It has been a long time in the making - through words and energy -- so that we could meet, share and build with the Strength of Wayuu Women. On different occasions we were able to offer workshops or see each other in shared spaces, but on this occasion, it was the first time we were able to directly link up and support the process of the Strength of Wayuu Women.
In 2012, the largest open pit coal mining company in the world, Cerrejon, located in the south of the department of La Guajira, presented a project to extract 500 million tons of coal that is found beneath the path of the Rancheria River, forcing the river to be diverted from its natural cause some 26 km. The people of La Guajira rose up in defense of its most important river and Cerrejon was forced to leave the issue alone. Three years later Cerrejon now tries to do the same with Bruno Arroyo, using the threat of laying off hundreds of workers from the mine if they are not able to move forward with their project.
The Bruno Arroyo springs to life in the Perija Mountains and according to Cerrejon it is one of the 51 tributaries of the Rancheria, contributing 3.6% to its total flow as well as being the main water source for the municipalities of Maicao, Hato Nuevo and Albania. As they tried before, Cerrejon pretends that the final 4.8 Km of the Bruno Arroyo be re directed 3.6 Km from its current course in the municipality of Albania. That stretch of the Arroyo would be moved some 700 meters north facilitating the expanding of the limits of the mine 170 Hectares, thus providing access to 35 million tons of coal. If not able to achieve this the company threatens the loss of; 600 jobs, $500,000.00 in local investments, $3.7 billion in local compensations and the loss of 3 million tons/year of coal. The company’s threats and bullying are not for nothing; Cerrejon is projected to expand its area in a project called P40, in which they are investing $1,300 million in aims of increasing production from 32 to 40 million tons of coal/year as of this year (2015).
If achieved, the region would benefit from 5,000 jobs for the duration of the project´s operation. What the project does not take into account, however, are the impacts and the consequences that the people of La Guajira will have to face. Since Cerrejon started to mine for coal the soil has been degraded and no longer supports local ecosystems; over a dozen arroyos (tributaries of the Rancheria) and springs have dried out; surface and subterranean waters have been polluted; over 12,000 Ha of dry tropical forest has been destroyed as well as the forced displacement of 20,000 Guajiro people and the destruction of 10 communities. Currently Hato Nuevo and Albania have a population of 45,000 people and consume about 7.5 million liters of water daily. Cerrejon daily uses 17 million liters of water to wet the dirt roads. According to recent satellite images, the Rancheria River´s flow dries after passing through the Cerrejon which in total uses about 35 million liters of water daily -- enough to support about 3 million people.
What the statistics of tons of coal, hectares of land and liters of water do not tell us are the social and cultural impacts on the population of La Guajira. By diverting the Rancheria, Bruno, or any other river or arroyo in La Guajira, the inhabitants of the territory will be condemned to extermination. All of the impacts that the company omits or refuses to recognize; that the Wayuu and the Afro-descendants can no longer have their rancherias and grow their yuca, plantain, pumpkin, corn and beans; they can no longer pastor their goats or let their chickens run free: they can no longer live off the same foods or collect what they need from the bush; they can no longer go to the river, arroyo or jagüey to wash clothes, bathe, gather water to drink or cook or so the goats can drink. They are now forced to have to look for money even though the jobs in the mine are not intended for them.
The landscape will become something different altogether; a privatized territory covered in active mines, highways, power lines, pipelines, mountains of rubble and mine tailings, ashes of what were trees and water contaminated or dried. Now the Wayuu and Black folk that once lived free and autonomous in their territory are being relocated into resettlements made by the Cerrejon which break with the Guajiro culture of having enramadas (wall-less traditional structures) made of logs and mud spread out across the territory intermixed with crops, forest and pasture which has been turned into lots with rows of houses, no trees and surrounded by barbed wire. For the Wayuu, the territory and water are life, the ability to have their rancheria, walk freely in their territory with their goats, surrounded by plants, forests and animals that live there because of the water. The danger that threatens the dry tropical forests, the arroyos, the springs, and the river, is the same danger for the Wayuu, the Afro and all Guajiros. What Cerrejon is trying to do is nothing short of ethnocide and ecocide.
The wild animals that survive this massacre will have their image prostituted by the company for its corporate branding and marketing. Cerrejon is an exceptional example of a company that greenwashes its image. Throughout La Guajira on the highways one can observe billboards with smiling Wayuu women, children liberating hatchling sea turtles and warnings for drivers to be careful with wildlife crossing the roads.
Cerrejon has business agreements with Conservation International (CI), an institutional environmental organization that has ties to many companies responsible for environmental and social destruction on massive scales; companies such as Coca-Cola, Northrop Grumman Corp., Starbucks and Shell. CI is an entity that promotes itself as the forefront of biodiversity conservation through its photographs of human and biological diversity, when in reality it is front - propaganda - that washes the image of companies and industries that want to appear that they do good for the environment. Their environmental projects are merely a media spectacle that in their size and scale has no comparison to the salaries of the management of Cerrejon, not to mention the environmental destruction and losses generated.
CI is an agency that legitimizes green capitalism on a planet that is not dying but that is being killed due to the interests of small, economically powerful sector. In addition to covering up for ecological destructive companies, CI is similar to other environmental entities such as the World Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy that have been linked to “environmental conservation” projects that have been imposed on local and indigenous communities which have ultimately resulted in violence, forced displacement and even death for these peoples.
The bees have had experiences with indigenous communities in Cauca that told us how they collaborated with CI to conduct biodiversity studies in their territory to only later have CI keep all the results of the studies , thus stealing the knowledge of the elders and of the territory.
This is the context that the south of La Guajira finds itself in and these were the issues that we built upon and made an effort to support in the schools and rancherias we visited. The first community where we arrived was in the Municipality of Barrancas, the rural primary school of the community of Campo Alegre. Surrounded by Araguaney trees, cattle and cotton crops, we were in the school with children who all spoke Wayuunaiki as their first language and Spanish the second language they use. With help from a bilingual teacher we did an exercise of identifying the animals in the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic in both Spanish and Wayuunaiki, followed by a long session of coloring the poster with crayons. From the hill where the school is located in the distance, along the horizon one could see the immense Cerrejon mine that is growing and reaching towards the community.
The next community where we pollinated the graphic campaign was in the rancheria and school of Eulalia, which lies along the railroad that transports the coal from the Cerrejon mine to Bolivar Port in the Upper Guajira. The reality of La Guajira is just as it is shown in the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic with the scene of militarization occurring right next to the mine, everywhere around the mine, along the railroad and in the port where there is a constant heavy military presence. Every couple of kilometers there is a squadron of soldiers that are camped out taking care of the mine´s infrastructure and thus live in the area, interact and form part of everyday life for the Wayuu communities that call this home.
The workshop in Eulalia was one of the best we ever had. When we arrived we hung the Mesoamérica Resiste and the True Cost of Coal banners and once everyone arrived, we introduced ourselves and gave a brief overview about what the banners were about. Afterwards the participants, mostly youth from the community, formed groups and carefully analyzed the banners, classifying scenes with themes in their presentations. Each group was motivated to share and present what they explored, and the exercise extended into the night using the video projector and flashlights to illuminate the banners to see as they were explained in the darkness. There were some participants that were in the workshop we did last year in the Boarding School of Akuaipa that came prepared to participate and support the newer folks in their groups. After the dynamic methodology we used to explore and learn from the banners, some short films that were made in the community were shown on the projector. The films were about the Wayuu perspective of peace and the negotiations going on in Havana, Cuba between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as well as another fictional piece about initiation ritual and ceremony a Wayuu girl goes through upon receiving their first menstruation.
Another afternoon we had a short visit to the community of Nuevo Espinal located near Campo Alegre also in the Municipality of Barrancas. Both of the communities are found in a region where the Cerrejon mine wants to expand their coal extraction. Currently the company representatives are meeting with community leaders attempting to minimize the chances that one of these leaders take up a position against the mine´s expansion. The same afternoon we went to Nuevo Espinal as did a member of the Strength of Wayuu Women to speak with the adults about their rights regarding the Cerrejon mine while we the bees hung our banners. We briefly explained the banner to the adults and then worked with the children to color a poster of Mesoamérica Resiste while we spoke about the names of the animals in the poster in Wayuunaiki and Spanish.
The last school we visited with the Strength of Wayuu Women was the school of the community of San Francisco on the outskirts of Barrancas town. At first, the idea was to do the workshop with the students of 4th and 5th grade, but the other students became very excited as they watched from the windows of their classrooms the banners waving in the wind under the covered sports court, that all the other students came pouring out to participate. The banners of Mesoamérica Resiste and The True Cost of Coal hung from a fence around the sports field as all the children divided into three groups, taking turns with each banner exploring the graphics and the different scenes as well as drawing in their notebooks what they found most interesting. In this workshop we realized something we had sort of noticed in some of the other workshops: the students who do speak and know Wayuunaiki lacked knowledge of the animal´s names in their native language. The teachers would ask the students to identify animals in the banner in Wayuunaiki and the children would respond in Spanish, they would say rabbit instead of Atpana. Afterwards we asked if they had ever seen a rabbit and they all responded that they had not. This moment became a clear example of how the loss of biological diversity is accompanied by the loss of linguistic diversity.
The last community on this visit to La Guajira where we could share was the rancheria of Jepimana found between Uribia and Cuatro Vías. In Jepimana adults, youth and some children were present. After hanging the banners we realized after speaking some minutes in Spanish that most people were not paying attention, fortunately one person who had accompanied us for most of the week along with two youth who were at the workshop in Eulalia already understood the banners and had experience working with them. Entirely in Wayuunaiki they took control and explained the banners to the folks present. The bees merely served as guides and helped remind the themes of different scenes, but the majority of all the explanation and analysis was done by the Wayuunaiki speakers who had been present in the previous workshops, thus clearly demonstrating how communities can appropriate and empower themselves through illustrated tools such as the graphic campaigns of the Beehive Design Collective. In this workshop the issue of greenwashing was spoken about in Wayuunaiki, referring to how Cerrejon and Conservation International generate a false appearance regarding coal mining in La Guajira, using an advertisement of Cerrejon with sea turtles in the Diario Del Norte newspaper.
As with many previous experiences, our time in La Guajira with the Strength of Wayuu Women went by very quickly and we were left with the desire to return soon to continue weaving and pollinating together. We left with invitations to return to all the communities that we had visited with the banners to continue sharing the graphics as part of the educational process but also invitations to participate in projects regarding biodiversity and linguistic diversity and an agro-ecology & permaculture project. We hope to return soon and continue to share with the different communities of the Strength of Wayuu Women, support the processes of struggle and land defense against the diversion of the Bruno Arroyo, but also to create new processes to improve La Guajira for the Wayuu, Afro-descendants and all of its ecosystems. To support the Strength of Wayuu Women by having their own banner of Mesoamérica Resiste or to support any other initiative that is being worked upon with the Strength of Wayuu Women please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.