Above, post author Randy Wilson brings the musical traditions of Kentucky to a coal-mining village in Colombia. Later, he was able to watch Colombians perform a dance native to their region.
We got up at 5:30 a.m. and were on the bus by 6:00 – another day on the road in the Guajira region of northern Colombia. I don’t think I saw more than twelve tourists during the whole seven days we were in that region, which is perfect for mining coal; nobody comes up there, so nobody sees the toll coal mining takes on a region. My colleagues and I from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) were there as a part of a Witness for Peace delegation observing what the mines were doing to the region. Everywhere we went people said, “They promised prosperity and jobs,”and then they gave us a long list of economic, environmental, and health problems they had inherited from the coal companies.
This day we had to leave the tour bus and take a four-wheel van back into those villages directly affected by a coal pit the size of Long Island! It was thirty five miles long and five miles wide. We pitched to and fro through rutted roads, crossed a swelling river once, and then got caught in the rising river a second time. Locals rustled up a long rope and a bus pulled us out to safety. At one time all these villages were joined by a convenient trade route. They traded tobacco, garden vegetables, goat and cattle. They had no clear boundaries. Their cattle ranged far and wide. Some indigenous tribes lived in the region before the European invasion in 1499. But then there was a different kind of invasion led by mining multinationals, supported by the United States and Colombian governments, and strong-armed by military and paramilitary thugs, displacing folks right and left as the coal companies cleared their path.
Some villagers were united. Some were not. The company picked off some, divided others. All were in negotiations for removal. One such village was Tomaquito, home of the indigenous Wyhuu people. Once lord of thousands of hectares, they were reduced to ten and bound within the confines of their village, dependent on food sources from a town some twenty-five miles of treacherous road away. They lived under a cool canopy of trees in mud huts with palm thatched roofs. They performed a dance for us where the women, covered from head to ankle in flaming red capes, circled the open ground to the sound of a drum. They told us of their life there: “Once we fished, we hunted, we grew crops, we tended goats and cattle. We had no boundaries. We traded with nearby villages. There was no need for electricity. When the sun sets and night falls it is dark, but we know where we are. We are not lost. Once we lived in peace.”
Every year 132 million tons of Colombian coal goes to fire coal fired plants in places like Mobile, Alabama; Tampa, Florida; and Salem, Massachusetts. These plants put us all at risk. The very people who know how to live sustainably, who figured this out long, long ago, are being displaced by a society whose principles and policy don’t have a clue.
From July 19th to 26th Randy, a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, was part of this Witness For Peace delegation to Colombia. KFTC is member-driven organization that helps ordinary citizens across the state of Kentucky organize to improve their communities and build a better state. Randy is from Clay County, Kentucky.