MAC: Mines and Communities

Declaration Of La Guajira

Published by MAC on 2005-05-24

Declaration of La Guajira


24th May 2005

From May 20 – 24, 2005, we traveled to the Guajira to assess the impact and changes that the different energy projects in this part of the country have had on the natural environment and the communities there. Our delegation consisted of 45 people, men and women, members of indigenous, peasant, and fishing people’s organizations, youth, black communities, workers, and environmentalists from all parts of Colombia, and from Venezuela, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Brazil, and Catalonia (Spain).

La Guajira is contains significant deposits of gas, hydrocarbons, and coal, and a great potential for wind energy production. All of these are situated in and around communal lands and Afro-Colombian and peasant settlements, and in Wayuu indigenous reservations. These communities protest that they are being dispossessed of their lands through displacement and dishonest and unjust negotiations.

We divided into two groups, which visited the southern and northern Guajira. We visited the Ranchería River, the crown jewel of the Guajiro people, and swam it its crystal waters. People told us that the river is threatened by the construction of a multi-purpose project which will curtail their access to water. It is surprising, however, to discover whole communities that are unaware of the implications of this project which will transform their lives, their culture, and their territory. Inhabitants feel that their constitutional right to be informed and consulted has been violated. Their testimonies suggest that behind the discourse of development, processes of water privatization are being legitimized that will favor investors and will deprive the Guajiro people of access to the waters of their river. They fear that not only will they be directly affected by the dam, but that they will have to pay for the water that has been, and is still, theirs.

We traveled through the Cerrejón valley, where we met with black, indigenous, and other communities affected by mining activities, which have transformed the landscape over the past 25 years. The description that the Wayuu and Afro-Colombian inhabitants give of the coal project is horrifying: the mine is an ever-expanding pit that destroys their cultures and dispossesses and displaces them, sacrificing their interests to those of multinationals that are taking over their wealth and their ancestral lands. People feel that the energy is being produced to satisfy the rapacious progress pursued by the developed countries, while transforming and destroying the rhythms of nature and of their cultures, with the tacit acceptance of successive Colombian administrations.

We visited Palmarito and Tabaco, two of the many communities that have been forcibly displaced by the mine like Palmarito and Tabaco. Residents gave testimony as to how the companies ignore their constitutional right to consultation, just compensation, and relocation. They described the abdication of the State and the multinationals that ignore their responsibilities and only leave them crumbs. In many cases, compensation comes in the form of monies administered by non-governmental agencies that carry out cosmetic activities that cover up the problems, and distribute scarce funds without respect for equity or for the collective structures of their culture, eroding the social fabric and provoking division and fragmentation in the communities.

The multinationals are inspired by greed. The exploitation of the Guajira’s wealth produces untold riches. For example, the Cerrejón mine produces 84 thousand tons of coal daily, at a price of $50 (U.S.) per ton. Meanwhile, the affected populations suffer the environmental and cultural costs and despite years of struggle, have not succeeded in getting their rights recognized.

Entire populations live under the shadow of environmental hazards that the coal project has generated from the mine to the port. Coal dust permeates every aspect of life: it is present in the trees, the animals, the houses, the [jagueyes] and the sea, with the consequent effects on the health of humans, animals, and ecosystems. The dust travels from south to north, from Albania to Puerto Bolívar, as the train carries the coal along the track that creates a 150-kilometer scar splitting the Wayuu territory. The company says that the amounts are within permissible limits, but people literally eat coal dust. The noise is present 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in every step of the mining process, transforming the silent life that these peoples have lived since ancestral times.

We visited the crystalline Ranchería River that descends from the mountain. Residents explained that as it arrives at the mine it becomes a mass of sediment because of the residues of the mining process, affecting every aspect of life. We saw the same river dying, drowned in sludge [como un lodazal], as it empties into the Caribbean.

According to the people that we interviewed, the companies expropriate their land and erode their traditional practices and modes of subsistence like hunting and fishing and, in addition, restrict their free mobility. People complain that the State offers more guarantees to the companies, putting the state security forces, which are paid by their taxes, at the service of the companies. Their own rights, meanwhile, are abandoned. The national authorities do not defend the sovereignty of their land, nor the rights of its inhabitants.

The greed that the inhabitants of the Guajira discuss is such that even the wind does not escape it. The Jepirachi wind farm was proposed as an alternative for a more sustainable energy project, to serve the population. But it does not provide opportunities for the inhabitants of the Arutkajui and Kasiwolin communities. Residents told us that while the Medellín Public Enterprise (EPM) converts wind into profits through emissions trading, they don’t receive a single watt of this energy. They showed us the publicity that the EMP circulates claiming the supposed social benefits and contributions to the community. The Wayuu feel abused by the company, as they are forced to live in the midst of a project that has drastically transformed their landscape.

Although the region contains vast energy wealth, the Guajiro people have only become poorer, and their culture more threatened, in the few decades since these projects began. The land is being drained of resources and energy: coal is being exported, gas is being exported, productive soil is disappearing and being washed away through erosion, jobs are disappearing, clean water is becoming scarce, the river is dying and people are being left without work, without resources, without water, even without their vallenato [local music]. All that is left are garbage dumps, sludge, boxes and plastic bags that are engulfing the sea and the streets, and malnourished children foraging among the trash. People pay high prices, sacrificing their scarce resources to obtain poor public services. The energy that they receive is poor quality, and the current is frequently interrupted. The water is polluted, and the trash overwhelming. A small group of foreigners receives the benefits, and a few of Colombia’s wealthy and politicians thrive in their wake.

It is clear that the income these projects generate has not contributed to improving public services or to the public welfare, much less to the sustainability of the region. We visited neighborhoods in the city of Riohacha and observed the wretched state of public sanitation that has brought negative repercussions for the health of the inhabitants. We visited the city dump and were surprised to find Wayuu children who work there under the worst of conditions to help their families survive, while the royalties that the companies should be paying are being lost with total impunity.

The sustainability of this region will depend upon ending corruption, doing away with bribery, and governing for the benefit and the sovereignty of the nation and for the simple life of the people.

Thus, the undersigned organizations call upon:

--The competent environmental authorities to carry out a historical evaluation of the socio-environmental impacts of the mining industry at 25 years.

--The Colombian State to guarantee the rights of the black, indigenous, and peasant communities affected through a plan of adequate alleviation and compensation.

--The Colombian State and the multinationals to recognize the rights of the peoples and their land rights.

--The Colombian people to mobilize to transform this development model which is destroying the people and the environment.

--Exxon, which operated the project for 20 years, and AngloAmerican, BHP Billiton, and Glencore, to acknowledge the ecological debt that they owe this region and the Colombian people.

--The peoples of the north of the planet to assume a critical stance towards the behavior of their companies and the implications that their model of life and development have for others.

The participating organizations will continue to work for the following goals:

That the rivers should belong to the people, that they should flow alive and free, so that they can continue to recreate life.

That the rights of the black, peasant, and indigenous communities, and of the women and children, be respected.

That the Guajira, and Colombia, be able to enjoy their patrimony and their natural wealth in sustainability and peace.

That megaprojects that only benefit foreign capital and the national elite be stopped.

Because we believe in sustainability, in diversity, and in life, we will continue our commitment to the Guajira and its people.

Participating organizations (in alphabetical order):

Amigos de la Tierra América Latina y el Caribe, ATALC
Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Pueblo U´wa
Asociación Centro Nacional Salud, Ambiente y Trabajo, CENSAT Agua Viva,
Amigos de la Tierra Colombia.
Asociación Civil Indio Guaicaipuro, Venezuela
Asociación de Autoridades de Cabildos Indígenas Wayúu del Sur de la Guajira,
AACIWASUG, Guajira, Colombia
Asociación de Pescadores del Río Miel, ASOPESMIEL, Sonsón, Antioquia
Asociación de Productores y Pescadores, APROPESCAM, Córdoba, Colombia
Asociación de Productores del Cuenca de la Cienaga Grande, ASPROCIG, Lorica,
Asociación Indígena Bari de Venezuela, Asocbariven, Venezuela
Asociación de Cabildos Nasa Cxhacxha, Cauca, Colombia
Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca, ACIN, Cauca Colombia
Declaración de la Expedición Energética a la Guajira
Mayo 24 de 2005
Asocomunal, Riohacha, Guajira
Coecoceiba – Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica
Comité Cívico Popular, Bogotá Colombia
Comunidad de Mayabangloma, Fonseca, Guajira
Consejo Comunitario de Tabaco, Guajira
Empresa Comunitaria Brisas del Río Agua, ECOBRA, Cauca, Colombia
Grupo Ecológico Renovadores del Medio Ambiente Colombiano, REMACOL,
Santander, Colombia
Grupo Juvenil Juvimar, Barranquilla, Colombia
Núcleo Amigos de la Tierra Brasil
Observatorio de la Deuda, España
Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC
Organización Wayúu Painwashi, Guajira, Colombia
Pueblo Guaraní, Bolivia
Red Cultural Humanarte, Bogotá Colombia
Resguardo el Soldado Pararebiem, Guajira, Colombia
Resguardo Indígena Provincial, Guajira, Colombia
Sindicato de Trabajadores de Electricidad en Colombia, Sintraelecol, Colombia
Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria del Carbón, Sintracarbón

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