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 gnn.tv.
Image: Houses near the Cerrejon mine in Colombia, from a Fullbright Review feature about the human cost of Colombian coal.
Of particular interest is the participation of the anti-drugs police force, known as DINANDRO in its Spanish abbreviation. Between 2002 and 2007, the United States spent over $79 million on the PNP. 2002-2004 funds were for "training and field exercises to enhance the capabilities of DIRANDRO to conduct basic road and riverine exercises, as well as to provide security for eradication teams in outlying areas. These enhanced law enforcement efforts will require additional vehicles, communications, field gear, emergency/safety reaction gear, and drug detector canines." In 2007, the US government's funding for the DIRANDRO was expanded to "enhance the capabilities of DIRANDRO to conduct advanced road interdiction, riot control, greater security for eradication teams, and interdiction in hard-core areas." [emphasis added]. In 2007 the US government also debuted the first of at least four "Pre-Police Schools" for students that have completed secondary school education (that is, these schools are an alternative to high school). The "Pre-Police Schools" are free and designed to recruit and train young people to be members of the PNP.
What indigenous experience tells us is that an economy is about fairness and equity. It should be for the well-being of your people and the sacredness of creation. You take care of your place because it provides for you. And the place provides for you because you’re protecting it. We have to begin to rethink our economic system so that it’s accountable for our place. The economy used to be about livelihoods and the provision of a household, but we’ve lost that purpose. We have created an economic system with a goal of material wealth, rather than human development.
"bomb-proof concrete bunker encased in permafrost, 130 meters-deep inside the sandstone of a Norwegian mountain. It will store copies of seeds currently housed in the more than 1,400 gene banks worldwide, so that should calamity strike any of those gene banks, Svalbard’s seeds will save the collections—and thus humanity—from the jaws of famine."
"The small Rome-based organization (the Global Crop Diversity Trust) has launched an ambitious rescue program aimed at keeping seed stocks above that crucial 85 percent regeneration rate, providing the equipment, labor, training, and supplies (such as airtight seed envelopes) for gene banks in some 70 countries to replant their samples, cull fresh seed, and update their records on approximately 100,000 samples. Following successful regeneration, many previously inaccessible seeds will for the first time be available to plant breeders, plant geneticists, and plant pathologists"
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"Met with barely a mention from the world press, a stony silence from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and scorn from local government, the indigenous Council of Elders annulled all land contracts with the Nicaraguan government pending renegotiation, cancelled government elections, called for businesses to begin paying tax to them instead of the government authorities and gave the police and military six months to organise an orderly and peaceful withdrawal. Not only have the new ‘government’ already begun work on a currency, a flag and a national anthem they are also backed by the ‘Indigenous Army of Moskitia’, comprised of up to four hundred conflict veterans."
“There is tremendous unrest; the communities are awakening little by little and now it will not be possible to stop them. What they want is liberty; they want independence."