By Rafael Emiliano Molina Romero, translated by the FOR Peace Presence team
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The community of Boquerón, in the mining zone of the department of Cesar, is facing forced relocation due to the high level of air contamination because of coal mining. Throughout the process, Tierra Digna, who FORPP accompanies, provides legal council and community strengthening for those in Boquerón. Below is a lyric reflection about the cultural effects of mining on the community of Boquerón.
Locals of Boquerón, including Flower Arias Rivera y Zeneida Martínez Molina, remember that it was approximately 40 years ago when the mining company Glencore, along with Mr. Carlos Rodríguez, arrived to the area with the intention of exploratory mining. Over time, the same territory was invaded by new organizations expert in mining exploitation, especially in natural coal, and among these Drummond, Ltd.
In this time, the inhabitants of the town of Boquerón preserved the rudimentary customs of a more natural life. Traditions ranged from hunting and fishing to the physical labor they did for some farm-owners with cattle or who grew cotton, rice, sorghum, and other things too. The value of the wage they received in compensation, fair or not, was enough to sustain their families.
These companies, protected by legal permission given to them by the national government, began what is known today as open-pit and subterraneous mining of the valuable mineral. Under the assumption that there wasn’t qualified manual labor in the area, they brought their own servants. They still do this, even though they have left little to no benefit to the town. On the contrary, they have contributed to the deterioration of a social fabric that, until that point, was solid.
Boquerón was a place where brotherhood reigned, where that of the individual was that of everybody, and the hunter didn’t eat the whole prize himself but shared it with family and neighbor. Sicknesses were cured with natural medicine, with plants from which they made baths and drinks (potions), poultices, and with prayers that the healers applied, from stings of centipedes, spiders, and scorpions all the way to snake bites. Women gave birth with midwives or doulas – or rather, the midwife or doula, because it seems there was only one who held this title with great esteem: the mother Dionisia Alberta Mendoza Meza. It is there where everything was everybody’s; where the hunter shared his catch with his family and neighbor, where subsistence crops, in addition to trading, were at the disposal of those who needed it.
This is where the uses and customs of things, that is to say, the vernacular and inherited culture, were put in practice without objection or difficulty. Where the gatherings, or dances, were healthy revelry… Maybe with a few cheap little tricks when one partner denied a dance or the other opposed, but without losing friendship, because the value of life was of a consistent one. Where one respected their elders, not only their parents, but other people, too. Where the mourning period and the nine-day prayer before making a grave was guarded with rigor. Where friends were made through dolls (doll play), and children held off their hunger with fruits found in the fields. Where they cooked with wood over a fire and ate with a wooden spoon (of totumo), where the food wasn’t contaminated, refrigerated, or canned, but all natural (fish fry, soups, stews, etc.).
Today all of this refers to what remains there in memory – nostalgia – because unfortunately, nothing is forever. Much less so when nature has afforded the land, some of the land, to the enrichment of few and the impoverishment of many.
Some of the older inhabitants say that when this happened, or rather, when the mining companies arrived to the territory, they felt a breath of hope. But that which they then considered a blessing today is a paradox. It is damnation, maybe not in all senses of the word, but perhaps because inhabitants’ expectations haven’t been fulfilled, for a better quality of life – for the Boquerón they dreamed of.