La Guajira, Colombia

La Completa Village

Residents of La Completa say coalmine operations are damaging their environment and threatening their traditions. 

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Luis Socarras and his wife Monica live in La Complete village, about 5 km away from the biggest coalmine in the world.

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El Cerrejón mine is located in La Guajira, home to the Wayuu people, Colombia's largest indiginous population.

Coal monument

A monument to the coal industry in the town of Albania, near El Cerrejón mine.

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El Cerrejón

Water supplies

We load up on water before heading to Ranchería La Completa, where water is scarce.

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Goat meat is a central part of Wayuu diet. Most families have lost their own herds to the drought.

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Luis Socarras is an outspoken critic of the impacts of El Cerrejón on local life. He says he has received several death threats, retribution for his activism.

Luis interview

"The mine has not brought a single benefit to Wayuu people. To the contrary; El Cerrejón has devastated our environment, our culture and our society"- Luis S

Luis and Monica

Luis and his wife Monica met and fell in love through their shared work as activists, protesting El Cerrejón mine.

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Luis says speaking Wayuu language is a crucial key to maintaining Wayuu culture, especially with younger generations.

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Adriana's first language is 'Wayuunike', or Wayuu language.

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Aurora prepares a meal in Luis and Monica's kitchen.

Coals

Rice cooks over coals.

grilled goat

Goat meat, plantain and yucca on the grill.

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burning wood

Monic, a talented self-taught photographer, borrowed my camera to take several shots around the property, including this one.

Kitchen

The kitchen has an open construction for ventilation.

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A traditional Wayuu meal; goat, rice and plantain.

Aurora

Monica's relative Aurora takes a moment to rest after cooking, in La Complete village near El Cerrajon coal mine.

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Keydi Fernandez, 18 years old.

Tinto

Luis and Monica share home brewed coffee.

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Many Wayuu youth are uncertain about their future in the region, especially if water shortages continue.

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"Wayuu life has changed 200% since the arrival of El Cerrejón 3 decades ago. Changed negatively, completely." -Luis S

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Teens from La Completa often hang out together at Luis and Monica's home.

Checkers

Bottle caps serve as checkers.

Adriana and the goat
Train tracks beyond tree

El Cerrejón trasports coal on tracks that pass just beyond the shack in the distance. Luis says coal dust from the open train cars pollute the air. Respiratory health problems are on the rise.

Adriana in the door

Youth and the elderly are especially vulnerable to lung infections.

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Monica holds Adriana. Monica lost her only child, a baby born prematurely who suffered a severe lung infection and only survived a couple of days.

Chicha de Maiz

Chicha- a warm, corn porridge- is a staple part of traditional Wayuu diet, and the first food introduced to Wayuu infants. Dr Illiana, a local pediatrician, says that many of her young patients suffer recurring diarrhea, from drinking Chicha brewed with contaminated water.

Adriana's purse

Adriana plays near the washing basin.

Luis and Monica's home

Luis and Monica rest in the shade outside their home.

Deiber

22 year-old Deiber Ipuana is a frequent guest at Luis's home.

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"Wayuu can't survive anymore by farming or raising goats; there isn't enough water. We've seen a rise in sex work and drug trafficking among our Wayuu youth". -Luis I.

Casa de Bareque

Wayuu homes are constructed with wood, bark, clay and mud. Water scarcity in La Guajira is a barrier to construction and maintenance of homes.

Adriani

Aurora's daughter, 3 year-old Adriani, is the youngest of 9 children.

La complete windmill

Most well pumps in the region are operated by windmill. Some days there is water; some days there isn't.

trough

This faucet used to run water from the village well, but is now dry.

Huawai

Wayuu Rancherias have watering holes called 'Jaguey' near community wells, where animals drink, and people bathe and do their washing.

Drinking from Huawai

Many Jaguey have dried up in recent drought years. Others have grown stagnant and contaminated with pesticides and bacteria.

Dirty Huawai

Dr. Spencer, a local pediatrician, says Wayuu children suffer many skin conditions resulting from contact with dirty Jaguey water.

laundry

Laundry day at the well.

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Luis visits with locals at the central well, while they wait for water to flow and buckets to fill.

Pileta del Molino Aulaulia

People travel to the village well by foot, car, or burros, to fill water containers for daily household use.

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Luis says well water flow isn't reliable. The day before this one, the well didn't produce a drop.

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"Our Wayuu communities are suffering from thirst, while El Cerrejón mine uses more than 300 million liters of water a day" -Luis I

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16 year-old Luis Uriana waits for a slow trickle from the well to fill his bucket.

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Seeking and gathering water can take hours each day.