Activists say that demand for cheap Colombian coal from German utilities such as Uniper and RWE is leading to systematic killings and evictions in the country.
It’s not often that the subject of murder is raised at a shareholder meeting. So it’s fair to say that the comments made by Maina van der Zwan at the otherwise uneventful AGM of German energy company Uniper were unexpected.
Holding up a grainy picture of a Colombian man, the activist at Dutch NGO Pax announced: “He was the spokesman for a community which had opposed the expansion plans of a mining company in the Colombian region of Cesar. On September 11, he was murdered in cold blood.”
The shock tactics were clear: Uniper, along with fellow leading German energy suppliers RWE and EnBW, all import coal from Colombia. Without foreign coal, the lights would go out in much of Germany. Almost 20 percent of the country’s electricity comes from burning so-called hard coal, the most energy-rich form. Some 90 percent of this is imported, with Colombia supplying almost a quarter of this.
Coal mining in the South American country is big business, and local mining concerns are owned by global giants such as Anglo-American, BHP-Billiton, Glencore and Xstrata, not to mention Goldman Sachs. With Germany’s hard coal mines set to close in 2019, the exporter will only become more important.
But hard coal imports from Colombia are not without problems. According to PAX, paramilitaries have displaced more than 55,000 people since 1996 and murdered more than 3,100 because of their opposition to open-cast mining in Cesar, which lies near the Venezuelan border.
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