On the Edge
How the Wayuu and Afro-Colombians struggle for cultural survival a photo essay made in the Northern department of La Guajira in Colombia.
Coal fired electricity plants are the most important producers of electricity worldwide. Lack of transparency of the energy companies about the origin of their material gives companies the possibility to avoid public and political pressure to improve the circumstances within their supply chain.
In the far North of Colombia live the indigenous Wayuu and Afro-Colombian descendants close to Cerrejón, one of the biggest open coal pit mines of the world. The Wayuu and Afro-Colombians are semi nomadic pastoralist cultures who have lived here for centuries. Their way of living is being threatened by large scale mining activities. Without land they are not able to move freely, grow food, herd cattle and fish. Their land is their everything, the gateway to the survival of their culture.
Unfortunately this land holds carbon, the most important raw material for the production of electricity, which already accounts for 41 percent of the global energy production. A number that is likely to grow to more than 50 percent in the coming decades according to the World Coal Association (WCA). Cerrejón wants to expand its export capacity to over 40 million tons of coal by 2015, an expansion of 8 million tons a year. Land is therefore of big importance. Claims of the company that say they work environmentally friendly and taking notion of the surrounding communities turn out to be falls: culture, traditions and the survival of the indigenous population are still being threatened.
The mining company, owned by Multinationals Anglo American, BHB Billiton and Xstrata in equal shares, spans over 69.000 hectares of land and exports over 32 million tons of coal each year, where almost sixty percent is directly shipped to European harbors for use in electricity plants. Although the company states to work environmentally friendly and taking notion of the surrounding communities it is polluting ecosystems and has destroyed complete villages. Once a clear river teeming with fish, the Ranchería river is now a brown muddy stream with hardly any life in it. People from surrounding communities like Tabaco, have forcefully been removed from their land, making them one of the two or three million internally displaced people in Colombia. Which hold second place after Sudan with this number.
Even though Cerrejón has created living areas for some of the communities by means of compensation, life is not the same. People feel lost in urbanized settlements or are tied to the boundaries of reserves to live in houses with hardly any space for livestock, on soil where not a crop will grow. Many wait on agreed resettlement or reparation payments.