Residents of the village of Tabaco, destroyed by Cerrejon Coal in 2001, stand in the ruins of their house. Photo: Richard Solly, October 2001
By Richard Solly
It was difficult to avoid the celebrations last Saturday when Colombia won against Greece. I was on my way from Ibague to Cajamarca in the mountains of Tolima, in western central Colombia. The football commentary was on the radio in the bus as we snaked around the twisting mountain roads and just in case any of us thought it wasn’t noisy enough, a young woman in the front of the bus periodically blew a bullhorn decorated in the yellow, blue and red of the Colombian flag.
When we arrived in the rural town of Cajamarca, the match was over, and Colombia had won. People were going bananas. Some were celebrating with alcohol, inviting me to share in a joy which I found difficult to share because (and may I be forgiven…) I am not interested in football. Well, never mind: to help me get into party mood, I was pelted with flour. Oh, what a delight!
It was not football that drew me to Cajamarca, but gold. I was there to meet with people struggling to stop London-listed South African mining company AngloGold Ashanti from constructing what would be Latin America’s largest opencast gold mine high up in the mountains near the town, in a productive, staggeringly beautiful agricultural region at the headwaters of some of Colombia’s most important rivers. There are many reasons why this ridiculous project should not go ahead. Colombia Solidarity Campaign published a full report about it last year. But there is a cost involved in opposing this project: some of our friends in the area report harassment by police and others, and two opponents of the mining company were assassinated last year.
I had travelled from the other end of the country, from the far northern department of La Guajira, where I had been visiting communities affected by the massive Cerrejon opencast coal mine, which Colombia Solidarity Campaign has been targeting for some years now and which WDM have highlighted in the Carbon Capital Campaign. Communities there have been forcibly displaced to make way for this British-funded mine, and the relocated communities report multiple problems including inability to carry on their preferred agricultural way of life for lack of sufficient land and water. You can read much more about this mine – owned by London-listed mining companies Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore Xstrata – on the London Mining Network website.
So, who should I cheer for? I love Colombia – it is an extraordinarily beautiful country full of kind and friendly people. But its neoliberal government is giving away land hand over fist to foreign mining companies at the direct expense of farming communities. And a significant proportion of those companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange, the main centre for raising mining finance. So the sufferings of my Colombian friends have their origin much closer to my home than to theirs!
Richard Solly is a member of Colombia Solidarity Campaign and Co-ordinator of London Mining Network, of which WDM and Colombia Solidarity Campaign are member groups.
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