Deutsche Welle reports: “El Cerrejon is the biggest open-cast coal mine in Latin America, and one of the biggest in the world. It sprawls across more than 69,000 hectares, an area the size of 100 soccer fields, and gulps down 30 million liters of water every day in the barren semi-desert of Colombia’s second-poorest department, La Guajira.”

It is [now fully] owned by the Swiss company Glencore.”

The article highlights that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with Colombian President Ivan Duque about the mine in early-April. The Chancellor wants to import more coal from this mine to end its reliance on Russian coal.

Impacts on the Indigenous Wayuu peoples

The Deutsche Welle article further notes: “Around 5,000 Wayuu children have died of starvation and thirst in the region around the mine.”

Rosa Maria Mateus Parra, a lawyer with the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR), explains: “It’s caused by the shortage of water because rivers and streams are contaminated, or have dried. And the lack of food because coal is now mined where indigenous communities grew their vegetables. Those children who survive have skin rashes and respiratory diseases because of the fine particle pollution.”

She adds: “We’ve proved all of this in court.”

Diversion of the Bruno stream

This situation could worsen.

The Unidas Por La Paz collective, formed in Berlin by Colombian immigrants, says that one day after the call between the German Chancellor and the Colombian President, El Cerrejón received permission from the Colombian government to divert the Bruno stream.

Infobae reports: “The permit for the exploitation of coal in Bruno stream was granted by the Ministry of Environment, without the consent of the Wayuu people, nor the experts who warned of the danger of drought.”

The article also explains: “The Bruno stream is the main tributary of the Ranchería River, the only river in the desert region of La Guajira, on which multiple indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant communities depend for survival. According to experts, the diversion of the stream will cause it to dry out, preventing access to water for thousands of people.”

CCAJAR calls on UN Special Rapporteur

In 2020, CCAJAR asked UN Special Rapporteur David R. Boyd to call for “an immediate suspension of the mining operations of Cerrejón” and “in accordance with its Paris Agreement obligations, relevant in order to guarantee the human rights of the Wayuu people, the Colombian State should gradually eradicate coal mining.”

CCAJAR further highlighted the impacts of the mine on the human right to water and noted: “The impact of the mining operation in the dramatic transformations of the water system of [Wayuu] territory in the last 30 years is undeniable.”

Boyd did speak against the mine.

Last year he commented: “I’m in hot water with the Government of Colombia right now because of a communication related to a massive open-pit mine that has been damaging the human rights of the Wayuu indigenous people in Colombia for decades.”

“It absolutely boggles my mind that you can have a massive extractive operation that has produced billions of dollars in wealth for private investors and for the government of Colombia and right next door you have indigenous people who are living some of the most extreme poverty that I’ve witnessed in my life.”

He added: “That was a message not taken kindly by the companies or the government but those are situations that need to be highlighted and international attention will hopefully result in changes that advance the situation.”

CCAJAR launches constitutional action

Then in 2021, CCAJAR helped launch a constitutional action seeking the fulfillment of the right to participation for communities affected by the mine.

Their media statement explains: “The tutela action is a constitutional mechanism which allows any person to claim immediate judicial protection of their fundamental rights before a judge, at any time and in any place.”

It added: “These communities have suffered serious violations of human rights, affecting their right to a decent life, to water, to health, to food security and sovereignty, to information, to participation and to free prior and informed consent, among others.”

We continue to follow this situation.

PBI-Colombia has accompanied CCAJAR since 1995.