22 October 2008

How do you Determine the Success of a People's Movement and their Protest?"

Villagers in Udorn Thani that will be affected by a proposed Potash Mine - Photo by Emma Htun
CIEE students recently spent two weeks in Udon Thani province, learning about issues surrounding a potential potash mine that would be carried out by a private company known as the Asian Pacific Potash Corporation (APPC) and endorsed by the Primary Industry and Mining Department of Udon Thani. If implemented this mine could possibly devastate the livelihood of hundreds of villagers. Villagers already feel that their right to community land, their own property, and their rights to be informed about the mining project have already been violated by the mining company and the government.

Currently, the mining project is on hold and the government is in the process of re-evaluating the project to allow room for villager participation in the decision making process, including villager participation in the EIA and SIA (Environment [Social] Impact Assessment).

We had the opportunity to discuss the project with all parties, including the villagers who will be directly affected, the government mining department, the mining company APPC, and pro-mine villagers. We particularly paid attention to the tactics the protesters are using to protest the mine. Because the mine has yet to be implemented, the tactics and methods the protesters are using to express opposition for the mine are different from the tactics that protesters throughout Thailand are using against projects that have already been built and executed (such as the protesters against the Pak Mun Dam in Ubon Rachathani, Thailand).

There seems to be a disconnect within the parties, predominantly within the villagers' movement against the mine. Based on our conversation with the youth conservation club (a club made up of youth who are against the mine), some of us discovered that "the villagers who are protesting the mine have lost respect and trust for the companies and government who are encouraging the mine project." This is understandable since the companies and government originally began the project without acknowledging the villagers nor providing accurate and complete information about the project. Nevertheless, villagers have succeeded in putting the project on hold and even forcing the government to re-evaluate the process in which the project should be carried out. Moreover, it seems that villagers believe that their success in putting the project on hold will continue to be successful, even so much that the companies and government will eventually abandon the project, at least in Udon Thani.

However, the impressions we received from the mining industry and APPC was that the project will continue in a matter of time. Currently any effort by the company and government to negotiate and discuss the project with the villagers have been rejected and declined by villagers protesting the mine. They believe that any sign of cooperation with the companies and government will mean that they agree to receive the mine, and they undoubtedly want to emphasize that they do not want the mine. In fact, protesters have gone so far as to instill fear within representatives of the company by using small amounts of "hostile actions," delaying diplomatic negotiations even further. While the motives behind the protests and negotiation refusals are understandable, perhaps the intensions are unclear.

Did villagers originally protest the mine project because they felt that their rights to information and consultation were violated, or because they did not want the mine? Do they view their success in putting the project on hold as an opportunity to gain information about the mine project and to practice their rights to consultations about the project, or do they see it as a victory in which they have defeated the "mine project" battle and they will continue to fight to win the war, when the government decides to renounce all plans of mining potash in Udon Thani?

The fact is, despite however successful these protesting tactics have been in the past few years, because of a global increase in demand for potash, Thailand still plans to mine potash in the targeted province of Udon Thani. The outcome of the mining project will make Thailand internationally recognized as one of the top exporters of potash and this national benefit is not something that Thailand will easily turn down. Are villagers simply giving the company extra time to polish their project by refusing to negotiate with them? Will protesters continue to refuse negotiations with the companies to avoid cooperating with them and will they have to resort to more forceful "hostile actions" if the company or government retaliates? Furthermore, considering the fact that for every protester, there may be one pro-mine villager, how long will these tactics continue to be successful?

Sue Veerasaeng - College of Saint Catherine


Caitlin said...

I still struggle with the concept of compromise between villagers and corporations who are building these mines. I remember asking in more than one exchange if the villagers felt that any sort of compromise would be beneficial, or if they were completely opposed and unrelenting in their position. My initial reaction is to insist that through compromise, more can be achieved to benefit the villagers in light of a project that seems like it will eventually go through one way or another, as you mentioned in referencing the demand for potash. This may be an instance in which working "within the system" rather than against it could get more done and decrease the rights violations that may occur. On the other hand, what if the villagers are entirely right about the mine being a project that is unnecessary and detrimental? Is it better then for them to stand firm on the stance they have taken, knowing that it their decision is the right one and that any compromise would be negative? Or even assuming they are right, is it still better for them to concede to a less-than-ideal situation just for the sake of appeasing the situation?

neal said...

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