Julio Cesar Gomez, President of FECODEMIGUA, the Federation of Communities Displaced by Mining in La Guajira, recently visited Scotland to exchange stories of resisting coal extraction, and to rally support for his communities efforts to stop the expansion of the world’s largest open cast coal mine, El Cerrejón, in Colombia. Longannet Coal Fired Power Station, the 3rd largest in Europe, burns coal mined at Cerrejón, and Clydeport imports millions of tonnes of Cerrejón coal into Hunterston Port every year to be distributed throughout the UK and Europe. As Julio says, this coal is “stained with blood”.
A few stops later on his UK tour, Julio confronted BHP Billiton shareholders, one of three UK-listed mining companies who own the Cerrejón mine, at ther AGM yesterday.
Article from the London Mining Network:
Protesters from the Occupy LSX demonstration marched from St Paul’s cathedral to join anti-nuclear campaigners, supporters of London Mining Network member group Colombia Solidarity Campaign and others outside yesterday’s BHP Billiton AGM.
Inside the AGM, Julio Gomez from Colombia confronted the company over its activities in Colombia. Julio is President of the Federation of Communities Affected and Displaced by Mining Exploitation in La Guajira (FECODEMIGUA).
This Federation was constituted because of the disappearance of communities, the loss of lands and the violations of people’s rights over the last thirty years by the Cerrejon mine, one-third owned by BHP Billiton.
“The benefits obtained in this part of the world from coal mining in La Guajira, such as electrical power and shareholders’ dividends, are stained with blood. This is because of
· the displacement and uprooting of communities neighbouring the Cerrejon mine;
· the humiliations, threats, and persecution suffered by leaders of these communities;
· the destruction and pollution of nature;
· and the exploitation of mine workers.
Many of you may be aware of the forced eviction of the community of Tabaco ten years ago, of the situation of other communities and that of the workers. What you are probably not aware of is that many other communities were destroyed completely before BHP Billiton bought into the mine – among them indigenous and Afro-descendant communities including Manantial, Palmarito, El Descanso, Caracolí, Sarahita and others located along the railway line between the mine and the port.
BHP Billiton has not accepted responsibility for the disappearance of these communities, but it ought to do so, because it has acquired the rights and benefits generated by this business and with it the responsibility for past and future activities.
It is unfair that while you are obtaining massive profits, we suffer from high rates of respiratory illness and cancers, malnutrition, high infant mortality, violations of our rights, land rendered infertile, loss of livelihood, and descent into poverty…
Meanwhile, Cerrejon Coal is carrying out publicity campaigns trying to show how generous it is. It uses the slogan ‘responsible mining’, which is completely inaccurate. Cerrejon seems to spend substantial amounts of money on publicity about social responsibility, but not enough on social responsibility itself.
My question, therefore, is, how long do we, the communities affected by Cerrejon, have to wait for BHP Billiton to take action and demand that its subsidiary Cerrejon Coal act with justice, respect and equity towards us, and that it have an effective and honest department of social responsibility?”
BHP Billiton Chairman Jac Nasser replied that some of the issues raised by Julio were of long standing but that others were new and alarming. He said that not everything the company did was perfect but that they had good intent and that he believed the company was making good progress and contributing to the local and national economy through taxes and social investment. He said that he would welcome the opportunity to sit down with Julio to discuss the issues with Julio in more detail. (Julio took him at his word, conversing with him after the AGM – though they were unable to ‘sit down’ for lack of available seating.) Julio made clear that if Cerrejon Coal’s activities were so beneficial to the communities in La Guajira, he would not have come from Colombia to raise these issues at the company’s AGM.
Representatives of LMN member groups PIPLinks and Down to Earth challenged the Board about BHP Billiton’s plans for uranium mining at Yeelirrie in Western Australia, the massive expansion of its enormous Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia, its plans for coal mining in forested areas of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, and its refusal to accept Indigenous Peoples’ right to Free, Prior Informed Consent under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Statements were also presented from Aboriginal Elders in the areas of BHP Billiton’s uranium projects in Australia.