MAC: Mines and Communities

Indigenous and Farming Workers Targeted by Security Personnel at Colombian Coal Mine owned by Exxon,

Published by MAC on 2001-01-15

Indigenous and Farming Workers Targeted by Security Personnel at Colombian Coal Mine owned by Exxon, Anglo-American, Billiton and Glencore - 3rd July 2001

Roger Moody and Richard Solly of London-based Partizans (People Against Rio Tinto And Its Subsidiaries) visited the Colombian Department of Guajira in October 2000 to study the social and environmental impacts of South America's largest coal strip mines on the Indigenous Wayuu population and on local farming communities. The mines are controlled by US-based Exxon and a consortium consisting of three multinationals, Swiss-based Glencore and London-based Billiton and Anglo-American. Over the history of the mining concessions, local communities have been forcibly relocated, with inadequate or nonexistent compensation. (See footnoted background paper for more details.)

One of the communities still facing relocation, and demanding an adequate relocation assistance programme (which would enable the community to move together to new land sufficient to continue subsistence agriculture), is the village of Tabaco, which Roger and Richard visited with Armando Perez, the community's legal representative, last year.

On 25th June 2001, one of the local community activists was attacked by mining company security guards and detained, together with a Wayuu journalist and a Wayuu cameraman and two other people, while filming environmental damage around Tabaco. They have been released, but Armando has asked us to make known what has happened as widely as possible, because it represents a very disturbing escalation in the companies' violation of local people's rights. From the account which has been sent to us, it is clear that the perpetrators of the violence were security personnel employed by Intercor, the Exxon subsidiary (100% owned by Exxon) currently operating the mine close to Tabaco. Glencore, Billiton and Anglo-American, however, who together own 50% of that mine, must share moral responsibility for this sharp deterioration in the situation.

Translation of the information received from Guajira on 1st July 2001 (the original Spanish is at the end of this email should you prefer to read it).

"Five people - Vicenta Siosi (Indigenous writer and journalist) Jose Julio Perez (President of the Tabaco community Action Committee) Carlos Epiayu (Indigenous cameraman) Arcadio Pinto (member of the community) and Mario Alberto Perez (working voluntarily as a teacher at the school so that they will not close it) - were brutally threatened with firearms by thirty armed men belonging to the company's security guard, who forced them to hand over the cine camera with which they were filming the condition of the springs and roads around Tabaco, which are being blocked by sterile material from the mine. This is increasing the isolation of the community of Tabaco.

The security personnel argued that this video was being made for the guerrillas and that the cameraman could therefore not continue filming and had to hand over the camera. The cameraman refused to hand over the camera and this produced a violent response.

Jose Julio was punched on the nose, which was broken as a result. Vicenta Siosi was manhandled and forced to get into a police vehicle by being beaten around the head with a gun. The others were also attacked and detained by the police, who arrived in order to defuse the confrontation between the group of thirty men and the group who were filming. The persons detained (Vicenta, Jose Julio, Mario Alberto, Arcadio, Carlos) were held in the police station at Albania [the nearest town] for around three to four hours. The police reviewed the video with the security detachment from the mine and realised that there was nothing bad in it. The police then asked the security detachment whether they should give the video back or not (which indicates that the police are completely biased in favour of the company). Then Armando Perez [legal representative for the Tabaco community in its dispute with the mining company] arrived and succeeded in negotiating the return of the video and the release of the detained persons.

Possible actions suggested by Armando Perez:

1. Speak to NGOs and tell them what happened.

2. If possible, these NGOs should organise a visit to the area to see the situation, which is getting worse by the day.

3. Organise an international campaign to ensure respect for the rights of the community of Tabaco.

4. Pressure the national government of Colombia to maintain a presence in the area." (Translation ends)

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