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Letcher woman visiting coal mines in Colombia

Letcher County resident Willa Johnson is part of a U.S. delegation visiting the coalfields of Colombia, South America this week.

“I am looking forward to this trip and the learning experience of what coal is like outside of my region and how large the industry is on a global scale,” said Johnson of McRoberts. “We will be traveling to rural parts of Colombia to the coal mining regions … and see the connections between the Colombian coalfields and the coalfields here in my community.”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.

Johnson and two other eastern Kentucky residents, all members of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (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 from where the fuel for their electricity comes from. That part of the delegation visited eastern Kentucky last week before the full group flew from Lexington on May 31.

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

“Much of Colombia has been left impoverished and mistreated from the coal companies and the region and mistreated workers are trying to find their voices in the midst of chaos while the government and big business coal owners suppress the workers’ rights movement,” Johnson wrote in a letter explaining the trip. “This trip will be beneficial not only to me but to others here in Kentucky and other coal mining regions, because I plan on telling the story of Colombia and the connection the United States energy policies.”

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