A Two-sided Story – Energy & Colonial Footprint

The Environmental Crisis is urging us to think both in borderless and decolonized worlds. Confronting the idea of nation-based territorial sovereignty and claiming an end to neocolonial hypocrisy, the environmental crisis evidences the extreme interrelationality of territories and communties and demands us to re-think and question the inherited colonial hierarchies still present today.

Territory is life itself and life is not to be sold, it is to be loved and defended. Territory is the place to dream our future with dignity! 

— Francia Márquez, environmental activist 

Shop el Progreso, The Progress, a trace of the displaced Wayuu settlement.
Image by Sebastián Coronado Espitia. Shop el Progreso, a trace of the displaced Wayuu settlement. 

In the neoliberal world we live in, the infrastructures and technologies that surround us have become so deeply adapted to our lifestyles to the point of appearing as ubiquitous – as frameworks in which we cannot distinguish the apparatus behind them, not only in a technical level but also the models they pursue and sustain. At the same time, the co-dependence within ecosystems, a basic concept of biology we often forget, together with the global market of importation and exportation of non-renewable resources (especially by Global North in the Global South) question the ethical criteria upon which countries are measured with and put into evidence who is dominating the discourse in the struggle against the environmental crisis. 

It is important that the care for the territory is not confused with the care for the nation, on the contrary it is the care for the trans-nation, the common territory we share as world. It is until we embrace an interrelational and borderless notion of the territory, that we can get rid of the modern values which perpetuate the notion of nature as solely a resource to extract which is aligned with human extinction. 

Territory in calamity

In the Northern part of the South American continent, next to the Caribbean Sea, stands the Guajira Peninsula, an extensive desert which is home to the largest aboriginal community of both Colombia and Venezuela. Originally a nomadic tribe which migrated 3,000 years ago from the Amazon Rainforest and Antilles to the desert, the Wayuu have been preserving this territory as a borderless and communitary space, its territory as a living being with memory. 

Under the Wayuus cosmovision, the world was created through the romance between the Rain and the Earth; to make the Earth content, the Rain sang, and as its sang Thunder Lightnings allowed life to emerge. First the Flora, then the Fauna, finally Humans. 

Despite this myth, since 2010 there has not been a single raindrop, for which in 2014 it was declared territory in calamity. “The Macuira, our territory is not good for walking anymore, nor growing crops or nourishing our animals. We are all thirsty and slowly malnourished. We are burning.” Said a member of the Wayuu community. Its extreme marginalization and its constant and historical abandonment by the state, have resulted in severe problems with the incursion of illegal groups, armed conflict and gender violence. Along with this, a lack of access to health services, basic sanitation and most crucial, a lack of drinking water that has caused death to more than 5,000 people in the last seven years. 

Prioritizing economical ambitions

In the midst of these conditions, El Cerrejón – one of the largest open coal mines in the world began. Being in construction throughout three phases from 1976 to 2010 (the same year since the last raindrop in Guajira), Cerrejón was both a promise for employment and a tool to bring attention to the zone. Nevertheless, it turned out to become one of the main sources of problems for the region and the community. Being completely owned by foreigners, 98% of the Cerrejón supply is exported and only 10% of the total sales remain as profit for the state. 

Further from a disproportionate economic relation, Cerrejón has had severe implications for the local Wayuu communities depriving them from basic needs and prioritizing its economical ambitions over life of the community. Cerrejón has caused numerous cases of involuntary resettlement of the community affecting their traditional lifestyle and subjugating them to conditions imposed by the Cerrejón. Furthermore, through inadequate consultation processes, its deep excavation and mining has caused severely unhealthy air pollution, the air is full of particles of coal which have already affected genetically newborn babies and also the balance of the aquifers in all the zone. Cerrejón has also been involved in the corruption of the zone and some sources affirm it has financed illegal military groups. “During this country-wide conflict the communities in the mining regions Cesar and in La Guajira suffered greatly. The role of mining companies during this period is subject of controversial allegations related to displacement and collaboration with paramilitary.”

Vattenfall’s Footprint

Since 2016 until 2019 there has been an approved plan to divert the Bruno stream 720 meters from its original riverbed throughout 3.6 km. The Bruno Stream is part of the main affluent, the Rancheria river, the main source of water to The Guajira, a desert which is dependant on this river. Diverting the stream is a first step to dry the river in order to extract coal from beneath the river. In 2019, after alerts from the community and deeper research developed by the Universidad Nacional, the Constitutional Court sewed the company for taking the basic rights from the community but the process was almost complete, the stream is already affected. This macabre plan has taken the life of several Wayuus and it has affected the health of many by stealing their food and water sovereignty. 

In between the abundant Spree river and the Köpenicker Straße in Berlin, stands the Heizkraftwerk, a combined heat and power plant in Mitte, a district of Berlin. The power plant belongs to the Swedish energy group Vattenfall Europe Wärme, which belongs to a German sub-group, responsible for the operation. Vattenfall is the electric utility for the states of Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Berlin, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and Saxony in Germany. Being the sixth largest consumer of energy in the world, Germany imports more than half of its energy. Yet, it has been called “the world’s first major renewable energy economy” and has a reputation for its low carbon emissions. Nevertheless, “Vattenfall has taken the commercial decision to do business in Colombia. Colombian coal is attractive for Vattenfall both from a commercial and technical perspective and enables us to maintain a diversified sourcing portfolio” admits the company in its official page when manifesting its position towards the situation in Cerrejón. 

In the land where Thunder Lights created life, there is not even water anymore. All this energy is now in Germany. 

Satellite image of Cerrejón and the Ranchería River, the main source of sweet water in all the region.
Google Satellite Image. Copyright 2020 CNES / Airbus, Maxar Technologies, Map data @2020


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