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Published: November 27th 2013
Hey, my friends,
Well, this time is not going to be about beaches, museums, conferences or courses; this entry will feature a bit of our mining history. In Colombia, we have some regions well known by its mining industries, these are...
The Caribbean region: Manaure
Cundinamarca: Nemocon and Zipaquira
As I found myself visiting the Caribbean region, here I will tell you about my short visit there.
La Guajira, salt everywhere
La Guajira is a peninsula located on the border of our country and Venezuela, the region is surrounded by beautiful white sand beaches offering breathtaking views that contrast with that scorching sun. The Guajiros have lived off the extraction of salt even before the Spanish conquered the region, which is understandable as these deserted areas enjoy the right weather conditions for the production of salt. Manaure's Mines
Our first stopover was the Manaure Mines, located on the way to Maicao, which was a lovely sight and we were explained about the business of salt production in this indigenous area. I know, you might say
this is not a place you would choose for your holidays as you are entirely on a desert and surrounded by some solar salt ponds, which honestly is not our idea of a paradise... a salt paradise maybe, but you and me would prefer that shaped as a beach and sea, right? No, seriously, the beaches there are worth seeing, only that they are a bit further away.
The only beings you see there are the lovely pelicans and seagulls, no noisy vendors as in Santamarta and what attracts most is the work of Wayúus doing the extraction of salt, which is interesting to see.
Thanks to the salt mines, Manaure used to produce 70% of the total Colombian consumption, and there was even some salt left to export to you, folks; well, things are different now, there is a current production of almost 500 tons of salt per year, nothing to see with the past, a situation that I have to put to that everlasting monkey business, which you will be explained later.
The production of salt in Manaure has always been a topic of controversy, the producers have always
fought governmental institutions for the sake of autonomy. As the government has mostly controlled the production, the wayúus, conscious that it was their natural product, have always found ways to rebel, one way, for example was to harvest salt by themselves and in their own ways.
But let´s describe a bit about the place itself. Why, for example, is it called Manaure?
El Cacique Manaure
Legend has it that Manaure was one of the indigenous chiefs who helped the Spaniards during their conquest and then, in 1821, he fought against them. Well, knowing the colonisation period, I am not surprised to learn that this chief decided to change sides, you would´ve done the same, wouldn´t you?
Anyway, Manaure, the village was then founded little by little as these indigenous people decided to start building their abodes in a deserted area. It was some years later that the salt extraction would have them work and become businessmen on the spot, if I may say so. Manaure, a Salt Venue
In this arid region, located on the west coast of La Guajira,
the main activity is based on the exploitation of large salt deposits. When you go there you are bound to feel hot and very thirsty. The Wayuu indigenous groups do their work every day as their subsistence and future depend on it. oh, yes, the Manaure mines are a source of income for many of their families.
It seems that in the past, Manaure´s mines produced up to 700,000 tons per year; but now, the production has decreased enormously, I wonder whether that might be the reason why the country has been importing salt for years. Yes, in my big Locombia, with so much salt to be harvested, the ways how it is exploited don´t allow production to be that high as in the past. And yet, the method used is ecologically friendly.
A shame that the governmental institutions that exploited that production in the past didn´t do anything to improve the living conditions of the indigenous workers who, bare-chested, have throughout their lives and past generations worked on that killing sun for 365 days every year. Things would´ve probably been different and this could´ve become one of our main exports, but I suppose
as what is important is the money, then nobody gave much damn about the Wayúus.
As I said, the salt enterprise has always been a cause of disagreement between the government and the indigenous group. On the one hand, the Wayúus knew that the exploitation of salt takes place on their abode and on the other, the government would´t recognise their possession of the land as this would imply refraining from exercising control on the area. Tough, wasn´t it?
Anyway, you will see how this lack of organisation and not being on better terms have impinged on the production for both exports and imports of salt in our country. So, let´s stick to the exports or both our sweet coffee and Shakira. SAMA: Salinas de Manaure A good solution?
Now at least, they can do some of the process mechanically and that might have alleviated a bit those long working days; and after some fights for ownership, the government thought of a way to actually ensure that the production would continue and that it will mainly benefit the indigenous community. Thus, in 1991, they passed a law
called Sama, standing for Salinas de Manaure, whose condition was that things would be quite organised by appointing a private operator from outside to oversee production. According to the guide, although the Wayúu´s ownership continues, the condition stated by the government hasn´t been met.
As a result, it is now merely the Wayúus who, without any expertise in managing a business, administer the production and gains, which is somehow fair, as it is totally their natural product from what should be called, their own land. Critics might say that it was like going backwards as the potentials for production were enormous, but here again, it seems that the government haven´t come up with a proactive plan benefiting both sides and if it is not jotted down, things should be continued this way, I think. Production and Harvesting, it is like an ant process...
The process seems to be that simple, they first pump water from the sea and when the thickness desired is obtained, the salt harvesting process is started. And then there is always teamwork, those who pick it up, those making the mounds of salt, the wheelbarrow salt carriers,
those loading up the trucks, and there you have the drivers of the machines that carry all these production amounts.
And from there, some others would take over, you have the sellers, those who buy it for their small shops or those who carry it to sell it elsewhere. This is what ants do, isn´t it? everything is coordinated so that they ensure the production continues, well, apparently not in the way it should be but at least, there is still salt 😊 And the visitors, what?
Well, as I said at the beginning, Manaure is not much of a tourist destination. However, what is true is that if you are a painter, just come for the sake of colour, in this paradise of salt, the reflection of the sun creates rainbows of lovely colours that sometimes even your eyes are not strong enough to admire such beauty. I kept winking as my view was sort of misted up…
Manaure then receives some tourists every year, they are mostly on their way to El Cabo de la Vela or to enjoy some of the beautiful beaches. The Wayúus, an independent community
Well, that is all, my friends, I hope this has illustrated a bit about the story here in Manaure, a story that serves to show that at least in Colombia, there is a community that through their fights for their rights obtained what they wanted.
And although, the production of salt has decreased and you might argue that this has been the government´s biggest mistake, the Wayúus can claim to be the only owners of this controversial enterprise. I am sure that not many indigenous communities in the world can do that, which is like an example to follow if it were that easy.
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