Violations of the Human Rights by ExxonPublished by MAC on 2002-05-15
Violations of the Human Rights by Exxon
A Report on the Systematic Violations of the Human Rights of the Indigenous, Afrocolombian and Campesino (peasant) peoples of the department of la Guajira, Colombia, by the Multinational Intercor, a subsidiary of Exxon.
From YANAMA, Organization of the indigenous people of la Guajira Committee in Solidarity with the town of Tabaco and with the People Displaced by the Cerrejón Mines (committee created by Yanama on August 9th, 2001)
By Remedios Fajardo Gómez (Wayuu indigenous leader) and Armando Pérez Araújo (Legal counsel and advocate of the communities affected by mining)
The Wayuu people live on the Guajira Peninsula, in the northern part of the Republic of Colombia, South America, and have for more than 3,000 years. To date, the government has legally recognized Wayuu territorial rights to approximately 1,500,000 hectares (3,706,500 acres); but the land actually inhabited is greater, and the struggle continues to recover other lands considered essential. The current population is 150,000 Wayuu in Colombia and another 160,000 in Venezuela. We are the largest indigenous group in Colombia, as well as in Venezuela.
There are other non-indigenous ethnic groups in la Guajira, such as the black communities, known as afrocolombians, who have settlements throughout the peninsula and are particularly concentrated in the mining zone of Cerrejón and the southern part of the department. There are, as of yet, no official population figures for these communities, but they are estimated at more than 80,000. These communities are also affected and displaced by mining.
In Colombia the Wayuu and the afrocolombian communities are affected by the open air coal mining carried out initially, and up until a few months ago, by INTERCOR, a North American multinational subsidiary of EXXON, and now by the new owners, BHP-Billiton , Anglo American and Glencore.
For 20 years the mines of Cerrejón, in la Guajira, were explored and mined by the Carbocol Association, Inc. and the North American multinational INTERCOR, a subsidiary of EXXON. Last year the Colombian government sold the property of the Colombian Coal Company, CARBOCOL Inc., to the companies BHP-Billiton , Anglo American and Glencore. That same month, April of 2002, Exxon sold to the Intercor consortium. Significantly, the same Intercor executives maintained their positions in the new associated enterprises that own all of the Cerrejón mines in la Guajira. This means that the same human rights violations, and the abusive racist and classist colonialist practices will continue against the indigenous, afrocolombian and campesino communities throughout the mining zone.
We strongly emphasize that Exxon, through its subsidiary Intercor, has been synonymous with arrogance, frustration, and violations of important and fundamental rights of indigenous, afrocolombian and campesino communities. Exxon has not acted alone. This period in the history of mining in Colombia has been marked by the open collaboration of government authorities at all levels. They have not only been sympathetic to the foreign mining company, but have gone out of their way to be complicit in the illegal development of the coal industry, and have participated in its cover-up.
The way in which control of the indigenous territories in the northern part of the peninsula was wrested for the construction of the port, the road and the railway was a spectacular maneuver of fraudulent dispossession. Intercor, along with its associate, the state company Carbocol Inc., came up with a legal instrument atypical in Colombian legislation and, of course, any legislation in the world when it comes to indigenous rights. They obtained from the Colombian government, that is to say the administration of the day, a declaration that indigenous territories were the property of the nation, and that as such these rightscould be used with out any formula or procedure other than simply harassing and terrorizing the population. For the development projects mentioned above Intercor abusively expropriated 1,159 hectares (2,864 acres) and one large strip 150 kilometers (93 miles) long by 250 meters (820 feet) wide for the construction of the railway, which are among the assets now ceded to the current owners of the northern zone of the Cerrejón mine.
Here it is worth making special mention of the resistance of a small group of 12 Wayuu families who, to this day, remain encircled by a chain link fence, very close to the port where the coal is exported. In spite of the humiliation that this has meant for all of the Wayuu people, they have managed to maintain some degree of sovereignty when it comes to their own ancestral lands.
Defenseless families in other indigenous territories in the southern part of la Guajira, and the areas known as afrocolombian and campesinos territories, have also faced coercion and illegal harassment. The outrages committed against the towns of Manantial, Espinal, Caracolí, Tabaco, Roche, Chancleta, Patilla y Tamaquitos are characteristic of the way Intercor has abused communities throughout la Guajira.
The Right to Dissent
The arrogance, high-handedness and domination of Intercor have made dissent impossible. Those who dare to express opinions in opposition to the wishes and plans of the multinational, be they in the social, political or legal arena, become targets of a hostile campaign orchestrated by Hernán Martínez Torres, president of the company. The treatment faced by our Yanama indigenous organization is typical. Our main leadership and legal counsel have received all sorts of attacks, persecution, threats, assassination attempts, discrimination, etc, simply because we have stood up and legitimately spoken out against the unjust and absurd expansionist policies of Intercor, and against the abuses that they and their allies have perpetrated against fragile communities. The team working under Hernán Martínez Torres has used every effort, and procedures of all kinds, to carry out these abuses. It is with sadness that we tell you that all of the assets of our Yanama indigenous organization were seized in retaliation for having dared to debate and denounce coal dust contamination in the community of Media Luna (loading port for the coal) and in the communities of Espinal and Caracolí, and for speaking out against other abuses suffered by indigenous people and campesinos of la Guajira living near the mine, the port, the highway or the railway. We are still suffering the effects of this seizure order, whose issuer has recently been prized with the presidency of the project by the new consortium of owners of the north zone of Cerrejón. When this happened we had to do all sorts of protests against the infamous decision of Intercor, carried out through Fundicar, which appears to be a social welfare foundation but is actually a front for the mining company, to seize the funds that Yanama had received from the Colombian Welfare Institute for a meals program for children. The Wayuu children who participated in this official program went for several weeks without food because of the cruel and inhumane attitude of the North American multinational.
The Resistance of Media Luna Community
The community of Media Luna is in the far south of the bay of Portete on the Caribbean Ocean, which surrounds the peninsula of la Guajira. To their misfortune, their ancestral lands were chosen as the site for the port of export for the coal of Cerrejón. The national government, through the Colombian Institute for Agrarian Reform, INCORA, issued Resolution No. 067 on September 3, 1981 and handed over to the multinational Intercor 1,195 hectares (2,953 acres) to build infrastructure such as the port, airport, train station and industrial park.
In 1980 750 Wayuus lived in Media Luna. They made their living primarily as shepherds, farmers and fishermen. They had 32 hectares (79 acres) dedicated to subsistence farming during the rainy season. Construction began in 1982 and the mining company and the community of Media Luna faced off in negotiations, which were full of strong arguments and physical threats. The community tried to receive fair compensation that would allow it relocate and move their cemeteries, but finally gave in without achieving their demands.
The affected Wayuu families relocated on either side of the area that they had originally requested. The air pollution, and the companys expansion needs, were such that several of the families who lived closest to the construction had to be relocated yet again. But this time some Wayuu did not want to give up the land or move their cemetery yet again, so seven families (42 people) stayed on their lands and ignored the companys demands. Given the situation the mining company has chosen to fence in the area these families live in, encircling them with a chain link fence, and locking them in with armed guards at the gate who report every move of the Wayuu and their visitors. Everyone who comes to visit them, even their own family, has to ask for permission from the camp bosses to get in. They are frequently denied water, none of them has been given employment, and their ability to build homes or water sources is limited. All of this has clearly been an attempt to harass the community so that they would leave. They never have. The community has continued to resist for 14 years, surrounded by a chain link fence as if they were in a Nazi concentration camp.
The Wayuu families who are chained in wont hand over their land for any amount of money. They are not trying to get a good price or other benefits with their intransigence. The truth is that the Uriana and Epinayu families that have stayed dont have anywhere else to go. All of the nearby land is occupied, out to far beyond where they have traditionally lived. If they leave the land the neighbors wont let them settle on their lands because theyll ask, Why did you give up the lands that juyá gave you? What have you come looking for now on our lands? The Wayuu who give up all of their land and end up landless lose status in the community and are considered beggars. Whats more, they lose their credibility and therefore are unable to assume community responsibilities.
The Relocation of Caracolí and Espinal
Caracolí and Espinal were two communities in the county (municipio) of Barrancas, in the southern part of la Guajira, which no longer exist. The mining company INTERCOR, subsidiary of Exxon, usurped 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) on which 350 Wayuu lived, most of whom were young people. These communities were very close to the coal mines. The environmental contamination, the noise, the constant explosions, the disappearance of the creeks such as la Rosita, Araña e gato, Bartolico, La Latica, San Vicente, and Reserva under a landslide of sterile materials, and the accumulation of garbage and toxic waste led the Ministry of Health to issue Resolution No. 02122 on February 22, 1991 whereby it decided: 1. The zone from the far edge of the pile of sterile material from the Cerrejón coal mine, North zone, area Tajo Sur, is declared uninhabitable due to the high concentrations of particulate material present in the area, which put at risk the health of the inhabitants who live in said strip...
2. This strip, from 1,000 to 4,500 meters (3,281 to 14,764 feet), is declared a risk zone for human and plant health, based on study results and the environmental control plan for the tajo sur, in which the concentration of particulate materials was shown to be well above permissible levels. These results were corroborated by measurements taken by Ministry of Health officials.
This very complicated and delicate situation put at risk the lives of several leaders who demanded better terms for negotiation of the relocation of the communities. Victoria Ballesteros Epinayu, Otilia Gonzalez Uriana, Nicolas Ballesteros Epinayu, and Angelito Lopez Wouliyu, were injured after an attempt on their lives that was set up to look like a traffic accident. The attorney Armando Pérez Araújo, was threatened on several occasions and followed constantly. Several law school students from the National University that were doing research in the community were harassed and forced to flee the area.
From 1984 to 1991 the health of the population deteriorated considerably. During this period 20 people died as a result of vomiting, diarrhea, hemorrhages, miscarriages, bronchitis, and birth complications. Toxic substances mixed in with the garbage poisoned four more: Helena Pushaina, Matilde Epieyu and Nuris Pushaina. Two died and the other two were permanently injured.
The open-air trash dump attracted bands of wild dogs that attacked the goats and herds. Because of this and other factors, such as the loss of water and degradation of the environment, the Wayuu lost more than 1,100 goats and other domestic animals. The Ministry of Health levied sanctions and placed new requirements on INTERCOR for not complying with the Revised Environmental Control Plan. The company made no attempt to discuss a solution to the problem, but limited itself to visiting two leaders who were highly suspect because they were thought to favor the company. They were offered employment and invited to eat and get drunk at company headquarters. This situation fostered discord and divided the community, and indeed the proposals presented were made more to divide the community than to achieve a solution to the problem.
In 1985 the national government decided that it would be easier to issue individual land titles, and thereby facilitate personal negotiations, rather than to engage in the collective negotiations originally demanded. They got what they wanted, and the negotiations were carried out on unequal terms. The multinational INTERCOR, along with a representative of the Bureau of Indigenous Affairs of the Interior Ministry, Mario Serrata, incited a dubious sit-in at the Park of Padilla in Riohacha, the capital of the department of la Guajira. The sit in appeared to be organized by the affected community, demanding collective negotiations. What they were really after was to wear the people down after several days of sit-in, so as to reach an agreement that would appear to have been negotiated with those participating in the sit-in.
Meanwhile the community, through its legal representative, pressed its case in every legal forum possible in an attempt to defend its vulnerable and violated rights, including filing suit on February 12, 1992 in the Superior Court of Riohacha to denounce the threats against the right to life and physical safety, the right to live in community (right to a neighborhood) and the right to a safe environment. The lawsuit requested, a temporary mechanism, so as to avoid irreparable harm beyond that already suffered, caused by the presence in their homes of humanly unbearable and impermissible levels of coal and sterile particulate material, noise and vibrations caused by the mining activity at the Cerrejón coal complex, in the area known as Tajo Sur. The mining, and the lack of action by the Ministry of Health, put at risk the lives of the inhabitants of Caracolí and Espinal and they were subjected to degrading and inhumane treatment by the Colombian government.
After a long and torturous path that began at the Superior Court of Riohacha, where the action was denied, it came before the Supreme Court, where it was again denied, and then before the Constitutional Court, which issued Decision T528 on September 18, 1992 stating:
BE IT RESOLVED that the motion for protection of the fundamental constitutional right to life and personal safety is hereby granted to MILTON ORTIZ CARRILLO, his wife and minor children, to DIOMEDES CARDONA and his family, as well as to the specific persons and families listed in binders 131, 132, 133 and 134 of the population study carried out by the YANAMA indigenous organization as residing in the hamlets of Caracolí and Espinal in the county of Barrancas in la Guajira.
All pertinent departments and agencies of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Mines and Energy are hereby ordered to, within thirty (30) days of receiving this decision, take all measures, provisions and issue any orders or resolutions which may be necessary and appropriate to effectively guarantee the protection of the fundamental constitutional right to life and physical safety of the persons and families directly affected by the contamination in the hamlets of Caracolí and Espinal in the county of Barrancas in la Guajira. Said ministries and agencies shall take care to conserve the quality of life and a healthy environment in these hamlets in regards to the environmental contamination produced by the coal mining, taking in to account the UNINHABITABLE conditions and the HIGH RISK TO HUMAN, PLANT AND ANIMAL LIFE noted in Ministry of Health Resolution number 02122 of February 22, 1991.
As a result of these actions, regrettably in the most inhumane of ways, under pressure from and with the complicity of Mario Serrato, head of the Bureau of Indigenous Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior, the Wayuu inhabitants of Caracolí and Espinal were loaded on to trucks with all of their belongings and unloaded under the shade of the trees, on two tracts handed over by the multinational Intercor, currently established as the 4th of November Indigenous Reservation. They continue living there today in inhumane conditions, facing all sorts of needs and enjoying no prosperity. The effect on their livelihood and way of life was so great that even now 10 years later they have not recovered.
Managing the Media
Working the media has been key to Intercors strategy of eroding human rights. They would not have been able to make so many inroads against the fragile communities in la Guajira without their abusive control of journalists and the media, exercised through all sorts of tricks and manipulative systems. The company took full advantage of the fact that there were no strong and effective media outlets in la Guajira. There are also no journalists knowledgeable in mining, nor willing to become so. As a result there has been a lack of the balanced and informative journalism necessary to create greater public awareness. A small handful of journalists have, against all odds, survived with their professional dignity intact; and of course they are not included in this generalization. This all-consuming and oppressive phenomenon has been particularly marked by the huge unlimited budget given to the specially trained management in the public relations department of Intercor.
Control of the Church
The twisted behavior of the Catholic Church was key to the case of Manantial. They facilitated the destruction of the church building and the abusive withdrawal of the image of the Virgin of Fátima, so as to demoralize the people of the village. The control that the multinational Intercor exercised over the Church in la Guajira left the town in an extremely weakened condition which made its destruction possible. Similarly, but even more lowly, in the town of Tabaco the Church, through its local hierarchy and in particular the Italian Marcelo Graziosi, sold the church building for $38,000 pesos to Intercor and handed it over, destroyed, to the company. The Peruvian black Saint, a symbol of social justice venerated by the people of Tabaco, was kidnapped, as was the image of the Virgin of Fatima. Both can now be found as trophies in the mining camp of the multinationals. The latter case was even more serious and repugnant given that the church building was not built by the Catholic Church but by the community itself, and that this unethical sale of communal property happened just when the North American company most needed allies in their campaign to wipe out the social structure of the community in the village of Tabaco.
By both international and Colombian legal norms, what has happened around the Cerrejón mine has repeatedly and invariably been a typical and condemnable example of forced internal displacement. Intercor is morally and legally the most responsible for this displacement, along with the Colombian government.
There is no legal precedent, either in this country or in the rest of civilized humanity, that compares to the so-called legal expropriations which were filed and granted in la Guajira against defenseless and totally unprotected families. The worst of it happened in Tabaco. The Ministry of Mines and Energy, at the request of Carbocol, Inc., authorized the expropriation of a land plot called Tabaco, fraudulently hiding the fact that the land plot was in fact a village, occupied by more than one hundred families, gathered around a common urban infrastructure (streets, church, health post, rural telephone center, cemetery, school, playground, plaza, etc.). The attorneys of Intercor, under the direct supervision of Hernán Martínez, maneuvered this arbitrary and deceitful decision from the start. The community had not yet been indemnified, in fact the properties had yet to even been evaluated to establish proper legal compensation, when all of the homes and communal infrastructure mentioned above were destroyed, under the direction, financing and supervision of Intercor, with the assistance of a judge, law enforcement, and private armed guards.
To keep the community from staying, on what was indisputably their own property, Intercor came up with another infamous criminal maneuver: the same day that the buildings were destroyed, all of the humble furnishings of the families (beds, stoves, refrigerators, clothes, portable stereos, dishes, chairs, childrens toys, etc.) were taken to a warehouse rented by the multinational. Unless they have been lost they must be there still, waiting for the humble victims to shuffle in and sign paperwork renouncing any rights or claims arising from these arbitrary and abusive acts. This outrage has been justified as a so-called expropriation.
There is also no precedent for the land easements imposed on inhabited residences. The mayor of Hatonuevo, visibly influenced by the North American Intercor, was asked to accept, and did in fact process, the requests for these unprecedented easements, despite the warnings of Armando Pérez Araújo, the attorney for the community of Tabaco, that these were not proper or by any means legal. In response to legal arguments the mayor decided to demolish the inhabited houses involved in this absurd decision, calling this rotten breakdown of the current legal system exercising the right to land easement. All of this was sponsored, financed and carried out with the clear and obvious support of the multinational Intercor, subsidiary of the Exxon Mobil Corporation.
The Case of Tamaquitos
Tamaquitos is a settlement primarily inhabited by 145 Wayuus who live in 34 homes and are primarily associated with the Epieyuu, Pushaina and Iipuana clans. Six campesinos also live with Wayuu women of the community. This settlement is close to the Cerrejón mines in the county of Barrancas, in la Guajira, just a few kilometers from the currently threatened population of Tabaco. The occupied land is 10 hectares (24 ¾ acres) + 2505 meters (8218 feet) and is classified as dry tropical woods. Tamaquitos has been marked by the absence of governmental presence at any level, local, departmental or national. There is no school, electricity, health or social services, nor any development projects or any technical support for agriculture. The water used comes from the creeks that run in the winter, and from a hand made well during the dry season.
The inhabitants of Tamaquitos have ties as relatives and neighbors, and are largely part of an extended family whose main cohesive elements are the brothers Manuel and José Alfonso Epieyuu. They are the pillars that sustain the strength, unity and identity of the group as a whole. The men primarily earn their living as seasonal laborers in nearby ranches in Tabaco, Roche and Serranía de Perijá in Venezuela. The farms and cattle ranches continue to disappear as mining takes over. Obviously work opportunities have also slipped away, creating great uncertainty as to the future of the community. The mining company has occupied 99% of the ranches close to Tamaquitos, and this population has remained isolated and exposed to the abuses of the multinational Intercor, which planned to first evict the population of Tabaco and then finish off Tamaquitos.
Current Situation in Tamaquitos
The multinational Intercor refuses to recognize the existence of Tamaquitos as an indigenous community, as a pretext for shirking their responsibility to indemnify and relocate this population. The mining companys cynicism and corruption regarding Tamaquitos has been such, that the director of the Bureau of Indigenous Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior, Marcela Bravo, used Intercor funds to pay for an ethnographic study to certify to the company that this indigenous community existed. The anthropologist Wilder Guerra wrote a report in November of 2000, establishing the ethnic identity of the inhabitants of Tamaquitos. When he turned in the report she would not pay for it unless he changed the conclusions and denied the existence of Tamaquitos, which he refused to do. Since then, the mining company has had a great deal of influence over the decisions of that government office, and does not recognize the existence of the community of Tamaquitos. This means that strong arguments and confrontations with the mining company lie ahead in the struggle to defend the rights of the inhabitants of Tamaquitos.
Since 1980 the Wayuu people have been facing attacks from the multinational Intercor, characterized by systematic violations of economic, social, cultural and land rights. Truly, this multinational is the embodiment of crime and evil. There is no code of conduct; they have gone so far as to make attempts on human life, and on all forms of life in the environment. Judges, magistrates, journalists, national, departmental and local government officials and law enforcement are strongly influenced in their decisions and name streets in their honor. They go so far as to be bearers of the companys threatening messages, coauthor reports, and host events celebrating their collusion against civil society.
Right now the mining company is getting ready to kick the people of Tamaquitos off of their lands, just as they did with the defenseless inhabitants of Tabaco, a campesino and black community whose fundamental rights to a life with dignity are today seriously at risk because of what they call development.
The Case of Tabaco
The community of Tabaco was the population closest to the mine, until the worst outrage ever carried out by a mine destroyed it. It was practically on the back porch of what is today the property of the mining multinationals, who have, and continue to, totally disrespect the right of the population to live in community and honor the family ties that have bound them during more than 100 years of communal living. Intercor expropriated the properties of the low-income families of the town of Tabaco, destroyed their communal properties (church, school, health center, rural telephone center, parks, plaza) and even their homes, with the illegal accompaniment of law enforcement. Tabaco was destroyed under the cloak of judicial orders.
After a tough legal battle spearheaded by the communitys attorney, Armando Pérez Araújo, the Supreme Court ordered that Tabaco be rebuilt on a different site, which Intercor had prevented the Colombian authorities from doing. This has been a heavy blow to the immorality and corruption of Intercor in la Guajira. Now more than ever, strengthening the community of Tabaco is crucial. In this way we can also protect the well being of other towns in la Guajira who happen to be settled in the path of the most powerful multinationals on the planet.
It is especially important now that we push for a global action to take the Intercor mining company, subsidiary of EXXON, the other enterprises in the mining consortium, and the Colombian government before international tribunals. They must account for the damages to human, plant and animal life, and for the damage to the environment in general in the mining area.
Please continue to send letters to the following people demanding that the Supreme Court decision regarding the relocation of the homes of the people of Tabaco and the reconstruction of their community institutions demolished by Intercor, such as the church, the health center, the police station, the rural telephone center, the school, the cemetery, the water system, electricity, etc., be fully and swiftly put in to effect.
· Dr. HERNANDO DELUQUE FREYLE
Governor of the department of la Guajira
Palacio de la Gobernación. Avenida Primera
Calle 1 A con Carrera 6 A Esquina
Riohacha, Guajira, Colombia.
· Mr. ENAIME RODRIGUEZ
Mayor of the municipality of Hatonuevo
Casa de la Alcaldía
Hatonuevo, Guajira, Colombia
· Dr. ARMANDO ESTRADA VILLA
Minister of the Interior
Carrera 8 No 8 - 09 Piso 2ª
Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia
· Dr. FERNANDO MEDELLIN LOZANO
Director of the national social service program Red de Solidaridad Social
Calle 7 No 6 - 54
Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia