Displacements of Farmers in Colombia and Pension Funds from the Scottish Parliament, the Hidden Side of Investment in Fossil Fuels
How could the pension funds of Scottish parliamentarians contribute to the displacement of poor farmers in Colombian Guajira? Jordi Albacete interviews one of the affected Guajiros, Samuel Arregocés, and the Bogota activist Danilo Urrea who are in Scotland as part of their tour of Europe. They explain how the shareholders of pension funds affect the expropriation of poor farmers in Colombian Guajira.
EDINBURGH- Saturday morning and a group of people gather in protest outside the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. Organised by Friends of the Earth Scotland, they are asking for the divestment in parliamentarian pension funds. These funds invest in one of the largest charcoal exploitations in the world, controlled by Cerrejón company in the Colombian region of La Guajira.
Samuel Arregocés has come from from the Tabaco village in this region This community of African descendants were brutally evicted in 2001 following the expansion of Cerrejón, a consortium of companies in which BHP Billiton is one of its shareholders. He is accompanied by Danilo Urrea, from Censat Agua Viva (Friends of the Earth Colombia), an organisation that has been reporting the environmental and social abuses in the region for more than 20 years.
In this interview with Cosmopolita Scotland Danilo and Samuel outline how the mining industry, partially funded by the shareholders from the Scottish parliamentarians’ pension funds, has contributed to the displacement of local communities, the abuse of basic rights and the deprivation of ecosystems in the Colombian Guajira.
Cosmopolita Scotland – Could you tell us the reason for your visit to Europe?
Danilo – We have come to protest about the evictions, cultural uprooting and the cultural extinction that is taking place in the Colombian Guajira. We have come to share experiences with European organisations and ask them for solidarity with the people of Guajira. Specifically, we’ve come to ask the Scottish pension funds and investors to have more responsibility in Cerrejón [a Colombian holding company in which different companies have shares, such as BHP Billinton, Anglo American and Glencore]. The mining model established by this company affects the rights of the population when it has the financial support of the Colombian government and the investors from pension funds through their shares.
C.S. – Which is the relationship between CENSAT Agua Viva – Friends of the Earth Colombia and the resistance movement of peasant farmers against mining in La Guajira?
Danilo- The organisation has been reporting on human rights abuses for more than 24 years in the region. Our campaigns advocate basic rights such as access to drinking water, food and health.
C.S. – How can Scotland contribute to stop the abuses of human and environmental rights in the Colombian Guajira?
Danilo- One of our demands is to ask universities to undertake more studies in the territory, to document the protest of the violation of human rights in the territory.
C.S. – How important is charcoal mining in Colombia?
Danilo – Colombia produces 80 millions of tones each year. Out of this, 35 millions are exploited by the Cerrejón consortium. Charcoal exports are estimated at $1,000 per year out of which Cerrejón manages a third. 50% of these exports go to Germany, Sweden and Holland. We know that many of these exports go to the UK, but it is difficult to calculate these figures for the UK because the trading is done via the Falkland Islands.
Corporate State and the Expropriation from Farmers
Samuel has lived for more than 30 years within the conflicts that have been generated by the mining industry in his village. Samuel considers this a period of ‘ecological and cultural devastation’. The Guajiro activist condemns the interference of the charcoal companies in the local politics and their subsequent abuses of economic power.
C.S. – Since when have you been displaced?
Samuel – On the 9th of August 2001 my community was evicted and destroyed. It has never again been rebuilt. Cerrejón has never acknowledged this violation. But, the history of abuse in this region starts much earlier.
C.S. – At what point did the massive displacements start?
Samuel – It has been about 33 years of deprivation. During all these years, 19 communities have been evicted (15 of black people and 4 of indigenous people). The exploitative mining companies have gained so much power and have the control of the censuses that now are privatized.
C.S- How are the evictions in the communities?
Samuel – Many times evictions are violent. Negotiations with companies are completely asymmetric because companies have the economic power. The compensations that they offer are not proportional and these are offered individually to divide the community. Relocation is not offered. Our cultural heritage, such as our cemeteries, is not taken into account. Once a church was destroyed with the representative saint of that community
Danilo – This is why the role of the universities is key to undertake objective studies about the environmental and sociological impacts on the region. In this sense there has been a very positive response from a good number of British universities like University College of London.
Privatisation of Rights
Danilo explains to us how, in the 1990s, the Colombian economy was liberalised in detriment to the protective state for human rights. The activist highlights the escalated pressure that many of these communities of farmers faced against the massive expansion of the charcoal company Cerrejón. According to Danilo, that process of liberalization would culminate in a new legal framework, which gave more power to the mining companies and would be regulated by the Code of Mines of 2001.
C.S. – Which has been the role of the Colombian government during these years of conflict between the companies and the communities of farmers?
Danilo – We don’t trust the government or the state in general, as we used to do. Since the beginning of the 1990s in Colombia, a neoliberal system has taking over with 7 consecutive governments that have established a type of corporate state. These companies make big marketing campaigns to clean their image and show that their actions are of social corporate responsibility. The state gets out of their their responsibilities by arguing that companies have undertaken social action programmes, but do not sufficiently analyse what are the real impacts for the population.
C.S. – Which is the role of the judiciary system in this process?
Danilo – Communities have created their own people’s court, The People’s Court Against Multinationals, consisting of affected communities in Guajira and some NGOs [This Court is no law-biding but represents the voice of the communities] For example, there is the Centre of Research and Popular Education (CINEP) that manages the Peace Programme. There are community organisations, in which the Junta of Tabaco [a people’s local council] is present. There is also the presence of international human rights commissions such as the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights that watches all human rights abuses.