by Jeff Abbott
Across Guatemala, both rural communities and urban centers have mobilized to protest the systematic theft and privatization of water by transnational companies and the Guatemalan oligarchy. On April 22, nearly 15,000 gathered in Guatemala City to demand an end to this control over water. Marchers had set out on April 11 from the city of Tecun Unam in the northwest department of San Marcos, and from Puruhá, Baja Verapaz. The various columns of demonstrators walked over 263 miles for 11 days to demand that the state address the right to water across the country.
“We have suffered for many years from the theft and contamination of our rivers, especially on the southern coast,” said Daniel Pascual, the leader of the United Campesino Committee, who was one of the central organizers of the march. “There is a massive contamination that is generated by the production of African palm oil and the production of sugar cane. Every year these companies use all the water, and leave the campesinos in drought-like conditions due to the divergence of rivers. Water is a point that affects every citizen, both indigenous and non-indigenous, in the city and in rural areas, with money or without money. This is a grave problem.”
Guatemala is a country with many rivers, streams and lakes. This abundance of water has attracted hundreds of companies to look into the expansion of hydropower, agro-industry or manufacturing in the country. But Guatemala’s water sources are heavily contested, with both campesinos and industry competing for access. All too often business wins out over the poor campesinos, but rural residents have mobilized to demand the companies respect their right to water.
“We’ve been marching down this highway to demand an end of the extractive industries, such as palm oil production, which contaminate our water,” said Ana María Top, a Mayan Kaqchikel from the Association of Integral Group of Women from the community of San Juan Sacatepéquez. “Furthermore, we are seeing the privatization of water in our country. We are here stating that water is life; it isn’t a commodity.”
The thousands of men, women, children and elderly that participated in the 11-day march braved the rain and heat to arrive in Guatemala City. The marchers received support from communities that they passed, with residents donating water and beverages.
The water march arrived in Guatemala City on April 22 to commemorate Earth Day, and to demand that the government resolve the water crisis. The protesters that had set out on April 11 were quickly joined by thousands of students, labor unions and social organizations from across the city, as they demonstrated outside the Guatemalan National Palace and the congressional building to demand that the state respond to the water crisis.
Along the way they also collected water from the streams they crossed, but as marchers crossed into the department of Suchitepequez, along the southern coast, they found that every river and stream that they passed was polluted by industry.
Along the way, marchers collected testimonies of residents of the contamination created by monocultures and other industries. These were included as part of a denouncement over the widespread contamination of water resources, which was delivered to the Guatemalan Public Ministry upon arrival in Guatemala City.
The southern coast has been especially affected by these contaminations. The departments along the coast have seen the massive expansion of monoculture production such as African palm oil, sugar cane and rubber in the last 15 years. These industries are detouring, or siphoning off the rivers that once flowed through the region.
In fact, it is all too common to see dry riverbeds, or weak and polluted streams that were once strong rivers, while driving down the Central America 9 highway.
One such case is the Madre Vieja River in Esquintla. Communities along this river have mobilized to guarantee that the river stay available for everyone.
Liberating a river from privatization
It is rare to see milpas — the fields of maize, beans and squashes that so many small farmers rely on in Guatemala — let alone forest along the highways of the lowlands of the southern Guatemalan department of Esquintla. Instead along the highways stretch miles and miles of fields of mono-crops such as sugar cane and African palm oil. Yet, a few communities still survive from the production of staple crops. The expansion of monoculture production across the region has brought with it conflicts over the precious water in the region, yet campesinos have mobilized to keep the large companies from blocking their access to the rivers.
Early in the morning of February 10, workers from the palm company HAME dammed the Madre Vieja River, channeling the water of the river to their crops. This has been a consistent occurrence over the last 15 years, after the arrival of the production of African palm oil to Esquintla. The expansion of banana production in the region has stressed the water sources, with the agro-industries using nearly 95 percent of the river during the dry season. According to residents, this leads to the river completely drying up, which has in turn pushed the 98 communities along the river to protest the loss of access to the water for their crops.
Residents gathered in the municipality of Nueva Concepción, Esquintla the same day that HAME detoured the river to demand that the mayor intervene in the conflict over the river. Days later, on February 12, residents mobilized along the river and — with support from the municipality and heavy machinery — removed the dam that the company had built, liberating the river.
The communities have maintained vigilance over the point in the river that the palm company built the dam. They have stated that they will not let the company rebuild the dam. They have received support from the municipality of Nueva Concepción, and from the Guatemalan Human Rights Office.
Members of the communities of the municipality of Nueva Concepción joined the marchers for the right to water on April 17, and continued along with the other marchers to Guatemala City.
Facing corporate impunity
One of the clearest cases of massive contamination in recent years has been of Pasión River in the northern Guatemalan department of Petén. Heavy rains in the municipality of Sayaxaché between the end of April and early May led to the overflow of the palm oil plantations’ oxidation pools, which flowed directly into the river, leading to the mass die-off of fish in the river. Blame quickly fell upon the local palm company Reforestadora Palma de Petén S.A., or REPSA, which has operated in the region since 2000. Initially, the company accepted responsibility for the contamination of the river.
“Unusually heavy rains provoked the overflow of oxidation pools,” wrote Carlos Arevalo, the legal representative for REPSA, to Gustavo Chacon Cordon, a representative from the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources. “Fish were found with signs of asphyxiation. We have sent samples to the University of San Carlos to determine the cause of death.”
Activists accused the company of carrying out an ecocide along the Pasión River.
The samples that were sent to the University of San Carlos showed high levels of the chemical malathion, a pesticide commonly used in the palm industry. But despite this finding, within a month, the company had backtracked, denying any connection to the problem that had by then hit the national media, which ran dramatic pictures of the dead fish. The company now claimed that it “was not responsible for the deaths of the fish,” and that there was “never an ecocide.”
To make matters worse, the communities along the river were uninformed of the contamination, and only learned something was wrong as they found fish floating in the river. Serious questions were also rising about the potential health impacts on the poverty stricken indigenous communities that lie beside the river and often depend on it for most of their water needs.
“First they killed the river; then they killed the fish,” said Erasmo Caal, a community leader from the hamlet of El Chorro. “Now they are trying to kill us.”
El Chorro sits on a hill above the river in Sayaxché. It is a sparse community, with only a few structures built of cement — most houses are simple, wooden structures with thatched roofs. There are no paved roads or running water, but they do have electricity.
The community, which was established during the late 1960s, has relied on the Pasíon River as their source of water. But despite this reliance, they were never informed of the contamination and continued bathing, washing their clothing, collecting water and fishing. As a result, many have developed rashes, dry and flaky skin, and lesions.
This reflects what Guadalupe Verdejo of the World Health Organization warned when she addressed local reports. During the press conference, she stated she saw the impacts on the skin, but she stated she was most worried about hidden impacts that could emerge later on, such as cancer.
On September 17, 2015 nearly five months after REPSA was accused of contaminating the river, the company was ordered by a court to suspend all operations for 6 months, pending an investigation into the contamination. But the court order sparked spiraling tensions and even an allegation of murder.
Workers from the palm company, angry at being laid off, immediately shut down the highway near the plantations. They also detained three local activists who had arrived to ensure the company was complying with the court order. The three activists were released late in the afternoon on September 18.
The same day, Rigoberto Lima Choc, a rural schoolteacher and leading figure in movement to shut down the plant, was shot and killed outside the Sayaxche courthouse by unknown assailants. Lima Choc had initiated the case against the palm company in June by filing a legal complaint against the powerful company in Guatemala City.
Confronting the corruption enabling the theft of water
At its heart, the march for the right to water is addressing Guatemala’s embedded corruption, as well as confronting the expansion of capitalism in the region, which leaves families without the means to support themselves.
“This is bigger than just corruption,” Pascual said. “The corruption that we saw in 2015 within the state falls short when compared to the corruption that exists with the theft of river, the contamination, the ecocides, and the privatization of water. This isn’t just for now; we need to protect the water for future generations.”
Both HAME and REPSA are part of the palm conglomerate, Olemec Group, which is owned by the powerful Molina-Botrán family, who has made their fortunes in the sugarcane and cotton industries. Current owner, Felipe Molina is a cousin of former President Otto Pérez Molina, whose administration was brought down over accusations of corruption.
The Molina family first brought palm oil to Guatemala in the late 1980s following the global fall in cotton prices. Today, according to investigative journalist Luis Solano, the palm firm controls nearly 80 percent of the industry.
The massive mobilization across Guatemala has brought into the public eye the crisis that communities face across the country, and generated a national conversation over the water situation. Organizers hope that this awareness will lead to the Guatemalan Congress passing a law that governs the use of water and protects the rights of communities to water. They also want to spur an investigation by governing bodies into the contamination of water across the country.
Members of Guatemala’s social movements and leftist parties met in the congressional building on April 22, as protesters gathered outside, to stress the need for this new water law. The movement has found support from the Guatemalan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, which has identified 50 rivers that have been detoured.
“The government and the companies must know that we can no longer permit the theft of our rivers and water for mines, hydroelectric dams, and for monocultures,” Pascual said. “This is a call to consciousness for all citizens in rural and urban areas. It isn’t possible for them to ignore the value of water.”
by Abby CuniffEmbed from Getty Images
In the past few weeks students across the country have been demanding that their schools stop profiting from oil, coal and gas companies. As student organizers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, we believe that we can stigmatize the fossil fuel industry by mobilizing students around issues of climate change. But making changes on campus is not enough; we know that we need to participate in local fights against fossil fuel companies to strengthen our largely symbolic campaigns. The fight in our own backyard is Spectra Energy’s project to expand its “Algonquin” pipeline, which carries fracked gas from Appalachia to Boston. Spectra is constructing about 35 new miles of piping and expanding the existing pipeline to be more than twice its current width within just a few hundred feet of a nuclear power plant.
The fight against Spectra may seem like a new climate fight, but it represents only the most recent version of climate colonialism and environmental racism. Spectra’s “Algonquin” pipeline follows in the legacy of violence against indigenous peoples in New England and contributes to climate devastation occurring throughout the world.
Spectra’s decision to use a derivation of Algonquian, a major language grouping in New England, is initially quite confusing. However, when we start to identify multiple instances of businesses using indigenous words for commercial products, we can see that there is a definitive pattern. Companies have seen that stealing tribes’ names and words is often profitable, and corporate appropriation of indigeneity plays a large role in erasing our understanding of the indigenous people who are alive today.
When asked about Spectra using an indigenous word for their pipeline, Mahtowin Muhro for United American Indians of New England responded by saying, “Do they think it is somehow honoring indigenous people to call it that? We cannot imagine that anyone at [Spectra] knows anything about indigenous lives or nations or values.”
The “Algonquin” pipeline successfully reminds us of the caricature of the “natural and docile Indian,” and distracts from the fact that expanding this methane gas pipeline close to a nuclear power plant could create an explosion estimated near the size of Fukushima. It also distracts from the fact that methane gas is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in disrupting the global temperature. This disruption is what causes drought, storms, and sea-level rise across the world and heavily affects the Global South in a continuation of colonial violence.
To understand the patterns of global climate destruction, we looked to Naomi Klein’s discussion of Black Lives Matter and climate policy. During the period of national unrest last year, she wisely stated, “If we refuse to speak frankly about the intersection of race and climate change, we can be sure that racism will continue to inform how the governments of industrialized countries respond to this existential crisis.” We know that the United Nation’s failure to create meaningful climate policy has solidified the fact that white and wealthy people’s lives are treated as more valuable than others. People in Southeast Asia are watching their homelands slowly go underwater, as people in other parts of the Global South are suffering from oil spills, drought, extreme storms and various forms of climate destruction. In the United States, we know that wealthier and predominantly white communities are less affected by hazards related to fossil fuel extraction and pollution. The 2010 BP oil spill devastated communities along the Gulf Coast, and coal mining continues to endanger the lives of people in Appalachia.
To make sense of the immense amount of climate destruction, we began to think of climate change in the context of global colonialism, which has historically decided whose lives matter and whose lives do not. This colonial mindset is especially relevant in New England where indigenous peoples have faced scalping and murder, in addition to disease and land theft at the hands of settler societies.
To combat the climate and colonial violence of Spectra’s “Algonquin” pipeline, many of our student groups have been hosting teach-ins to learn more about all of these histories. We have been routinely confronted with the fact that our schools and communities are built upon violence against indigenous peoples, and — with this knowledge — feel it is imperative that we act against the forces of colonialism within climate change. We are taking joint action as a network against Spectra this Saturday, April 30, in West Roxbury and will continue to fight as it moves toward its November 2016 projected finish of the Algonquin Incremental Market gas pipeline expansion.
We cannot remain silent, on or off campus. Complicity allows for climate destruction and upholds the legacy of colonial violence in the Northeast and abroad. We must address our colleges’ and universities’ complicity in this destruction by divesting from fossil fuels, as well as by taking direct action to stop the construction of such projects.
Activist intends trial to be seen as performance and asks that charges against him be elevated to terrorist offences
The Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky has appeared in court in Moscow for preliminary hearings in a case that could see him jailed for three years.
In November, Pavlensky set fire to the doors of the headquarters of the FSB, Russia’s security service and the successor agency to the KGB. The artist had his actions recorded on video and then posed for photographs in front of the burning doors of the imposing Lubyanka building. He has been held in pre-trial detention since.Continue reading...
Oscar winner cooks up cake-themed sortie on land leased by energy firm Cuadrilla – sparking a farmer’s retaliatory dirty protest of his own
Emma Thompson has broken a court injunction – and come uncomfortably close to a manure-spreading tractor – to film a Great British Bake Off spoof on land leased for fracking.Continue reading...
After a week-long trial that ended on April 15, a judge from the Stratford Magistrate Court in London found me and seven co-defendants not guilty for our actions last September to shut down the Defence Security and Equipment International arms fair, or DSEI, on the basis that we were preventing a greater crime. This is a huge victory in the long struggle to shut down one of the largest arms fairs in the world, which takes place in east London every other year.
The last fair was in September 2015, and it saw more than 1,500 exhibitors from around the world displaying the latest technology of the war industry. DSEI is an invitation-only event, where invites go to governments, industry representatives and specialized press. Delegations from repressive regimes and countries violating human rights — such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel — walk through its corridors every other year browsing the latest weaponry. This huge event is not just to showcase the latest technology, but also to facilitate new sales.
My first action against DSEI was in 2005, after I had recently moved to London from Chile. That year I joined Critical Mass, which biked through the streets of London with loud sound systems and colorful signs against the arms fair. We biked to the Excel Centre — the venue where the arms fairs happens — and for the first time in my life I saw people lying on the ground using arm tubes to lock themselves to each other to make the job of removing them harder for the police. I was impressed by the number of people taking action against an arms fair. However, friends told me that the turnout was lower than in 2003, when huge numbers protested against DSEI, and there was a high level of police repression. In Chile I had been part of a very small group of people protesting a public aerospace show called FIDAE. Schools and families see it as a nice day out, while in London the fair was closed to the public and took place with a high degree of secrecy.
I continued to join Critical Mass against DSEI almost every time it came to London and participated in marches, attended conference and wrote articles about the fair. For several years the number of people protesting continued to decline. By 2009, I wrote about how hard it is to mobilize for DSEI because of the difficulty of building momentum for an event that happens every other year and to which people could see no end. But I also argued it was part of the cycle of a campaign to feel that things are stagnated before they pick up again. This was exactly what happened with DSEI, as an increase in the number of people and the range of actions took place in 2011. This was due in large part to a new coalition formed earlier that year called Stop the Arms Fair, which brought together many organizations and activist that revitalized the campaign to shut down DSEI.
At every DSEI action, the strategy was more or less the same: to disrupt its proceedings while it was happening. Using a combination of direct action, marches and meetings to raise public awareness we hoped to stop people from attending the fair. We also wanted to bring attention to the role of the fair in the war machine and to the institutions that facilitate it — for example, the museums and venues hosting official DSEI receptions and dinners.
In 2013, there was an important change to the strategy. A “Big Day of Action” took place the Saturday before the DSEI started, followed by a week of action during the actual fair. On the Saturday action, activists managed to block the entrance to the Excel Centre for several hours with no equipment accessing the site. This success showed the way forward for the struggle against the arms fair — the key being to stop it before it began.
Stopping the preparations
This was the strategy during a week-long self-organized set of actions with specific focuses each day for 2015. It all started on September 7 with a day of action to stop arming Israel. The first action was a blockade — for hours — of an armored vehicle that was heading to the Excel Centre. On the days that followed there were actions focused on faith groups against war profiteering, the arms trade and climate change, academics against the arms trade, and freedom of movement, not of weapons. The week concluded with a “Big Day of Action.” The Stop the Arms Fair coalition and Campaign Against Arms Trade, or CAAT, provided the general frame for the different focuses each day and supported groups taking actions, but each group doing an action was self-organized.
By connecting the issue of the arms trade to other struggles — such as Palestinian solidarity, climate change and refugees — it meant that a diversity of groups got involved during the week. Important bridges were built between movements, and the arms trade was seen not as an isolated problem but rather as part of the wider struggle for social justice.
In early 2015, I moved to Belgium and received an invitation from the Belgian peace organization Vredesactie, or Peace Action, to join them in going to DSEI. Vredesactie runs the campaign I Stop the Arms Trade, which focuses on the European Union’s support of the arms industry. Soon after moving to Belgium I got involved in their campaign and occupied the offices of the lobbying organization AeroSpace and Defence Industry Association of Europe to draw attention to the European Union’s support for war profiteering.
Initially I was going to London primarily to observe and to hold meetings to build collaborations between Vredesactie and CAAT, but — after several exchanges between the five of us traveling from Belgium — we decided that three of us would blockade using arm tubes and that the other two would provide support and do media work. In short, we had a small affinity group.
We decided to do our action on the Big Day of Action called for on September 12, which had the aim of gathering as many people as possible to continue to disrupt preparations for the arms fair. During the morning of the action there were speeches from a wide range of groups and organizations. As the day progressed, we took the streets and the police began to remove us to let the traffic pass. At one point, the police were taking longer to act, and the three of us took our gear, ran to the road and got on the ground, locking ourselves together using the arm tubes.
This meant we had secured the blockade for some time, as the police in the United Kingdom — in most cases — will not just move you if you are locking on. The blockade provided a perfect place for people to gather, and a loudspeaker was used to continue with presentations. During the hours that we were on the blockade we heard from Isa Alaali, a Bahraini citizen, about the torture he experienced, as well as the U.K. military’s support of the Bahraini regime. We also heard from Mexican activists about the Ayotzinapa struggle for justice and the militarization of Mexican society.
From the beginning, the police came to tell us that if we didn’t unlock ourselves they would arrest us. But they didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. Hours passed and there was no sign that they were going to cut our tubes and arrest us. After several hours the police finally made their move, clearing the road of all the other protesters. In the end, they arrested the three of us on charges of willful obstruction of the highway.
Even though at any moment we could have released ourselves and avoided arrest, we wanted to maintain the blockade to disrupt the preparations of the arms fair for as long as possible. We were also aware that arrest could mean being charged and put on trial, but we didn’t really think much about it at the time. Our focus was on the action itself. After the arrest we were in custody for only a few hours before being given an order to come back to court a month later.
Putting the arms trade on trial
That court appearance was crucial. We could either plead guilty and pay a fine or plead not guilty and face a trial. It was not just the three of us in court, but everyone who had been arrested during the week of action against DSEI. For some time I was unsure what to plea. I wasn’t really in the position to face a long trial, and it seemed that the chances of winning in court were small. But at the same time I saw it as an opportunity to learn how to use the court in campaigning, as I had been arrested in the past but never gone to court. The fact that all the other arrestees were clear on pleading not guilty helped me make the decision. This was a collective action and we would treat the trial collectively as well. The goal was to put the arms trade on trial by facing trial ourselves.
At the court hearing the judge then set a date in February for the trial to give the necessary time to collect the evidence. The lawyers managed to unite all the cases into one — at first there were three separate cases — so that there would only be one trial for all of us. Both the lawyers and defendants could then combine efforts, and also crucially we could all use the same expert witnesses.
The initial February date was moved to April. Between the time of the first court appearance and the trial, there was a huge amount of work to do, primarily by the team of lawyers building the case, but also by the co-defendants. Our task was to find expert witnesses who could give evidence about the illegalities at DSEI, as well as the larger impact of the arms trade. We also worked on the visibility of the case, by writing a statement from the co-defendants and organizing a crowdfunding campaign and a fundraising event.
During the trial, which was scheduled to last five days, we heard evidence from all eight co-defendants. Among them was Alaali, who was forced to flee Bahrain after being imprisoned and tortured for his participation in the 2011 protests. During the uprising, thousands of Bahrainis protested and were crushed by force with a violent intervention from Saudi Arabia. Thousands were arrested and hundreds killed. Isa told the court that he was arrested three times in 2013, and that police held a gun to his head. He was taken to the police station and stripped and beaten until he became unconscious. The police tied his hands behind his back, beat him and threatened to cut off his penis in an effort to force him to give false confessions. Bahrain has purchased nearly $65 million of weapons from the United Kingdom since the 2011 uprising. Needless to say, Isa felt compelled to protest at DSEI.
Lisa Butler, another co-defendant, highlighted the ongoing mass killings of the Kurdish people by Turkey. Having visited Kurdistan recently, she explained to the judge about the violent curfews that have been imposed on Kurdish cities. Tanks and rockets have been firing shells and mortars into the cities and snipers have been gunning people down on the street, including children. Instead of banning Turkey from DSEI, the British government welcomed these war criminals with open arms.
Other defendants stated that they were particularly concerned with the sales of arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Israel. As such, they were compelled to act because illegal weapons, such as torture equipment, have been found at previous DSEI events.
“In every single previous arms fair, at least since 2005, illegal activity has been found to be happening,” co-defendant Tom Franklin told the court. “We have evidence of that. We have parliamentary reports. We have reports from Amnesty International. We have reports from Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, listing illegal weapons being sold.”
When my turn came to give evidence I was quite nervous. The entire time that I was being cross-examined by the prosecution I felt like I was giving the wrong answers, undermining my case. But at the same time, I knew that it was the right thing to do — to stand there and denounce the crimes happening at DSEI. My statement also focused on growing up in Chile under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the impact this had on me as a kid.
“I lived under a dictatorship for nearly 10 years. I remember curfews and a general sense of fear of the police and the military due to the horrible regime’s repression,” I testified. “The father of my school classmate was murdered by the secret police when I was six years old.” I also mentioned in court that for many years I had been protesting in different ways against DSEI and that for me the action was not just about ending the sale of illegal weapons, but to shut down the fair as a step toward stopping the war machine. After giving evidence, there was a huge weight taken off me.
We were joined in court by expert witnesses. Among them was Oliver Sprague from Amnesty International, who talked about the illegal weapons that have been sold at every DSEI arms fair. He also highlighted the “legal” weapons that are used illegally. In his report, Sprague gave evidence of arms being used in the Yemen war. “[The Yemen] conflict has cost at least 3,000 civilian lives, 2.5 million people [have been] displaced and 82 percent of the population — some 21.2 million people — currently require some form of humanitarian assistance,” he testified. “Importantly, official delegations from countries directly involved in military action in Yemen were in receipt of official U.K. government invitations to the event, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan.”
Sprague told the court that Saudi Arabia is the largest recipient of U.K. arms. Indeed, from July to September 2015, the British government granted export licenses for bombs — of the type being used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia — worth $1.7 billion. This was four times greater than the total exported to all countries in the previous four years.
A key moment in the trial happened when the defense asked Sprague what difference all the evidence he has given to Parliament and other official committees about the crimes taking place at DSEI has made. “I have to say all this has made zero difference,” he replied, which supported our argument that it was necessary to take direct action to stop these illegalities from happening.
Kat Hobbs of CAAT gave the court an overview of Clarion Events, the company that organizes DSEI. “Sixty-one countries were formally invited to DSEI in 2015 by the government, and many more were invited by Clarion, who advertised the fair as the ‘place to do business,’” she said. “Of those 61 countries, 14 are classified as being authoritarian and six are at war, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”
Acquitted for preventing a greater crime
After the week-long trial it was time for the judge to present his judgement. “The defendants belief that weapons were being sold unlawfully at DSEI was supported by the detailed expert evidence on this point,” he stated. “I was impressed by the evidence of each defendant … as to how they came to the conclusion that the form of direct action which they chose to adopt was the only effective method left to them in seeking to prevent the unlawful sale of arms which they believed was occurring at the 2015 DSEI … I believe that the defendants were perfectly sincere in their conclusions first that the unlawful sale of arms would almost certainly be occurring at DSEI and, secondly, that their intervention was necessary to seek to prevent this.”
We were acquitted of all charges on the basis that our actions were justified in order to prevent a greater crime. It was “a wonderful moment in which research, activism and the law came together to produce a crucial decision,” said arms trade expert and former member of the South African Parliament Andrew Feinstein. “It is in this way that we will ultimately change the nature of the global arms trade.”
Since the trial verdict there has been extensive media coverage and interest in the case. There have also been calls for the government and the Metropolitan Police to investigate DSEI, but investigations have happened in the past, and as Sprague said, they have made zero difference. Therefore, it is crucial to continue to take action to shut down the fair.
The day of the verdict CAAT sent out a pledge for people to take action in 2017 and already nearly 500 people inspired by the court verdict have signed it. Among activists, there is a belief that next time, if we have enough people willing to put their bodies on the line — combined with other forms of actions — we can actually shut the arms fair down for good.
Bloods and Crips say a truce formed a year ago continues to inspire them to reduce violence in the city as they look to the past to help fix the future
On 27 April 2015, as police cars burned and pharmacies were looted, Bloods and Crips helped usher civilians and journalists to safety. They had formed a truce, they said, to help save their communities.
Over the next week, as riot police lined the streets, some were more afraid of cops than they were of Bloods or Crips. The gangsters were appearing on national television, meeting with politicians, and working with community organizations.Continue reading...
For 15 years activist Van T Rudd, nephew of the former PM, has been collecting used forks from the world’s most powerful
Collecting unwashed forks might seem like a strange artistic practice but, with friends in the right places (read: working at luxury catering companies), it takes on a whole new meaning.Continue reading...
Tens of thousands of feminists protested across Mexico on Sunday, amid what they say is an epidemic of violence against women.
“We’re sick of suffering all kinds of abuse when we just walk in the street,” said Mari, a protester in the central Mexican city of Puebla, who was joined by hundreds of activists in Puebla’s city center, demanding justice for victims of femicide.
When the march reached the state government offices, activists accused local authorities of failing to bring perpetrators of violence to justice. One masked protester shouted, “The government here in Puebla lets them get away with impunity,” adding, “This isn’t just in Puebla, but all of Mexico.”
Declaring a “violet spring,” protesters called on women across Mexico to take a stand against sexism. One of the largest protests took place in Mexico City, where organizers railed against Mexico’s traditionally machista, or sexist, culture.
“It is evident that we need social re-education — to teach men not to harass, not violate, not hit, not threaten, not enslave, not abuse and not kill women and girls,” organizers said in a statement.
Back in Puebla, Mari said one the biggest problems for women in Mexico on a daily basis is street harassment. “Those catcalls — like, shouts in the street — they happen all the time,” she said.
The catcallers, however, appeared to have stayed at home on the day of the march, which was protected by squads of balaclava-clad women bearing badges that read “feminist security.”
At each intersection, these squads would run ahead of the main rally to form human road blocks, keeping traffic at bay. Behind them, demonstrators chanted, “Hey machista media, we’re here!” Other protesters in Puebla carried dozens of pink crosses. Each cross bore the name of an alleged femicide victim.
Official statistics from the federal government suggest over 60 percent of Mexican girls and women over the age of 15 have faced some form of abuse, ranging from verbal harassment to sexual violence.
Puebla state is one of the epicenters of Mexico’s femicide crisis. At least 26 women have been murdered across the state since the start of the year. One of the latest victims was 53-year-old Guadalupe Chavarria Moral, who was gunned down by her husband in early April.
Her death came just days after another woman was shot in a rural area of Puebla state. In the same week, the body of a third woman was found dumped on the side of the main highway between Puebla and Mexico City.
Nationwide, more than 44,000 women have been murdered over the last three decades, according to data from the government’s official statistics agency, INEGI, whose records also indicate many of the perpetrators of violence are friends or family members of the victim.
Activists in Puebla say one of the most disturbing trends is spousal murder. According to local feminist organizers, there have been numerous cases in Puebla of husbands murdering their wives when they become pregnant.
INEGI’s latest figures suggest that on average, a woman is murdered in Mexico every 20 minutes. In some regions, rates of femicide are 15 times higher than the international average. Meanwhile, according to a 2009 report from the National Femicide Citizen Observatory, less than 2 percent of suspected perpetrators of femicide in Mexico ever face criminal convictions. In its report, the organization accused the Mexican government of allowing a “context of permissibility” to flourish.
“By action or omission, (the state) fails to fulfill its responsibility to ensure the safety and right to life of women,” the report concluded.
In much of conservative Mexico, the act of speaking out against abuse and advocacy of feminism remains controversial. However, there are signs that the movement is gaining momentum.
The latest protests elicited a response from President Enrique Peña Nieto, who tweeted, “Today we were forced to listen to thousands of voices for women’s rights. My commitment to them is firm and determined.”
On the ground in Puebla, protesters said they wanted more than words from the president, with many arguing that a seismic change is needed in the country’s political culture. They chanted, “For all women, there’s no alternative but revolution.”
by Beth Geglia
Amidst lingering smoke from the morning’s ceremony, Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda opened up the space with a welcoming. “We celebrate that you are here with us today to build something real. We don’t want our Sister Berta to become an empty word. We don’t want her name to become just another slogan.”
The space was known as the Nacional de Engenieros Coliseum, a large stadium adorned with sweeping banners representing some of Central America’s most prominent social and environmental movements. From April 13-15, roughly 1,300 people gathered here from 20 countries around the world. Named the “Berta Lives International People’s Gathering,” the three-day event aimed to honor the life and struggle of slain Honduran leader Berta Cáceres, affectionately called “Bertita” by those who knew her.
Cáceres, a life-long indigenous Lenca activist and co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH, was murdered on March 3 while sleeping in her home in La Esperanza, Intibucá. At least two armed assailants stormed her house, shooting both her and the crime’s only witness, Mexican citizen Gustavo Castro Soto, who had arrived the day before for an international workshop on hydroelectric dams. Castro received two bullet impacts, but was able to survive by playing dead. Berta died in his arms minutes later. Her death sparked a global outcry, highlighting some of the most sinister realities of repression and impunity in the Central American country that has been deemed the most violent place for environmental activists.
“The first goal of the gathering is to ensure justice is found for Berta’s assassination,” said Victor Fernandez, the legal representative of COPINH who works on Berta’s case on behalf of her family. “Beyond that, we have to make justice for the historical demands that Berta and COPINH have embodied and continue to embody.” Fernandez outlined the details of the case. “It’s been privatized,” he explained. “The victims know nothing about the process, and the public prosecutor’s office has declared the case to be a secret. Berta’s daughters don’t even know the time of their mother’s death, because they’ve been denied access to the autopsy.”
Particularly worrisome to human rights organizations was the government’s response within the first 48 hours after the murder, in which investigators allegedly tampered with the crime scene and treated COPINH members as suspects, while ignoring the escalating death threats Berta had been receiving for her opposition to Agua Zarca — a hydroelectric dam project that would have impacted communities surrounding the Gualcarque River.
The dam project is owned by Honduran company Desarrollo Energéticos S.A., widely known as DESA, but financed internationally. One of COPINH’s most notable victories was convincing the dam’s original funders, the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank and the project’s then co-owner, Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to withdraw from the project in 2013. This struggle propelled Berta into the international spotlight and won her the prestigious Goldman Award for environmental activists in 2015.
Such recognition has contributed force to the demands of COPINH and Berta’s family after her assassination. Leaders globally, including members of the U.S. Congress, have echoed the call for an independent investigation into the murder that would be led by the Inter American Commission for Human Rights, or IACHR, but would have direct prosecutorial powers with the public prosecutor’s office. Additionally, letters, phone calls and petitions sent from around the world to Agua Zarca’s two current financiers, Finnish finance company FinnFund and Dutch bank FMO, caused both entities to temporarily suspend funding to the project. However, the banks have not withdrawn entirely and work on the dam inches forward. According to Fernandez, the Honduran government has evaded calls for IACHR involvement and has instead sought to legitimize its own investigation through collaborations with other institutions like the FBI and the newly constructed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity, or MACCIH.
“Achieving justice for Berta in Honduran courts is an uphill battle,” explained Grahame Russell, director of the U.S. and Canadian-based organization Rights Action. “Ultimately the struggle for justice in Honduras goes much further than that, and it goes to, as Berta Cáceres and COPINH would say, re-founding the state and society. But that is also a Canadian and U.S. struggle.”
Russell, who first met Berta in 1998 when COPINH was coordinating emergency relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, believes that international solidarity is key to exposing the role of U.S. and Canadian economic interests in upholding repressive governments in Honduras since the 2009 military coup. He came to Tegucigalpa with a delegation comprised of Canadian First Nation leaders to draw these connections.
Shortly after the coup catapulted the country into crisis, Canada signed a free trade agreement with Honduras’ post-coup government, and mining companies, largely of Canadian origin, have benefited from post-coup mining law reforms. “They [COPINH] were not only denouncing the coup itself, but they were denouncing the ‘Honduras is Open for Business approach’ that the coup intentionally opened the door for” explained Russell.
Indeed, the “Berta Lives” international gathering took as its target — first and foremost — the extractivist model of development impacting indigenous and rural peoples throughout the region. Breakout sessions held both days drew out common experiences with loss of territorial sovereignty: tourism developments that restrict access to beaches and displace traditional fishing economies, logging that causes deforestation, mining and hydro-dams that threaten community water supplies, and biofuel production that leads to land concentration and conflict. Participants discussed problems such as militarization and criminalization of dissent, and shared strategies for territorial defense.
“The vindication of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples has been a struggle that we’ve shared, for example, our right to free self-determination and our right to consultation” said Francisco Rocael, who came to the gathering from Guatemala representing the Council of Mayan Peoples of the Department of Huehuetenango. Similar to Lencan communities that Berta led, the Maya communities of Huehuetenango have staged a long-term opposition to a Spanish-owned hydroelectric project in the town of Barillas that has led to the criminalization of dozens of community members. “We also aspire to a different economic model,” Rocael explained, “one that respects both human rights and is in harmony with human nature. I think this was a dream we shared with Berta.”
Berta’s desire to see radical changes in the structures of power and to build new models for society were expressed in the various forms of activism she led, which included feminist movements against gender-based violence, as well as the fight for a constituent assembly to re-write the Honduran constitution and “refound” the country after the 2009 military coup. Ismael Moreno Coto, known as “Padre Melo,” a Honduran priest and radio activist who led the ecumenical ceremony at Bertha’s open-air funeral just over a month earlier, attended the gathering to propose what he calls “Plan Sovereignty 2021” in Berta’s name. The proposal outlines a five-year plan for building a national platform based on deep participatory democracy and independence from international economic interests.
“Berta Cáceres was one of the few people with whom I had shared this idea” Melo said. “We had reached some agreements between us to propose and initiate this together. So, on the very same day as her assassination, I said to myself, ‘My homage and my personal promise with Berta has to be to carry forward this proposal.'”
What does it mean to demand justice for Berta Cáceres, and what does it mean to say that “Berta lives on”? Combining spiritual ceremonies and political analysis, strategizing and protest, the crowd in Tegucigalpa made clear its intentions to do justice for Berta Cáceres by embodying her struggle and values, and striving for the unity for which she is remembered.
“Fundamental justice for Bertha Cáceres means that we be able to respond to three big elements that are part of Berta’s identity,” Melo said. “First, her philosophy, which was anti-systemic, anti-patriarchy, and anti-racist; second, her methodology, which was to be firmly planted in reality and build relationships globally; and third, her mystic, which said that the ancestors have something to say to us. We must listen.”
Now, as her surviving daughter, Berta Zuñiga Cáceres, reminded listeners during her declaration to the gathering, Berta is “one more among our ancestors.” It appears that people are listening.
Riot police deployed at Tahrir Square on national holiday amid growing feeling that Red Sea islands were used as bargaining chip for investment
Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in Cairo before planned demonstrations against the government’s transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, an issue that has already sparked the largest protests since Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, assumed power nearly two years ago.
Riot police backed by armoured vehicles are positioned in Tahrir Square, the focus of Egypt’s 2011 uprising, and at a suburban square where at least 600 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed in August 2013.Continue reading...
Aktivisten Asma Khalifa fra Libya forteller om livet under og etter krigen. Asma er en aktivist som var engasjert i kvinne- og fredsarbeid før NATOs bombing av landet hennes og opplevde krigens konsekvenser på plass. Hun har etter at NATOs bombeangrep ble avsluttet opplevd hvordan situasjonen har forverret seg og fundamentalistiske grupper av mange slag nå fører flere borgerkriger mot hverandre.
Asma vil innlede med å snakke om krigen, situasjonen i dag og legge spesielt fokus på kvinners situasjon. Deretter vil hun svare på spørsmål fra salen. Hun snakker flytende engelsk og har sterke meninger om hva som skjedde og hva som bør gjøres.
Bruk denne muligheten til å møte en aktivist som stod i bomberegnet fra norske fly under krigen 2011.
Spre informasjon om møtet i dine nettverk og til venner og kjente.Arrangør: Folkereisning Mot Krig