By Morten Rønning
The mine is operated by Intercor, a joint venture by the Colombian public corporation Carbocol and American Exxon. Hydro's Industrial Chemicals Division has since 1991 had a contract to supply explosives.
The mine occupies 39,000 hectares of land, areas that the authorities claim were uninhabited. In the impact assessment carried out before the mine opened in 1981, the local Indians were barely mentioned.
Other people's land
But according to the National Center for Health and Employment in Colombia, the mining activities have forced many Indians to leave for the slums in the cities. The agricultural production has sunk, begging has increased, and cultural and ethical values have declined. Dust from the fields and the coal is carried over long distances by the wind, and the inhabitants of more than ten villages are affected. According to the international organization Survival International, mining activities have also led to a sinking groundwater level, and reduced water supplies. The water sources for at least five villages have been polluted.
The inhabitants of two villages had to stage a demonstration in the capital demanding the possibility to move before the Minister of Health took action, according to the American magazine Isthmus, July 1994.
Coal dust, noise, and pollution of the water since 1984 finally led to the health authorities issuing a declaration that the villages of El Espial and Caracoli, situated close to the waste site, were uninhabitable.
The semi-nomadic people Wayuu make a living from sheep and goats, fishing and some agriculture. The mining has changed the vegetation, which is drying out. The animals find less and less food.
The rail line and road connection from the harbor to the mine, a stretch of 150 kilometers, run through their areas. About 90 Indians had their homes, enclosures, plots of land, and burial sites leveled during the road construction.
When the coal is carried by rail, coal dust settles on houses, animals and the vegetation along the rail line. There have been complaints about increased eye and lung ailments.
New roads have made the area less protected, created noise problems, and sheep and goats are being run over and killed.
The authorities' and Exxon's presence has led to a militarization of the area, resulting in abuses and conflicts with the Wayuu's traditional ways of resolving conflicts. According to Survival International, new conflicts have arisen.
Since the mine opened in 1981, the employees have strongly criticized the working conditions. 1,300 workers staged a strike in the summer of 1993 due to what they called an "increased suppressive style of management".
This strike also led to a hunger strike among the company employees.
At 3 previous strikes, the authorities, which own 50% of the mine, have sent soldiers to prevent unrest, according to Multinational Monitor.
The work is directly life-threatening, according to the magazine Isthmus. Workers lose arms, legs and fingers, and there have been many fatal accidents in the mine.
In the period 1987-90, 32 workers died in accidents. Many of the workers get lung disease from the coal dust.
The workers work a 48-hour week, divided into four 12-hour days. The mine has over 6,000 employees. NorWatch has not succeeded in getting a comment from Hydro on this matter.
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