Many of the communities in Colombia’s remote northeastern department of La Guajira exist on the periphery of the country’s violence. The semi-arid landscape is not conducive to guerrilla warfare and looks more like the southwestern United States than any other part of Colombia. While the region’s geography is responsible for keeping much of the country’s violence at arms length, it is the cause of another form of conflict currently being waged against numerous La Guajira communities: economic globalization. In the early1980s, ExxonMobil—through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Intercor—and Colombia’s state-owned coal mining company Carbocol began extracting coal from the El Cerrejón mine in southern La Guajira. El Cerrejón soon became the world’s largest open-pit mine as it grew to its current size of 30 miles long and five miles wide. This continuing expansion has wreaked havoc on local communities, some of which have already been gobbled up by the mine, and others that are targeted for destruction over the next couple of years.
Tag Archives: human rights
In the poor neighborhoods of Barrancabermeja, urban guerrillas belonging to the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been desperately trying to stave-off an urban offensive by right-wing paramilitaries. Most of these neighborhoods have been firmly under the control of the ELN, with a few in the hands of the FARC, since the 1960s. But in recent months, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have successfully gained control of many guerrilla-controlled neighborhoods in Barrancabermeja, known locally as Barranca.
It was just after dark on the evening of February 7, 2001 when I arrived at the restaurant in the center of La Hormiga, Putumayo at the pre-arranged time. The restaurant was closed and I waited on the sidewalk until a pick-up truck pulled up. In the back were two large men who jumped down onto the sidewalk as another man got out of the passenger side talking on his cellular phone. He was Comandante Enrique, alias “the Cobra,” and at 28 years of age the commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the department of Putumayo in southern Colombia.
President Clinton ignored the human rights certification process demanded by Congress and authorized the release of the remaining aid money to Colombia last week. The administration justified this action by claiming the remaining aid is “emergency funds” and therefore not subject to the certification process. One can only speculate that the Colombian Government’s failure to meet the human rights conditions called for by the U.S. Congress was the reason Clinton decided to sidestep the certification process. Besides, a waiver of the human rights conditions by Clinton, especially in light of the 154 civilians massacred by paramilitaries over the past two weeks, would have resulted in negative publicity that might have marred his farewell love fest with the American people.