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5,000 megawatts in Wayuu territory

Don't miss the article published by EL PAÍS (special edition Planeta Futuro), which reflects our trip to the heart of the Wayuu where indigenous people live to carry out human rights impact studies.

Source: EL PAÍS: Special “Planeta Futuro” (Network of Experts)

Mikel Berraondo and Adriana Ciriza, the experts in Social Innovation at ZABALA Innovation Consulting, travelled to the heart of the area occupied by indigenous people from the Caribbean Sea, who will be surrounded by wind and solar energy infrastructures in the coming years. Until now they have remained intact due to the lack of roads.

Inside the Wayuu village

Four in the morning in a ranchería, somewhere in the extreme north of the Alta Guajira between Taroa and Nazareth. The putchipu (a conflict mediator) Odilon Montiel greets to let the traditional authorities know that he had a dream which was encouraging. It is the moment and the hour in which the Wayuu – a people originating from the Guajira peninsula, on the Caribbean Sea, who live mainly in a territory between Colombia and Venezuela – share their dreams, interpret their messages and make the decisions that can mark the future of their families and tribes. It is the solemn moment of the word in capital letters, which only needs to be pronounced to become an unwavering commitment.

At that moment putchipu shares with the traditional authorities the situation that is looming over the Alta Guajira, that place where not even José Arcadio Buendía arrived in his 100 years of solitude; that place that can only be reached by crossing sand tracks that only the inhabitants know; that place of sanctuary for all the deities of its native people; that place containing the cemeteries where three burials of each body must take place if the souls are to go to the Je’pira, the sacred space of the Wayuu souls. In the middle of 2020, this place works at the pace set by the gods and where the word and respect for cultural norms become a matter of honour.

The situation is not new for indigenous peoples. Nor is it new for the Wayuu people who have been suffering the barbarities of America’s largest open-pit coal mine for 40 years. In the next five years, more than 5,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy will be installed in the original territories of indigenous people. A place that managed to remain intact thanks to the lack of communication and roads. To install renewable energies, the region will be transformed with infrastructure that is not existent yet. Business, capital, capitalism, a symbol of individualism is in opposition to a culture whose collective coexistence is the foundation of education and the meaning of socialization. This type of participation has an economic, legal, social, political and moral set, and is precisely what characterizes the particular way of life of the Wayuu people.

Riohacha, the capital of the Guajira, is a hotbed of engineers, environmentalists, community relations specialists and social managers from all these companies that have won contracts with the Government. The same companies that have not yet changed their approach to these people and that leave interculturality and respect for human rights to the NGOs. All wanting to enter the region, to set up their projects, but not wanting to understand the world that they are going to profane in an irremediable way. 

Much is said at present about strategic alliances between different actors, but it seems that in this case, each one has decided to go their own way. There is not enough communication among NGOs and companies. Is it a good time to rethink the new types of actions, where both can collaborate and learn from each other? Can these new models of cooperation that are being talked about so much based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, on corporate social responsibility or even on shared profits? This is where the futility of the new international agendas and the many challenges ahead are really appreciated.

Another figure that roams the ranch these days is the advisors. These are individuals who present themselves to the communities as defenders of the rights of these groups when the Wayuu begin to negotiate with the different companies to compensate them for the impact that their actions will have on the territories. Some, before the beginning of negotiations between companies and communities, ask in advance for money for their services. It does not matter if the communities have not received anything after the negotiations because they, the advisors, with their parallel agenda, will have received their money. Another bad example.

See article in EL PAÍS

Adriana Ciriza and Mikel Berraondo are senior specialists in cooperation and development issues at Zabala Innovation Consulting.