Luis Diaz’s home, the mine causing it ‘irreparable damage’ and the links to Liverpool’s sponsors

Hours after Liverpool’s defeat by Real Madrid in May’s Champions League final, Jurgen Klopp was in a Paris hotel.

His trademark baseball cap was turned backwards and he carried a woven bag into which an approximation of his name, ‘Kloop’, was stitched.

Known as a mochila, the bag is a symbol of the Wayuu, Colombia’s largest indigenous group. Traditionally made by Wayuu women, it was gifted to Klopp by forward Luis Diaz’s family and made in the small village of El Cerro in La Guajira, north east Colombia.

Klopp with his ‘Kloop’ mochila in Paris

“Our plan was to picture the role of the mothers who lead the family,” Diaz’s cousin Josher Brito Diaz tells The Athletic. “We wanted to make this indigenous tradition more recognised across the world.”

El Cerro, however, also lends its name to Cerrejon, the largest open-cast coal mine in Latin America, which has been described, in a successful petition to the United Nations, as providing an existential threat to Diaz’s Wayuu community.

“Our future has been more than simply risked, our culture and spirituality have been affected in a very strong way,” Luis Misael Socarras, a Wayuu leader, tells The Athletic. “It is irreparable damage. Today, we are a people at risk of disappearing due to the damage caused to the territory.”

Yet whenever Diaz wears a Liverpool shirt, whether training or during a match, he is inadvertently advertising a sponsor with links to the Cerrejon mine.

Since 2010, Liverpool’s shirt sponsor, British bank Standard Chartered, has provided $7.5billion (£6.18bn) of financing to the owners of Cerrejon, which begins just six miles from Barrancas, the town in La Guajira where Diaz was born and spent several weeks in June. He also played junior football for a side hosted by the mine, FC Cerrejon.

The asset management arms of Standard Chartered and AXA, title sponsor of Liverpool’s training ground since October 2020, hold a combined stake of over $22million in Glencore, the mine’s owner, as of August 2022.

Liverpool, DiazDiaz celebrates scoring against Norwich City in February (Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Glencore is the largest mining company in the world and the ninth-largest for coal mining. The company also operates large coal mines in Australia and South Africa, while its largest investor is the Qatar Investment Authority, which owns Paris Saint-Germain.

Several banks are usually involved during any major financing operation, particularly during the kinds of deals with which Glencore is linked. This is done at the request of the banks, who do not want to expose themselves to excessive risk in case the loan cannot be repaid. Standard Chartered and AXA’s involvement with these companies is also only a small proportion of their financing and asset management operations.

Standard Chartered is one of Glencore’s most consistent partners and its stakes are on behalf of third parties, not its own investments. Standard Chartered usually partners with other banks on financing but not exclusively.

In September 2020, the United Nations asked Colombia’s government to suspend operations at the mine after finding it “seriously damaged the environment and health of the country’s largest indigenous community”. In August 2022, that position was reiterated by the intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which called for a “progressive closure” and initiated an investigation against Irish state-owned energy company ESB for purchasing Cerrejon’s coal.

Cerrejon denies the issues faced by the community are caused by the mine and points to the social and economic benefits it brings the community as well as its outreach work. It also makes the point that the area is a desert region that faces structural poverty and extreme climate conditions.

ESB has said it is cooperating with the investigation and told The Times: “ESB remains a member of Bettercoal. Bettercoal was established in 2012 by a group of major coal buyers, including utilities, rather than the coal mining industry. Its mission is to promote continuous improvement in mining and sourcing coal for the benefit of all the people affected by the industry — including workers and their communities.”

“In La Guajira, there’s a tree called the Guaimaro,” says barrister Monica Feria-Tinto, who petitioned the UN to call for a halt to mining the Cerrejon on behalf of the Wayuu people. “It’s an ancient tree existing in the area, which allowed them to survive the desert because of its nutritional value. It’s a superfood, it has four times the magnesium of bananas.

“But the mine is threatening the Guaimaro tree. They see it less and less. But it’s a survivor. When I think of Luis Diaz, I see that image.

“They’re both symbols of resistance for communities. They’ve been fighting against this for 30 years — since he was born.”

LiverpoolAdrian and Luis Diaz during a pre-season session at Liverpool’s training ground, sponsored by Axa, in July (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Diaz’s father, Luis Manuel, ran a small football school, coaching hundreds of miners’ children, and sold friche, a traditional Wayuu dish, to help pay for Diaz’s journeys to trials. In January 2017, he was part of a mayoral delegation that met with Cerrejon leaders to “expose many of the problems that afflict our population”.

Luis Manuel’s coaching has since evolved into the Luis Diaz Esperanza Foundation, run by Diaz’s cousin Josher, which operates around 15 sports schools, including four in indigenous reservations.

Josher believes that though those who run the Cerrejon have attempted social responsibility and the mine has brought jobs, it is “the starting point for all the problems in the area”.

“The mine has not been translated into benefits for the people who live here,” he tells The Athletic.

Luis Diaz, LiverpoolLuis Diaz and his cousin, Josher Brito Diaz (Photo: Josher Brito Diaz)

Complaints against Cerrejon predominantly focus on two areas.

The first is the mine itself and its impact on the towns in its immediate vicinity, such as Barrancas and Albania.

The second is the 120-mile train line built to ship the coal to the coast at Cabo de La Vela, a sacred space for the Wayuu people. Diaz has spoken of how he used to watch these coal trains pass Barrancas.

Wayuu leaders claim 17 small villages have been moved due to Cerrejon, with the Colombian Mining Code stating that all minerals and subsoil belong to the state, regardless of who lives above.

One of the villages affected was Tamaquito, which Diaz and his family have visited for ancestral religious ceremonies.

Fifteen years ago, Tamaquito’s inhabitants were evicted. Both Cerrejon and the Colombian government claimed the village was not entitled to the protection the law gives to indigenous communities due to several Afro-Colombian families who lived in the area. The population was relocated 20 miles away and leaders claim the renamed Tamaquito II does not possess sufficient drinking water.

Earlier this year, Tamaquito became one of the villages supported by Diaz’s foundation.

Other relocations have occurred in Cerrejon’s immediate vicinity. The villagers of Lagunita de la Sierra, where Diaz’s family originate from, claim they no longer have accessible drinking water.

ColombiaThe impact of the mine at Barrancas (Photo: Sauce Arias Martinez)

Claire Hanna is the Social Democratic and Labour Party member of parliament for Belfast South. She worked for the humanitarian association Concern Worldwide for more than 10 years and visited La Guajira in April 2022.

“People have been displaced and relocated with fairly minimal relocation support,” she tells The Athletic. “People were moved off their land, where they have existed quite happily and sustainably for generations.

“The rail tracks have just smashed across lots of land, with seemingly little regard for the water arrangements in place. There are miles and miles of train carriages, their transit is open, so there are coal dust particulates, and it’s endlessly noisy.”

In a detailed response to The Athletic, Glencore stated: “We are focused on running a responsible and world-class coal mining operation that protects our people, respects the environment and supports the local communities.” It says Cerrejon always tried to reach an agreement with people being relocated and that “expropriation has been used as a last resort, always within the framework of Colombian law… and with absolute respect for individual and community rights”.

It adds that relocation packages “include home ownership, access to basic services of drinking water, energy and plots of land for agricultural use” and it promotes “access to water, enhances local capacities, contributes to the development of livelihood projects in sectors besides mining, strengthens local culture and contributes to the improvement of local health services”.

Glencore says “respect for human rights is a fundamental part of our activities” and that it makes “a very significant socio-economic contribution to La Guajira through the creation of jobs, payment of taxes and royalties and support for local communities”.

Igor Diaz — no relation to Luis — has worked at Cerrejon for 37 years, since he was 18, starting a year after the mine opened. He is the leader of Sintracarbon, the mine’s workers’ union.

Igor says he has received several death threats for his activism and union leadership. This is not uncommon in Colombia, where activists often face such threats from paramilitaries and similar groups.

According to a report from Global Witness, 65 environmental activists were killed in Colombia in 2020 — more than any other country. Yet Igor has continued to speak about how he believes Cerrejon has impacted the local community.

“Yes, we are in need of work,” he says. “But we stand in solidarity (with the local population) to defend issues that affect life and environment over our need for a job.”

One of these issues is air pollution, primarily from the copious clouds of dust emanating from the mine.

“For each ton of coal removed, seven tons of earth must be removed,” he says. “This ratio, plus high production levels, generates a high level of dust pollution, as well as large levels of carbon particles in the environment. Those who receive the effects are mainly Wayuu and Afro-Colombian communities.”

In their appeal to the UN which resulted in the special rapporteur’s call for the mine to be closed, lawyers for the Wayuu community claimed there were more than 400 emergency room visits and 336,000 respiratory symptom cases in La Guajira directly attributable to the mine.

ColombiaWayuu women traditionally lead protests (Photo: Brendan O’Hara)

The UN found that “residents living near the mine… suffer from headaches, nasal and respiratory discomfort, dry cough, burning eyes and blurred vision as a result of open-pit mining carried out 24 hours a day”.

The dust is also said to settle on plants, which the Wayuu have traditionally used for medicinal purposes, while water is scarce in La Guajira’s semi-arid environment. Cerrejon uses approximately 24 million litres of water per day.

Glencore told The Athletic that it is continuously implementing alternatives to reduce its water consumption, which is down 70 per cent from 2010. It added that Cerrejon complies with Colombian air quality regulations and possesses an air quality management system that is “unique” in Latin America, which includes “the frequent watering of roads to reduce dust, use of water sprinklers and fog cannons and rehabilitation of lands disturbed by mining”.

Jakeline Romero Epiayu is a Wayuu leader from Barrancas, part of the Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu collective (A Force of Wayuu Women), who protest against water scarcity in the region.

The extreme climate means water has always been a scarce and precious commodity in the area. But in 2013, the group won a major victory when Cerrejon agreed not to mine underneath the Rancheria River, the largest river in the region, due to local pressure. However, bosses quickly announced a contingency plan — to divert the Arroyo Bruno, the Rancheria’s main tributary.

A 2017 ruling from Colombia’s constitutional court ordered Cerrejon to halt rerouting of the stream, which is sacred to the Wayuu, finding that the Bruno is “a living being, important in its totality and not in fractions or pieces”.

“This is the struggle of the community today,” Epiayu tells The Athletic. “We are all affected by the lack of access to water and the little that remains is not drinkable.”

Just this weekend, protestors blocked several roads leading to Cerrejon in protest at the mine’s actions.

Local villages have been required to use bottled water, with streams running dry. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortage of bottles led to a desperate petition to the UN, which found in favour of the Wayuu.

Glencore rejected the UN’s findings, telling The Athletic: “Cerrejon’s mining activities haven’t caused a lack of access to water.”  It added that independent studies by the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) show that the diversion of Bruno Creek has not affected the water quality or quantity.

Malnutrition, which can be caused by a lack of food, poor quality food or water-borne diseases, has always been a problem in this impoverished and remote area. In 2017, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights reported to Colombia’s constitutional court that 4,470 Wayuu children had died from malnutrition or associated diseases over the preceding eight-year period, more than five times the national average.

Ahead of May’s Champions League final against Real Madrid, Diaz’s father revealed his son suffered from a childhood illness that caused him to become severely malnourished. Scouts for his first club, Junior Barranquilla, were concerned by his slightness.

Luis DiazA newspaper cutting of 11-year-old Diaz celebrating a goal

Cerrejon has taken steps to try to address problems with malnutrition and hands out food tokens to children who attend football training. Diaz developed a reputation for donating his tokens to his team-mates, claiming that he was not hungry, despite his frame.

Glencore has never commented on the findings or claims about malnutrition and child deaths, nor the number of hospital admissions.

The Cerrejon mine was first quarried in 1984, initially by the Colombian state, and then by Exxon, which owned a 50 per cent share.

In 2000, it was taken over by three giant conglomerates: BHP (Australian), Anglo American (British) and XStrata (Anglo-Swiss). In 2011, the three companies increased production from 32 million tonnes a year to 40 million tonnes a year. BHP and Anglo American held non-operating stakes.

Current owners Glencore took over XStrata’s holding in 2012, before buying out BHP and Anglo American for a combined $588million in January 2022. Standard Chartered advised Anglo American on the sale.

Cerrejon mineThe Cerrejon coal mine in Barrancas, La Guajira, in August 2019 (Photo: Nicolo Filippo Rosso/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Standard Chartered began its shirt sponsorship of Liverpool in 2010, replacing beer manufacturer Carlsberg. In early July of this year, the club announced they were extending their £40million per year contract with Standard Chartered by four years on significantly improved terms.

The bank is signed up to the Net Zero Banking Alliance, which it chairs, and has also published a green sustainability framework. Protests against Standard Chartered’s fossil fuel policies took place at several of Liverpool’s games last season.

Standard Chartered provided $7.5billion of financing to Glencore, Anglo American and BHP in the period between July 2010 and January 2022, when Anglo American and BHP sold their stakes in the mine.

Glencore received $3.2billion of financing, split between $2.46billion of lending and $770.1 million of underwriting.

Just under $500million of lending was provided between January 2019 and January 2021, immediately before Glencore’s buyout. The company also received $1.39billion of financing between July 2010 and December 2012, the period in which Cerrejon expanded production by eight million tonnes per year.

The bank also deals with BHP, providing $2.8billion to the Australian mining giant ($2.67billion of lending) between 2010 and 2022, and Anglo American, which has received $1.4billion of financing ($537.4million of lending) in the same time period.

BHP declined to comment and Anglo American told The Athletic: “During the period of Anglo American’s shareholding, we supported Cerrejon to adopt the implementation of best-practice international frameworks such as the IFC Performance Standards, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“Cerrejon also adopted industry-leading practices in areas such as water efficiency and dust management. This positive progress has been recognised externally through several awards and certifications on both social and environmental performance.”

According to research co-authored last year by six environmental groups, Standard Chartered has provided $39.64billion of financing since 2016 to fossil fuel companies.

Standard Chartered’s asset management arm, Standard Chartered Bank/Johannesburg, also invests in the companies that own Cerrejon. According to transactions recorded by Bloomberg, as of July 2022, they have a stake of £16.43million in Glencore, and £32.8million in Anglo American, on behalf of third parties.

Diaz, LiverpoolDiaz at Liverpool’s AXA training centre in August (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Both Glencore and Anglo American challenged the Colombian government due to a 2017 ruling in a constitutional court that blocked further expansion of the mine.

Though Anglo American has since withdrawn its claim, Glencore continues to argue the decision contravenes British-Colombian and Swiss-Colombian trade agreements.

The second of Liverpool’s major sponsorship deals is with French insurance giant AXA, which has partnered the club since October 2018. In May 2019, it became training kit sponsors in a $20million-a-year deal and was named title sponsors of the training ground in October 2020.

As of November 2021, it held a $15.76million stake in Glencore, though it has recently reduced its position to around $2.68million.

When contacted by The Athletic, AXA responded that its investment policy includes “a commitment to fully exit coal investments by 2030 for OECD-based companies, and 2040 for other countries”.

Standard Chartered and Liverpool declined to comment.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: