“For us mining is misery. They say there is coal there for the world; but they don’t realise this comes at the expense of huge loss of human life.” Yasmin Romero Epiayu.
Javier E. Núñez Calderón
Yasmin Romero Epiayu is an indigenous leader, activist and fierce champion of mother earth and a native of the Wayuu people, a community which has inhabited the ancient lands of northern Colombia – specifically the Guajira region – for more than 2,000 years and currently represents around 50% of its population.
She visited the United Kingdom last October with the intention of making known the abuses which the indigenous cultures, native to this part of the country, are suffering as a result of mining projects which have been in operation there since the seventies.
In addition to taking part in the World Development Movement’s “Carbon Capital” speaker tour around the UK organised in collaboration with London Mining Network, Colombia Solidarity Campaign and Down to Earth and to attend other events with ABColombia, among other organisations, Yazmin aimed to meet with chiefs of BHP Billiton, the multinational owner of the Cerrejon Coal Mine, at a general meeting of the board of its shareholders. Here she intended to ask them in their own ‘home’ of London – a city which is host to the headquarters of the largest mining companies in the world – when they planned to leave her land: but she never got an answer.
“In a meeting which was held this morning with human rights organisations and representatives of the mining conglomerate I asked the company when they were planning to leave this land which belongs to the indigenous population, but they never gave me an answer. All they said was they wanted to meet with me in private.”
She added that the native communities do not only blame the multinationals for the environmental damage which open-cast mining has caused in Cerrejon – one of the largest natural reserves of coal in the world which is located in the very heart of Wayuu land.
Nor do they only blame them for the tearing apart of ancient cultures’ social fabrics which the extraction programs have caused. But they also blamed the companies for venturing into a country with deep political and social problems in search of wealth, glossing over constant reports of human rights violations.
“Why then did these international companies, knowing Colombia’s conflict situation is one of the world’s longest standing, come to exploit its natural resources, transgress the nation’s sovereignty, make the situation even worse and damage native communities along with mother earth.
From this viewpoint, Yasmin and her community began the process of resisting these developments years ago. And currently, this resistance movement manifests itself through a voluntary work group whose mission it is to confront the many ills inflicted on their lands, and which are in turn threatening the survival of the native populations by a neoliberal mining and energy policy.
It is important to remember that native communities in Colombia have suffered having their lands plundered, been subject to armed violence and endured the forcible displacement of its peoples at the hands of more than one of the parties in this conflict: whose end objective is to control their land and natural resources.
“Defending the earth is an act of peace, and as such in order to achieve peace in Colombia we must learn to conserve mother earth because it is this which has given us life and sustained us since prehistoric times. Thanks to ithe earth we can enjoy this stable existence. And if we lose this connection, this protective relationship with the earth, obviously then the world, and the earth – its main resource – will be destroyed. But this is difficult to understand because many western companies don’t understand why native peoples fight so strenuously to protect the earth – why for us it represents everything – it gives us life, water and provides us with our food needs and our independence.”
In addition, the intention behind her thoughts is to send out a message to wider society and those people who through their excessive consumption are contributing to global warming and the destruction of the natural world.
“The western world boasts many things which threaten nature’s balance: people consume, buy and change technologies every minute. We must learn to live alongside what there is, because the processes involved in the manufacturing of a single technological product leaves in its wake destruction and misery. Manufacturing processes use natural resources such as coal, oil and others which are conveniently plundered from our lands. In light of this, each individual must reflect and decide upon how many things they have and how many things they really need: thinking in this way helps maintain mother earth’s balance since consumption only contributes to making the multinationals’ investors and owners fabulously wealthy, as well as the governments.”
Yazmin insists that her mission is to continue to bring the Colombian native peoples’ voice of resistance to the world. It is a population which refuses to disappear in the face of the threat presented by a social order completely at odds with their world view: an economic order based upon the consumption and exploitation of natural resources.
“I should be here in a different capacity, such as for example teaching the world how to conserve biodiversity and live in harmony with nature and about the meaning and nature of our ancestral relationship with mother earth. But I’ve been forced to come in another role because we’ve been subjected to the constant colonisation, plundering and looting of our natural resources” she explains.
And she adds that the aim of the trip she was making was “to condemn the mining policy which is forging ahead in Colombia’s ancestral native lands and has killed and will go on to kill many of our native people. The truth is there are many native populations at risk of extinction, and one of them is mine, the Wayuu people. And this is as a result of these economic mining policies which the Colombian government is sponsoring and promoting, with no concern about handing over control of our lands and our sovereignty to the consumer nations.”
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
to taking part in the World Development Movement’s “Carbon Capital” speaker tour around the UK organised in collaboration with London Mining Network, Colombia Solidarity Campaign and Down to Earth and to attend other events with ABColombia, among other organisations, Yazmin aimed to meet with chiefs of BHP Billiton, the multinational owner of the Cerrejon Coal Mine, at a general meeting of the board of its shareholders. Here she intended to ask them in their own ‘home’ of London – a city which is host to the headquarters of the largest mining companies in the world – when they planned to leave her land: but she never got an answer.