Le charbon colombien et Énergie Nouveau- Brunswick: un cas de racisme environnemental

Au Nouveau- Brunswick, l'électricité est produite à partir du charbon extrait des mines de la Colombie. Certains appellent le charbon de la Colombie " le charbon du sang des Colombiens " à cause des déplacements sanglants des collectivités et des assassinats des leaders syndicaux attribuables aux mines de charbon de la Colombie.

L'auteure, Tracy Glynn explique qu'il y a des campagnes actives au Nouveau- Brunswick pour s'assurer que les compagnies d'électricité qui achètent le charbon de la Colombie influencent les compagnies pour qu'elles en viennent à des ententes équitables avec les collectivités affectées par les activités de la mine. En 2007, une enquête indépendante a été mise en oeuvre pour examiner les effets d'une des mines de charbon. Et une entente a été convenue qui satisfait la plupart des demandes des collectivités. Toutefois, il reste du travail à faire pour s'assurer que l'entente soit observée.

Ici au Nouveau- Brunswick, Glynn fait appel à la population pour qu'elle fasse pression sur Énergie NB pour qu'elle adopte une politique d'achat éthique et qu'elle influence les autorités colombiennes pour qu'elles traduisent en justice les responsables des meurtres et du harassement subit par les syndicalistes, les défendeurs des droits de l'homme et les civils.

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Colombian Coal and New Brunswick Power:
A Case of Environmental Racism 

Tracy Glynn
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
February 2009

nvironmental racism has long been recognized as a problem. However, it has not gone away. Instead, it has worsened in many ways as a result of government cutbacks in environmental enforcement and of softening of environmental protection regulation, also known as streamlining or deregulation. The "war on terror" has also been used to shut down groups that confronted environmental racism. Many activists from the Philippines to Ecuador and elsewhere have been branded eco-terrorists for criticizing mega industrial projects like mining - a label that could very well be a death sentence. The label was a death sentence for Ken Saro-Wiwa and nine of his colleagues who were executed a decade ago by the Nigerian government for what many believe was their role in bringing to attention Shell's ecological effects on the Niger Delta.

The term "environmental racism" was coined by American Reverend Dr. Benjamin F. Chaviz, Jr. over twenty years ago during a church commission on racism. Environmental racism occurs when 
- racial discrimination is used to determine the level of environmental regulations or enforcement; 
- polluting industries are situated in marginalized communities; or 
- marginalized groups are excluded from decision-making bodies that determine the fate of their environment.

Environmental racism persists because it is an important part of increasing the profits of those oppressing the already-oppressed.

Colombians pay the price for New Brunswick comfort and complicity

A case of environmental racism in New Brunswick concerns the coal extracted from mines in Colombia that is then exported to our province for power generation. Coal from Colombia has been dubbed "Colombian blood coal" because of violent displacement of communities and assassinations of union leaders at the country's coal mines.

NB Power's Belledune plant burns coal produced in the Cerrejón mine in La Guajira, Colombia. Coal extracted from Cerrejón is exclusively exported to meet the energy demands of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Massachusetts.

Since the development of Cerrejón in 1982, indigenous Wayuu and Afro-Colombian communities in La Guajira have been forcibly displaced from their lands. Traditional agriculture-based livelihoods have been destroyed with the loss of land and industrial contamination. More communities face similar fates with planned expansion of the world's largest open-pit coal mine. During the violent displacement, several people sustained serious injuries after being attacked by police.

NB Power Plant in Belledune, NB.
(Photo: Tracy Glynn)

On a 2006 delegation to the affected communities, Jairo Quiroz, a union leader said, "Their fundamental rights have been violated. These communities lack the most minimal conditions necessary for a decent life. They seem to belong to the living dead."

Debbie Kelly, an RCMP forensics officer who participated in the same delegation reported, "Some only eat every three days and for the smiling little children, it is hard to take. Even though their little bodies are racked in open sores from contaminated water, they don't cry."

There have been active campaigns in New Brunswick as well as Nova Scotia and the U.S. to ensure that electricity-generating companies buying coal from Cerrejón put pressure on the company to negotiate fair agreements with communities affected by the mine's operations. Numerous speaking tours and public meetings in North America and Europe have been arranged to educate the public.

Jesus Brochero, a union leader with SINTRACARBON representing the works at Cerrejón, was the most recent visitor to the Maritimes. He spoke to crowds in Fredericton and Tatamagouche, NS, and met with union leaders in Moncton in early December. He also met with NB Power executives to discuss the situation of workers at the mine and to ask for NB Power's support in their demands for safe and healthy working conditions.

Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world for people active in trade unions; over 2,510 trade union leaders have been murdered in the last ten years. On March 22, 2008, Adolfo González Montes, a worker at Cerrejón and union leader, was tortured and killed at his home. He is survived by his wife and four small children. The Colombian government's failure to act on such crimes allows the perpetrators to kill trade unionists with impunity. Despite knowledge of Colombia's deplorable human rights track record, Canada is in the process of approving a free trade agreement with Colombia.

The Fredericton Peace Coalition, Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network, New Democratic Party, church groups such Development & Peace, and social justice groups in NB, have asked NB Power to develop a detailed human rights policy in their business dealings and to ensure compliance with this policy through an independent third party. NB Power has been asked to ensure that their purchases, operations, or investments do not directly or indirectly cause human rights abuses. They have been asked to include International Labour Organization standards concerning the rights of indigenous peoples and the safety of trade unionists in their policy. The provincial crown corporation has acted on requests to write letters to Cerrejón asking for fair dealings with the affected communities and their workers.

Left to right: Danny Leger, president, CUPE NB, Jesus Brochero, Colombian miners' union, SINTRACARBON, Michel Boudreau, president, N.B. Federation of Labour.
(Photo: Tracy Glynn)

Cerrejón's multinational owners include BHP Billiton (Australia), Xstrata (Switzerland) and Anglo American (UK). Annual shareholders' meetings of the home bases of these multinationals have been regularly attended by community representatives, Colombian trade unionists, and local supporters. Complaints against BHP Billiton and Xstrata have been brought to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for breaching the OECD's voluntary guidelines on involuntary resettlement of communities.

In 2007, Cerrejón established an Independent Panel of Inquiry into the mine's impacts. The Panel, chaired by John Harker, Vice Chancellor of Cape Breton University, made a number of recommendations about changes in mine management. Cerrejón Coal accepted the recommendations, and an agreement in December 2008 between Cerrejón and the Tabaco Relocation Committee is one tangible result. The agreement contains most of what the community was demanding in the way of adequate compensation and agricultural land. This agreement was achieved through the dedication of the people of Tabaco and the organisational capacity of the Tabaco Relocation Committee. The agreement was also assisted by the SINTRACARBON union, which included the community demands in their negotiations, and an international solidarity campaign grounded in environmental justice principles.

Violent displacment of the Tabaco community 
or the Cerrejon coal mine in 2001. 
(Photo: North Shore Colombia Solidarity Committee)

It is essential that supporters of the people of Tabaco continue to monitor the implementation of the agreement. Other communities - Tamaquitos, Roche, Chancleta and Patilla - still face relocation and need solidarity in their own negotiations with Cerrejón.

The SINTRACARBON workers are currently in the midst of negotiations with the company over pay and worker health and safety conditions. The workers are concerned about prolonged exposure to carcinogenic substances and they want the company to categorize the substances they encounter at work as hazardous. The company is resisting because this would mean that it would have to increase social security payments.

What we can do here in Canada? We need to pressure NB Power to develop a detailed ethical purchasing policy in their business dealings. We must also apply pressure on Colombian authorities to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the murder and harassment of trade unionists, human rights defenders, and civilians. We need to ensure that the Canadian government does not ratify the Canadian-Colombian Free Trade Agreement that will only exacerbate problems of environmental racism and human rights violations associated with business as usual.

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