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Importing coal from Colombia will increase ecocide, experts anticipate

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The largest coal exporters in Colombia have committed serious human and environmental rights violations in the communities that inhabit the exploitation areas. 5,000 Wayuu indigenous minors have died where the El Cerrejón coal mine operates. However, faced with the blackout that will result from the closure of Russian gas imports, Germany asked the Colombian government to increase its coal exports.

Following the call on April 6 by German Chancellor Olaf Schulz to President Iván Duque, the outgoing Colombian president gave the go-ahead for El Cerrejón, the world’s largest open-pit mine, to divert the Bruno stream and exploit the ore found in his bed. Experts warn that the diversion of the stream will cause it to dry up, preventing access to water for thousands of indigenous people and peasants.

“Germany and Europe stopped their consumption of Russian coal as a rejection of injustice towards the Ukrainian people. Now they must be consistent and also avoid Colombian coal, so as not to finance the suffering of the Wayuu people and other communities abused by the exploitation of coal,” affirm United for Peace, a group of women environmentalists and human rights defenders.

El Cerrejón, a “predatory monster”

Karmen Ramírez, an activist from the Wayuu indigenous community based in the Colombian department of La Guajira where El Cerrejón operates, the world’s largest open-pit mine, denounces the humanitarian crisis that her community is suffering because of this “monster”, as The communities whose environment has been depredated by the mine are called in the territory.

Karmen Ramírez, woman, indigenous Wayuu, environmental leader and representative of Colombians residing abroad in the Colombian Congress
Karmen Ramírez, woman, indigenous Wayuu, environmental leader and representative of Colombians residing abroad in the Colombian Congress © Karmen Ramirez

“Cerrejón has left the death of 5,000 Wayuu boys and girls, an entire generation, due to hunger, thirst and respiratory diseases resulting from the negligence of the State and the operations of the mine,” says Ramírez.

And he concludes bluntly: “The Wayuu children have not died. The Wayuu children have been killed because the water that should have been delivered and made drinkable for human consumption in the area, was delivered to El Cerrejón to guarantee its coal extraction operations.”

The company Glencore, owner of El Cerrejón, announced last year the closure of the mine due to the low demand for coal, but now it plans to increase its production, to supply, among others, the demand of Germany.

Social and environmental justice

The Wayuu indigenous leader recounts that when her community began its fight against El Cerrejón, a quarter of a century ago, the demand was for the mine to leave this territory in the northeast of the country, where it had already been implanted for ten years. Over time, the strategy has changed.

“The bet now is to recognize the prior, free and informed right, which goes far beyond prior consultation with the communities in areas where projects of this type are going to be carried out. And that it be guaranteed that the communities will be able to live in peace.”

Victim of death threats and murders of her relatives, Karmen Ramírez went into exile several years ago in Switzerland, headquarters of Glencore, where the indigenous leader continues her battle. In March, she was elected by Colombians abroad as their representative in Congress for the Historical Pact. She is now a member of the new leftist government presided over by Gustavo Petro and whose flags are environmental and social justice.

“We are not going to be able to avoid contamination from mining extraction, nor to remove “the monster” until all the resources are exhausted. But we want to vindicate the fact that it is necessary to leave the territory in livable conditions”, affirms Karmen.

She is aware of the complex crossroads that the fight against fossil fuels imposes, you love even when the war brings coal to life. For this reason, explains the environmentalist, the new government of Colombia headed by Gustavo Petro and the leading environmental defender Francia Márquez propose an energy transition.

“There is no way out that we can say this is the solution. What is certain is that coal continues to be exploited and disastrous impacts continue to be generated. And that this cannot continue to happen due to the demand from countries like Germany.”

#Life not Coal

In rejection of Foreign Minister Schulz’s request to Colombia, the campaign #Life not Coal which brings together 165 organizations from 28 countries around two banners: stop coal imports from Colombia and energy consumption.

For Danny Carvajal, one of the leaders in Germany of this campaign, the current moment is a “confluence of crises. “Humanitarian, human rights and environmental crisis in Colombia, systematic. And economic and energy crisis in Germany that can no longer be hidden ”he says.

In a letter addressed to the governments of Colombia, Germany and the European Parliament, activists from #Life not Coal They demand to stop imports of Colombian coal “due to the great social and environmental impact. Leaving entire towns without water and destroying ecosystems is ecocide and a clear violation of first and second generation human rights.”

The second axis of the campaign’s work operates on the European side. It is about lowering the demand for energy, explains Carvajal. “In Germany, for example, a lot of energy is being consumed and the government itself began to promote campaigns to discourage consumption.”

From his perspective as a philosopher, Carvajal encourages reflection and calls for conscience. But he knows that aiming for a change in mentality is a titanic undertaking.

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Written by Editor TLN

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