(Photo source) You may remember back in October when Chevron suspended plans to drill an exploration well for shale gas in the north-eastern town of Pungesti after thousands demonstrated against the project both there and in Bucharest. Finally, Chevron was seen to back off, at least for a while. Some naïve souls hoped that would be an end to it - that Chevron would give up and go home. The majority, however, knew that wouldn't be the case. Well, six weeks later, Chevron have returned....
At around 4am on Monday morning, Romanian riot police, jandarmi and firemen joined forces in an attempt to break resistance lines. Police and Chevron vehicles blocked the road linking the town with Vaslui, and surrounded the protesters' camp in a privately-owned field right next to where the company giant plans to install its well.
The Nine O'Clock website reported that 40 people were beaten, detained and then taken to the nearest town for further questioning. That link seems to be broken, but I'll add it when it's working again. Romanian-Insider reported on the arrestation of thirty “for hostile behaviour” while the jandarmi blocked access so that Chevron could get on with the job in hand.
(Photo source) Activists claim that around 1,000 law enforcers took part in the operation. The police, however, put the number at three hundred. Journalists were reportedly permitted to 30 minutes at the scene under police escort, and all this in a country that considers itself civilised and democratic... See THIS video for a pretty good idea of what unfolded at 4am and THIS one a little later on in the morning.
"You would not believe what is happening here," said one of the activists during a phone call. "A chain of jandarmi is surrounding the entire area, private security forces all over, guarding Chevron trucks and workers. It's like a battlefield," reports TOTB.
A press release from Chevron representatives officially confirmed the recommencement of exploration procedures for shale gas. The Romanian Jandarmeria also issued a statement in which they said all measures were to protect the community and to establish proper conditions for Chevron to pursue its activity. 'All measures' meaning the beating of protesters with truncheons? Really? On their OWN LAND?!? And how does that protect the community when these people ARE the community...
Representatives for the Jandarmeria stated that protesters had illegally blocked the main road which, according to George Epurescu, a researcher at the National Institute for Laser, Plasma and Radiation Physics in Bucharest and supporter of the protesters, is pure fabrication. The protesters were on the side of the road and traffic was not hindered in any way. It was a peaceful protest against the usage of the land leased by the mayor of Pungesti, Mircia C. Vlasă, to Chevron although he had had absolutely NO right to do so. According to TOTB, the land fell into his hands through an illegal exchange between Pungesti and another town, where Vlasă’s wife just happens to own land too. Nu mai spune... This mayor is said not only to have bullied and pressurised the citizens of his town, but also to have leased the land to Chevron without taking opinions of local residents into account. The locals themselves say that the exchange was made without proper regulations and if you saw the mug of this guy, you'd not doubt that for a second. See HERE for a DNA inquiry into the property rights Vlasă has over the land he rented out to Chevron.
(Photo source) The people of Pungesti have been protesting against shale gas drilling in their region since at least early spring. Once again, the jandarmi showed up to intimidate them, refusing access to anyone who wasn't from the town.
This article says that Chevron was there in September handing out t-shirts, caps, kites and beer at the fair held weekly in Silistea, the village where the first drilling equipment is set to be placed. Moreover, one of the local counselors served sarmale to the locals to appease them. Les douceurs...
The exploration for shale gas in a community clearly rejecting the opinions of its residents goes against Chevron’s officially stated commitment to protect the people and the environment and to consult communities regarding local needs. Chevron faces not only opposition from Pungesti, but a very loud NU from the majority of the Romanian population. As for 'protecting the people', that's an overwhelming fail - those who were hospitalised as a result of police brutality on Monday bear witness to that. No need to even mention the 'environment' bit.
What happened on Monday must have seemed like something out of a Hollywood film: Local children were stopped on their way to school as the road connecting the town to others was blocked by police; any gatherings of more than three people were dissolved by authorities; some villagers were chased into the woods by police, who are said to have beaten them up; protesters who were taken to the Central Police Station in Vaslui were refused the right to contact press or lawyers.
Just like a film indeed - except it wasn't. For shame. It really happened. And why? Because corruption is the law, greed is the faith and if you don't bend the knee to both, then you get beaten up, thrown into a police van and taken away for questioning. Clearly, this was planned by the local authorities, police and Chevron in great detail so equipment could be installed and work could begin.
Greenpeace slammed the police 'intervention' yesterday as "a serious abuse against freedom of expression", underlining that the permits given to Chevron are currently being challenged in court. Challenged or not, Chevron has said its exploration work began on Monday as planned, despite the mayhem going on around them.
During a TV debate today broadcast on Romanian public television, Chevron Romania's CEO Tom Holst appeared supremely defiant and unbelievably arrogant, promising that the energy giant had absolutely NO intention of leaving Romania. His words have been seen by many as 'a declaration of war'.
This irresponsible attack on human and civil rights, a force deployment not seen in Romania during times of peace, comes just ONE DAY after Romania's National Day and a backdrop of national AND international protests against fracking and cyanide usage in Romania that have encompassed three long months. Who is listening? Chevron? Gabriel? RMGC? Ponta? Certainly not the latter. The Guardian reports: 'Prime minister, Victor Ponta, has responded to anti-fracking protests around the country, saying that "the actions of the gendarmes were 100% according to the law and I congratulate them for this." He can deny anything untoward happened all he likes, but victims (both locals and activists) have medical certificates attesting to broken ribs and other injuries. Such abuse, termed 'legitimate' by Romanian authorities, merit nothing short of MASSIVE international indignance. Over 28,000 people have signed a petition pubished by AVAAZ - see HERE - over the last 48h calling for a firm position by European and international human rights decision-makers to condemn the abuse undertaken by Romanian armed forces who behaved like a hoard of mercenaries against unarmed civilians.
It's as if the last twenty-four years never happened and the communist regime is alive and well after all. But then, we knew that, didn't we.