Solidarity groups support demands of Colombian communities displaced for coal [updated]

Written by Tracy Glynn on February 24, 2016

Solidarity Coal

St. Thomas University Social Work students working with Refugees Welcome Fredericton drew attention to Colombian blood coal at their Social Action Fair on March 14, 2016 at a busy dining hall on the Fredericton, New Brunswick campus. Blood coal is a term used to describe the violent displacements of communities for the coal and the murders of union leaders in Colombia. NB Power has been buying coal from El Cerrejon coal mine since the 1990s. Photo by Rebekah Reid.

Reports of El Cerrejón Coal Mining Company failing to negotiate in good faith with leaders of communities displaced for its mining operation in La Guajira, Colombia, has resulted in a number of international solidarity groups writing a letter to the company on Feb. 22. Another letter was sent on Feb. 29 over concerns of reports of a violent eviction of the last family in Roche that occurred on Feb. 24.

Community leaders and the company hold weekly negotiation meetings to resolve ongoing issues in the resettlement process. These issues include access to water and employment opportunities for the community.

Jairo

Jairo Fuentes Epaiyu from the Tamaquito community displaced for the Cerrejon coal mine poses in front of the Salem Harbor Station in Mass., US, used to burn coal from the Cerrejon mine in Colombia. Photo: Witness for Peace.

Emma Banks, a former delegate with Witness for Peace and researcher who is currently in La Guajira, the coal mining region, has informed the solidarity networks that Cerrejón officials have twice canceled these weekly meetings (on Feb. 12 and Feb. 17) at the last minute, leaving the community leaders of Roche, Tamaquito II, Patilla, and Chancleta frustrated and feeling abandoned.

Many community members are choosing to return to the sites of their old communities because they feel abandoned by Cerrejón in the resettlement process.

The signatories to the letter in support of the demands of the displaced communities include Canadian unions, organizations and networks such as MiningWatch Canada, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Refugees Welcome Fredericton and the Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network.

The letter demands “those responsible at Cerrejón for these negotiations to stop canceling meetings and fulfill their commitment to negotiate in good faith with the communities. We support both the families who have chosen to their original communities and those who remain in the resettlements. We also reiterate our complete opposition to any unilateral, forceful, or violent action on the part of or instigated by El Cerrejón, including any forced expropriation under any circumstances. We urge Cerrejón to suspend the expropriation of families remaining in Roche, and the planned expropriations in Patilla and Chancleta.

NB Power has been buying approximately 500,000 tones of coal from Cerrejón, the world’s largest open-pit coal mine, since the mid 1990s. NB Power’s CEO Gaetan Thomas wrote to Cerrejón’s President Roberto Junguito on Feb. 16, 2016 acknowledging problems at the mine and requesting that the rights of labour and indigneous and Afro-Colombian communities be respected by the company.

The letter from NB Power was requested after Francisco Ramirez, Colombian union leader who has survived eight known assassination attempts, met with NB Power in November 2015 and requested such a letter and that the public utility put conditions on their purchase of coal from the mine.

Ramirez, now acting as legal advisor for the union at the Cerrejón mine, reported on March 15 that the mining company and the union had achieved an agreement and signed a collective agreement.

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