Monday, April 19, 2010

BP AGM: confronting power with solidarity

We entered nerviously into the luxurious and modern Excel convention centre in London, but with all the wonderful people we have met and have worked with in Casanare giving us strength and a strong mandate; put pressure on BP to accept as legitimate the list of demands that the Movement for the Dignity of Casanare has presented to one of the world's most powerful multinational corporations.

It was an inmense stage that made clear their symbolic, economic and political power, as well as their huge egos. Their power is all too real; their decisions in Casanare have affected the lives of Casanare people through the intense militrisation and human rights violations which oil exploration brought to the region in the nineties.

It was to their home turf that we brought the voice of the Casanare people, who in spite of the 9000 people dead and in spite of fear, have risen up again and demanding dignity, the right to a trade union, respect for the environment they are dependent on, respect for life and better living conditions. We asked BP if they considered the demands of the communities to be legitimate considering BP has benefitted for 16 years from the oil that flows from this region.

They responded our question saying that they knew of some dialogue happening in Casanare, which is important, but it was not to do with BP. Considering that BP has been in negotiations and meetings with the Movement in Casanare for the past six weeks we pondered whether a lack of capacity to tell the truth is seen as a strength rather than a weakness when applying for a multimillion pound job with BP.

We took the microphone again, telling the audience that what BP said was not the case and that the problem was with BP. We also made clear that the chair's failure to recognise at the very least the legitimacy of communities to demand better environmental, social and labour conditions is very dangerous in the context of Casanare. Every time community organisation have raised their voices against BP, community leaders have been killed and the organisations destroyed. BP's public affirmation of the legitimacy of the right to protest would have been a minimum measure to prevent history repeating itself. They would not do so.

We also shared with the audience that only the night before BP had indeed responded to the list of demands presented by the communities saying that they not going to negotiate with them and furthermore they were going to sue them for slander. This is how a multimillion pound multinational corportation responds to communities asking for some dignity.

Later in the meeting George Poitras, a First nations Indigenous spokeperson, began his intervention about the impact of Tar Sands operation in his lands saying “When i heard my friend from Colombia speaking about what BP has done in his country, my heart bled. We hope that this won't be what their presence brings to our lands.”.

As we left the convention centre, friend on the outside shouted “Canada, Colombia, No Blood for Oil”. In the sunshine we gave a summary of what had happened inside. We were angry but not suprised by the manipulation and lack of answers inside, we were confident that our actions had served as a protecton mechanism for our friends back in Colombia and that BP knows the political costs are high for any future repression in Casanare, and we were excited by the solidarity between Colombians, British and Canadians. Solidarity is our own form of beautiful power, not over but between people, that will be crucial for the ongoing mobilisations in Casanare and for the communities in Canada.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Attempts to silence humanity with arrest of Indigenous Leader

Yesterday, Saturday 10th April, Feliciano Valencia was captured by the Colombian Security Services (DAS) at Cali Airport. He is an indigenous leader and spokesperson for the Community and Social Minga of Resistance. Now he is in danger of also being yet one more Colombian political prisoner, adding to the 7500 already in Colombian prisons.

I had the joy of beginning to get to know Feliciano during the mobilisations of the Minga last October. His reflections and thoughts, shared with others in his role as spokesperson for the Minga have been hugely valued by thousands of indigenous, peasant farmers, afro-Colombians, students and displaced people. He has a special quality of being able to listen to all these different oppressed peoples and then speak across these differences, finding commonality in their different histories of oppression and struggle.

Solidarity, autonomy, mutuality, integrity, reciprocity, these values among others must be the essence of how together challenge this hegemonic model, this project of death. And we must learn together, from one another, at the same time as we keep walking the word in Minga.”

The Minga is a process not an apparatus to use. The Minga has no owners, nor is anyone more important than others, there is a principle of equality.”

Feliciano speaking at a Minga event,July 2009

He has been detained by the DAS for kidnapping and personal damage for an event that happened in October 2008. Fourty thousand indigenous 40,000 indigenous marched in Minga from the south of Colombia to Bogotá, the Capital city inviting Colombians to build a new country based on equality with them. While still in indigenous territory, the indigenous guard discovered a member of the armed forces had infiltrated the march in order to gather intelligence and frame the indigenous march as having links with the guerrilla. He was detained with a rucksack containing camouflage clothes, radio equipment and explosive manuals.

The right of the indigenous people to their own law is recognised in the Colombian constitution and in international agreements. The indigenous authorities made the collective decision to give him 20 whips, which was carried out in the presence of the congregated community as well as the governments ombudsman, and human rights organisations.

Despite it being a community decision and carried out by the indigenous authorities, the Colombian government the arrest warrant was signed for both Feliciano and Aida Quilcué (another spokesperson for the Minga). This is a clear persecution against those who speak out against not just the government, but also against the neoliberal capitalist system imposed on Colombia by Europe and the USA.

This minga was not organised to confront the government, not even to confront Uribe , he'll fall one day, the problem is the system, it is the model, here we must have clarity. The laws and policies come from the imperial countries.”

Feliciano Valencia, July 2009

Yet again the Colombian government wants to silence critical voices. And I'm sadly all too sure sure the mainstream media will be silent too. Their silence to date around the seven thousand social activists, people just like Feliciano, who are imprisoned within Colombians squalid prisons tragically highlights where their interests lie.

But yet again people refuse to be silenced. The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) has responded by calling for a permanent assembly in Popyan city centre, where Feliciano is being held, to reject this latest attack by the government against them. They plan to stay until he is released.

It is through uniting our voices and efforts that Feliciano Valencia and the thousands of other political prisoners in Colombia will be freed.