African descent families occupy Cerrejon mine in Colombia to demand their rights
18 January, 2019
On Wednesday, 16 January 2019, 50 people from the community of Roche staged a non-violent occupation of part of the vast Cerrejon coal mine – owned by London-listed multinationals Anglo American, BHP and Glencore – to demand respect for their rights as people of African descent and to pressure the Cerrejon Coal company into good-faith negotiations over a range of issues. Organisations and individuals from Europe and North America have issued the following declaration in solidarity with the community.
Declaration in support of the community of Roche, La Guajira, Colombia
We, the undersigned, offer our solidarity to members of the community of Roche in La Guajira, Colombia, who have taken direct action to protest at their conditions after being forced off their ancestral land because of the expansion of Latin America’s largest open-cast coal mine, Cerrejón, owned by three of the world’s largest mining multinationals, Anglo American, BHP and Glencore – all listed on the London Stock Exchange. These rural families have seen their agricultural livelihoods ruined by the move to a semi-urban settlement where there is inadequate land to make a living by farming and where attempts at alternative livelihoods have mostly failed. Many families were left out of the negotiations over resettlement and have yet to benefit even from the inadequate arrangements available to the families who have already been relocated. Negotiations with the Cerrejón Coal company over inclusion of these families and over other issues of concern were broken off in December.
On Wednesday, 16 January 2019, around 50 community members entered a part of the 69,000 hectare mining lease and halted operations. The occupation was entirely non-violent. They demanded that the company actually address their demands rather than simply discussing them. They accuse the company of failing to keep the agreements it has made over, among other things, water quality in the new settlement, the repair of inadequately built houses and the provision of ways of making a living. They insist that the relocation of Roche be declared a failure so that a new start can be made. They point out that the community was not properly consulted about the relocation before it happened. Now that their legal rights as a community of African descent have been recognised by the Constitutional Court, they insist that every member of the community has the right to enter into ‘prior consultation’ negotiations with the government and the company in accordance with the Colombian Constitution – but the company has tried to minimise the number of people whom it is willing to recognise as members of the community, and then tried to get the Minsitry of the Interior to ratify its choice of who can and cannot benefit from any agreement with the community. This was the last straw for the community, making them feel victimised all over again by the company that had forced them off their land.
After tense negotiations at the mine, community members and Cerrejón agreed to continue negotiations to address concerns and accepted the mediation offered by the La Guajira Governor, starting with a meeting on Friday 18 January with the participation of the Roche community members, local authorities and Cerrejón. The community agreed to call off the blockade of the mine. Cerrejón management say they have been in contact with the Ministry of the Interior and requested them to reassess the possibility of re-opening the consultation process.
We support the people of Roche in their efforts to obtain justice from Cerrejón Coal and the Colombian Government, and we insist that the demands of those who occupied the mine should be accepted.
(The Spanish version of the declaration follows the list of signatories.)
Aldo Orellana Lopez, The Democracy Center
Alexandra Huck, kolko – derechos humanos por Colombia, Germany
Anne Harris, Isobel Tarr and Scarlet Hall, Coal Action Network, UK
Avi Chomsky, North Shore Colombia Solidarity Committee, Massachusetts, USA
Emma Banks, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, USA
Giulia Franchi, Re:Common, Italy
Ingrid Navarrett, AG Bergbau und Menschenrechte in Kolumbien – Berlin, Germany
Leonardo Gonzalez, Indepaz, Colombia
Margaret Buslay, pax christi – Comisión Solidaridad Un Mundo, Germany
Marie Hagensen, Colombia Solidarity Denmark
Richard Solly, Colombia Solidarity Campaign and London Mining Network, UK
Seb Ordonez, War on Want, UK
Sebastian Rötters, urgewald, Germany
Sian Cowman, Latin America Solidarity Centre, Ireland
Stephan Suhner, Arbeitsgruppe Schweiz Kolumbien, Switzerland
Sue Willman, Deighton Pierce Glynn, UK