35 families live in Tamaquito; its population is around 180. The old village covered an area of 10 hectares. Villagers had access to the surrounding forests for hunting, growing crops and rearing livestock. When coal mining began at Cerrejón in the mid 1980s, the mining company began to buy up the land around Tamaquito. Over the years, the villagers found their freedom of movement becoming ever more restricted until, finally, they were limited to the 10 hectares of the village itself – far too little space to provide the community with the necessities of life.
In 2001, the residents of neighbouring Tabaco were violently evicted and their village destroyed by the mining company Cerrejón, supported by divisions of the Colombian army and police. After this occurrence, Tamaquito’s community was constantly on high alert. In 2006, the first negotiations began between company representatives and the village community. In the same year, Jairo Fuentes – then aged 23 – took over chairmanship of the Tamaquito village council. He still holds that position today.
As the crow flies, New Tamaquito is around 30 kilometres away from the old village. Old Tamaquito, founded by Jairo’s grandfather in 1965, lies in the forested mountains of the region bordering Venezuela. There are multiple water sources in the village and the Río Ranchería is within walking distance. The villagers’ drinking water supply was always secure.
The resettlement location initially favoured by Tamaquito’s residents was even deeper in the mountains, closer to Venezuela. Cerrejón rejected this proposal, arguing that access to the village would cross through mining territory.
New Tamaquito is located in the flat steppe from which the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta rises, further to the west. Here, the 35 families have access to 300 hectares of land that were previously part of a Finca (farm estate) and upon which cattle were reared. The area has no river (rendering fishing impossible) and no virgin forest (meaning the villagers are unable to hunt or gather wild fruits and medicinal plants, and there’s little cooling shade). Because of its very high mineral content, the groundwater is of limited use for human and animal consumption or crop irrigation. The water supply is therefore one of the new village’s main problems. The sun and wind are also significantly more intense at this altitude than in the mountains, increasing the area’s aridity.
One of the guarantees set out in the resettlement agreement between Tamaquito and Cerrejón was the provision of Servicios Publicos (municipal services), including the water supply. Furthermore, Cerrejón agreed to instigate Proyectos Productivos (for example, agricultural and handicraft projects) following resettlement in order to create income-generating opportunities. The water supply still doesn’t operate as promised. Sheep and cattle remain in the mountains near Old Tamaquito because the new village has neither sufficient feed nor water for them. The income generation projects have been only partially instigated, and with several months’ delay. As a consequence, the new village offers its residents scarcely any opportunities to earn a living. Now that the villagers can no longer hunt and fish, and because agriculture is only possible to a very limited extent, there’s a shortage of work – particularly for men. As a consequence, alcohol is playing an increasing role in village life. The air in the stone houses is poor, and their wooden doors and windows creak and rattle in the area’s incessant wind. As a result, people don’t sleep as well and dream less. But dreams are an essential component of Wayúu spirituality: they act as a medium for ancestors to speak to the living, warning them of impending dangers. Many families have therefore built traditional mud sleeping huts next to their new stone houses.