What will happen to Cesar, Colombia when the mines leave?

Coal mines have caused environmental devastation to the Cesar department of Colombia. But now that the Swiss mining company Glencore announced that they will withdraw from the department, where they […] The post What will happen to Cesar, Colombia when the mines leave? appeared first on Latin America News Dispatch.

What will happen to Cesar, Colombia when the mines leave?

Coal mines have caused environmental devastation to the Cesar department of Colombia. But now that the Swiss mining company Glencore announced that they will withdraw from the department, where they operate two mines, residents fear that the company will skip out on its legal obligations to the affected communities. 


Boquerón is a small town on the plains of the northeastern Colombian department of Cesar, not far from the Venezuelan border. It can get so hot in Boquerón that you sweat standing still, and the streets are usually deserted around the middle of the day. Flower Arias told me about his childhood there, about how he used to be free to roam the plains, go for a swim, or go hunting. 

“We were humble, not poor,” he said. 

That was when the cash crop was cotton and they had a “campesino culture,” of farming staples such as yuca and plantain, before multinational corporations dug five large-scale open-pit coal mines in the area surrounding Boquerón, changing the region forever. 

“Sickness, environmental contamination, robberies, sexual violence, these are the memories that the mines are going to leave,” Arias said. 

On February 4, one of the three multinational corporations, Prodeco (a subsidiary of the Swiss mining giant Glencore), announced they were to the Colombian government and halting operations in Colombia. The company said the low price for coal has made their operations “economically unviable.” Many living in Cesar’s mining corridor are uneasy, as it isn’t clear who will assume the responsibility of Prodeco’s environmental and social liabilities or what will replace this source of employment and royalties for local governments.

“The country runs the risk that this company will leave without having given a plan to close the mine, which is mandatory, and without resolving the social and environmental problems that it generated during its time here, as communities and organizations have denounced for years,” read a by dozens of Colombian civil society organizations and Colombian Lawmakers.

Arias agrees.

“The company has to respond for everything it has done wrong,” he said. “From this point of view, they haven’t fulfilled anything. They need to take care of their environmental liabilities.”

of the municipalities of Agustín Codazzi, Becerril, El Paso, and La Jagua de Ibirico. The region produced just over 52 million metric tons of coal in 2019, accounting for 61% of Colombia’s production. Colombia exported 88% of the coal it produced that year, with Turkey buying the most. 

Prodeco across two mines, La Jagua and Calenturitas, which have been operating since 2004. produced about 30% of Cesar’s coal in 2019, providing $206 million in royalties and taxes for the Colombian state.

Colombia’s National Mining Agency is responsible for. This can, for example, grant a company such as Prodeco the right to exploit a certain mineral for a certain amount of time; the Autoridad Nacional de Licencias Ambientales (National Environmental Licensing Authority, ANLA) must give its approval, taking into account environmental and social standards.

While the option for companies to renounce their concessions has always existed, this is the has done so in Colombia. To sort through all the financial, environmental, and social liabilities Prodeco may or may not have, the Colombian State has appointed an “inter-institutional commission.”

“I don’t know how the state is going to accept the return of those mining titles because they have a lot of responsibility,” Arias said.

Photo: Thomas Power.

El Hatillo and Boquerón; waiting more than 10 years for involuntary resettlement 

One notable liability Prodeco has is its responsibility for the involuntary resettlement of three Colombian villages: Boquerón, where Arias is from, as well as El Hatillo and Plan Bonito.

In 2010, the the three multinational companies, Drummond, Prodeco, and Colombian Natural Resources (CNR), to resettle these communities because of dangerous air contamination caused by mining. The order said the resettlement had to be finished by 2012.

However, or Boquerón were resettled by the deadline. After drawn-out negotiations that lasted six years, the companies agreed to the Resettlement Action Plan for El Hatillo in 2018. 

“For those living in the area, mining and agro industry have been responsible not only for changes in the use of the land, but also for air pollution and water pollution that have come with them,” said the organization Pensamiento y Acción Social (Social Thought and Action, PAS) in a written statement. “During the six years of negotiation, the companies used diverse strategies to wear out the community and its leaders, generate uncertainty, and break the communitarian social fabric.”

Yolima Parra,  a community leader from El Hatillo, said the announcement that Prodeco is leaving has generated uncertainty and had a big impact on the people living there. 

“We are suffering a humanitarian crisis due to unemployment and food scarcity,” Parra said. “No family has a stable source of employment or a way to get resources to feed themselves.”

In the municipality of El Paso, where El Hatillo is located, zones had unmet basic needs in 2018, according to the Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE). This number jumps to 35% in La Jagua de Ibirico, where Boquerón is located, and 34% and 67%, respectively, in Agustín Codazzi and Becerril, the other two municipalities of the mining corridor.

“[Prodeco] has to assume the obligations and commitments to take care of the environmental impacts that affect us and surrounding communities, they have to take responsibility for the environment and social responsibility for the communities,” Parra added, demanding above all that the company fulfill its responsibilities in the Resettlement Action Plan signed between the companies and the community in 2018.

Further complicating El Hatillo’s resettlement is that another of the three companies, CNR, and says they won’t be able to meet their resettlement obligations.

Parra says the only company that has been transparent as to what’s going on with the resettlement has been Drummond. 

“Prodeco, we don’t have a lot of communication with them, only once because we demanded it,” Parra said.

He added that CNR has been similarly evasive.

According to a statement from Prodeco, however, they are committed to ensuring a sustainable and just transition for Colombia and surrounding communities. 

“The decision to relinquish the mining contracts has not been taken lightly and is a disappointing outcome,” the company said in its .

The company also said they had invested $3 billion in the communities and had paid another $3 billion in royalties over the course of their operations. They claim they “will support our employees, contractors and neighboring communities in relation to the impact derived from the relinquishment of mining titles and the subsequent stages of the process.”

Prodeco did not return requests for an interview.

As for Boquerón, on February 2, 2021 the the area as not having high enough levels of air contamination to justify a resettlement. Local officials have reportedly committed to improve living conditions in Boquerón.

Arias, who grew up in Boquerón but now lives in the Department’s capital Valledupar, asserts that the mining companies still have an obligation to resettle the community, because while the Environmental Ministry has issued a resolution removing Boquerón from the area of contamination, the ANLA has not yet reversed the original order. The resolution to resettle the community is still in force. Arias is the legal representative of Boquerón’s , a special Colombian legal framework that affords Afro-Colombian communities a degree of territorial autonomy.

“Colombia’s constitution says you have a right to a safe environment, and to guaranteed healthcare, drinking water, education, but here some local authorities don’t do anything,” Arias said.

In March, nine Colombian lawmakers  “to monitor and verify large-scale coal mining in the Colombian Caribbean,” to oversee environmental, healthcare, labor, economic, judicial, and social and cultural issues in Cesar and La Guajira, another


Regional Impact

“It isn’t only [communities being resettled] that have been impacted, the whole mining corridor of Cesar has been affected, but people only focus on the resettlements,” said Ana Rivera, a member of Boquerón’s community council who lives in the urban center of La Jagua de Ibirico. “That’s to say Becerril, La Jagua, in the rural parts, they all have felt an impact.”

Rivera spoke specifically to the precarious access to water. 

“We have an aqueduct, but water only comes out of the taps every three, four or five days,” she said. “The water is OK for cleaning, washing dishes, even for cooking if you treat it a bit. But for drinking, you have to buy it.”

One of the biggest impacts on the water system in the region was the diversion of the Calenturitas River, approved by Colombia’s. This river was vital for the economy of the region, including El Hatillo, providing fish and other necessary resources.

“The biggest damage was the diversion of the river, because it had provided economic stability for the community,” Parra said.

In 2018, the about the mining licenses in Cesar, finding a series of of regional and national environmental authorities, including that rivers were diverted without the sufficient studies having been done.

“It should be noted that the pressure on natural resources from mining operations in the [central area of Cesar] has increased over the years, affecting or influencing the quality and quantity of water resources, loss of biodiversity, changes in land use, air quality (source area of pollution in the [Central Area of Cesar]), changes in geoforms, loss of ecosystem services and changes in social dynamics, including resettlement processes,” the report reads.

Aside from environmental and social damages, Prodeco has been implicated in funding paramilitary groups. Allegations of Prodeco funding these groups, and in February a documentary released by interviewed a demobilized paramilitary soldier who alleged complicity with mining companies operating in Cesar.

Both and U.S. coal company, also accused of funding paramilitaries, released statements denying any involvement with paramilitary groups.

Drummond points to the lack of judicial sanctions as exculpatory, pointing out, “Drummond has prevailed in every case filed against it in the US based on allegations of collaboration with paramilitaries.” 

the Colombian Public Prosecutor’s office accused the current and former presidents of Drummond in Colombia of having financed paramilitaries. That case is still in court.

Meanwhile, people who live in the mining corridor continue to suffer violence. In 2016, the negotiations between the mining companies and the community were getting progressively more tense, as they were approaching structural aspects of the resettlement such as access to land and housing. According to PAS, “at night they began to see armed men dressed in black… patrolling the streets close to the houses [of the leaders of the community].”

On January 7, 2017, the nephew of the president of the Communal Action Board (a figure that allows rural communities to organize themselves) . The local human rights authority that community leaders were at risk.

Leaders like Flower Arias and Yolima Parra are continuing to advocate for their communities and navigate a difficult set of relationships just to survive. What Arias and Parra are demanding is that Prodeco assume its social and environmental responsibilities after two decades of extracting wealth and coal from the area. 

“Now, [with Prodeco] leaving their mining titles, we’ll be without a river, we’ll be without land to cultivate, and we’ll be without a source of employment for the community,” Parra said.


Thomas Power is a candidate for a master’s degree in Estudios Políticos (Political Studies) in the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Universidad Nacional of Colombia) and was an International Human Rights Accompanier with Fellowship of Reconciliation from 2016-2018, where he continues to collaborate. He tweets at @ahbueno55

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Mexican Soldier Arrested for Checkpoint Shooting of Guatemalan Citizen

NEW IN LAND Coal mines have caused environmental devastation for communities in the Cesar department of Colombia. But now that the Swiss mining company Glencore announced that they will withdraw […] The post Mexican Soldier Arrested for Checkpoint Shooting of Guatemalan Citizen appeared first on Latin America News Dispatch.

Mexican Soldier Arrested for Checkpoint Shooting of Guatemalan Citizen


Photo: Flower Arias.

Coal mines have caused environmental devastation for communities in the Cesar department of Colombia. But now that the Swiss mining company Glencore announced that they will withdraw from the department, where they operate two mines, residents fear that the company will skip out on its legal obligations to the affected communities.



GUATEMALA/MEXICO: After being held captive in Guatemala for over 12 hours, a Mexican soldier after shooting dead a Guatemalan national at a checkpoint near the border in the state of Chiapas.

According to his family, the victim, identified as Elvin Mazariegos, to make purchases and was returning to his country when he was stopped at a checkpoint and asked for identification, which he could not produce. Mexican military authorities say that Mazariegos then attempted to flee the checkpoint by driving in reverse, when the soldier shot him twice through the windshield, in what was characterized as an “erroneous reaction.”

After the incident, a crowd of angry Mexican and Guatemalan nationals attacked the soldiers manning the checkpoint and were able to take several of them hostage, as well as vehicles and weapons. were taken across the border to Mazariego’s native town of La Esperanza, where they were held for several hours until Guatemalan police negotiated their release, under the condition that Mazariego’s body be returned and that the shooter be prosecuted in Mexico.


BRAZIL: In an attempt to diffuse tension with the military, President Jair Bolsonaro appointed the former top army health officer Paulo Sérgio Nogueira as the on Thursday. Earlier in the week, Bolsonaro had fired retired army General Fernando Azevedo e Silva from the position, a move that angered many in the military. In response, the top three generals of the army, navy, and air force planned to resign, but before they had submitted their resignations. This is the first time since Brazil’s military dictatorship ended that the heads of all three branches of the military have been fired, and coincided with a celebration by military supporters in Bolsonaro’s government of the anniversary of the . Bolsonaro, a former army captain himself, has always had close ties to the military, and appointed active and retired army members to various cabinet positions, but tension has grown between him and the military in recent weeks. The reshuffling of top defense posts is the latest in a made during the pandemic. 

CHILE: Chile and increased lockdown restrictions in response to a growing number of COVID-19 cases this week. Despite having vaccinated of the country, a recent increase in cases has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system, with intensive care units at capacity. Experts say the recent wave is a result of new virus variants and a false sense of security generated by Chile’s vaccination success. The country has adopted intense quarantine measures, with 80% of the country under lockdown with restrictions on how often they can leave the house to purchase groceries or other essentials. President Sebastián Piñera also encouraged legislators to to select who will draft the country’s new constitution because of the pandemic. In a public referendum last year, Chileans voted in favor of rewriting the Chilean constitution, which was inherited from the former military dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1970 to 1990. The vote is currently scheduled to take place April 10.


COLOMBIA/VENEZUELA: For the last few weeks, between the Venezuelan government and Colombian armed groups, forcing their homes. The area near the border of the two countries has become a warzone, with military helicopters and armored vehicles patrolling the area, and frequent explosions that have terrorized residents. Some displaced Venezuelans have denounced the Venezuelan army for stealing from houses. Others have claimed that family members were taken from their homes and later found dead, dressed in the uniforms of armed groups, although this has not yet been verified by independent groups. The thousands who have fled have converged on the town of Arauquita in Colombia. The groups involved are believed to be dissident members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who did not lay down their weapons as part of the 2016 peace treaty between the FARC and the Colombian government. Colombia has long accused Venezuela of sheltering criminal groups, but Venezuela has called the presence of the groups by Colombia. 

PERU: Polls reported a  going into the first round of Peru’s upcoming presidential election. There are 18 total candidates in the running for the first round of elections, which will take place on April 11. The top five include three right-wing candidates, one leftist former Congress member and one populist, each of whom received about 10% of the votes in the polls, with 28% of those surveyed still undecided. The polls predict a high voter turnout in the first round despite the pandemic risk factors. In Peru, voting is compulsory and punishable by fine without an accepted excuse. Health experts have proposed postponing the election because of the pandemic, but President Francisco Sagasti has


HAITI: A pastor, a pianist and at least two others Thursday in the commune of Carrefour near Port-au-Prince. Pastor Audalus Estimé of Kréyol Gospel Ministry, a Seventh-day Adventist church, was giving a service, which was being livestreamed on social media, when. The kidnappers forced Estimé, as well as the well-known and two others into two vehicles before fleeing. U.S. Representative Andy Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, condemned the kidnapping and the impunity that exists under the rule of President Jovenel Moïse on Twitter,, “There are no words for the level of impunity and complete lack of accountability in Haiti under Moïse. I will not be quiet.”

PUERTO RICO: As tourism to the commonwealth is recovering after the pandemic, police are of anti-COVID-19 measures. An executive order by Governor Pedro Pierluisi requires that masks be worn in public, and violators. The executive order also includes a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. The commonwealth government has mobilized 1,100 National Guard soldiers to help enforce the measures. Puerto Rico is also requiring that arriving visitors show a negative COVID-19 test from the last 72 hours, or otherwise quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.


HONDURAS/UNITED STATES: The brother of Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández was sentenced to for drug trafficking in the United States last week. Tony Hernández of being involved in trafficking at least 185 metric tons of cocaine into the United States, and of corrupting the Honduran government to protect his trafficking operation. U.S. investigations have also implicated President Hernández in corruption and organized crime. Last month, U.S. federal prosecutors at the trial of Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, in the United States, said that Fuentes Ramírez “owned” the president, who in exchange for bribes agreed to use state institutions like the armed forces to facilitate drug trafficking and protect traffickers from extradition.


MEXICO: Seven Mexican who had previously been accused of a 2014 massacre of 22 suspected criminals have been re-arrested. The soldiers were arrested in 2015 for the killings, but freed shortly thereafter when a judge ruled there was not enough evidence against them. 

The charges stem from a 2014 confrontation between an army convoy and a group of armed civilians in the town of Tlatlaya in Mexico State. that 22 suspected cartel gunmen were killed in the shootout, but investigators later found that at least eight of the victims had been killed after surrendering, and that the crime scene was manipulated. 

MEXICO: A by Mexican health authorities would make Mexico the country with the second-most deaths from COVID-19. While there have been only a little over 200,000 lab-confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the country, testing rates are low, and many people died without getting tested. 

The report, which took into account excess mortality, estimates that the real number of people who have died from the disease is about 60% higher, at 321,000. 

This new figure means that than in Brazil, which holds second-place after the United States for the most lab-confirmed COVID-19 deaths. But Mexico’s population of 126 million is significantly smaller than Brazil. The new number gives Mexico one of the highest per-capita COVID-19 death rates in the world. 

The new report also showed that during Mexico’s second wave at the beginning of 2021 killed 75,000 people in just six weeks.

The post Mexican Soldier Arrested for Checkpoint Shooting of Guatemalan Citizen appeared first on Latin America News Dispatch.

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