Defending Human Rights in Colombia

The Wayuu gather outside Colombia’s Congress, wearing face masks to protest air pollution from mining operations in La Guajira. Photo: Meche Lu, ELAW.

I returned recently from a powerful trip to Colombia where I collaborated with ELAW partners at the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective Corporation (CCAJAR) to defend the human rights of local communities suffering the impacts of Latin America’s largest open pit coal mine – the Cerrejón.  During my visit, I met with Wayuu and Afro-Colombian peoples from La Guajira who are affected by the coal mine.

Approximately 40 Wayuu traveled from their remote villages to the Congress in Bogota to voice their concerns to national authorities, the Mining Society of Colombia, and the media.  The event was broadcast nationwide and covered by Spain’s El Pais.
I was invited to present in the Colombian Congress and at the National University of Colombia’s School of Medicine about the health impacts of particulate matter. In addition, we met with the local environmental authority and visited several towns La Guajira, where we met community members who told us about their health and environmental concerns, with many complaining about air pollution from the mining operation.
I was struck by the degradation of the environment and the threats to people’s health, but also inspired by the determination and strength of the local environmental advocates, and the Wayuu and Afro-Colombian leaders.
We will keep you informed of our progress!
Many thanks to the Swift Foundation for supporting this important work.
Meche Lu
ELAW Staff Scientist

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