Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
‘My fight is for the health of my son, Moises, against the contamination of the environment in La Guajira,’ says Luz Angela Uriana Epiayu of the Wayuu indigenous nation.
Luz Angela came from Colombia to London for a week of events around the BHP Billiton AGM in October at the invitation of the London Mining Network. Every time Luz Angela spoke about her family’s plight, she cried. She is not a slick public speaker, nor trained campaigner, but a mother fighting for the survival of her family and her tribe. Meeting her had a profound impact on me: she has passed on her tears and the determination that we must use everything we have to fight this.
Luz Angela is travelling with a German lawyer, who tells us the stark statistics of the situation for the people living next to the opencast mine. Cerrejón, owned by BHP Billiton, Glencore and Anglo American, is Colombia’s biggest coal producer. In 2015 it produced 33.4 million tonnes of coal, most of which was destined for Europe. The mine keeps on growing: of the 690 square kilometres permitted to be mined there, 90 have been exploited already.
When Luz Angela made her complaint against Cerrejón for its impact on her son’s health, the company tried to buy her off. They said they would pay for his treatment and give her a job in the mine, on the condition that she dropped her case against them. She says should could not accept this as the pollution needs to stop for the sake of her whole tribe.
Luz Angela won her court cases, but no action has been taken. Ideally she’d have the whole mine closed, but she thinks that this won’t happen and so is trying to force Cerrejón to reduce the pollution and the impact on her reservation. She came to the belly of the beast in London and spoke at the BHP Billiton AGM. The experience was not positive.
There have been reports of children starving because of the water shortage. As ever, the truth seems fraught with competing issues. Luz Angela tells the sad tale of one of her family members, a girl of just eight months who went to hospital with breathing difficulties.
‘No puedo mas – I can’t cope with more,’ says Luz Angela. ‘There are many consequences of this. There are other children and adults who have respiratory illness and problems. Two months ago an eight-month-old baby died, she was in my family. Doctors said there was nothing wrong. This is indicative of the way that Cerrejón buys out doctors.
‘I need to fight for all the children so that they don’t die. I am scared that my Moises will die. Which is why I ask people to help and tell people our story and to say that there are many other communities suffering. We come to ask for doctors from this county to go to La Guajira to show that that there are countless problems being caused by the coal.’
Although the Cerrejón mine opened in 1983, there has never been an independent investigation into its health impacts on the surrounding population. ‘They have a tendency to change the clinical history of why people die. The girl I referred to died of respiratory problems but they wrote on her records that she died of malnutrition even though her weight was fine,’ Luz Angela explains.
Cerrejón claims that it adheres to the standards set by the Colombian state. This might be true, but the Colombian authorities allow sulphur oxides of 250 micrograms per cubic metre, many times the 20 micrograms maximum recommended by the World Health Organisation.
During Luz Angela’s visit she also attended a protest organised by Biofuelwatch at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, demanding that the UK government stop subsidising Drax power station to the tune of £1.6 million per day. I spoke about her community at the demonstration at Drax a week after she left, in an attempt to ensure that her story is listened to and acted on by people here. Meeting her has made me determined to take her humanity into our campaigning against the companies that profit from the coal taken from the earth that was the home of her people.
Anne Harris campaigns with the Coal Action Network, which supports the communities fighting against the mines that supply the UK’s remaining coal-fired power stations
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Richard Murphy says that the appropriate political will and understanding of tax can put an end to offshore avoidance and evasion
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes