Category Archives: From the Field

“Portucel unveils the largest plant nursery in Africa”

This was the title of one of the numerous news reports portraying the inauguration of the largest plant nursery in Africa … Truth be told, the biggest nursery of eucalyptus trees which will be used for monoculture plantations and will have many negative impacts. But, hey, let’s celebrate; after all we now have in Mozambique the largest something in Africa! A huge nursery of eucalyptus! Yuuupiii!!!

Interestingly, none of the articles that I was able to get my hands on made reference to our government’s commitment to exotic species plantations, nor to the huge and confessed pride that our current government feels for these new conquests, to the point that it’s the president himself who inaugurates it.

Parts of the President’s opening speech was broadcast on television (STV nightly news on September 8th). I confess that it surprised me quite a lot to hear what the President thinks of the issues that have been raised regarding employment positions in Portucel, alleged cases of land grabbing and also about the motivations of the NGOs working with some communities in the area… Mr. President, I prefer to believe that the news piece was poorly edited, because certainty you could never speak of these issues as it was presented, surely, because a President of all Mozambicans as you are, Sir, would obviously never refer to these NGOs and people in such manner without ever having heard what they really think and why they think like that. The President asked Portucel workers if they were happy, or whether they preferred to continue in poverty without jobs, and said that those who work with them (referring to those NGOs) do not want to see the region develop, they want to keep them in poverty while they themselves “live well” … Oh Mr. President, who lives well??? Mr. President knows as well as we do that most people who work and live honestly do not live well, they merely survive, and some not even that! What is living well Mr. President? Is it to live in fear of expressing yourself openly and then be summoned to court and be accused of crimes against the state? And what about all the injustices we witness every day, are we not allowed to talk about them? Is living well being afraid of talking too much and then one day, while you are out for a walk, getting shot by a hitman following some faceless coward’s order? Or is living well, to live in apartments that look more like prisons than anything else, with burglar bars and locks, afraid of everything and everyone, due to the complete inefficiency of our police in protecting us? Or is living well having to wait for hours to be cared for in a hospital and when your turn finally comes the doctor is already so tired that he has no patience left for you? Or is it having to bribe teachers and principals of public schools to get a place for your child to study, and dream of a better life? Is this how we live well Mr. President? Who lives well Mr. President? Many of us live rather better than most, but living well requires a number of conditions that we lack …

You know as well as we do that those who live well are some of the members of your government, with their salaries and numerous subsidies at the expense of the same people who you now want to silence with a handful of precarious jobs. Those who live well are our members of parliament, who vote for more and more benefits for themselves, which the people contest but it goes forward anyway! And why Mr. President? Why do we continue to turn a blind eye to these injustices? Why do we accept that some have so much and others nothing? Why do the people have to settle for a job with low pay, often seasonal, while their representatives are entitled to the absurd benefits we all know about? Why are we perpetuating poverty in a country with so much wealth? One of our greatest assets is our land, where thousands of peasants produce food everyday. Land which we see being so lightly “lent” to the many, many investment projects, often against the will of the people… If Portucel jobs are so good, and life is now so much better thanks to Portucel’s arrival, maybe it would not be a bad idea to send there some of our many members of parliament for an internship there, paid of course, since we do not agree with any form of exploitation… Who knows, maybe then the President would realize that, after all, those jobs are not that good…

Mr. President, we are on the same side, we work for social and environmental justice, because we believe that together we can help build a country that we can all be proud of, where we can all live well and not just a few!

Mr. President, you posed questions to Portucel employees, but did you really expect people to answer honestly and tell you that the job is not safe, or that the salary is too low, or that they thought they were going to get more than 1500 Meticais ($32 according to current exchange rates!) in return for their farms, as they tell us (those pesky NGOs!). I find it hard to believe that someone would have the courage to, given the situation, say things were not good and instead say what they would actually prefer that… And you know why Mr. President? Because your question was not raised to be answered, your question was merely to convince others that all is well… and your considerations regarding the NGOs and the people who work with the communities were incorrect and unjust, and coming from you Mr. President, even more incorrect, because after all you are the President of all Mozambicans, including those that you criticized without ever knowing, those who you say live well and only want to delay the development of the region and maintain the communities in poverty. We are also part of those that you criticized, and I am sorry to tell you Mr. President, but you are misinformed.

A project so wonderful speaks for itself, surely does not need anyone to come defend it, as it has been happening with Portucel. A project so wonderful does not need any effort to discredit anybody because the facts speak for themselves!

If you want to hear the people, approach them humbly, be spontaneous, do not allow everything to be planned to the smallest detail, like who can talk and what can be talked about, complaints which we have heard, whether they are true or not, we cannot say, but we believe you have ways to find out Sir…

Long live democracy!

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Children from Portucel-affected communities. Photo credit: Justiça Ambiental

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One of Portucel’s monoculture exotic plantations. Photo credit: Justiça Ambiental

 

‘Israel has decided to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy’

Once again the full murderous force of Israel’s military machine is unleashed against defenceless Palestinians in Gaza, while world leaders just watch the genocide of a nation in real time and do nothing.  When I started writing this article the death toll was well above 100 Palestinians (over half women and children) and zero Israeli civilian casualties or even major injuries, despite extensive coverage by western media of the deadly rocket attacks from Gaza. Sadly by the time I had finished writing the article the Palestinian death toll had gone over 1000 and by the time you read this it would have probably more than doubled. As Israeli Professor, Ilan Pappé says, “Israel, in 2014, made a decision that it prefers to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy.”

Israel’s aggression violates the UN Charter and fundamental international laws and principles, but this is not new and past commissions have found numerous war atrocities and violations carried out by Israel during past attacks that have not resulted in any concrete actions by the UN or our world leaders. The international reaction to this latest crisis confirms that neither law nor justice dominate the diplomacy of leading western states and the UN, but geopolitical alignments.

One just needs a quick look at the history of the conflict to confirm this bias and lack of action in the face of undeniable facts. The UN has defined Israel’s occupation as illegal and numerous UN resolutions have demanded the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied territories. UN resolution 3379 from 1975 even went on to declare Israeli Zionism ideology as a form of racism, stating “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being.” Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils, and other ANC members that fought against apartheid, clearly see the parallels and define the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a form of apartheid. Yet the world denounced and ended apartheid in one place, but is allowing the other to continue. Even when Nelson Mandela stated that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.

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Photo: Grabbing of Palestinian land by Israel

Numerous leaders and public figures have spoken out in support of Palestine, from Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, to civil society groups around the world representing millions of people, such as Friends of the Earth, La Via Campesina, and many more. This criticism is not new, during the early days of the creation of Israel numerous influential individuals, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein, raised concerns and criticism. Today even celebrities that are not known to be political have voiced their support of the Palestinian cause, such as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. For anyone that doesn’t have the time to look into the details or considers the history too complicated, there is an easier way to decide on which side you should belong, simply look at the people you admire, your moral leaders.

Here in Mozambique, Samora Machel was a strong supporter of the Palestinian peoples’ struggles, and Yasser Arafat was a close ally and even attended Samora’s funeral. In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda was an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian struggle. Many more moral leaders have already done the homework for you. If we claim to be people that are guided by justice and morals it’s now time for us to show solidarity towards the Palestinian people and their struggle.

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Photo: Friends of the Earth International solidarity mission to Palestine, October 2013

I was part of Friends of the Earth International’s latest solidarity mission to Palestine at the end of last year. Even though we were invited by Palestinians, they do not have the authority to invite us into their own country. Instead we had to get an Israeli visa. On arrival the first question asked by Israeli authorities is whether you plan on visiting the West Bank. If you answer yes you most likely will not be allowed entry at all. So we had to enter Palestine ‘unofficially’.

Heavy army presence is evident everywhere, there are road blocks and check points at the entrances to all cities in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers check everyone who passes, always and independent of the prevailing political tensions. This control has prevented over 11 million Palestinian refugees from returning home, even though they are entitled under the Geneva Convention on Refugees to return, which Israel continues to deny. Based on current borders only 17.7% of Palestine (all in the cities) is under Palestinian control, while the rest is controlled by the Israeli army. However, even in the areas under Palestinian control have numerous restrictions imposed by the Israeli army.

The Israeli occupation doesn´t stop with the control of land and movement, but an attack on all the fundamentals of human rights such as water, heath, education, childhood, labour, culture, etc. It is a total structured suppression of a nation to the point where it is a process of colonisation and ethnic cleansing.

During our visit, we realised that given the desert type of environment, water is a very valuable and vital resource for existence. All Palestinian water resources are under the complete control of the Israeli army, which regularly destroy Palestinian bore-holes and block construction of new ones. They impose inhumane water restrictions on Palestinians, while allowing excessive and unstainable use by Israeli settlers. The double standards and water grab by Israelis are impossible to hide. At present Isreali settlers consume daily almost 400 litres per person (more than double of London’s average use) and have swimming pools, exotic gardens and extensive agricultural lands with water-intensive crops that should never be planted in the desert. Meanwhile Palestinians don’t even come close to receiving the World Health Organisation’s daily recommended 100 litres per person and many survive on a little as 10 litres per day.

Water is just one of the fundamental pillars of life that is consistently being used by Israel to break the Palestinian nation and spirit, but it’s the same story for all sectors.

In health, Israel sends its waste to get dumped in Palestine and all high-polluting industries that were in Israel in the 1970s and were ordered by Courts to close due to risks to human health, were instead moved right next to Palestinian cities, like the Geshuri factories near Tulkarem. Israel is very aware of the health risks because, even today, if the wind starts blowing towards Israel, these factories have to halt production. But Palestinians have to just endure the toxins and cancer rates have increased significantly in the area.

The more time we spent in Palestine the more facts and details are continually exposed about the inhumane, unjust, illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel. We heard numerous accounts that the Israeli military arrests Palestinian children as young as 5 years old, a high number of whom are subjected to physical and verbal abuse and are threatened with sexual assault and death to themselves or their families. This abuse is confirmed by UN reports which also add that, in the last decade, over 7000 children are have been arrested and tortured.

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Palestinian children in a village where water & electricity access has been harmed by Israel (Daniel Ribeiro)

Everywhere we went, we saw the Israeli military abuse. In Zbeidat the military blocked the construction of a water and sewage system. Jobet Adeeb near Bethlehem has no electricity or water sewage system, and is barred from installing solar panels, electrical wiring, borehole or almost any structure that would improve the standard of living but the nearby Israeli settlement has all the modern luxuries and services. We visited a village that has been completely demolished, even though Israeli courts have recognised the rights to the land. Many more Palestinians that we met talked about the constant demolition notices they receive, that sometime are carried out immediately while others stay hanging over the family’s head for over a year, never knowing when the military would come to demolish their home. But just like in Gaza today, they know it will happen that one day they arrive home to a pile of rubble.

These experiences are all too common and regular that anyone that want to know the truth has to just spend some time in Palestine. I could carryon for pages and pages of the injustices and abuse by Israel. The evidence is clear. I often hear today’s younger generation asking our elders how did they let it happen – slavery, apartheid in South Africa, 2 World Wars, genocides and many other atrocities. I am sure that our children and grandchildren will ask us the same question. How and why did you allow the Palestinian genocide to happen? And in truth we have no excuses. As the saying goes: all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

There are easy ways that all of us can help, such as supporting the Boycott, Disinvest and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The campaign is non-violent and is inspired by the civil rights movement against segregation in the US and by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. It is based on three basic pillars or principles:

  • Ending occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Apartheid Wall;
  • Recognising the fundamental rights and full equality of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel;
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

All these demands have a basis in UN resolutions on Palestine and they are simply requesting implementation of international law. They are basic rights and first steps in the struggle for justice. I call on all of us to join.

 

JA! celebrates the International Day of Rivers

March 14th Meeting

March 14th Meeting

On Thursday, 14 March, Justiça Ambiental (JA!) marked the occasion of the ‘International Day of Rivers’ by holding simultaneous events in Tete and in the capital Maputo.

In Tete, over 50 community people came together on the banks of the Zambezi River. These included communities that will be displaced

Removing a fallen tree on the way to Mphanda

Removing a fallen tree on the way to Mphanda

from their lands and homes if the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam is built across the Zambezi River. We were also joined by communities affected by Vale, Rio Tinto and Jindal, all carving out the earth to extract coal from their villages.

The meeting was organised by JA!, along with our partners Liga dos Direitos Humanos (Human Rights League), AAAJC (Association for Support and Legal Assistance for Communities), UNAC (National Farmers Union, Tete provincial chapter).

The all-day meeting was held at the Tete Provincial Centre of Agricultural Formation. JA supported the community members to come in the night before, since their homes are far and the transportation systems in Mozambique are very poor. The communities affected by Vale, for instance, used to live in Moatize, 19kms from Tete. Now they have been moved to

Sr. Morais lived his entire life near the river, if the dam is built he will have to move far from the river. What about his rights!

Sr. Morais lived his entire life near the river, if the dam is built he will have to move far from the river. What about his rights!

Cateme, 56kms away from Tete, and transport could easily cost 150 Meticais (US$ 5) each way! The Mphanda Nkuwa communities live over 70kms from Tete. The area is very remote and roads are almost non-existent.

 

The meeting on 14 March brought together these community people and organisations to talk about communities that live and thrive on rivers and other natural resources. When such communities are displaced from their resources, they usually lose their subsistence base and with that, their self-reliance. There were presentations on:

  • Human rights,
  • Dams and the context of Mphanda Nkuwa
  • Challenges with the Land Law relative to the Mines Law
  • Mega-projects and false promises
  • Fight against dams: a case from India’s Narmada Valley
  • Climate Risks for the Zambezi River

But in the most important part of the meeting, the community people were talking to each other and sharing their own experiences. The people that will be displaced by Mphanda Nkuwa heard directly from communities still struggling to

View from the proposed dam site

View from the proposed dam site

get their rights after being displaced by Brazilian mining giant, Vale. The ruthless Indian company, Jindal, has also started mining coal in the village of Mualadzi. However, they haven’t removed anyone yet, so people continue to live among the coal dust while the mining continues.

The stories shared by people were heart-breaking. They reveal the cruelty of the extractive model where self-reliant communities are robbed of their natural resources which are increasingly being commodified by the corporate-driven development model.

After the meeting the JA team took the communities back to their villages by the river. We went to visit Sr. Morais, an outspoken elder of the fisherfolk community, who was lived by the river his whole life. The secretary of the bairro (village) prevented him from joining our meeting, even though JA specifically asked for him to participate. If he is forced to move inland, far from the river, his livelihood and, with it, his culture and traditions will

Zambezi

Zambezi

be threatened. We believe this is a crime and a violation of his rights, as well as of all the fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the river.

Along with the meeting in Tete, JA also held an event in Maputo, where we challenged another actor who is actively pushing this damaging extractive model: the World Bank. In Maputo, we invited friends and colleagues to take to the streets. We congregated near the World Bank headquarters in Mozambique, on Kenneth Kaunda Avenue, where we distributed flyers and spoke with passers-by, even Bank workers, students from the neighbouring Faculty of Law of Eduardo Mondlane University and other interested citizens. The Bank was targeted to raise awareness about their role in pushing destructive large dams. The Bank’s stated goal is to reduce poverty but for most of its existence it has actively pushed projects that have

increased poverty especially of the most vulnerable communities.

Action on World Bank in Maputo

Action on World Bank in Maputo

 

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Notes from the Field: Vale-displaced communities in Cateme

Almost 200 people filled a room at the Escola Secundária Cateme (Secondary School of Cateme) on2 foto_meeting_8octblog_photo credit Gregor Zielke Saturday, 6 October. Cateme is the region where communities displaced by Vale coal-mining in Tete province, Mozambique, have been resettled. Women, men, children, babies, the elderly, students and teachers from the communities came together this past Saturday to speak out about the problems they are facing in resettlement.

Saturday’s meeting at the Secondary School was convened by Liga dos Direitos Humanos (Human Rights League), UNAC (National Farmers Union), AAAJC (Association for Support and Legal Assistance for Communities) and Justiça Ambiental. The land law and Mozambican constitution were presented for people to understand their rights, and copies of these booklets were given to various community representatives. Following the presentations, community members spoke vociferously one after another, explaining the problems they were facing.

Vale is the second-largest mining company in the world, with revenues exceeding US$ 45 billion and profits around US$ 17 billion. But Vale is also a global leader in its devastating disregard for human rights and 3 foto_cateme_8octblog_photo credit Gregor Zielkeenvironment protections. There is even a global movement around the world called “Affected by Vale”, bringing together communities that are the victims of Vale’s greed. Every time Vale enters a new country or region, the “Affected by Vale” movement ends up with new members. Mozambique is no exception.

In Mozambique, Vale is mining coal at an open-cast coal mine in Moatize, Tete province. The communities living in the area were relocated to Cateme. Every time we visit Cateme and stand in the middle of the village, we understand why Vale is considered the worst company in the world. The area is dry, hot and desolate. The land produces dust instead of crops and the 40°C plus temperatures, including in this past week, turn the small zinc-roofed houses where people have been resettled into over-sized ovens, with inside temperatures exceeding 50°C! The few times it does rain, the roofs leak and even though most houses are only a few years old, they are already cracking.

Life has always been hard in Tete province in inland Mozambique, but people developed survival methods. The community relocated to Cateme because of Vale’s mining had productive lands. They were close to heath posts, schools, churches, friends, family and one of the largest markets in the province where they could sell their crops. Now they are 37 kms away from their main market of Moatize. People said they spent up to 100 Meticais (US$4) per day getting to and from Moatize.

1 foto_meeting_8oct blog_ photo credit Mauro PintoEven the secondary school where the meeting was held was supposedly for the resettled communities. Yet we discovered that out of 150 students, a paltry 20 come from resettled communities, the others are from wealthier families in Tete, Moatize, etc.

The people tried to discuss the issues with Vale and the government, and when that failed, they stood up and demanded to be heard. Earlier this year they held a peaceful protest and occupied the road and railway to make Vale take their concerns seriously. The reaction from the Mozambican government, backed by Vale, was unmitigated violence by the rapid intervention police, who used live ammunition, and shot rubber bullets directly at unarmed peaceful protesters, sending 6 to the hospital and 14 to jail. One man’s horrendous injuries were photographed in January. We photographed him again and his injuries persist almost 9 months later.

Photo Credits (from the top down):

Photos 1 & 2:  Gregor Zielke

Photo 3: Mauro Pinto

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