FURTHER ACTION ON CRISIS INVOLVING EXXON IN COLOMBIA - 12th August 2001Published by MAC on 2001-08-12
FURTHER ACTION ON CRISIS INVOLVING EXXON IN COLOMBIA - 12th August 2001
TABACO ATTACKED BY PUBLIC FORCES AND BY MINING COMPANY INTERCOR, SUBSIDIARY OF US COMPANY EXXON
Original Spanish text available here
On 9th August 2001, government forces and employees of the mining company Intercor, subsidiary of US multinational Exxon, burst into the defenceless settlement of Tabaco, with bulldozers and lorries, to evict the people of Tabaco and throw them into the street and demolish the humble dwellings of a community which has been there for more than fifty years.
These actions add to the general violence of a country which demands peace and justice and which is sick of so many outrages and violations of human rights. This is the very mining company that proclaims to all the world the progress made in the region of Guajira. On 10th August 2001, at the same time as the eviction and destruction in Tabaco, the company was, with the office of the President of the Republic, organising and presiding over an event on 'transparency in public administration and regional development'. What enormous cynicism and lack of respect for Guajira, its dignity and honour, and what a dirty game it is playing with the life of the people of Guajira!
Tabaco is a settlement very close to the mines of El Cerrejon, inhabited by humble farmers, many of them of African descent, which is struggling with economic misery and lack of work. When the miners came to Guajira, Tabaco was a happy community, productive and prosperous. One day this character arrived, calling himself 'Progress' and surnamed 'Development', to suggest that they leave their land because 'Progress' needed it, and that was when the way of the cross began for this humble and hard-working people. In the course of four years they have been the victims of constant harassment, isolation and frequent pressure to accept a derisory sum for their properties, and they have been prevented from exercising the fundamental right to defend themselves and be defended, because 'Progress' was taking care of everything.
THE ACTIONS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Catholic Church in the Department of Guajira, led by a priest calling himself Marcello Graziosi, sold the church in the village for 38 million pesos, a sum which was to be handed over on condition that the church was first demolished. In his eagerness to deprive the community of their place of worship, this priest appointed Rodrigo Carbona as parish priest of Hatonuevo, and right in the middle of Holy Week in the year 2001 Carbona turned up with armed civilians, arriving like a bunch of criminals at four o'clock in the morning, to demolish the church, in open provocation of the people of Tabaco. They came back again on 24th April of the same year, and on two other occasions the people bravely defended this house of prayer. These clergy dared to steal the patron saint of Tabaco, St Martin de Porres, who is justly known as the patron saint of social justice, and the inhabitants of Tabaco had to rescue him from the presbytery in Hatonuevo and take him back to Tabaco.
This episode, the work of these clergymen, confirmed once again the lack of concern shown by the clergy of Guajira for the humble poor people being attacked by the mining companies and by the scorn of those in government. These clergymen form part of Intercor's forces: they side with the company and obey the multinational's orders and for a price of 38 million pesos and a few other privileges they set themselves against the people of Tabaco. The church, which the community worked on day by day with its own efforts, never received a single peso of support from the official Catholic Church; the image of St Martin de Porres was given by a devotee and placed in the church at Tabaco. The Reverend Marcelo Graziosi self-interestedly told Intercor that it was the private property of the Diocese of Riohacha. The religious faith of the people of Tabaco did not matter to him. Neither did the fact that these people would not be able to offer their prayers to God or to the Saint who was the focus of their devotion. If there is such a place as hell, they should go there to pay for this, to be purged of their injustices, their sacrilege and the bad faith with which they have acted against the humble inhabitants of Tabaco and for other things which they have done against the weakest and least favoured of people.
When the new bishop arrived in Guajira, the people of Tabaco believed that there was hope. They spoke with him, but there was no hope: Bishop Armando Larios lined up behind Intercor against the people of Tabaco, avoiding the responsibility of allowing these poor farmers and African-Colombians to have a house of prayer, especially in their most difficult moments in the face of the outrages committed by the multinational, Intercor.
THE ACTIONS OF MINING COMPANY INTERCOR
An unusual event occurred on 9th August 2001, when the Barrancas Judge, Carolina Martinez Padilla, and Intercor's lawyer, Martha Penaloza, escorted by armed civilians at the service of the mining company and by more than 200 riot police, arrived in Tabaco. All of the Intercor functionaries there had all manner of equipment, including bullet-proof vests, and so did the Judge and the multinational's lawyer. The Riohacha Civil Defence department lent the multinational their cars and uniforms to create a group of supposed 'paramedics'. An employee of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, Fonseca Section, by the name of Albin Gamez Perez, had the task of collecting all the children so that their parents would not use them as a shield. This action was planned premeditatedly, to attack and destroy Tabaco at whatever price. The National Police, commanded by Colonel Angel Orion Porras, was at the service of the mining company.
That day, 9th August 2001, in the judicial procedures which were carried out, the interventions and the mediation offered by Doctor Fernando Lopez, Public Defender, and Doctor Luis Serrano, Municipal Representative of Hatonuevo, counted for nothing in the defence of the people's human rights. In the most inhuman, arbitrary and illegal manner, Tabaco was subjected to force and its dwellings destroyed one by one. Dramatic scenes occurred - this was one of the most vivid scenes of war in the country. This time the culprit has a name: Intercor. The Barrancas Judge had one sole task, which was to evict the people of Tabaco without mercy, order the illegal destruction of the dwellings and be accountable to the company rather than to a judicial order poorly made and badly interpreted, because this did not have anything to do with an eviction, this was not the subject of the judicial procedure, but rather an 'Advance Surrender' within the process of the expropriation of Tabaco, which had scarcely begun. What the Judge, the mining company's lawyer and the national police did was an attack on the community of Tabaco. The 'Advance Surrender' referred to six dwellings, but they in fact demolished more than twenty, an act which was demented, corrupt, illegal and in open contempt for the dignity and the human condition of the people of Guajira.
The public forces received their orders from Intercor: they were at its service. There were difficult moments, starting with the moment when the Judge and Intercor's lawyer gave the order to the National Police to begin to demolish the houses one by one. The resulting confrontation lasted about an hour and resulted in more than ten people being wounded, beaten by the police, two of them left in a grave condition. This is the public institution whose motto is 'at the service of the community'.
The vivid scenes that day, 9th August 2001, lead us to believe that this was an action planned to punish the people of Tabaco. The Intercor employees were armed and wore bullet-proof vests. There were other armed civilians present too, and the warnings of the Public Defender to the Judge and the National Police that this was anomalous proved useless. The Civil Defence car and their uniforms were taking the role of 'paramedics' on the orders of Intercor. An employee of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare, Fonseca Section, by the name of Albin Gamez Perez, according to his own words, 'had the task of gathering up the children so that their parents cannot use them as a shield' - as if Intercor cared about the children of the area, particularly when it was the company itself which directed the attack.
At 2.30 in the afternoon that day, a force of five hundred soldiers and more than two hundred police arrived to cordon off each dwelling which was to be demolished on the orders of Judge Martinez in open partiality to Intercor, which protected her, fed her and provided her with accommodation at the mine. The community's lawyer, who should have been present for the judicial procedure, was not permitted to enter the cordoned off area, at the request of Intercor. The Judge and the Intercor lawyer gave orders from a car. The deafening noise of machines, the cries and shouts of the people of Tabaco, the deployment of the armed forces (fifteen police and soldiers for every inhabitant of Tabaco), the constant provocation, threats and harassment of the people of Tabaco, made it seem like a battlefield.
VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The violation of the fundamental rights of the people of Tabaco was permanent; the constant disrespect for the office of the Public Defender and the Municipal Representative was intolerable. The presence of Civil Defence and Family Welfare fulfilling the orders of Intercor merits investigation, as does the attitude taken by the National Police.
The Judge from Barrancas, Carolina Martinez Padilla, exceeded her powers, acting illegally and irresponsibly, making a great show of her aberrant subservience to Intercor. She showed a merciless attitude towards the inhabitants of Tabaco, supported by Intercor's merciless lawyer, Martha Penaloza.
The inhabitants of Tabaco were obliged by these functionaries to sign a document called a 'voucher' by Intercor, under the threat of losing their children and handing them over to Family Welfare if they refused to sign. To do this they relied on the help of Gamez Perez, employee of this body, who made a great show of his feelings about the outrage to which the people of Tabaco were subjected.
The police carried sticks torn from the trees which had once given shade to the area's prosperity.
The action taken by Intercor is questionable. Guajira has always been deceived, believing in a false development. Intercor has no friends in Guajira, only interests. Today it is Tabaco, tomorrow it will be the communities of Indigenous people and small farmers at Tamaquitos, Guamachito, Provincial, Roche, Patilla and Chancleta.
WE ARE CALLING ON THE CITIZENS OF GUAJIRA AND COLOMBIA TO SURROUND TABACO WITH SOLIDARITY, BECAUSE ITS DIGNITY HAS BEEN ATTACKED AND ITS RIGHTS VIOLATED. CLOTHES, FOOD AND HOUSEHOLD EQUIPMENT ARE NEEDED TO TAKE TO THE PEOPLE OF TABACO.
LET US REJECT THE INJUSTICES COMMITTED, AND THE VIOLATION OF RIGHTS.
Committee for Solidarity with Tabaco and with all those displaced by mineral exploitation at El Cerrejon.
Social organisations, minority organisations, Indigenous organisations, leaders and citizens in general, let us unite to demand justice for those affected by mining.
For more information, telephone +57 57 55 42 or +57 57 55 43.
Armando Pérez Araújo, Guajira, 12th August 2001