Translated by Dr. Carolina L. Vergara
The multinational CEMEX, third biggest cement company in the world, is responsible for financing paramilitary groups, repression against union workers and organizing a cartel with the purpose of controlling the market and increase the cement prices in Colombia up to a 36.8% of real value, all with the impunity that is permitted by the payment of bribes to the elite of Colombian politics. To this repertory of repression, enrichment, crime and corruption from CEMEX in Colombia must be added the accusations that point the multinational out as responsible of destroy the population of Payande, a small town from Tolina just 20 km away from Ibague.
CEMEX destroys the population of Payande in the Tolima
The multinational CEMEX arrived to Tolima in 1958, on june 5th 1990 the State granted to Cementos Diamante the concession of limestone number 4205 in the “La Esmeralda “ mine in Payande, municipality of San Luis, six years later Cementos Diamantes was absorbed by the multinational CEMEX, which was the beginning of great problems for the locals of this region: demolition, disappearance of neighbourhoods, poisoning of the narrow pass that supply the aqueduct, air and soil pollution, noise pollution, presence of paramilitary groups and murder, all of it as a result of the CEMEX mining activity for the last thirty years.
Meanwhile the “La Esmeralda” mine has been growing, has devoured whole neighbourhoods from Payande urban central area and others are in imminent risk of having the same end.
There, where before there were streets and houses, there’s only the company’s machinery, in the meantime immense craters from the quarry, full with contaminated water from the toxic residues, threaten with spread through new lands of the urban central area. That is the case of the Salvador Allende neighbourhood, where 38 houses were demolished to install the conveyor belt from where the stone is transported to the trituration machine.(1) the community of Payande denounce that their homes are under threat for the quarry expansion, meanwhile CEMEX tries to buy the houses and requested the relocation of schools that are in the limits near to the mine, located only meters away from the urban central area, for that reason the Consultor for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) made an alert appeal for the disappearance of the population and the possibility of force displacement events (2).
As the village disappears, big explosions caused by the mining extraction constantly shake its habitants, with an average of two earthquakes per week, for this reason, since 2005 the population of Payande has denounced the apparition of cracks and constant rock falling over the houses and schools’ rooftop, which are tossed from the mine extraction. The answer given by CEMEX to this serious situation has been to send workers to replace some tiles, hiding the high risk of the population and its infrastructure (3). The locals mention that there was a time when there were earthquakes every night and that now “rains” limestone, for that reason the pools in the houses must be covered to protect the drinking, cooking and cleaning water. (4) The locals do not find a solution, explosions happen; the town shakes and CEMEX gather big utilities.
According with data contained in the Resolution 01083 from 2018, issued for the Environmental Licence National Authority (ANLA) about the mining exploitation in Payande, studies are clear in showing that: “For the narrow pass Chicalá in the period 2016 A, the index of pollution ICOMI between 0.6 and 08, indicates that there is high contamination for mineralization associated to the presence of sulphides, calcium and magnesium present in the water and the erosion of the soil (lithogenical and geochemical origin)”. Despite the technical evidence that proves the pollution of the water, soil and air in Payande as a result of the mining activity, ANLA just performed some agreements with the multinational CEMEX, and today continues inforce the license for the exploitation of limestone, in the same way the environmental authority does not demand from CEMEX to stop its expansion to the urban area, there is no real control to stop the earthquakes originated for the limestone extraction. (5)
The mine produces 200 thousand tons of limestone monthly, their directors have said that under the township of Payande is located “a good portion of the mine”, for this reason it is expected that the multinational continues its expansion. Despite that CEMEX arrived to Payande with a discourse of progress for the region and its community, the population does not see improvement, on the contrary, denounces that since the arrival of CEMEX has not been built the first hospital. After thirty years, the balance for the population is just loses. (6)
With the arrival of CEMEX a transport band for the extracted material was installed, from the mine in Payande to the factory in Caracolito. In august 2012, the municipality of San Luis ordered the suspension of the band due to the risk that represented for the communities that lived under its functioning, nevertheless before 2 months have passed, it was reactivated thanks to the authorization of Cortolima, under the promise of fulfilled controls and following procedures.
The promise of controls and follow up was not of any good and in 2017 the municipality of Payande lost communication due to an earthquake occurred in February, which originated a collapse just in the region where the conveyor belt was located, above the road that leads to Ibagé (8).
No doubt the presence of CEMEX threatens with the disappearance of the population of Payande, as well with the displacement of the inhabitants of the municipality of San Luis, due to the fact that since the arrival of the multinational, the populations has presented a negative population growth rate. According to DANE census in 2005 the population in the municipality of San Luis was 19,262 and for the 2018 the population was 19,130, that is in 13 years not only there wasn’t a normal increase but also there was a decrease, for that reason is evident that the presence of CEMEX have altered the normal growth curve in the last years. Data show its significance when compared with the demographic behaviour of the Tolima department for the same period, where the population went from 1,365,342 to 1,419,957, that is the municipality of San Luis and Payande represent an abnormal case in the population growth rhythm of Tolima Department.
The alteration of the growth rhythm in the municipality of San Luis is directly related with the displacement that has been caused by the environmental threat of the “La Esmeralda” mine, but besides, the violence and the presence of paramilitary groups financed by CEMEX is another factor of the phenomena.
CEMEX: PARA-MILITARISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION.
The environmental alarm is not the only that has in vile to the payanians, according to a sentence from the Tribunal Superior del Distrito de Bogotá of 2014, the former owner of Diamante cements, Gustavo Giraldo, had paid to a paramilitary group belonging to the Tolima block of the AUD, 40 million pesos to take care of the mine “La Esmeralda”, the same that is now property of CEMEX since the acquisition in 1996. The paramilitary expansion took under control the municipality since 2000, as a result of the orders of Carlos Castaño, with the installation of command centres in several rural estates in San Luis, one of them with a communication point in Payande. Between 2000 and 2004 the 3 commands that have been stablished there, committed slaughtered acts that terrified and displace the population of San Luis and de surrounding area.
According to testimonies of the former paramilitary John Freddy Rubio Sierra, Ricaurte Soria Ortiz and Humberto Mendoza Castillo, the multinational CEMEX was one of the main financers of the AUC Bloque Colima paramilitary group. According their testimony, the company delivered millions to the paramilitary, while the terrains of the mine Luisa María in the municipality of San Luis Tolima, property of Gustavo Giraldo Duque, filial company of Cementos Diamante, were used as operation base for the expansion of the criminal group in the region (9).
At the same time that CEMEX financed paramilitary groups and paid for the surveillance to the “La Esmeralda” mine in Payade, according to archives in the Historic Memory National Centre and CINEP, in the municipality there were 11 selective assassinations, occurred between September 9th 2000 and November 28th 2005. Among the victims is the journalist Carlos Restrepo in 2000, the execution of Nelson Fernando Gómez in 2003, whose case CINEP considers the result of the political prosecution, the murder of Carlos Humberto Velázquez member of the Indigenous National Organization of Colombia (ONIC) in 2004, as well two cases of torture followed by the assassination of persons who had special protection.
In 2006 the People Permanent Tribunal denounced CEMEX, the Swiss multinational Holcim and the brick factory Santa Fe for their involvement in the assassination of union leaders in Colombia, the Tribunal referred the case of the murders committed against the Ltda Minercol National Company Worker Union (Sintraminercol).(10) The paramilitary groups continue their presence in the region, in 2015, El Universal denounced the paramilitary presence on San Luis, the group auto so called “Comando Militar Central Pijaols Nueva Generación”, not other than the extinct paramilitary group Bloque Tolima (AUC), now with a different name. (11)
CEMEX AND THE CEMENT PRICES CARTEL
In 2008 the Industry and Commerce Superintendence sanctioned CEMEN, Holcim and Cementos Argos for the conformation of an illegal cartel in order to control and manipulate the cement prices in Colombia during the second semester of 2005. These three companies, that constitute a monopoly that controls 96% of the cement market in Colombia, after it was sanctioned with a fine that did not went over 2000 minimal salaries, despite the great damage of using its monopolistic power to manipulate the cement prices in the country, in 2018 the State Council ratified the sanctions of the Superintendence against the companies. (12)
The cement cartel mocked of the 2008 Superintendence sanctions and, while appealed in the tribunals the decision continued with the manipulation, illegal control and increased of the cement prices in Colombia, with huge utilities for these companies and severe damages for the popular sector, because of this monopolistic practice increased the price of the popular housing and the building materials during decades, with research back to 1997.
Again in 2017 the Superintendence sanctioned CEMEX, Holcim and Argos for conducting agreements for the manipulation of prices since January 2010 to December 2012, the companies appealed to this case. The worst in this is that most of the investigations conducted for the Superintendence against the prices cartel have ended in a simple compromise agreement (13), with this the Colombian justice became accomplice in the manipulation of prices by these companies, that has led to an overprice that goes up to the 36.8%. (14)
CEMEX: ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE IN THE RÍO TUNJUELITO IN BOGOTÁ CASE
For decades CEMEX Hocim and San Antonio companies are responsible for the extraction of minerals in the Rio Tunjuelito, hydrographic basin in Bogotá, with great damage in the localities of Sumapaz, Usme, San Cristóbal, Ciudad Bolívar, Tunjuelito, Rafael Uribe Uribe, Kennedy and Bosa, highly populated zones. These companies deflected the Rio Tunjuelito water for its own benefit in 1968, 1974 and 1997, which has caused severe damage to the underground water reserve, normal river bed and removal of petrous material, causing instability of the soil, with the menace of landslide and flooding in these communities. (15)
Since the extract activity began in the locality of Usme, and with it the alteration of the Rio Tunjuelito bed, the flooding problem in rain season has become a chronic issue in the localities to the south of Bogotá, is the case of Tunjuelito and Abraham Lincoln neighbours in Tunjuelito. Three have been the most alarming events that put in risk the lives of thousands people in the popular neighbours to the south of the city, the great inundations registered in 1959, 1993 and 2002(7). The most dangerous was on June 9th 2002, by then 600 house and 22 blocks of the Usme popular neighbours were three meters under water, (16) while 30 million cubic meters of water ended inside the enormous craters generated for the extraction of building materials of the companies CEMEX Holcim and Fundación San Antonio (17).
Constant inundations, persistent risk of landslide, severe health affectations and respiratory problems, sanitary problems due to the presence of mosquitoes that reproduce in the stagnant water, is the result of decades of mine exploitation to the habitants of the south of Bogotá, the lucrative business of CEMEX in the Usme quarry. About this, Alfredo Prada, president of the Junta de Acción Comunal of the Danubio Azul neighbour said in 2014: “Years ago, we have this problem, when you are eating, on the plate remains the sisgo, they extract sand from there, gravel, they are saying that will remove those quarry, but no, because the power of the money crushes everything and the voice of the people is not listened to by the National Government, they defend the private interests.(18)
CEMEX AND THE CORRUPTION IN COLOMBIA
Despite the denounces for financing paramilitary groups and the repression against union organization, for conducting a cartel for the manipulation of the cement prices in Colombia for decades, for the numerous environmental damages to the Rio Tunjuelito, for devouring and put under threat the population of Payandein the Tolima, the multinational CEMEX continues operating in Colombia with impunity, and that is only possible thanks to the corruption of the political elite that has been benefited with huge amount of money in bribes, affecting the juridical decisions of judges in courts. By June 2019 it was known that CEMEX delivered one million dollars to government officials during Santos re-election, it was done through the temporary unions involved in the building of free houses conducted by Germán Vargas Lleras.
In the same way it was known of the delivered of money from CEMEX to the political parties that in the last decades have dominated the congress, so it gave 700 millones each of the following parties: Partido de la U, Cambio Radical and Partido Liberal, for a total of 21000 million as donation to the political corruption and as a guarantee to continue with its operations in Colombia. (19)
DENOUNCE CEMEX INTERNATIONAL
Since 2017 the Boycott Disinvestments and Sanctions to Israel (BDS) conducts a world campaign “To stop CEMEX”, in which is denounced that the multinational is accomplice of the State of Israel in the dispossession and genocide against the Palestine people, since 2002 the company has been the responsible for the construction of the 273 km wall that serves as a tool for the dispossession of lands, confinement and war that since 1948 Israel has waged against the Palestinians. CEMEX ignored the international call to stop the construction of the wall, despite that this was declared illegal for the United Nations in 2004. (20)
 Payandé, Tolima, a punto de ser “devorado” por Cemex S.A. Prensa Rural.
 CODHES 2018.
 El Tiempo 2005.
 S.O.S POR LA GENTE DE PAYANDÉ, TOLIMA. Revista La 13.
 ANLA. Resolución 01083 del 16 de julio del 2018
 Payandé, Tolima, a punto de ser “devorado” por Cemex S.A. Prensa Rural.
 RCNradio, 1993/2012
 Caracolradio, 2017
 ¡Alto a Cemex! El Turbión.
 ¡Alto a Cemex! El Turbión.
 CNMH, 2013
 Consejo de Estado confirmó que hubo cartel del cemento en 2005
 Consejo de Estado confirmó que hubo cartel del cemento en 2005
 Sancionan a Cemex, Argos y Holcim por cartel del cemento. Tigo Une.
 El río Tunjuelo muere al ritmo de la minería en Bogotá El Turbión.
 Control de inundaciones del Rio Tunjuelito. U Distrital.
 Tunjuelito sigue inundado. El Espectador.
 La minería en el sur de Bogotá, tan grave como el desastre ambiental del Casanare.RCN Radio
 Millonario escándalo. Colombiano Indignado.
 ¡Alto a Cemex! elturbion