An article from Do or Die Issue 7. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 125-128.
Vereniging Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) kept a KLM plane on the ground when 13 activists climbed on a plane ready to depart for the United States. The activists were protesting against the continued increase in flights at Schiphol which is not in line with environmental standards the government set earlier this year. After three hours, the activists let the plane go and were arrested.
Paul de Clerck
Friends of the Earth Netherlands
'The Right Price for Air Travel' Campaign
PO Box 19199, 1000 GD Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Phone: 31-20-6221366, Fax: 31-20-6275287
A coalition of Thai environmental groups has halted the construction of a controversial natural gas pipeline for the second time, after several herds totalling 50 wild elephants were driven from their habitat in lush forest by pipeline construction. Scores of activists are camping along the pipeline route to stop the forest destruction, and thousands more attended a rally in Bangkok on February 1st. The US$1.2 billion pipeline is a joint project of Unocal of the US, Total of France, the military junta of Burma, and Thailand's Petroleum Authority (PTT). According to activists, the Thai Army has moved 200 soldiers into the area, and the demonstrators fear that they will encourage a confrontation (Rainforest Relief Press Release, February 12, 1998).
March 6, 1998: Internationally-known Buddhist social critic Sulak Sivaraksa and some 50 activists have now been arrested and taken from the forest. Some 20 police officers took away the activists, thus ending the nearly 3-month camp protest. The last forest strip the protesters have been trying to protect by risking their lives in front of bulldozers is to be destroyed. Streams which are home to rare species like the Rajini crab will be infilled. The charge against Sivaraksa is 'preventing PTT officers as well as others involved in any project of petroleum development from performing their duties,' as stipulated in the Petroleum Act, a special law which protects the PTT's petroleum operations.
Spirit in Education Movement
60/2 Tiwanond 34 Muang,
Farmers are vehemently opposing a proposed phosphate mine near the town of Eppawala that will be run by US-based Freeport McMoRan Resource Partners, IMC Agrico and Japan's Tomen Corp.
"We will not leave, the government will have to use soldiers to remove us from our homes," Mahamannakadawata Piyarathana, President of the Committee for the Protection of Phosphate Deposits at Eppawala, told a news conference last week. Piyarathana, a Buddhist monk in the region, says that more than 40,000 villagers who have lived there for over 2,000 years will have to be relocated under the US$450 million project, which will also include a fertiliser plant, most likely in the eastern port city of Trincomalee.
The environmental impact of phosphate mining in Florida, where three-quarters of the United States and one quarter of the world's phosphate output is mined, has been significant. Freeport and IMC-Agrico are the major mining companies in this region too. Over 200,000 acres of this southern state have been strip-mined, leaving behind land that looks like a car race track after heavy rains, filled with pits and gullies and mini-mountains of dirt and thousand-acre slime pits. Some 20 stacks of phosphogypsum, a waste material from phosphate mining, that tower ten stories high and occupy 400-600 acres, dot the Florida landscape.
In the past this waste was simply dumped into local waterways but today this practice is banned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because phosphogypsum has been shown to contain elevated levels of radium which eventually breaks down into radon, both radioactive gases, and there are no safe methods to store or treat the waste. Studies have shown that cancer rates in phosphate mining areas of Florida are three times higher than those in unmined areas.
Another impact of this mining is a major increase in mosquito populations in the pits and settling ponds created by the phosphate mining industry, which become infested with water hyacinth and water lettuce, attracting large populations of mosquitoes. Fertiliser production also poses major safety problems because of extremely frequent explosions involved in the mining process.
On January 22, 1987, 13 peasant demonstrators were killed and scores were wounded when the military trained their guns on demonstrators during a massive rally at Mendiola Bridge that demanded genuine agrarian reform. Ironically, the peasants were brutally massacred at the time of the Aquino administration [which followed the Marcos dictatorship] which had declared agrarian reform as the centrepiece of the government's programme. And eleven years hence, justice has still eluded the victims of the Mendiola massacre.
Worse, not only did the agrarian reform program prove to be a sham, but the insignificant number of farmers who did actually benefit are currently losing their lands as a result of the land use conversion programme of the present Ramos government.
In the service of foreign and local big business and landlords, thousands of peasants are being violently displaced from the land they till. This bitter struggle for land results in atrocities.
A case in point is the ordeal of the peasants of Golden Country Farms in Occidental Mindoro. This land dispute - between the peasants and the Quintos family - dates back even to the years before Martial Law. When the Aquino administration declared its "commitment" to agrarian reform, the peasants moved to register the lands they till. But the Quintos family was able to block the registration in favour of its claims to retake the land.
The land dispute between the farmers and the Quintoses has caused the murder of Marcelo dela Cruz, a farmer, on July 10 1997, and Balbino Fernandez, a peasant leader who was killed on December 23 of the same year. Ten farmers have been arrested and detained for 9 months, and 4 have been arrested after the manhunt for the killers of the Quintos brothers Michael and Paul. Fear and uncertainty have beset the inhabitants of Sitio 38 and Sitio Budburan. For fear of the military's brutality, the poor peasants have fled their homes.
Eleven years after that fateful day in Mendiola, the conditions have not changed for the peasantry. In fact, they have worsened. The denial of social justice, and the state violence directed against the peasantry, is intensifying. For as long as the land problem persists, the struggle for genuine agrarian reform rages on, and the cries for justice of the Filipino peasantry continue to haunt the nation's consciousness.
(Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights)
43 Masikap St., Central District,
Diliman, Quezon City,
Telefax 922-5864, Tel. No. 434-1865
Lyon - Have you ever had to dodge speeding cars while scurrying across busy streets? Been angered by the amount of urban space occupied by cars? Mourned the loss of a car victim? Noticed a loss of community to destruction of nature and sprawl?
You're not alone. A movement of activists has formed to liberate cities across Europe from cars. At a conference they called "Towards Car-Free Cities," this international movement came together for a first-time fusion of ideas, experiences and culture. The results from such an event of course can never be predicted or expected.
They gathered above the cobblestone streets of old Lyon at the end of October - 65 activists representing 50 groups from 21 countries. The seven days were filled with movement-building meetings, workshops and a public day of round-table discussions and debates; they shook France's second largest city with three protest actions that kept the conference on the television news every day of the week. So if you thought conferences are where experts and academics talk at you in monotones from a podium all day, guess again.
The goal was to strengthen the international car-free cities movement, allow activists within it to exchange skills and information, and to launch ongoing cooperative international projects.
"Towards Car-Free Cities" hit heavy even in the Norwegian, Hungarian and Polish papers, maintaining press coverage until over two weeks after the conference ended. It was then the front page of Le Monde screamed, "Citadins de tous les pays, unissez-vous contre la dictature automobile!" ("Urbanites of all nations, unite against the automobile dictatorship!").
The mid-week action developed into the ultimate in experiential workshops: under the rising Wednesday morning sun, participants broke into four groups. One hung a banner, "Assez d'autos" ("Enough cars") above a crowded mid-town motorway during the morning rush hour.
A second group marched over cars parked on the pavement, led by Munich's infamous car-walker, Michael Hartmann. After walking over each car, they attached a sign to the windshield: "I walked over your car because I didn't want to slide under it!"
The group later wrapped cars in red and white police ribbon, leaving on the dashboards "official" letters, explaining rationally why society can no longer bear the costs of private car ownership. The letters concluded by giving drivers a choice: pay the true costs of your car with a hefty fine of 100,000 francs, or have it crushed in exchange for a free bike.
Some cars were actually picked up off the pavement by a dozen people and set down in the street, rendering it too narrow for cars to pass. The dislocated cars were then ticketed by police, which strengthened the message of the "car bouncing" action.
The third and fourth groups swarmed over the city distributing flyers that at first glance appeared to be adverts, but turned out to be asking drivers to get rid of their cars. "Offer to Seize Immediately," they read. The most successful leafletters donned tutus, painted their faces and stood on stilts at traffic lights. Drivers smiled and waved, anxious to get something for free. Many even stopped at green lights, arms astretch, just to receive the "offre à saisir immediatement."
Friday, November 1, meant participants had to outdo what they had accomplished with Wednesday's actions. But Friday also happened to be the "Day of the Dead," kicking off the weekend with the most automobile fatalities of the year.
The week before, organisers had found a small orange car, dubbed 'the Pumpkin', and veiled it in black for the occasion. Just before 2 pm on the Friday, conference participants pushed the Pumpkin to the front of the opera house, there joined by a growing, mourning crowd of local Lyonais.
The Day of the Dead is a serious affair in Catholic countries; to be respected and honoured. A few hundred people donned black garb and processed through the streets, singing funeral dirges and dragging the old car through the city centre. "L'auto, ça pue, ça tue et ça pollue" ("The car, it stinks, it kills and it pollutes"), they sang solemnly, to the delight of bystanders.
Also dressed in black was a ten metre long banner that read, simply, "L'auto, c'est la morte" ("The car is death"). A funeral dirge of the same slogan, wailing from an amplified sound system, echoed off the walls of the eight-story buildings. Death herself, complete with black cape and evil grin, had mounted the now-shrouded Pumpkin, and headed the procession slicing the air with her scythe.
At a busy street, with narrow pavements crammed with people, the procession stopped. The undercover cops were powerless to prevent the poor dead Pumpkin from being dragged across the street.
Several people hoisted three 15 metre long metal poles, which had been inconspicuous under the Pumpkin's black veil, off the roof of the car, and set them up as a tripod to block cars at the opposite end of the street. A climber from Dijon then occupied the eight metre high tripod perch.
Bar the black and red ketchup-splattered people dead on the road, a festive atmosphere ensued - with acoustic music, bunting, stilts, leaflets, paint-stenciled symbols and flowers, of course. Even brand new bike lanes instantly appeared on the street, just before the drum beats and sunlight diminished.
Above all, "Towards Car-Free Cities" built unity and understanding among European car-free cities activists. Most importantly, participants got to practice these skills in real-life situations. Attesting to the success of the conference, informal talk of a second "Towards Car-Free Cities" has already begun, possibly to be held in Tallinn, Estonia.
The projects launched at the conference are in various stages of development: The car-free magazine details are being decided in time for a spring premier issue, the full conference proceedings will be finished mid-January, the video is completed, an international day of action against the automobile may happen this summer in collaboration with Reclaim the Streets London, and the Lyon centre to coordinate these projects is keeping the ball rolling while presently preparing its badly insulated office for the winter.
Collectif pour des Rues Libérées
4 rue Bodin, 69001 Lyon, France
tel.: +(33) 4 72 00 23 57
fax: +(33) 4 78 28 57 78
Launched by the FEG (Galician Ecologist Federation), an unequal battle is developing between ordinary people and their civic groups, and the rightist Galician government and the big corporations that back it; an unequal battle between the voices of people and the media lobbies supporting big business.
Galicia is an autonomous region in the North West of the Spanish state, 30,000 square kilometres in area with a population over 3 million. To 'solve' the problem of our municipal solid waste (800,000 tons a year), which until now has been dumped in various illegal landfills, they have projected a big management plan to burn the waste in a factory close to La Coruna City.
Over the last two years, large amounts of propaganda have been thrown to trick the general public with lies such as: Compost is no good for the soil, recycling is environmentally unsafe, Origin Waste Classification is not healthy, incinerators don't pollute, Galician people are not prepared for recycling strategies, etc. Always the newspapers, radio and TV are acting as the mouthpieces for government and corporate interests.
The work of environmental groups, trade unions and leftish political parties obtained the support of 50,000 signatures to present a legal plea to our autonomous government, and to launch a very popular campaign for the recycling of solid wastes. Demonstrations, seminars, concerts, exhibitions, school programmes, meetings and other activities have been performed all over the country, trying to stop these ecocidal plans.
But the voracity of electric corporations and the banks is not going to permit the citizens to stop this big business (worth $300 million), and they have changed their strategy. Now they favour recycling, and their firm is called SOGAMA (Galician Society for the Environment)! They are calling the incinerator an "Energy recycling facility" in order to deceive public opinion and get the majority in the next regional elections. They are using the support of a "scientific committee" from the University of Santiago, consisting of university teachers who finance their research with money from the corporations who are building the incinerator. The debates between Galician ecologists and "scientists for incineration" show how the official science is able to act against people and environmental interests.
The enemy is strong but the fight goes on!
Manuel A. Fernandez I.B. Xelmirez I Taller de Educacion Ambiental Campus Universitario S/N 15705 Santiago Spain.
(Fax: 981-584533. Tel: 981-584321.