My name is Chris Arsenault and I am a freelancer working with the Chronicle Herald, CBC, THIS Magazine and other outletts around Canada.
I wasn't sure who is the proper person to pitch to, so figured I'd try this.
I am Sending a story about a recent tour of NS by a Colombian villager who blames NS Power for destroying his home. I have pictures to accompany if you are interested.
If you want to see some of my work, I have the cover story and photos in the latest issue of THIS Magazine http://www.thismagazine.ca/issues/2006/03/collateral.php
If you're interested in the story, blast me an e-mail and we can talk about rates.
Thanks for the consideration,
Chris Arsenault firstname.lastname@example.org
NS Power Importing 'Blood Coal': Displaced Colombia Villager.
Coal mining is usually a dirty business but for Jose Julio Perez and the 700 other former residents of Tabaco, a small town in northern Colombia, it's downright bloody. The village was illegally destroyed to make way for the expansion of Cerrejun, the world's largest open pit mine which supplies coal to Nova Scotia Power.
Mr. Perez spoke in Halifax last week, trying to arouse indignation among NS Power's customers, “I appreciate what you are doing tonight,trying to understand and feel our pain,” Mr. Perez said to the fifty people gathered at Dalhousie University to hear his presentation. “ We feel international pressure will help us receive justice,” said Perez.
Approximately 17% of the NS Power's coal comes from Colombia's often violent mining sector. Most of NS Power's Colombian coal comes from Cerrejun, stretching more 50 km in northern Colombia. During Cerrejun rapid expansion, entire Afro-Columbian communities, like Mr. Perez's, were displaced; 350 000 Colombians were violently ousted in the first nine months of 2002alone.
Mr. Perez's presentation began with a short video from the 2001 eviction and eventual destruction of his town; heavily armed riot police bullied unarmed villagers while bulldozers smashed the town's church and school.
Members of the media, who were filming the event, had their cameras broken by the army and faced multiple threats. The camera panned to an interview with Mr. Perez who stood in front destroyed home: concrete and corrugated iron laying in shambles as his son cried.
“ It's crucial for Nova Scotians to realize that whenever they flip the light switch, blood flows along with electricity,” said Garry Leech, a political science professor at Cape Breton University specializing in Colombia and a member of the Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network (ARSN), the organization coordinating the 'blood-coal' campaign.
"There are coal mining cooperatives in Colombia that have good human rightsrecords," says Francisco Ramirez, President of Colombia's National Mine Workers Union, who has found common cause with Jose Julio Perez and other villagers displaced by the mines.
Mr. Ramirez, who has faced seven assassination attempts for his lawful union activities at Colombian coal mines, spoke in Halifax last year as part of the campaign. "They (worker mining cooperatives)sell coal at the world market price, so I don't know why NS Power won't even consider switching, at least until the situation improves at Cerrejun," said Ramirez.
“ Initially, Nova Scotia Power refused to meet with us to discuss the human rights situation at their Colombia suppliers,” said professor Leech. “Because of the campaign and the media attention it has garnered, they become more open to discussing the situation.” Mr. Perez and his supporters met with NS Power officials during his visit to Halifax.
Colombia's civil conflict, fueled by North America's lust for cocaine, coal and oil has spawned one of the hemisphere's worst humanitarian disasters. Because of its turmoil and geopolitical importance, Colombia has received 4 billion dollars in US aide, mostly military, since 2000; only Egypt and Isreal receive more. Colombia has 3 million internally displaced refugees like Mr. Perez, surpassed only by Sudan as a hot-bed of homeless horror.
Jose Julio Perez's former village Tabaco was pretty nice by Colombian standards. It boasted a school, telephone exchange, medical clinic and a church, all of which were destroyed by Cerrejun's bulldozers. Currently, the mine employs 1000 private security guards in what ARSN members consider a, “private militia”.
In 2002 Mr. Perez and his fellow villagers challenged their eviction in Colombia's supreme court. They won. The court issued a judicial decree ordering the relocation of the village. Four years later, the order hasn't been enforced and the townspeople are still living as refugees; their children are not in school. “ The mine company has more power than the president,” said Mr. Perez, citing corruption in the police and military as the prime reason why the high court's order hasn't been enforced.
When the mine was expanding, owners offered some villagers compensation, on the condition that they wouldn't try to negotiate collectively for relocation. Mr. Perez and many others, are demanding that they be moved collectively to a new town with the same amenities and infrastructure as Tabaco. Because of this, they haven't received a penny in compensation. Mr. Perez and his family are currently living with relatives in a near-by settlement.
To make the whole 'blood coal' situation more Canadian than a medium-double-double before pee-wee hockey, NB Power's 'blood coal' is transported to ourshores by Canada Steam Ship Lines- Paul Martin's old tax-payer subsidizedLiberian flag waving junket representing all that's wrong with governance inthe era of globalization.
It's ironic; Atlantic Canadian coal mines close throwing thousands out of work, devastating entire communities, while we outsource production to far-off lands and buy from mines implicated in human rights abuses.
90% of Columbia's human rights violations are perpetrated in mining andpetroleum exporting regions, 433 massacres in 8 years, according ding toAmnesty International. In 2001 alone, Canadian corporations invested $869million in these often violent sectors.
Colombian and Nova Scotia activists, including Perez and Leech, are planning a conference near the Cerrejun mine for August 9th to keep the heat on Nova Scotia Power and other companies they say are dealing in 'blood coal'.
By Chris Arsenault