When autonomous rural people are forced to reorganize their lives to accommodate extractive capitalism, they remake their families, communities, and identities. In Colombia’s La Guajira region, the Cerrejón Coal Company removed Afro-descendant and indigenous communities from their land, forcing residents to become precarious urban workers. Community members became divided over the best way to navigate this dependency. Local people responded with protests and resistance movements to shift the balance of power. At the same time, many locals came to accept that a coal mine dominated their lives and sought ways to benefit from that relationship. The dominance of a coal mine over peoples’ lives came to determine their family and community relationships, and the meanings of their indigenous or Afro-descendant identities. Local people constantly re-evaluated the balance between resisting and accepting the dominance of a coal mine; this process remade their relationships to each other and their own sense of themselves.
Incorporating communities displaced by natural resource extraction in Colombia’s post-conflict agenda. Co-written with activist Rogelio Ustate.
Since April, Colombians have demanded change from their government and been met with violence.
We Are Bruno: Citizens Caught Between An Absentee State And A State-Like Corporation During Water Conflicts In La Guajira, Colombia
In natural resource frontiers, local communities are on the frontlines of resisting corporate takeover of their lands. Based on ongoing fieldwork in La Guajira, a frontier region on Colombia’s Northeast coast, this article describes how indigenous groups, Afro-Colombian communities, labor unions, and urban social movements have united to oppose the impacts of coal mining on local water sources. Since 2014, these actors have come together to oppose the Cerrejón Corporation’s plan to divert the Arroyo Bruno stream in order to access the coal reserves that lie underneath. This article argues that in opposing the Bruno project, local people are demanding a more accountable state that checks corporate power. However, Cerrejón has often stood in for the state in providing water access to local communities, complicating where corporate responsibility ends and state responsibility begins. Cerrejón administrators and pro-mining civic actors argue that the corporation is more accountable to local needs than state institutions. Thus the struggle over the Arroyo Bruno reflects a deep ambivalence and uncertainty about the nature of state power in La Guajira.
Fredy Lozano is a leader at Sintracarbon, the union that represents workers at Cerrejo´n, an open pit coal mine in La Guajira, Colombia. Lozano has been awarded the Public Eye award in Switzerland for his work with the communities affected by the mine. In this interview, Lozano talks about issues with extractive industries inColombia, his experience as a union organizer, and Colombia’s political problems. Co-written with Gloria C. Perez-Rivera.