For the indigenous Wayuu citizens of La Guajira, Colombia, the Cerrejón coalmine has brought misery by destroying communities and the environment.
Since I began to understand the difference between right and wrong, I have not known a single positive memory about Cerrejón. I remember the company came to our community promising us the world, but they never actually sat down and spoke to us. When I was a child, they gave us toys. Now I am thirty years old and those toys were the last benefits the company brought to my life.
At night we don’t sleep, as the constant hum of the huge machines doesn’t let us. We cannot live in any sort of peace. But beyond the noise pollution, the mine contaminates the environment. This in turn generates health problems and illnesses in our communities. There are many sick children and adults, too, including my two-year-old son, Moises.
Moises suffered from violent coughing fits which required urgent medical attention. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t have any money, and the medicine was so expensive. I approached my elders, my family, the local government and even the mine for help but none of them listened.
I was advised to file a claim against the company and the state as it was clear that Moises was sick due to contamination from the mine. The court ruled in my favour on two counts, ordering the local environmental agency and the company to reduce pollution and provide me with proper medical attention for my son.
That same week, the company turned up at my house for the first time. They offered me money, they offered me and my husband a job, knowing that neither of us had jobs, they attempted to buy my conscience by offering medical treatment for Moises. Obviously, I said no because my son’s health doesn’t have a price and many more children are dying because of the contamination. My struggle is for them too.
Their illnesses are due to the pollution caused by the mine, which also contaminates our water. Between the water the mine contaminates and the water it takes for operations, hardly any drinking water is available for us in the already drought-prone region.
These realities are made worse by the lack of basic healthcare in the area. Many indigenous children in La Guajira are dying of malnutrition. The government and the media say this is because indigenous Wayuu parents are bad parents who let our children die because we don’t look after them. But if the environment wasn’t polluted and there was work, our children wouldn’t be dying of malnutrition.
The company doesn’t employ us because it wants us out of our territory. They know that employing us would result in minimal better conditions. Instead, we are subjected to their manipulation and bribes. It is a form of control. They keep us poor to drive us from our territory.
These are the consequences we face with Cerrejón – and its multinational co-owners BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Xstrata – as neighbours. Coming to London makes me very nostalgic, to see that people here live with the benefits and energy produced from the coal exploited in La Guajira. It is saddening that the deaths of the children in La Guajira allow people to live the way they live here.
For more information on the Cerrejón mine and other extraction projects which harm local communities around the world, contact the London Mining Network.