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.

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