One of the poorest villages in Romania has been standing up against the US giant corporation Chevron for almost four months now. Subsequently, they are facing the Romanian State, brutality from riot police, and US army general Wesley Clark.
In an attempt to prevent fracking, villagers and activists broke the fences surrounding 22,000 acres of wide terrain, where Chevron is starting to explore for shale gas. The conflict has been mounting over the past week in particular, after the government imposed a military-style blockade against the village. The government police blocked the roads, basically isolating villagers: even children were not allowed to go to the near-by village school.
With the help of activists from different Romanian cities, villagers managed to stop the explorations of Chevron on Saturday. The riot police, almost outnumbering them, failed to stop the resistors. The 500 strong anti-Chevron resistance defeated the 400 strong riot police, and managed to tear down the fences surrounding the explorations site. In anger, people threw stones at the Chevron equipment. The riot police responded with brutality.
The following video shows how the villagers broke down the fences, chanting at the riot police: “Shame, shame on you!,” “Riot cops defend the thieves!,” “Romania: Police State!” During the conflict, riot cops broke the ribs of 25-year old Valentin Popa. “The police hit him with their sticks and with when he was on the ground they hit him with their boots,” villagers told a local paper.
Private riot police were supported by the private security company hired by Chevron.
This video shows the private security agents attacking villagers with stones.
While the conflict was still going on, Chevron issued a press release announcing they would again suspend their activities. Chevron proceeded to file a complaint against the local villagers for damaging their fences.
[LATER EDIT: The next day, Chevron issued another press release announcing they resumed their operations. People report local people being arrested at random in the village. 3 teenagers who were taking their cows to the commons were abducted by the riot police on Sunday morning and taken to the police station in Vaslui. All are underage.]
Following this, dozens protesters were detained. 15 people will be prosecuted under the penal code, they risk at least 2 years of jail. 14 people will be criminally prosecuted for cursing the cops. 7 people were financially punished, and will be forced to pay fines from 500 lei to 5,000 lei for refusing to disobey the riot police’s orders. The fines are huge: 500 lei is almost the entire monthly pension of these people.
A doctor from Vaslui, George Silvestrovici, tells the story of how he was illegally arrested and injured. “When I heard the police order people to move away, I left. In a hurry I fell and hurt my leg. I could not move, I stayed on the ground. Suddenly a riot police van came up and I was captured, with no explanation. I was taken to the police station in Vaslui, together with some dozens of protesters. They kept me there for 5 hours, no medical assistance, nothing. They never told me why they arrested me. Then suddenly they let us go. No explanation, nothing. This is an abuse.”
After the skirmishes, some activists retired to their remaining tents that the riot police failed to dismantle days ago. The villagers ran to their homes, chased by the police, who blocked the road in and out of the village again.
When night fell, the riot police unexpectedly unleashed terror against the village. They destroyed activists’ tents under the pretext of “being filthy,” as it happened in New York during the Occupy protests. A blockade was imposed again by the State troops, covering the entire Pungeşti commune.
Riot police stormed into people’s houses, beating them, threatening them, and kidnapping them from their beds to take them to the police station. Some villagers were fined because they let activists sleep in their houses over night, “illegally.”
People hid in their houses in darkness for fear of being attacked. 20 people were caught by the state thugs in the local store from the near-by village, Armăşoaia. They went there to keep warm, but were still brutally arrested by the riot police.
Mariana Moroşanu, a local woman from the village Armăşoaia, called a TV station in Bucharest and described what happened: “Around 7:30 pm, I went to the local store for some groceries. Suddenly, a police van appeared down the road. 10 masked riot police descended. They ran towards us and started to hit us. They beat us brutally. They beat women and men, locals and visitors. They captured some people and threw them in their van. Someone threw a stone at their van. We will not give in, I tell you.”
Vasile Lungu, a local man, confirmed this: “It was dark already and I was in the store. Suddenly masked riot cops stormed in. They started to hit us. A boy took out his phone to record what was happening. They attacked him and then they yelled at us that, if we dare film them, they will confiscate our phones. They ordered the lights out. A cousin of mine, who suffers from a handicap, and I were beaten just for being in the store. Then the riot cops told us: ‘If you tell anyone about this, we’ll be back.’”
A witness wrote on Facebook how the riot cops were arresting people for simply walking down the streets, or from their houses and from a local bar. “I saw the riot police drag a local village man from his house into their van. They hit him repeatedly. Vlad Ioachimeacu and Claudiu Craciun were beaten. Hetti is running away so they won’t catch her. Let’s be clear. The riot police came to the village, when the night fell, to arrest the protesters they could not capture at the Chevron site during the day. Nobody is safe, not even the journalists. Nobody talks about this. If we don’t answer the phones, it means they took us in.”
Another witness wrote this on her Facebook account: “They (the riot police) arrest people from their houses. They storm in, and beat people in their houses. We hide inside. The lights are out. We wait. What do we wait for? We don’t know. We’ve called 112 (the emergency police service) to ask for help, nothing happened. They said they can’t do anything about it. Outrageous!”
Neocolonialism, the fracking way
What is happening at Pungeşti, one of the poorest places in Romania, is an all-out capitalist war. It has been underway for almost four months now. On one side are the US giant Chevron, lobbied among others by former US army general Wesley Clark, the Romanian government and its armed thugs. On the other – the elderly poor locals from Pungeşti, parents and kids, and activists. Chevron, supported by the Romanian State, fights to get its hands on shale gas. The villagers continue to fight to save their land and water resources.
On a side there is profit and military power. On the other people’s lives.
On one side there is aggression, on the other self-defence.
The Romanian State, who usually appear nationalistic and full of religious and patriotic values, is blatantly backing the US giant corporation. The Romanian government has given Chevron 22,000 acres of land in Pungeşti, by a special law, to start explorations for shale gas by hydraulic fracturing.
The government granted Chevron rights to explore for shale gas in three other places, in South-East Romania, in Constanţa county: Vama Veche, Adamclisi şi Costineşti.
The government ignored people’s fears that fracking would ruin water resources.
On the contrary, the government claims that fracking is essential for “Romania’s future development,” (classic government propaganda serving a capitalist agenda). They still have not justified why this “development” risks ruining people’s lives and destroying vital water resources.
Before the 2012 parliamentary elections, the current prime-minister, Victor Ponta opposed these deals, as he accused the former Prime-Minister, Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu (previously the chief of a secret Romanian service) for cutting a shady, secret deal. After he became Prime Minister, Ponta suddenly expressed support for Chevron and gave them the green light to start exploring. Him and the the Romanian president are the most staunch propagandists for Chevron.
How did this happen? It’s got a lot to do with the US Global Shale Gas Initiative.
Man in the shadows: former US Army General Wesley Clark presented as „an the excellent economist”, a.k.a fracking lobbyist
Victor Ponta, from the Social-Democrats, became prime-minister after huge street protests in Romania led to the sacking of two right-wing governments, backed by the current president. Soon after the coalition backing him won the local elections in the summer of 2012, and before they won the parliamentary elections too later that year, Ponta bragged he has a new adviser on issues of “economic strategy”: Wesley Clark, former US army general, whose order, while being NATO chief commander during the Kosovo war, for Russian troops to be attacked in Pristina was denied by a British general telling him: “I won’t start a third world war for you!”
After he retired, he tried to run in the 2004 US presidential elections. Later on, Wesley Clark became executive at BNK Petroleum, which obtained licences to explore for shale gas in Poland, despite huge local opposition there.
Ponta explained how he was “so lucky” to meet Wesley Clark in Vienna, at a conference on energy, and convinced the former US army general to become his personal adviser: “I was incredibly lucky to meet (Clark). It is a great chance. General Clark is an extraordinary economist, he is involved at the highest level in developing economic strategies. He is a man anyone would want to work for him, and no prime-minister would miss such an opportunity.”
While visiting Romania in the summer of 2012, Wesley Clark declared: “I know shale gas has a great future in Romania. I think I can convince investors to come here and to help Romania’s economic growth. We know there is a global energy revolution underway, and Romania has lots of such resources. There are also lots of water resources which could be used to produce energy. I think Romania can become a major energy exporter,” in an interview for a local paper.
After the riot police imposed a military-style blockade against the people of Pungeşti, following their relentless resistance, the Romanian Prime Minister saluted the brutality of the police beating people: “I praise the riot police for their actions (beating old defenseless people) at Pungeşti. They enforced the law.”
Locals are determined to resist Chevron, the government and their riot police, as the tensions grow day by day.
In another development, the local mayor of Oradea, north-west Romanian, refused a request by a Hungarian company, a subcontractor of Russian Gazprom, to start exploring for shale gas. Local media saluted the mayor’s refusal for saving their water resources.
Weeks ago, villagers from central Romania county of Sibiu blocked similar explorations by a Romanian company. Resistors took the company’s equipment and banned them from their land, despite being attacked and threatened by the police.
#stopfracking #Chevron #Romania #Pungesti