Chancleta is an Afro-descendant community in La Guajira, Colombia that was forced to relocate when the Cerrejón mine, owned by multinational giants BHP, Anglo American and Glencore, expanded the the coal mine. Members of the community have made a video to explain to the world how their rights are being violated, the lack of respect that Cerrejón has shown to their Community Council and the way that the company has chosen only to engage with a small section of the community rather than the whole community. By engaging with only a few families, despite the community persistently asking them to engage with all representatives, the company appears to be trying to cause divisions and to weaken the position that the community has taken,instead of respecting the Afro-descendant Community Council’s regulations. This has left the community seriously concerned about the intentions of the Cerrejón mine.
The Challenges of Chancleta, a Community with Its Own Identity
Written by Emma Banks and reproduced with her permission.
Cerrejón forcibly resettled Chancleta, and its neighboring community, Patilla in 2013. Before the mine became an unwelcome neighbor, the communities enjoyed access to ample land for farming, raising animals, hunting, fishing, and gathering medicinal plants. A nearby stream and a windmill pump provided water. Even before being forced to relocate, the communities had lost much of their access to land and water as the company put in roads and fences that cut off their land. The communities lay between two pits and a sterile dumpsite.
Although the company negotiated a resettlement with Chancleta, it did so without recognizing that the community was Afro-descendant – an identity that gives them protection under Colombia’s Constitution. Since the relocation, families have organized to reclaim their rights as Afro-descendants, a designation that officials at Cerrejón have constantly undermined, despite several Constitutional Court cases in which magistrates agreed that the communities had collective rights as a protected ethnic group (see for example Sentence 256-15).
Several years ago, leaders in the Chancleta resettled formed a Community Council, the appropriate organization to represent Afro-descendant people. The company constantly refused to negotiate with the Community Council. In 2020, the leaders took steps to officially register the Council (persona juridica). The Chamber of Commerce of La Guajira approved the Council’s registration; giving it the power to be the legal representative for Chancleta.
The Community Council has its own set of rules for negotiations. On January 20th of this year, company representatives called a meeting to negotiate some the unfulfilled aspects of the resettlement agreement including water provision and productive projects. The company representatives refused to comply with the rules of the council, so the 26 families represented by the council would not meet with the representatives. The meeting went ahead, with only 12 families from Chancleta.
As an Afro-descendant community, Chancleta has the right to self-determination and development that respects their cultural identity. Leaders of the Community Council have made it clear that they are willing to meet in good faith with company representatives, but that these meetings have to follow the terms outlined in their council rules. The members of the council want a resettlement that guarantees their rights to territory, social cohesion, and food sovereignty. They demand that Cerrejón stop imposing its vision for projects and infrastructure on the community, and that the company work with the Community Council as an official and legally recognized organization.