanding a community relocation arrangement that will enable them to continue living together as a farming community in a different location, which they have already identified.

BHPBilliton will hold its Australian AGM on Friday 25 November. Please write a polite letter to company Chairman Don Argus and make the following points:

* By buying the Cerrejon Zona Norte mine, BHPBilliton and the other companies involved inherited moral responsibility for what the previous mine operator had done and for rectifying it.

* BHPBilliton is the biggest mining company in the world and made record profits in the past year.

* Former residents of Tabaco in La Guajira, Colombia, are not asking anything unreasonable from the company: they want sufficient compensation to enable them to resume living together as a farming community in an acceptable location. The Colombian Supreme Court decision in May 2002 ordered the local government to arrange such a relocation but the local government has failed to do so, citing lack of money. As the biggest and most profitable mining company in the world, BHPBilliton is clearly in a position to rectify this situation.

* It is essential that local management in Colombia resume an open and honest dialogue with the Relocation Committee from Tabaco. It is also important that BHPBilliton admit that there are many more people needing a just settlement that the few families who are formally in dispute with the company: there are those former residents who were never offered any compensation because they did not have formal title to their land, and there are those who were forced into agreeing to inadequate compensation because they were told there was no alternative.

* BHPBilliton values its reputation as a company sensitive to the needs of the communities around its operations. It must therefore accept the demands of former residents of Tabaco and their Relocation Committee.

Please send your letter to Don Argus either via email at or to one of the two following addresses:

BHPBilliton Centre, 180 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia.
Fax: +61 3 9609 3105

BHPBilliton plc, Neathouse Place, London SW1V 1BH.
Fax: +44 20 7802 4111

Please send a copy of your letter and any response you receive to:

Richard Solly, St Francis House, 227 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1XG, England


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