Communities in Cesar struggle to be heard in public hearing on coal mining

Perspectives on Peace: Fabiola from Santa Rosa de Guayacán

In early August, we were able to travel with our partner Communities Constructing Peace in the Territories (CONPAZ) to Bajo Calima and the San Juan River, in the rural region outside of Buenaventura. There we heard from various indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities that the promised era of peace has not yet arrived. Armed groups remain active in the region and the government is doing little to protect people, leaving them with no other option than to build their own peace from the ground up.

Today we bring you one such account. Fabiola is from the indigenous community of Santa Rosa de Guayacán. They have been confined to their land – unable to travel for school or economic activities – following the murder of an Afro-Colombian woman in the area in early July. This community has suffered multiple displacements from their ancestral lands despite precautionary measures ordered in 2011 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Fabiola is one of the young leaders from the Wounaan indigenous community living on the Santa Rosa de Guayacán reservation. They declared their lands as a humanitarian biodiverse space.They were displaced three times (2004, 2010, and 2017) because of violence and combat between armed groups on the river.

Fabiola believes that in order to protect life, her community needs to be able to live on their ancestral lands without fear of displacement. Here, they will be able to remain united and strengthen the indigenous guard, two essential elements for the creation of long-lasting peace.

Mining in Cesar: Development Before Dignity?

Irene Benítez, our new Programme Coordinator, reflects on a journey to César, where FORPP accompanies Tierra Digna to help a community affected by mining secure dignified living conditions.

We have spent days in a small classroom. The heat is unusual for me, almost unbearable, the more so as it requires sitting for hours, concentrating. But I don’t want to complain, not in front of these people, because the committee of Boquerón, a community in the Colombian department of Cesar, has been negotiating for 7 years with mining companies to plan their “involuntary resettlement”, or as I prefer to say, its forced displacement. Seven years ago a small community tried to negotiate the basic conditions for its resettlement with three of the largest mining companies in the world.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) defines displacement as the “forced removal of a person from their home or country, usually due to armed conflicts or natural disasters.” I need to keep looking, as this term does not include criteria that I am looking for and that define the reality of the community of Boquerón. The IOM also describes forced migration: A “generic term […] to describe a movement of people in which coercion is present, including threats to life and subsistence, whether due to natural or human causes (for example, […] development projects).” That’s it! The community of Boquerón is being forced to move through conditions that threaten their lives, caused by humans, by private companies. What is not yet clear to me, which is meant by “development projects.”

On the page of the coal mining company Drummond Company Inc. they describe development projects as their commitment “[…] to community development (which) includes projects as diverse as building schools, setting up health clinics,” On the same page they also state that “at every level of Drummond, we take into account the impact our actions have on our employees, customers, communities where we operate and the environment.”

I am surprised; this does not coincide with what I witnessed during several days of accompaniment in Boquerón, a community that is part of the mining corridor in the department of Cesar. Along with my colleague Thomas Power, we accompany Tierra Digna, an organization dedicated to defending communities that have been affected by extractive economic development, driven, amongst other things, by privately held companies – coal mining companies such as Drummond Company Inc., Colombia Natural Resources (CNR) and PRODECO. These are the three companies with which the community is in the process of resettlement.

In 2010, the Colombian government ordered the “involuntary resettlement” of the community of Boquerón, including around 1,700 people, due to air pollution caused by coal dust produced by mining in these territories. At the end of the 1980s, the Colombian government developed a proposal to exploit large-scale mining, giving great importance to coal. At around the same time, Drummond Company Inc , acquired the first mining rights in the Caribbean area, making the municipality of La Jagua de Ibirico, where the community of Boquerón is located, one of the largest mining areas of the country today.

Deforestation, craters, toxic chemicals that pollute rivers and therefore also local resources, but especially tiny particles of coal deposited in the inhabitants’ lungs, have caused not only environmental damage, but have affected in an unacceptable way the health of populations, such as that of Boquerón. The toxic levels are so high, that the inhabitants have to be resettled. This can’t be right! The inhabitants are forced, without it having been their own decision, to leave their homes and their roots, to live in a new place, under conditions that after seven years they have not been able to define. Negotiations with the companies continue, and there is no end yet. Forced migration includes “[…] the threat to life and subsistence.” The contradiction between the term of development project and the consequences of these same extractive projects, driven by international companies, are incomprehensible to me.

It is not a matter of reducing this discourse to a simple positioning between being against, or in favor of, companies. It would be too simple – almost naive – to think that this is the basis of the solution of this argument. In all the communities that we have accompanied to Tierra Digna, La Jagua, Don Jaca and Boquerón, I could testify to an open attitude towards foreign companies. Until they were affected by them. On the contrary, many people stressed that they were not against mining and mining. Previously people hoped to find in these companies new forms of income. But that didn’t happen either.

So what do development projects mean? Development for me has to be an equitable right. If the consequences are forced displacement, having to leave the community that has been my home, because my health is affected, because ecological resources have been poisoned, and beyond that responsible companies do not assume in a dignified way their responsibility, for me these consequences represent violations of basic human rights. Article 79 of Colombia’s own constitution says that “All people have the right to enjoy a healthy environment”. It’s time to look, analyze and be objective. It is time to assert what must always be above any development project: the right to a dignified life.


Lea este texto en español.

Llevamos días en una pequeña aula, el calor para mi es inusual, casi insoportable, más aún si se requiere estar sentados por horas, concentrados. Pero no me quiero permitir la queja, no frente a estas personas, porque el comité de Boquerón, una comunidad en el departamento colombiano del Cesar, cumple 7 años de negociaciones con las empresas mineras para planear su „reasentamiento involuntario“, o como prefiero decir, su desplazamiento forzado. Hace 7 años una pequeña comunidad trata de negociar las condiciones básicas para su reasentamiento con tres de las más grandes compañías mineras del mundo.

La Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (OIM) define desplazamiento como el „traslado forzoso de una persona de su hogar o país debido, por lo general, a conflictos armados o desastres naturales.“ Necesito seguir buscando, ya que este término no incluye los criterios que busco y que definen la realidad de la comunidad de Boquerón. La OIM también describe la migración forzosa: „Término genérico […] para describir un movimiento de personas en el que se observa la coacción, incluyendo la amenaza a la vida y su subsistencia, bien sea por causas naturales o humanas. (Por ejemplo, […] proyectos de desarrollo).“ Esto es! La comunidad de Boquerón se ve obligada a desplazarse por condiciones que amenazan su vida, causadas por humanos, por compañías privadas. Lo que aún no me es claro, que se entiende bajo „proyectos de desarrollo“.

En la página de la empresa minera de carbón Drummond Company Inc. describen proyectos de desarrollo como su compromiso „ […] con el desarrollo comunitario (que) incluye proyectos tan diversos como la construcción de escuelas, el establecimiento de clínicas de salud, la financiación de centros de formación de empleo, “En la misma página también declaran que „ […] en cada nivel de Drummond, tenemos en cuenta el impacto que tienen nuestras acciones en nuestros empleados, clientes, las comunidades donde operamos y el medio ambiente“.

Me sorprende, no coincide con lo que testifiqué durante varios días de acompañamiento en Boquerón, una comunidad que hace parte del corredor minero en el departamento del Cesar. Junto con mi compañero Thomas Power acompañamos a Tierra Digna, una organización que se dedica a defender comunidades que han sido afectadas por el desarrollo económico de carácter extractivo, impulsadas entre otras por empresas de capital privado. Empresas mineras de carbón como Drummond Company Inc., Colombia Natural Resources (CNR) y PRODECO. Son estas las tres compañías con las cuales se encuentra la comunidad en proceso de reasentamiento.

En el año 2010 el gobierno colombiano ordena el „reasentamiento involuntario“ de la comunidad de Boquerón, incluyendo alrededor de 1700 personas, por contaminación atmosférica causada por el polvo del carbón producido por la minería en estos territorios. A finales de los años 80 el gobierno colombiano desarrolló una propuesta de explotación de la minería a gran escala, dándole gran importancia al carbón. En esta misma temporada Drummond Company Inc. adquiere los primeros derechos mineros en la zona del Caribe, haciendo hoy en día del municipio de la Jagua de Ibirico, donde se encuentra también la comunidad de Boquerón, una de las zonas mineras más grandes del país.

Deforestación, cráteres, químicos tóxicos que contaminan ríos y por lo tanto también recursos locales, pero sobre todo partículas diminutas de carbón que se depositan en los pulmones de los habitantes, han causado no solo un daño ambiental, sino que han afectado de una manera inaceptable la salud de las poblaciones, como la de Boquerón. Los niveles tóxicos son tan altos, que los habitantes tienen que ser reasentados. ¡No! Los habitantes se ven obligados, sin haber sido decisión propia, a dejar sus hogares y sus raíces, para vivir en un sitio nuevo, bajo condiciones que después de 7 años no se han logrado definir. Las negociaciones con las compañías siguen, y aún no se hace ver un final. La migración forzosa incluye  „ […] la amenaza a la vida y […] subsistencia.“ La contradicción entre el término de proyecto de desarrollo y las consecuencias que traen estos mismos proyectos, de carácter extractivo, impulsadas por empresas internacionales, me son incomprensibles.

No se trata de reducir este discurso a un simple posicionamiento entre estar en contra, o a favor de compañías. Eso sería demasiado simple, o casi ingenuo pensar que en esto basa la solución de este discurso. En todas las comunidades que hemos acompañado a Tierra Digna, la Jagua, Don Jaca y Boquerón, pude testificar una actitud abierta hacia las compañías extranjeras. Hasta el momento que se vieron afectados por ellas. Pero muchas personas recalcaban de no estar en contra de la minería y la extracción del carbón, al contrario. En el pasado hubo esperanzas de encontrar en las compañías nuevos ingresos económicos. Pero esto tampoco pasó.

Entonces que significan proyectos de desarrollo? El desarrollo para mi tiene que ser un derecho equitativo. Si las consecuencias son el desplazamiento forzado, el tener que abandonar la comunidad que ha representado mi hogar, porque la salud se ve afectada, porque los recursos ecológicos se han envenenado, y fuera de esto las compañías responsables no asumen de una manera digna su responsabilidad, para mi estas consecuencias representan violaciones de derechos humanos básicos. El articulo 79 de la misma constitución colombiana dice que „Todas las personas tienen derecho a gozar de un ambiente sano“. Es hora de mirar, analizar y ser objetivos. Es hora de hacer valer lo que siempre debe estar por encima de cualquier proyecto de desarrollo: el derecho a una vida digna.

This Land is Their Land: A Case for Indigenous Land Rights

Para la versión en español, haz clic aquí.

Written by Kati Hinman, Human Rights Accompanier at FOR Peace Presence, from San José de Apartadó. Originally published in Charged Affairs. 

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Mountains of Urabá

¨We are sitting on gold,¨ he said, looking out past the few small houses towards the mountains of Urabá, a region of northern Colombia that has been a hotbed of the armed conflict. Having grown up in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó, he was well aware of the price for their land. For 20 years, the Peace Community has remained neutral in the conflict, and non-violently resisted armed actors fighting to dominate their territory. Since the Peace Community’s founding, over 180 of its members have been assassinated,  amongst hundreds of additional human rights violations. After the signing of the peace accords last year, they continue to resist various threats to their rights. The region has a huge reserve of coal, and they fear that multinational corporations will eventually push them out to build mines.


Esta tierra es nuestra: un caso para los derechos territoriales indígenas

For the English version, click here.

Escrito por Kati Hinman, acompanante internacional de FOR Presente por la Paz, desde San José de Apartadó. Publicado originalmente en Charged Affairs.

Montañas del Urabá

“Estamos sentadxs sobre una mina de oro” dijo, mirando atrás de las pocas casitas las montañas del Urabá, una región situada en el noreste de Colombia que ha sido un semillero del conflicto armado. Al haber crecido en la Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó, estaba bien enterado del precio de la tierra. Durante 20 años ahora, la Comunidad ha permanecido neutral ante el conflicto, resistiendo de manera no violenta a los actores armados luchando para dominar su territorio. Desde su creación, alrededor de 180 miembros han sido asesinados, entre centenas de otras violaciones a los derechos humanos. Después de la firma del acuerdo de paz con las FARC, siguen resistiendo a varias amenazas contra sus derechos. La región tiene una reserva enorme de carbón y temen de que empresas multinacionales podrían desalojarles para explotar minas.


Communities in Cesar struggle to be heard in public hearing on coal mining

Written by Thomas Power, FOR Peace Presence accompanier. Para la versión en español, haz clic aqui.

We were mistaken in the past. We no longer exchange life for money.” Community members from Boquerón, in central Cesar, Colombia, directed these words at the Colombian environmental licensing agency (ANLA) and transnational coal-mining companies during public hearings on January 28th and February 5th 2016. The multinationals Drummond and Glencore are planning to expand operations, and have solicited ANLA for a modification to their environmental license. In response, affected communities petitioned to hold public hearings on the proposed expansions to make their preoccupations heard.

Boquerón is a traditionally Afro-descendant community. As such, in Colombia the community has the right to prior, free and informed consultation, a process in which the community based on reliable information either refuses or grants its permission to carry out the proposed mining projects. However, as only the departmental and not the national government, has recognized Boquerón’s status as an Afro-descendant community, this right has consistently been denied. Many believe that the government has denied the community this recognition precisely because the right to previous consultation would complicate mining activities in the region, which is an important economic engine in the national government’s eyes and the region’s principal economic activity.