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Colombian First Nations protest against coal mine

El Cerrejón site. Photo by Cerrejón Colombia.

Wayuu leaders travelled to Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, to protest against El Cerrejón, the thermal coal open-pit mine owned by Glencore (LON:GLEN), BHP Billiton (LON:BLT) and Anglo American (LON:AAL) in the northern La Guajira department.

The Indigenous activists rallied in front of the Justice Department and expressed their concerns over El Cerrejón’s expansion plans, which would increase production to 40 million tonnes of coal a year. Currently, the mine generates about 32 million tonnes of the resource.

Such growth would imply a spike in the site’s water consumption, which would jump to 307 litres per second from the current 142 litres per second. In order to make use of such an amount of water, the course of the nearby Bruno creek has to be diverted. This is a cause of concern for Aboriginal leaders who fear the depletion of their water sources.

Additionally, they say the creek is located in a dry tropical forest that could just disappear following three decades of continued mineral extraction.

On August 14, 2017, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ordered the multinationals to temporarily stop actions aimed at changing the course of the Bruno creek. However, the Wayuu say that the mine already moved 3.6 kilometres of the stream away from its natural course.

“This threatens the survival of several communities, as well as the conservation of water bodies in La Guajira,” they told SputnikNews (in Spanish).

The protesters demanded more concrete government and citizen action against El Cerrejón’s activities which, they say, are also a cause of pollution and chronic respiratory diseases in their communities.

On its website, Carbones del Cerrejón Limited (the subsidiary that manages the mine) states that it strives to address issues related to water and social development in the places where it operates.