MAC: Mines and Communities

COLOMBIA

Published by MAC on 2006-10-18
Source: The Daily Gleaner ()

COLOMBIA

[Editorial note: Although we applaud the action reported in the following article, the report itself is weak: it fails to name the offending companies - Anglo American, BHPBilliton and Xstrata which jointly own the El Cerrjon coal mine, whose former owners included Glencore and ExxonMobil. And while there have certainly been confirmed reports of deaths in the mine area, we have yet to receive confirmation that they are directly connected with the mining operations]

Protesters decry use of 'blood coal' / By STEPHEN LLEWELLYN, The Daily Gleaner (Canada)

18th October 2006

Social activists demonstrating over the use of Colombia's so-called "blood coal" protested in front of NB Power's headquarters in Fredericton on Tuesday.

About 10 protesters held a large sign reading "Villages gone to turn our lights on."

They also scattered coal on the sidewalk and performed a skit on the sidewalk about how poor Colombians are driven out of their villages to make way for a giant coal mine.

"A lot of people in New Brunswick have no idea where their coal comes from or what happens along the way," said Asaf Rashid of the UNB/STU Social Justice Society. "We want to expose this issue."

Rashid said that 16 per cent of the electricity generated by NB Power comes from what he calls "blood coal" from Colombia.

"Paramilitary forces were used to remove the people from their villages," he said. "There was brutality. It was a bloody operation ... I think it is fair to call it blood coal."

There were unconfirmed reports of some villagers being killed, he said. If the group can get enough publicity, it will put pressure on NB Power to act and demand that Colombia treat its workers properly and compensate the villagers who were relocated, said Rashid. People could even delay paying their power bill, he suggested.

While the demonstration played out on the sidewalk and protesters handed out information pamphlets, other activists were meeting with NB Power executives inside the building.

Brian Duplessis, NB Power vice-president of corporate communications, said the meeting was informative.

"They presented to us what they saw as the social and economic situation in Colombia," he said.

"They asked us to consider writing letters to the owners of the mine we do buy coal from and several other parties ... They have not asked us to not buy coal from Colombia."

He said the social-justice representatives were told NB Power officials would discuss the situation and get back to them by the end of the month.

Duplessis said NB Power has been burning Colombian coal along with other coal in its Belledune plant for about 15 years. The plant is designed to burn that specific coal, he said.

That plant burns up to one million tonnes of coal a year, he said.

He confirmed that 10 to 16 per cent of electricity generated by NB Power comes from the Colombia coal.

NB Power doesn't have a written policy on human rights at companies that supply fuel, he said.

Tracy Glynn of the Fredericton Peace Coalition attended the meeting with NB Power.

"There was no commitment made by NB Power but they seemed open to hear everything we had to present to them," she said. "We want NB Power to basically write a letter to the coal mining company and the Colombian government to respect and uphold international labour rights and local communities."

In November the mine workers' union in Colombia is negotiating with the company for compensation for displaced villagers, said Glynn.

"We want NB Power to write this letter before the negotiations start," she said.

Glynn said every letter has an impact and let's the company know the world is watching.

She also said the coalition is collecting medical supplies to take to small Colombian villages when a delegation travels there at the end of the month. Donations can be dropped off at the Underground Café in Fredericton.

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