The Colombian town that’s taking on coal mining | Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Skip to content Skip to navigation
25 July 2018

“To leave for good is painful,” Flower Aria Rivera, 58, said with nostalgia. He doesn’t want to leave his land, his home. Doing so would mean leaving behind his identity, his story.

Flower is from Boquerón, Colombia, a town of nearly 900 residents in the northwest department of Cesar. His ancestors, directly descended from Africans, were among the first inhabitants of his small town and many others in the region. They lived from raising cattle and growing rice.

But that simple life is no more. The once-fertile soils of Boquerón have for more than 30 years been overtaken by large-scale coal mining operations.

Since the corporations arrived, the town has been absorbed by coal and the many damages it leaves behind—like unhealthy levels of air pollution, and the depletion of water from rivers and other natural sources.

The contamination had gotten so bad that, in 2010, the government ordered the mining company to relocate Boquerón’s residents. Eight years later, and that still hasn’t happened.

On the contrary, new families have been arriving to Boquerón in search of the compensation that will surely be distributed when relocation finally does occur.

“We want the mines to move, we want them to stop polluting our town,” said Flower, one of the most respected of the community, which has peacefully resisted despite the outbreak of skin and respiratory diseases.

Flower is not a conventional leader. He speaks softly, while smiling. His deep black skin contrasts with his pure white hair. He’s sweet and calm and, above all, full of faith and hope.

I met him two months ago when he participated with other leaders in a public forum co-organized by AIDA, Tierra Digna, CENSAT Agua Viva, University of Magdalena, the Environmental Justice Network of Colombia, and the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation.

There, participants discussed what’s needed to enable Colombia to move its economy away from coal exploitation and toward alternative energies—those that respect the both climate and communities.

“Coal has left us with nothing, only sadness,” Flower lamented.

Colombia is the fourth largest coal exporter in the world. As such, the government has the ethical and moral obligation to reduce its carbon emissions, which have contributed to exacerbating the climate crisis.

At AIDA, we believe in a clean energy future, and our work will continue to support the move towards a coal-free Latin America.  

To close, I’d like to share a poem Flower wrote. In it, he expresses longing and love for his land, and his fear of the “damned black stone.”


A mi Boquerón


Boquerón del alma mía

Terruño de mis entrañas

Estoy perdiendo mi alegría

Mis costumbres y mis esperanzas


Camino lento y con tristeza

Con solo pensar en tu partida

Historia mía, historia tuya

Es como un llanto en noche buena


Quisiera morirme en tus recuerdos

Donde viví muchas nostalgias

De amores y vivencias de este mundo

Cómo te llevo Boquerón en el alma


Voces de recuerdos se escuchan a lo lejos

De un niño y un viejo

Como añorando el pasado

De Boquerón y sus hermosos tiempos


Partir sin regreso es doloroso

Y un diciembre sin ti es morir

Como regresar después a pajuil

Cuando mis zapatos se han roto


Ya inerme camina un boqueronero

Y la historia del tucuy, el manantial y la lomita está muriendo

Hoy hasta el mismo cielo está llorando

En gotas de agua convertidas en desespero


Quisiera regresar a las faldas de mi madre

Como cuando niño me escondía debajo de ella

Escucho a lo lejos la voz del patriarca Rivera Ángel

Que desde su tumba como deseando una esperanza


Adiós diablito caño, palma y paralú

donde di mi grito de libertad y olvidé mi esclavitud

de mi raza palenquera y también de chambacú

y olvidé por mis ancestros lo juro por ese cielo azul


Maldita piedra negra

Que hizo cambiar mi historia

Un humilde pueblo llora

La funesta partida de toda una vida


About the Author

Juana Hofman's picture
Juana Hofman

Juana Hofman was the coordinator of Colombia's Network for Environmental Justice. She is an attorney from the University of Rosario, where she taught environmental negotiation, was part of the Public Action Group, and coordinated the Public Opinion Observatory. She has a Master's Degree in Local and Regional Planning from the University of Sheffield, England. She is a professor of graduate level courses in environmental territorial management and a consultant in matters of environmental management and environmental law. 


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