Dozens of miners, indigenous people and activists protested this Friday in a poor and desert region of northern Colombia against environmental and labor policies at Latin America’s largest open-pit coal mine.
On strike since August, workers at the Cerrejón mine led the demonstrations in different municipalities in the department of La Guajira, which borders Venezuela.
“We ask, first of all, that the company sit down to dialogue with workers and honor every commitment it has to each of the communities,” said activist Samuel Arregocés, 40, who participated in the mobilization in the municipality of Barrancas.
The mine is owned by the multinationals BHP Group, Anglo American and Glencore. Protesters criticized environmental contamination and defended health. “There are many sick workers,” said Arregocés.
The UN joined the environmental demands and called for a suspension of the mine’s activities on September 28, alleging noise, air, water and vegetation pollution. “This in a pandemic season can be a deadly threat,” he warned.
According to the international body, the local population suffers from “headaches, breathing and vision problems, dry cough and burning eyes as a result of open pit mining carried out 24 hours a day with heavy machinery and explosives”.
In 2019, the Constitutional Court ordered Cerrejón and the State to take urgent measures to mitigate the damage that coal mining caused to the Wayuu indigenous people. In a statement of October 6, Cerrejón said it was willing to negotiate to reach an agreement that benefits “the workers, their families and La Guajira, while guaranteeing the company’s survival”.
The energy mining sector is the main driver of Colombian exports. Last August, the country exported the equivalent of $ 271 million in coal, according to the Administrative Department of Statistics.
According to the National Federation of Coal Producers, Colombia is the largest producer of ore in Latin America.