Lacking in real outrage – Sanitsuda Ekachai
Bangkok Post Thursday July 17, 2008
Lacking in real outrage
As a political showdown between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps approaches, one thing is clear. Whoever wins, it will not make much difference to people on the ground. Whichever government comes along, its economic and development agenda will be the same. The politicians are just fighting over control so they get to pocket the mega profits themselves.
We can be certain that they will similarly give lip service to climate change concerns, pushing for mega dams and industrial projects for short-term gains, ignoring long-term losses from the destruction of the environment and people’s lives.
They will similarly push for deeper involvement in economic globalisation and the expansion of chemical agriculture and large-scale plantations at the cost of deforestation, loss of bio-diversity and small farmers’ livelihood.
They will similarly play the same nationalist card to legitimise their agendas. And when they play the tunes of royal nationalism, they will likewise ignore the monarch’s advice on moderation, contentment, self-reliance and the need to bring morality back to public policies.
Love or hate Thaksin, they will equally ignore political decentralisation to please the bureaucracy and to maintain a tight grip on the use of natural resources.
This is why community rights, enshrined in both the 1997 and 2007 charters, to empower the locals to protect their natural environment, remains in letter only. Add bureaucratic resistance to decentralisation with a strong aversion to cultural pluralism, it is also why we cannot hope for peace in the deep South anytime soon.
The rhetoric from the anti-Thaksin camp may want us to believe that all ills of the country will be gone if the Thaksin elements are totally uprooted. Only blind supporters will buy that. You don’t need deep knowledge to know that things won’t change when only the faces in the cabinet change, not what is in their heads.
Ask the villagers at Tambon Sa-iab in Phrae. After 25 years of fighting to protect their forests, they still cannot let their guard down against the Kaeng Sua Ten dam project.
Ask the villagers at Ban Krut, Bo Nok and Bang Saphan in Prachuap Khiri Khan. Then, as now, they are still risking their lives fighting against a giant steel melting plant, knowing that no government can protect their future.
Ask the ethnic Karen forest dwellers at Ban Klity Lang in Kanchanaburi. A lead mine has killed their creek and their kin. Yet the authorities refuse to clean up the creek and give the villagers compensation as well as proper treatment for lead poisoning, despite several court rulings.
Rubbing salt into the wound, the forestry officials have relentlessly tried to evict the Klity villagers. Last week, 39-year-old Pracha Aroonsisuwan was arrested for farming on his own land.
The authorities refused to listen when he explained that the land was actually his family’s old rice field left to regenerate itself for five years as part of the indigenous Karen’s rotation farming system.
The fact that the Klity forest will soon be part of a new national park is proof of the Klity Karen’s forest conservation culture. Yet, they have been turned into forest encroachers by the law, which prohibits all human activity in forests.
Countless forest dwellers and hilltribe people have been sent to jail through this forestry law _ another proof of how justice is killed in our legal system.
Meanwhile, the forest authorities routinely allow lead mines and the tourism industry to operate in pristine forests.
While Pracha will be sent to jail, the authorities have just allowed Kemco to continue its lead mining operations despite local protests against its discharge of toxic waste which has turned a huge plot of Kanchanaburi forest into a sea of lead residue.
Will a change of command at the top help ease the plight on the ground? There is hope if there is public moral outrage against environmental crimes and if oppression of the weak is seen as a grave sin. Too bad we don’t see it now.
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor (Outlook), Bangkok Post.