Marxist guerrillas in Colombia have targeted Colombia’s largest coal producer, Cerrejon, in the largest number of terrorist attacks seen on record.
Over 2013, the guerrillas set up an offensive against mining companies they claim are looting Colombia’s wealth.
According to Juan Carlos Restrepo, vice president of public affairs at Cerrejon, the company which is owned jointly by BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Glencore Xstrata, suffered eight rebel sabotage attacks during 2013, up from six attacks in 2012. Of these attacks, one was the most disruptive attack on a coal train in three decades.
“One of the attacks on the railway was the worst in our history,” Restrepo said in an interview. “The rebels usually derail around 11 freight cars. This one derailed 43.”
Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have attacked mining and energy companies in a bid to undercut what the government calls a “locomotive” of economic growth. The FARC and other rebel groups attacked Colombian oil pipelines 259 times last year, a 72% increase over 2012 and the highest figure in more than a decade, according to the Ministry of Defense.
While classified as a terrorist organization by the US, European Union, Colombia, Canada, Chile and New Zealand, the FARC has been recognized as a legitimate group by Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
The government is currently holding peace talks with the FARC in Havana in a bid to end a five-decade civil conflict. In October 2012, the FARC’s chief negotiator, known by his alias Ivan Marquez, described the mining industry as “a demon of social and environmental destruction.”
A freight car costs US$ 200,000 to repair, with 107,000 t of coal left untransported for every day the train is unable to operate, Cerrejon said.
Security forces in Colombia foiled a further 31 attempted attacks against Cerrejon infrastructure in 2013, according to Restrepo.
The mining giant produced 33 million t of coal in 2013 – a 5% decrease from 2012 – and plans to increase production this year. Coal is Colombia’s largest exported resource after oil, with the country currently the world’s fourth largest exporter of the fossil fuel.
According to the National Mining Agency, Colombia produced 85.5 million t of coal in 2013, a 4% decrease from 2012.
FARC peace talks
In May 2013, the Colombian Government and FARC rebels announced a breakthrough in peace talks, heralding a “radical transformation” of the war-ravaged countryside.
The two sides said in a joint communiqué that they had reached an agreement on land and rural development issues, the first point in a peace process launched in November 2012.
Talks have also taken place discussing how the FARC can make the transition from an 8000 strong guerrilla army to a legitimate political movement. This had been tried once before with disastrous results. During a previous peace process in the 1980s, the group created the Patriotic Union party to participate in electoral politics.
However, as many as 3000 of the Patriotic Union Party’s members, including two presidential candidates, were murdered in the process.
In November 2013, the leftist group agreed to give up the use of violence to reach their political ends in exchange for full participation in democratic politics.
Marquez said that the agreement marked an important step to end the conflict. “If we continue on the path of transformation […] the signing of a peace treaty will be a reality.”
Current Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, has been criticized by some right-wing groups for holding peace talks with the FARC. The President’s main opponent has been Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who represents the ultra-conservative movement known as the Democratic Centre – which was founded by former president Alvaro Uribe (who is constitutionally barred from running as a presidential candidate).
Zuluaga has vowed to end talks with the FARC if he wins the next Colombian general election, arguing that the guerrillas should be crushed militarily, rather than through peaceful negotiation.
US intervention has also threatened to derail the peace talks, after it was revealed a covert CIA programme has helped Colombia’s Government kill at least two dozen FARC leaders.
The multibillion-dollar programme was funded secretly and separately from US$ 9 billion in aid the US has openly provided to Colombia, mostly in military assistance. The programme was authorised by President George W Bush and has continued under current incumbent, Barack Obama.
Cerrejon has set its sight on moving on from a “difficult” 2013 and has planned an “aggressive recovery plan” in the face of the increased sabotage attacks.
In a press release, the company said that although targets in 2013 had not been met, the company “Continued to work with the quality and standards characterising its operation, in harmony with the environment and together with local and regional communities and institutions in favour of development in La Guajira.”
In 2014, the company said it would look to proceed with “community engagement”, seek the permits and licenses to grow as market conditions allow, and undertake various required projects.
Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcoal.com/coal/14022014/terrorist_attacks_against_coal_operations_reaches_record_number_516/