MAC: Mines and Communities

Colombia Special - Edición especial Colombia

Published by MAC on 2007-02-24

Colombia Special - Edición especial Colombia

24th February 2007

Coal is Colombia's second largest export after oil. Those who profit most from it are the mining companies, Drummond (from the USA), Anglo American (based in Britain but with deep roots in South Africa), BHPBilliton (jointly listed on London and Australian Stock Exchanges and with strong South African connections), Xstrata (based in Switzerland but listed on the London Stock Exchange), and Glencore (a private Swiss company). Between them they control the enormous open cast mines of El Cerrejon in the northern province of La Guajira, and of La Loma in the neighbouring province of Cesar.

There is a long history in Colombia of paramilitary organisations, linked to local elites, clearing small farmers and artisanal miners off land in which multinational companies declare an interest, and intimidating those who oppose multinational involvement. Trade unionists in Colombia, including those in the mining industry, suffer the highest rates of assassination and repression of any country in the world.

Now, even the Colombian Government, eager to attract foreign investment by changing the country's mining codes, lowering royalties and allowing 100% repatriation of profits, is alarmed at the environmental damage being done by Drummond Coal. Not that it's concerned enough to support people from directly-affected communities who have been taking to the streets: popular protests two weeks ago against Drummond and its associate, Glencore, led to clashes with security forces resulting in major injuries and at least one death.

In late January and early February, representatives of communities displaced by mining at El Cerrejon visited Switzerland and Britain to tell people its citizens more about what the companies registered on their doorstpes have been doing in Colombia.

Meanwhile, smaller Colombian coal mines, long notorious for their appalling working conditions, are no cause for celebration: recent accidents in two of these pits have caused many deaths.

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