Indigenous Wayuu and Afro-Colombian communities have long been vocal against the forced displacement, environmental degradation, human rights abuses and increasing death toll caused by the Cerrejón coal mine. NB Power sources coal from this mine.
Affected community members blame the mine, which opened operations in 1985, for the loss of 19 rivers in the semi-desert Colombian region of La Guajira.
The land degradation and toxic waste from the mine have caused a humanitarian crisis in surrounding communities that are now suffering from malnutrition and lacking access to water.
Huaguil, from the town of Carmen de Chucerí, speaks out in this video published by the NB Media Co-op.
Huaguil wants the public to know about mining operations in Colombia, listing statistics about the Cerrejón mine’s impact on rural communities: “Mining has displaced 35 communities, including Afro-Colombian farmers and Indigenous Wayuu communities.”
The mine’s impact on communities has led to rising death tolls within communities.
“According to UNICEF figures, the largest number of people suffering from hunger was in 2016, which caused 4770 children to be killed by malnutrition,” Huaguil said.
Leader of the Indigenous organization Wayúu Shipia, Javier Rojas told The Bogota Post in 2016: “We estimate that in less than ten years, more than 14,000 members of our communities – children, adolescents, expectant mothers and the elderly – have died due to malnutrition.”
The mine is currently seeking to expand operations another 16,000 hectares within the municipalities of San Vicente de Chucuri, Simacota, and el Carmen de Chucuri.
“If the projects are approved, this will bring the total destruction of the ecosystem. It would disappear whole rivers and entire populations would become extinct, such as the towns of Santo Domingo del Ramo and Guamo among others,” Huaguil said.
“We were promised progress,” Huaguil said, “Coal is not progress, it is death.”
Cortney MacDonnell is an environmental action reporter with RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment), a research project based at the University of New Brunswick.
With files from Francisco Ramirez Cuellar.