capitalism socialism marxism banking interest credit creation? exploitation!
Author: W. T. Whitney Jr.
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 11/30/06 13:17
The Cerrejón mine in La Guajira, Colombia.
LA GUAJIRA, Colombia — Cerrejón, the world’s largest open pit coal mine,
materialized 25 years ago in the midst of the Afro-Colombian and
indigenous Wayuu peoples living in this northeast corner of Colombia. The
region is named after La Guajira peninsula, which juts into the Caribbean
Since 1981, 400 million tons of coal has been taken out of La Guajira’s
Despite this economic “success,” the communities living here — situated on
coal reserves estimated at 3 billion tons — are slated for destruction by
the company and government of President Alvaro Uribe.
The unequal contest between giant multinational corporations and La
Guajira’s communities plays out in an arid landscape marked by
scrub-covered plains and distant mountains.
The forced exit of one community already, and the suffering of the
remaining people living in half-empty, decrepit villages, has outraged
activists and labor unions worldwide. This is nowhere more evident than in
the countries that consume Cerrejón’s coal. Solidarity actions with the
peoples of La Guajira are picking up.
A giant energy complex
Cerrejón, once the property of the Colombian state and Exxon, is now owned
by multinationals BHP Billiton, Anglo-American, and Glencore (Xstrata). It
generated $1.2 billion in earnings last year.
The companies operate a 90-mile-long railroad, a highway and their own
seaport. The mine, 30 miles long and 5 miles wide, sells 22 percent of its
coal to North America, 59 percent to Europe and 19 percent elsewhere. Last
year the mine exported 25 million tons of coal.
Leaders of Sintracarbón, the national union representing Cerrejón workers,
have taken up the cause of the beleaguered communities as they begin their
own contract negotiations with the company. The union has over 3,100
members. Leaders of both the communities and the union are counting on a
boost, however, from international public opinion.
The power of international solidarity was apparent earlier this year when
the nation of Denmark banned coal from Alabama-based Drummond Company, a
notorious anti-labor energy company, pending a U.S. court’s decision about
Drummond’s possible complicity in the murder of three Colombian labor
leaders in 2001.
The Dutch power generating company Essent indicated recently that it, too,
would not be signing new coal supply contracts with Drummond, pending the
‘Blood coal’ in Salem
History professor Aviva Chomsky learned that a power plant in Salem,
Mass., where she lives, was using Cerrejón coal. She and other activists
there and in Nova Scotia, Canada, another consuming region, have turned
Cerrejón into a symbol for “blood coal.”
This year, Chomsky recruited labor and human rights activists, physicians
and academicians from Canada and the United States to visit La Guajira
from Oct. 29-Nov. 3 to learn, carry out a requested health survey and
prepare for solidarity work on their return.
Sintracarbón and organizations representing Wayuu and Afro-Colombian
communities had invited them to Colombia. When the delegation arrived, its
members were greeted by union and community leaders, who subsequently
accompanied them on the tour. The present writer joined the group’s
A solemn declaration
Responding to the owners’ plans for continued mine expansion, Sintracarbón
leaders issued a declaration on the communities timed for the visitors’
departure. What it describes mirrors some of the impressions they took
back to North America.
The declaration notes, “These communities are being systematically
besieged.” The company has denied them access to employment, grazing land
and rivers. The communities “do not have even the most minimal conditions
necessary for survival,” it said.
The document continues: “The multinational companies that exploit and loot
our natural resources in the Cerrejón mine are violating the human rights
of these communities.”
Sintracarbón, the union, aims to “help unify the affected communities, to
participate in their meetings, to take a stand with the local and national
authorities ... to begin a dialogue with the company.”
Meeting with the communities
Interviewing residents of four communities, the North Americans learned
that local schools and health facilities are virtually non-existent. To
secure food and work, Wayuu people have to trek over mountains into nearby
Venezuela. Harassment from company police and the national army is rampant.
Government officials have denied indigenous and Afro-Colombian people
rights guaranteed them under the nation’s 1991 constitution. They refuse
the official certification that would place the communities into protected
Displaced former residents of the Afro-Colombian community Tabaco, living
nearby in cruel circumstances, recalled the bulldozers, soldiers and
company police that on Aug. 9, 2001, evicted them, destroying their
village. Neither Cerrejón nor neighboring Hatonuevo municipality has
complied with a Supreme Court ruling May 2002 to provide homes for the
Before and later, some residents did settle individually with Cerrejón.
Others, members of “Tabaco in Resistance” led by Jose Julio Perez, demand
collective negotiations, collective resettlement, and reparations for loss
of livelihood and community integrity.
U.S. and world solidarity
Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Leo Gerard,
president of the United Steelworkers, have called upon the company to
honor labor and human rights. Gerard wrote the mine’s owners, “We applaud
Sintracarbón union’s courageous and unprecedented step in including in its
bargaining proposal demands that the collective rights of the
Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities affected by the mine are
recognized and addressed.”
Chomsky reports that solidarity groups are active in Massachusetts, Nova
Scotia, London and Switzerland. She and others have formed an
international commission to monitor developments in La Guajira, including
union negotiations for a new contract.
For more information, visit
W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @ megalink.net) writes on international affairs
for the People’s Weekly World. He lives in rural Maine.
‘We are compañeros and friends who are forever united’
Following the delegation visit, Jairo Quiroz of the Sintracarbón union
sent the visitors these reflections:
“This kind of experience is what brings us the strength and conviction
that we need to continue our struggle against the social inequalities in
our country. Our experience with you allowed us to come close to these
uprooted and displaced communities that are suffering from desperation and
depression because of the way they are humiliated and assaulted by the
strength of foreign capital, with the blessing of the Colombian state.
“Their fundamental rights have been violated. Beginning now, we as a union
are proposing that just as the company has a social responsibility for the
way it runs its business, our union, seeing the destruction that the
Guajira communities are suffering at the hands of Cerrejón, has a moral
and political responsibility.
“The company generates huge profits through the misery, poverty, and
uprooting of these populations. The communities have to pay a very high
price for the company’s profits.
“We are convinced that only the unity among the different peoples of the
world can allow us to confront these economically powerful and inhuman
multinationals in the name of the communities that have the misfortune to
be located in the path of the mine’s expansion.”
Quiroz had been asked the meaning of compañero. He explained by quoting
Che Guevara: “We are not friends, we are not relatives, we don’t even know
each other. But if you, as I, are outraged by any act of injustice
committed in the world, then we are compañeros.”
Quiroz adds, “We also now consider all of you to be our friends and our
relatives. Forever united.”
W.T. Whitney Jr.
Also read Building people-to-people solidarity by Aviva Chomsky,