Indigenous Colombians threatened with death for opposition to mega-mining project as defenders visit UK

16 October 2018 - 11:00am
Press release

“Death to all these scum”: threats made by far-right paramilitaries promise to “clean” the region of indigenous Wayúu campaigning against mega-mining projects by UK-listed companies in their ancestral lands. Threats arrive just days before a week of action launches in London to highlight the issue. Delegates have arrived from the United States, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, including Wayúu community leader, Misael Socarras Ipuana.

Wayúu Women’s Force is among the indigenous community groups subject to a series of death threats by far-right Colombian paramilitary groups known as Águilas Negras. Leaflets were scattered along the railroad by which coal is transported from Cerrejón, Colombia’s largest open-cast coal mine. The mine, located in La Guajira, is owned in equal share by Anglo-American, Glencore and BHP Billiton, and the coal is imported into the UK.

Wayúu Womens Force says: "Our community will not be cowed by these threats. We have long worked under threat of violence in our communities to defend our water, our territory and the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendent people from the multinational corporations that steal and pollute our land. We cannot surrender. This is already a fight for our lives.”

In response, our partner organisation Wayúu Womens Force, an indigenous community campaign dedicated to defending the rights of the Wayúu indigenous people, have requested urgent protection from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and call on the Colombian government to protect them. Wayúu land defenders have previously been forced to flee Colombia due to threats against their lives.

Visiting defenders including Misael Ipuana will be available for media interviews and we will holding a series of events throughout next week, including a demonstration on 17 October outside the BHP annual general meeting. 

To arrange an interview with one of our visitors or if you have any questions, please get in touch. Visitor biographies are available online along with further quotes and community demands.

Press Contacts

War on Want: Marienna Pope-Weidemann
media@waronwant.org / 020 7324 5060 
London Mining Network: Lydia James
lydia@londonminingnetwork.org 

Notes for Editors

The leaflets address themselves to “corrupt people who call themselves the Defenders of Mother Earth or Human Rights Defenders" who "stop the progress of the country. We will clean our region of these scum," it continues. "Death to all these bandits.” 

About the Cerrejón Mine in La Guajira

Cerrejón, the largest open cast coal mine in Colombia and one of the largest in the world, is owned in three equal shares by Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore. The mine is located in La Guajira, a region situated in the northern tip of Colombia; a remote and impoverished area populated by around 400,000 Wayúu indigenous and Afro-descendant people who mainly live below the poverty line and who struggle to survive in harsh surroundings, made worse by regular drought.

To date, 25 African-descendant and indigenous communities have been forcibly displaced. Resettlements of local communities have led to loss of land for agriculture and difficulties sustaining livelihoods. The lives of those left behind are marred by the mine. Nearby rivers and streams have been diverted or polluted by mining operations, threatening local access to clean water. The damming of the Rancheria river enables Cerrejón to use 17 million litres of water a day while each resident of La Guajira is left with an average of 0.7 litres per day to live on.

Since the mine opened 40 years ago, there has never been an independent investigation into the health impacts that it is having on local people, but locals report skin diseases, stomach problems, eye disorders and respiratory problems.

The #BeyondBHP week of action is co-organised by London Mining Network, The Gaia Foundation, War on Want, Colombia Solidarity Campaign, ThreePenny Festival Collective and Coal Action Network.

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