Bridging Borders Against Coal Mining

In Kentucky and Colombia, local activists are challenging the devastating practices of coal corporations, and in the process, unsettling the forces of globalization and illuminating the connection between cultural identity and land.

Through a project initiated by Witness for Peace, a Washington D.C.-based, South & Central America-focused organization, people from coal regions in Kentucky and Columbia traveled to each other's communities to share their struggles with coal corporations. Over the past year, members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a community-based organization, traveled with delegates of Witness for Peace to Columbia. A few months later, union organizers from Columbia journeyed to the Appalachia region of Kentucky. Multimedia journalist Hans Bennett recently interviewed Aviva Chomsky of Witness for Peace about the exchange, and a number of particularly fascinating points of comparison stood out about the impact of coal mining on these communities. Chomsky talked about the communities' relationship to their land, labor rights and community rights, U.S. military aid to Colombia, and the political situation in Latin America.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:
One thing that really struck me was the ways that people in both the Colombian and the Kentuckian coal regions talked about the land. ... For people in eastern Kentucky, like those in northern Colombia, the land is tied to the essence of their identity. People have generations-long ties to the land, they farm the land, they feel personally connected to the mountains, to the rivers, to the farms. Also, in both regions, people are aware that they are seen as expendable, not only by the coal companies, but by the centers of power. Both regions suffer from a lack of state services, and have been really politically marginalized. But also in both regions, there is a really powerful sense of collective identity that I think has contributed to the strength of the social struggles there.

In one interview a few years ago, a Colombian indigenous leader explained to us that for his people, the earth was “la madre tierra,” mother earth. “It hurts us to see the earth damaged,” he said, pointing to the gaping hole of the mine. People in eastern Kentucky talked the same way about their mountains.

And here's a link to the entire interview on

Image: Houses near the Cerrejon mine in Colombia, from a Fullbright Review feature about the human cost of Colombian coal.

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  1. Anonymous12:57 PM

    This type of 'globalization' could be the anecdote for the horrors produced by global neoliberal policies.

    Nice post!

  2. Anonymous9:00 PM

    Call to take action on coal mining: Sunday Bloggers Act: Top Ten List on Why President Obama Must Visit Appalachia and Launch War for Green Jobs -

  3. Anonymous5:26 PM

    Obama doesn't show to the protests of Mountain-top Mining in WV -


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