In October 2000, I visited a beautiful Colombian village called Tabaco. It was inhabited by small-scale farmers, mostly of African descent. It was an idyllic little place, with plenty of fruit trees and a crystal clear river running by.
The only problem was that it was next door to an enormous opencast coal mine, El Cerrejon. Dust and blasting were causing problems. Worse was the constant pressure from the company to sell up and go.
I visited Tabaco again the following October. It lay in ruins, people’s houses demolished, their livelihoods wrecked. Remaining villagers were camping out in the school house. On 9 August that year, the mining company had moved in with bulldozers and armed police and security guards to evict the villagers and destroy their homes.
Villagers resisting riot police during the Tobaco eviction.
Villagers were willing to move, but they wanted to move as a community to new land where they could carry on farming. But their resistance was hurting the company’s profits.
At that time, half the mine was owned by US oil company Exxon. Three massive multinational mining companies – Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore – owned the other half. Once the destruction of Tabaco was conveniently completed, they took control of the whole mine. They are all now listed on the London Stock Exchange.
How they lamented the “legacy issue” of the outrageous treatment of the people of Tabaco! Of course, this kind of thing would never happen again!
Villagers from Tobaco standing in the ruins of their house.
But now the mine and the Colombian courts are threatening to evict indigenous and afro-descendent villagers at another village, Roche, on Thursday 29 August. The company has already bullied many villagers into moving to an urban site which is no good for those who want to carry on farming or keeping cattle. The families who remain in the old village are holding out for an agreement that would compensate them for what they have suffered over the past few years as mining has come ever closer to their homes, and move them to a site big enough for them to carry on their agricultural way of life.
I don’t want the same thing to happen at Roche as happened at Tabaco. The eviction has to be stopped. Colombia Solidarity Campaign is organising a protest on Tuesday 27 August. We’re going to visit the London offices of the three mining multinationals and tell them to stop. Please join us!
Richard Solly, Colombia Solidarity Campaign.