Rising from the Ashes: Remaking Community Around Conflict and Coal
When autonomous rural people are forced to reorganize their lives to accommodate extractive capitalism, they remake their families, communities, and identities. In Colombia’s La Guajira region, the Cerrejón Coal Company removed Afro-descendant and indigenous communities from their land, forcing residents to become precarious urban workers. At the same time, communities faced violence and threats from guerilla and paramilitary groups who seized land and vied for control of the informal economy. Despite the dangers, local activists aligned with national and international allies to change the Cerrejón Coal Company’s policies. Under public pressure, the corporation began building resettlements where communities could relocate. After Cerrejón resettled communities, residents became dependent on the corporation to provide them with infrastructure, education, basic services, and development projects. Community members became divided over the best way to navigate this dependency. Local people responded with protests and resistance movements to shift the balance of power. At the same time, many locals came to accept that a coal mine dominated their lives and sought ways to benefit from that relationship. This dissertation asks how local people organized with each other to survive dispossession at the hands of a coal company. The dominance of a coal mine over peoples’ lives came to determine their family and community relationships, and the meanings of their indigenous or Afro-descendant identities. Local people constantly re-evaluated the balance between resisting and accepting the dominance of a coal mine; this process remade their relationships to each other and their own sense of themselves.