The eviction of Tabaco: 13 years of struggle
08 August 2014
I met Ines Perez earlier this summer in Colombia, where I was visiting people affected by the Cerrejón coal mine. Inez is from Tabaco, a community that was brutally pulled apart by the mine. The eviction of Tabaco, or the ‘cleaning up of the community’ as it was called, was one of the darkest moments of Cerrejón’s 30 year history. It took place thirteen years ago tomorrow.
Ines told me, tears welling in the corners of her eyes:
The community was evicted from the land by force, with anti-riot police, in cold blood. We were thrown off our land. They destroyed our homes with machines. They punched us. They hit me and my papa. We were left nearly in a coma, with the houses torn down, in ruins. We’ve been struggling for 13 years and we’re still fighting for our health, for our food, for everything. We are demanding to be relocated and to receive compensation. We just want our lives back.
This week, the indigenous communities of Tamaquitos and Provincial, both near the Cerrejón mine, are pioneering ‘people’s consultations’. Communities are taking the lead to discuss, debate and make a democratic decisions about what kind of economic development they want for the region where they live.
The people living in the La Guajira region of Colombia, where the Cerrejón mine is located, see little benefit from the foreign ‘investment’ that has poured into the mining industry in the last decade. In fact, inequality in Colombia has increased in that time.
Under international law, governments and companies are required to consult indigenous communities before they can implement development projects that will affect their lands – and projects can only go ahead if the indigenous people give their free, prior and informed consent. But all too often, consultations are a sham in which the authorities merely inform communities of their plans.
The people gathering in La Guajira this week plan to make sure they get to voice their views in a more meaningful way.
At the same time, they are also commemorating the brutal eviction of the African-descent community of Tabaco, expelled from their land by armed police and security guards on 9 August 2001 so that the mine could expand.
Together with other organisations, including Colombia Solidarity Campaign, London Mining Network, War on Want, Fuel Poverty Action, FOR peace, ASK, Friends of the Earth and Platform, this afternoon WDM is touring the three mining companies who own Cerrejón, all based in fancy offices in West London.
All of these companies – AngloAmerican, Glencore Xstrata and BHP Billiton - are London listed. They are financed by our banks, and the coal they produce is converted to electricity to warm our houses.
We have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with these communities in their struggle for justice.