In order to meet Germany's energy needs, more and more coal is being imported from Colombia. The residents of Colombia's largest mine suffer from its impact on nature and their health.
Munich/La Guajira – Germany and Colombia want to push ahead with the decarbonization of their economies. But in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine and Germany began to gradually purchase less raw materials from Russia for energy production. In order to meet its energy needs, Germany is therefore importing coal from Colombia. Imports more than doubled in 2022.
El Cerrejón in Colombia: The largest coal mine in Latin America. © ZUMA Wire/Imago
A large part of Colombia's hard coal comes from the giant El Cerrejón mine. Local residents also know the opencast mine by its nickname: "Monster". The owner of the monster is the Swiss corporation Glencore. The world's largest mining and commodity trading group took over the mine just a short time before Russia attacked Ukraine, Deutsche Welle reports.
This was an opportune time for the company: when coal prices skyrocketed in July 2022, the Swiss benefited. The price briefly rose to $400 per tonne, but is currently at $107 per tonne, the same price level as in 2021.
Local residents complain about Colombian coal mine
But on site, the opencast mine is sharply criticized. The area around the mine is inhabited by indigenous people, the Wayuu. Some families have to relocate because mining is getting closer and closer. Infant mortality has risen sharply in recent years, reports Deutsche Welle: "This is due to the lack of water because rivers and streams are contaminated or dried up. And the lack of food, because where the indigenous communities used to grow their vegetables, coal is now being mined. The children who survive have skin rashes and respiratory diseases due to particulate matter pollution, all of which have also been proven in court," said human rights lawyer Rosa María Mateus Parra.
Residents complain that too little of the money that the company earns remains in the region. "Today, after decades of mining by the Cerrejón company, which is now the sole owner of Glencore, the impact on the regional economy, on the cultural and social life of these areas is devastating," activist Jakeline Romero Epiayú of a Wayuu women's rights organization told Deutsche Welle.
The company contradicts the accusations of the residents at the request of Deutsche Welle: Mining accounts for 46 percent of the gross domestic product of the La Guajira region. More than 61 percent of the 12,000 employees come from the region. However, another activist from the region describes the working conditions in the mine as follows: In the opencast mine, there are two shifts: the first goes from 6 a.m. to 18 p.m., the night shift from 18 p.m. to 6 a.m. The workers hardly sleep, they get sick from the dust. "If they insist on severance pay because of an illness, they have to sue for it, it never comes from the company itself."