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Coal from Columbia: Pollution and paramilitary violence

The role of Colombia as a worldwide exporter of coal has grown significantly over the past 15 years. After Russia and the United States, Colombia is the third most important coal supplier and is also of immense importance to Germany. The growing coal consumption and shrinking production in Germany over the last decade has led to the fact that coal imports have doubled from Colombia (more than eight million tons).1

The U.S. coal producer Drummond and the Swiss group Glencore – and its subsidiary Prodeco – operate the largest coal mines in the Colombian Department of Cesar. They extract nearly 40 million tonnes of coal each year and benefit from the growing demand for coal.2 However, the devastating consequences for the Colombian population, brought about by the increase in coal mining, are largely ignored.

For several years, farmers and residents of the mines have been complaining about the enormous impacts that arise in the course of coal mining. The dangerous dust clouds that result from blasting the coal out of the ground, affect the health of local residents. A study in 2011 showed that 50% of the Colombian population suffer from diseases of the respiratory tract due to the strong emissions from the industry.3

Every day approximately 160,000 tons of coal are transported from the mines to the Caribbean coast. The rail cars are not covered during transport, resulting in the coal dust being distributed through the entire region, including coal dust and dirt entering rivers and fields. Even the rain water is deep black and cannot be used as drinking water, nor to irrigate the land. According to media reports, the river Paraluz was polluted by the derailment of a number of rail cars carrying coal belonging to the company Prodeco in April 2014.4

The carbon storage at the ports is no less dangerous for the residents. The coal dust blows from these ports deep into the country and affects humans, animals and agricultural production. In addition, when coal is loaded onto cargo ships further dust is blown off resulting in serious pollution of the sea.5 At the end of 2013 the Drummond Group of companies were convicted and sentenced to a fine of 6.965 million pesos (3.58 million U.S. dollars) due to contamination of the Bay of Santa Marta. This contamination occurred in January 2012 when a barge on the point of sinking offloaded several tons of coal in the main tourist area of Santa Maria.6 This progressive destruction and endangerment of the marine ecosystem leads to a significant decline in fish stocks, impacting the livelihood of many fisherman who depend on the local area.

In addition to health risks and environmental pollution, a new secret of coal mining in Colombia has come to light.  “The dark side of Coal” is a research report published on 25 June 2014, by Marianne Moor, an employee of the Dutch organization PAX. Together with NGOs  Urgewald and Powershift as well as Rubén morrón, a Colombian trade unionist, Marianne Moor presents the amazing results of her three years of research in Colombia. The report examines the involvement of the commodity groups Drummond and Glencore with the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC: United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia) in the years 1996 to 2006 in the Colombian mining region César.7

This report illustrates and bring attention to  the precarious situation in the region, and also raises awareness regarding just how much “Bloody Coal” ends up in our (European) power plants.8 This is particularly important as 70 percent of the coal produced will go to European utilities such as E.On, GDF Suez, Enel, RWE, Iberdrola and Vattenfall.9 Despite the obvious problems, the German energy groups RWE, E.ON and Vattenfall are not willing to part with the encumbered coal suppliers.  The companies simply refer to their “Better Coal” campaign, however, in the eyes of critics this is understood as mere greenwashing.10 “What we really need is a roadmap for the phase-out of coal instead of simple greenwashing “demands Sebastian Rötters, coal expert from Powershift.11 And this is not only because of the violent crime in Colombia, but due to fact that RWE and E.On are among the world’s 50 biggest emitters of CO2, as shown by a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) last year.12 The forum Ecological-Social Market Economy also criticized the massive subsidies to the mining industry and use of coal-and lignite in Germany, despite the significant climate impact.13

Over the past three years, PAX has received and investigated a number of testimonies from former commanders of the paramilitaries, victims of human rights violations, employees of mining companies and their suppliers. Many sources state that Drummond and Prodeco, a subsidiary of Glencore, are said to have cooperated with paramilitaries for many years.14 “We have statements from former paramilitary commander AUC that since 1996, the mine operator Glencore and Drummond helped to build a military unit. They began in 1996 with 40 to 60 men and by 2006 this group had grown to a small private army with about 600 soldiers, “Marianne Moor told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.15

Nine different sources confirm that Drummond AUC made ​​substantial financial contributions over the period 1996 to 2006. The payment methods ranged from direct cash payments to covert transfers via service providers and transfers of firmly set percentage yields of the mine operators. In total, the Juan Andrés Alvares front is responsible for more than 3,000 killings, over 59,000 forced removals and the disappearance of at least 240 people. Alarmingly, some sources have testified under oath that Drummond entrusted this private security company AUC to remove suspicious persons on its premises. These telephone orders usually resulted in the killing of the respective persons.16

The Swiss group Glencore pointed to inquiries by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which according to a spokesman for the group showed there was no evidence for the involvement of Glencore and Prodeco with paramilitary groups, payments to those groups or the connection of businesses to forced relocation.17 Drummond, however, took no position on the allegations.

Learn more about the companies Drummond and Glencore in our database.

  1. Deutsche Welle: Gefärlicher Kohlestaub in Kolumbien. Available at last checked 02.07.2014. []
  2. Blood in German power plants Available at:!141232/ last checked on 07/02/2014. []
  3. Deutschlandfunk: Umweltverschmutzung und ein blutiges Geheimnis: Available at.: Last checked on 02.07.2014. []
  4. Deutsche Welle: Gefährlicher Kohlestaub in Kolumbien. Available at last checked 02.07.2014. []
  5. Deutsche Welle: Gefährlicher Kohlestaub in Kolumbien.  Available:. Http:// C3% A4hrlicher-kohlestaub-in-kolumbien/a-17558162 last checked on 02/07/2014. []
  6. Hispanically Speaking News: Drummond Shipwrecked Boat Near Coast of Colombia Available at.: Last checked on 02.07.2014. []
  7. Urgewald: The dark side of coal imported Available at:. Http:// last checked on 07/02/2014. []
  8. Urgewald: Die dunkle Seite der Importkohle. Verfügbar unter: Zuletzt überprüft am 02.07.2014. []
  9. Urgewald: Die dunkle Seite der Importkohle.  Available at:. Http:// Last reviewed at 02:07 .2014. []
  10. Klimaretter.Info: Coal by force of arms under Available:. Http:// last checked on 03/07/2014. []
  11. last checked on 07/02/2014. []
  12. PwC. 500 Global Climate Change Report 2013 Available at: last checked on 07/03/2014. []
  13. FOES: hard coal and brown coal Available at:. Http:// last checked on 03/07/2014. []
  14. Blood in German power plants Available at:. Http://!141232/ last checked on 07/02/2014. []
  15. Süddeutsche Zeitung: Bloody coal for German corporations Available at:. Http:// last checked on 07/02/2014. []
  16. PAX for peace: The dark side of Coal Available at:. Http:// Last reviewed at 02:07 .2014. []
  17. Süddeutsche Zeitung: Blutige kohle für Deutsche Konzerne  Available at: Http:// last checked on 07/02/2014. []