Indigenous communities living by the Swiss-owned Cerrejón mine in Colombia describe their suffering over the past 40 years.
Where there is water, there is life. Without it, where are we going to live? asks Leobardo Sierra, a 48-year-old Wayuu Indigenous leader from Colombia. He lives at the foot of Cerrejón in La Guajira, one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines.
Sierra built his house in line with traditional Bahareque techniques, using sticks and mud. At his wood-burning kitchen stove, he boils water to make his daily tinto, plain coffee with water.
He leads a humble lifestyle, far removed from consumerism, which comforts him. I don’t need millions of euros to live well.
Pregnant women fear that their children will be born sick. Bed sheets left to dry outside turn black from the mine particles. And speaking out against the mine comes with retaliation, threats and forced evacuations.
Sierra grew up without the mine, and his childhood memories are vivid. Before, we used to go fishing, hunting, collecting and gathering medicinal plants.
Now it’s almost impossible because they send people to watch over us. If the mine had never come, things would be better off.
A few meters from his house is one of the few water sources that the community managed to save: the Bruno Creek.
In 2016, the Cerrejón mining company was granted permission to divert the creek three kilometers from its natural course, but the local communities challenged this in court.
The Colombian Constitutional Court ruled in their favour, stating that there was uncertainty regarding the social and environmental impacts of the diversion. But six years on, the monitoring body on this ruling found that Cerrejón had not complied with it.
Where Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities saw their home and sacred trees, mining giants saw a million-dollar opportunity to extract tonnes of coal.
Cerrejón exports most of its coal abroad and is owned by the Swiss multinational Glencore – a source of grievance among the Guajiros who feel they live in poverty while others prosper.
According to Cerrejón’s 2020 annual report, 43% of the coal was exported to the Mediterranean region and 15% to other countries in non-Mediterranean Europe.
Cerrejón is the second most profitable mining company in Colombia. In 2022, its revenues increased by 149%. But these corporate success figures contrast sharply with the living conditions of the population.
They say we are rich because there is a company that generates a lot of profit, but in reality, the people are poor. We used to be the rich ones.
When the mine opened, they deceived the people by promising them a better life and imposing an idea of progress.
It’s not fair that we have to die intoxicated and forced to uproot with sadness and pain while a multinational takes the money to another country, says Afro leader Samuel Arregocés. He claims that the coal arrives in Europe tainted with blood.
Euro News.com / ABC Flash Point News 2023.