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WILLIAMSON DAILY NEWS: Pike resident joins delegation going to Colombian coal fields

May 25th, 2009

Pike County resident Vanessa Hall will be part of a U.S. delegation visiting the coalfields of Colombia, South America in the coming week, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC) reported.

“This trip will allow me, and the other Kentucky coalfield residents, to draw connections between the work in Kentucky on coal issues and the organizing work happening in Colombia around coal,” said Hall, who is a teacher in Pike County.

Colombia is home to two of the largest open pit coal mines in the world.  Exxon created El Cerrejon mining complex in the 1980s.  A consortium of European-based companies and La Loma (owned by the Alabama-based Drummond Company) now own El Cerrejon.  These mines export large quantities of coal to the U.S.

Mine operators also have been accused of serious human rights violations, including the suppression of union activity, serious environmental damage to neighboring villages, and violence against human rights activists.

Hall and two other eastern Kentucky residents, all members of KFTC, will spend nearly a week traveling as part of a Witness for Peace delegation.

The trip also includes a number of people from Massachusetts, who are traveling to Colombia to see where the fuel for their electricity comes from. That part of the delegation will be visiting eastern Kentucky this week before the full group flies from Lexington on Sunday (May 31).

While in the Kentucky coalfields, the group will tour the Island Creek area of Pike County to view mining operations and discuss the impact on local residents. One of those residents, Rully Urias, was on a similar trip to Colombia last year.

They also will see the beauty of eastern Kentucky with a hike to Bad Branch Falls in Letcher County, and see how such pristine areas are threatened as they continue on to visit the Black Mountain range in Letcher and Harlan counties.

Upon their return, the Kentucky residents have pledged to share the stories of their Colombian hosts through presentations, writing and digital media.

“Like the residents of the coalfields of Colombia, I live in a region that is considered a ‘sacrifice zone’ for the energy needs of the United States,” Hall pointed out in a letter explaining the trip. “Just as it has in Appalachia, the coal industry in Colombia has devastated the land and the people.”

“This Colombia trip is a leadership development opportunity for me and other Kentuckians, and will provide an opportunity for building international connections among coalfield residents.”

To read the story in the Williamstown Daily News, click here.