Terrorist attacks on Colombia’s largest coal producer, Cerrejon, increased to a record last year as Marxist guerrillas step up an offensive against mining companies they say are looting the Andean nation’s wealth.
Cerrejon, jointly owned by BHP Billiton Ltd., Anglo American Plc. and Glencore Xstrata Plc., suffered eight rebel sabotage attacks last year, from six in 2012, according to Juan Carlos Restrepo, the venture’s vice president of public affairs. That included the most disruptive attack on a coal train in three decades.
“One of the attacks on the railway was the worst in our history,” Restrepo said yesterday in an interview in his Bogota office. “They usually derail around 11 freight cars. This one derailed forty-three.”
Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are attacking mining and energy companies in a bid to undercut what the government calls a “locomotive” of economic growth. The FARC and other rebel groups attacked Colombian oil pipelines 259 times last year, a 72 percent increase over 2012 and the highest figure in more than a decade, according to the Ministry of Defense.
The government is currently holding peace talks with the FARC in Havana in a bid to end a five-decade civil conflict. In October 2012, the FARC’s chief negotiator, known by his alias “Ivan Marquez,” described the mining industry as “a demon of social and environmental destruction”.
A freight car costs $200,000 to repair, with 107,000 metric tons of coal left untransported for every day the train is unable to operate, the company said.
Security forces foiled a further 31 attempted attacks against the Cerrejon’s infrastructure in 2013, according to Restrepo.
Cerrejon produced 33 million tons of coal in 2013 and plans to increase production this year, Restrepo said.
Coal is Colombia’s largest export after oil. About a quarter of Europe’s coal imports comes from Colombia, which exported a total of 68 million tons in the first 11 months of last year.