16 November 2010

Long March Against Open Pit Mine And Disastrous Deals With Oil MNCs In Bangladesh

By Anu Muhammad    --  15 November, 2010   --  Countercurrents.org

People from different parts in Bangladesh marched for seven days towards Phulbari, the place that becomes a symbol of resistance against imperialist plunder, to raise voice against global imperial power engaged in grabbing and plundering natural resources of the country. 

The main procession began from the heart of Dhaka, the capital city, on October 24, 2010 at 11 am and crossed 465 km long to reach Phulbari on October 30, 2010 at 3 pm. It ended with massive gathering of hundreds of thousands of people from mainly adjacent areas of Phulbari and all over Bangladesh. On the way to Phulbari there were at least 60 public meetings. 

There were also street drama, songs, poetry recitation in favour of peoples power and ownership. Hundreds of colourful banners and festoons were there to give the messages of long march.

A number of anti-imperialist political parties and several mass organizations working with students, peasants, workers, women, indigenous people, artists, singers, theatre groups, study circles, teachers, writers, individuals, experts, journalists took part in the long march. They came together in the process of campaigning, publications, discussions, debates, demonstrations, consultations with different sections of people in the last twelve years by the ‘National Committee to Protect Oil Gas Mineral Resources Port and Power’ (National Committee).

Support and solidarity from different sections of the people with this movement significantly increased during and after Phulbari uprising against open pit mine project of a British company. This support expanded further during series of protest programmes against deals with US oil company Conoco Phillips and also mobilizations against police repression on the protest march. This long march extended its support base much further to build national resistance against local-global plunderers of peoples resources.

It seems that, this long March has opened up a new phase of national mobilization against the grip of MNCs over the natural resources and the economy as a whole. This has initiated larger campaign to build stronger unity of people on national interests.

National Committee takes a very clear position on the ownership and utilization of natural resources. It states that, natural resources, as common property, belong to the people of the country. This cannot be privatised by depriving peoples rights over it. The committee continues, ‘we wont allow extraction of natural resources for profit of MNCs. These resources should be extracted only for peoples needs and under their sovereign authority’.

To ensure best utilization of the natural resources the committee demands the following: (i) cent percent national ownership over natural resources, (ii) no MNCs (iii) no export (iv) no open pit; selecting coal utilization method appropriate for Bangladesh; displacement of population, destruction of biodiversity- water resources and fertile land cannot be acceptable. (V) development of national capability to ensure every drop of energy resources for the people of the country and (VI) to develop capacity to go for utilizing renewable energy resources (solar, wind etc), high potential in Bangladesh.

The Phulbari coal mining plan involved a British-based company (also other funding agencies from Germany, UK, Australia and the US) and the gas block deals in the Bay of Bengal issue involves a US-based company. People of Bangladesh have been struggling against global corporates and it deserves solidarity of global resistance. It is clear that transnational resistance is the best way to beat global empire, anti-imperialist activists’ support from around the world would have strengthened every movement in a particular country to a large extent. The bad deals in energy sector signed in Bangladesh during 1990s and after in favour of MNCs served the corrupt political elites, lumpen business groups, consultants and bankers, plunders natural resources keeping people in permanent state of poverty and humiliation.

These corporations are often involved in creating pressure on Bangladesh Government for open pit mines and offshore gas blocks through their consulates in Dhaka. The committee calls for protests at the corporate offices like GCM Plc resources to express outrage as these companies are involved in illegal activities such as corrupting the government officials in Bangladesh through bribes. This company (GCM), in particular, is also trading in share market (AIM) in London in the name of Phulbari coal mine. This is totally illegal and must be stopped. In fact, they do not have any legal authority over the mine, instead an agreement is still in place signed on August 30, 2006 following Phulbari uprising, between the people and the government, to oust Asia energy (GCM) and to prohibit open pit in Bangladesh. US company Chevron and Canadian company NIKO have not paid compensation amount to US$5 billion for destroying two gas fields in 1997 and 2005 till today.

In Bangladesh if one looks at the ruling class parties of the country, the political situation appears very frustrating and indeed violent. The ruling party as well as the main oppositions are equally corrupt and their main class base is lumpen rich. They practice fascism in every way. This has been a long-standing problem in Bangladesh.

There are a number of left political organisations working hard for bringing a change in the political situation in Bangladesh. However, the capacity of these organisations is relatively inadequate to represent the working-class and poor people. But the National Committee, most of the left parties have been part of it, has brought a new hope among people in general and also emerged as a new form of peoples alliance to unite pro-people parties, peoples organizations as well as a large number of poor and youth looking for real alternative. Huge success of long march, in terms of peoples support and solidarity expressed in different forms, is a clear indication of that.

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