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under ‘considerable threat from changes in land use, such as forestry and the rapid growth of palm oil plantations, plus ‘poorly managed mining practices and illegal mining’. BHP Billiton does not appear to include itself as one of these threats.

The report also says that, should the project proceed, the plan is to start by creating ‘small mines’. “By starting small, our aim is to develop further understanding of and experience in how to manage the environmental and biodiversity impacts within the region before large scale operations commence.”23

COLOMBIA: the Cerrejon Coal mine
Richard Solly, Colombia Solidarity Campaign

BHP Billiton was part of a consortium of three multinational companies which in late 2000 bought the Colombian Government’s 50% share of the massive opencast Cerrejon coal mine in the Department (province) of La Guajira in northern Colombia, one of the largest opencast coal mines in the world. The mine, operated by Exxon subsidiary Intercor (which owned the other 50% share) had a history of forced relocations of Indigenous and Afrocolombian communities, with inadequate or non-existent compensation, to make way for mine expansion24.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Indigenous Wayuu communities were moved to make way for a coal export port at Puerto Bolivar, and for a railway built to carry coal from the mine to the port. Burial sites were desecrated and tensions caused between family groups as displaced families moved into the traditional territory of other families25.

In August 2001, the small farming village of Tabaco, inhabited mainly by Colombians of African descent, was bulldozed by the mining company in a brutal operation accompanied by hundreds of armed soldiers and security personnel26. In February 2002, the consortium of which BHP Billiton was a part bought the remaining 50% of the Cerrejon mine from Intercor. BHP Billiton now owns 33.33% of Cerrejon Coal, the mine’s operator27.

A sustained campaign of community opposition followed, supported by dissident shareholders in BHP Billiton and others around the world. Some of the former residents of Tabaco organised themselves through the Tabaco Relocation Committee, which was demanding not only compensation for the destruction of homes and livelihoods but also community relocation to farmland of equivalent agricultural value – as the World Bank’s Guidelines on Involuntary Resettlement urge28. The best that Cerrejon Coal was willing to offer was family by family financial payouts based on property valuations which many in the community disputed. In 2007 a complaint against BHP Billiton was made to the Australian National Contact Point of the OECD (Organisation

23http://www.bhpbilliton.com/bb/sustainableDevelopment/caseStudies/2008/turningChallengesIntoOpportunitiesMaruwaiCoalProjectsBiodiversityStrategy.jsp, accessed 24/Jun/10. The company is also involved in a controversial Australian government REDD scheme in Indonesia. See http://dte.gn.apc.org/82acl.htm

24 Richard Solly and Roger Moody, Stripping Guajira Bare, 15 January 2001 http://www.minesandcommunities.org//article.php?a=4115&highlight=Cerrejon

25 Coal Mines and Communities in Colombia: The Salem Connection, Aviva Chomsky, Salem State

College, paper prepared for presentation at Graduate Research Day, April 27, 2002. See http://www.


26 Armando Perez Araujo, Further action on crisis involving Exxon in Colombia, 12 August 2001


27 Richard Solly, Colombia: change of ownership at Intercor, 4 March 2002, http://www.minesandcommunities.org//article.php?a=146&highlight=Cerrejon

28 World Bank Operational Manual OP 4.12 – Involuntary Resettlement http://web.worldbank.org/



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