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During the second half of October, CENSAT Agua Viva - Friends of the Earth Colombia held a tour through several European cities to expose the El Cerrejon coal mining project, in La Guajira department, to social organizations, companies, pension funds, universities, among others.
Switzerland, Scotland, England and Germany were some of the countries visited. Real World Radio interviewed on Wednesday Danilo Urrea, member of CENSAT, who participated in the tour together with Samuel Arregoces, an Afro-descendant activist displaced by coal mining in 2001 from Tabaco community in La Guajira.
El Cerrejon belongs equally to transnational corporations BHP Billiton (Australia), Anglo American (South Africa) and Glencore (Switzerland). The project is almost 34 years old, but it is controlled by these companies since 2000. The inhabitants of the area denounce a land privatization process (including water sources), as well as cultural uprooting, health problems, violations to the right to food and the right to a healthy environment, protected by the Colombian Constitution.
Currently, there is concern over a project to expand El Cerrejon to exploit 40 million tons of coal more, which implies the detouring of the Bruno stream and several other water sources.
Together with numerous organizations that work in solidarity with Colombia and that support territorial defense problems in La Guajira, with which they met in Europe, they established the possibility to "build a joint work at international level to exert pressure, especially through the visibilization of what these countries do through their investments in ours", said Urrea.
Danilo, who is also Real World Radio´s correspondent in Colombia, also made reference to the meetings held with companies that for instance buy coal to El Cerrejon and "had no idea", according to some of their leaders, of the socioenvironmental conflicts in La Guajira.
Meanwhile, with reference to the Swedish Pensions Fund, Urrea said that the meeting with its representatives "allowed them to understand that it is not ethical that while investment in pension funds ensure the life and health of people in Europe, they attack at the same time people in countries such as Colombia". These spaces, said Urrea, at least bring "doubt" to companies they work with and which they support in financial terms.
The Colombian environmental activist also said that together with Arregoces they assisted to BHP Billiton´s shareholders meeting. "It served to realize the argumentative tricks used by companies such as BHP Billiton to explain how they are not responsible" for what happens in the territories where they operate. He also highlighted, nevertheless, that shareholders heard that there are inconveniences with the company´s investments.
Meanwhile, Urrea considered that the visits to universities were key. "Because what Colombia needs is the possibility to access independent studies by serious international institutions that serve as evidence against the control and the supposed scientific objectivity given by companies when the Colombian state does not carry out any type of study, but simply relies on studies conducted by the companies".
About the attitude of the departmental and national government with reference to El Cerrejon´s initiative to expand, Urrea regretted that the government facilitates an entire "web of actions" that includes the definition of the "energy mining locomotive" as an engine for the growth of the country and the "flexibilization of environmental permits".
According to information provided by CENSAT´s representative, currently El Cerrejon exploits 33.5 million tons of coal per year and the expansion project is directly related to the Colombian government´s intention to go from exporting 80 million tons of coal per year to 100 million tons in 2016. Urrea highlighted as well the link between this expansion with the FTA signed between Colombia and the European Union, which has coal as its main export product.
In July, environmental federation Friends of the Earth International denounced the violations perpetrated by El Cerrejon at the first session of the UN Intergovernmental Working Group on transnational corporations and human rights that took place in Geneva, Switzerland.
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