Friday, February 02, 2007

Mining in Colombia and displaced people

On my right, Juan Julio Perez, President of the Relocation Committee of the Afrocolomboan community of Tabaco in the province of La Guajira, Colombia; on my left, Armando Perez, the community's lawyer, who also works for the Wayuu indigenous people.

My visitors said that 3,200 people from Tabaco, and other communities of black and indigenous people in the vicinity, were displaced by the huge El Cerrejon coal mine - as were also Wayuu communities around Puerti=o Bolivar, from which the coal is exported.

Unfortunately, none of the people of Tabaca had titles to their land, and the mining companies offered only limited compensation to some of 360 families who were compulsorily moved, and nothing at all to 70 of them who couldn't prove they were living in the village. Juan Julio Perez showed me hid identity card, which only records the holder's name, and his place and date of birth, not his current address. In his case, his place of birth was Albania, about 5 km from Tabaco, but he added that the recorded birthplace was the nearest major town, not the actual village or hamlet of a person's birth.

The UK-based Anglo-American is now part owner of the mine, along with Xstrata and BHP Billiton, so the object of the visit is to see what can be done to persuade these companied to negotiate a settlement that will enable the community of Tabaco to resettle on a 600 ha site at the neighbouring La Cruz, where they could resume the small scale vegetable and fruit cultivation which was their livelihood before they were uprooted, and they have a decision of the Supreme Court which requires the local mayor to get the money (£0.5 million) from the Colombian government and the companies.

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