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Thursday, April 23, 2009
Battling destructive policies
Is there any good news when the country is paralysed by political turmoil and strangled by the global economic meltdown? Is there anyone left that I can talk to, who is not caught in the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps, or not trapped in the ivory tower of political theories and ideological wars?
I called Korn-uma Pongnoi, a grassroots leader of the Bo Nok-Hin Krud communities in Prachuap Khiri Khan, and I was not disappointed.
Bo Nok-Hin Krud are the coastal communities which are threatened by mega industrial projects one after another. Fighting against successive governments, top-down bureaucracy, corrupt police and local mafia who are the investors' hired hands, the villagers eventually succeeded in stopping a coal-fired power plant in Bo Nok-Hin Krud.
But there still remains the menace from other giant steel-smelting plants and coal-fired power factories nearby.
Their war against destructive industrialisation never seems to end. "Ironically, the current political instability has caused a lull in these efforts, giving us some breathing room to strengthen our network on the ground," Ms Korn-uma said. "But the lull is only temporary. Once the winner emerges and regains a full grip on power, these projects will return to haunt us again."
Thaksin or not, the environment and the locals' livelihoods remain under threat because policy-makers and the state machinery are under the mantra of economic development, which is why successive governments have chosen environmentally destructive industrialisation in pursuit of economic growth.
"They all talk democracy, but they all resort to top-down policies to steal our natural resources. Once they win the ballot box game, they take away power again, refusing to listen to our voices and to respect our community rights.
"Is this democracy? Why be happy with democracy in its crudest form? We must ask who gets to define democracy, who gets to set the path of national development, and who benefits from it."
When Earth is threatened by global warming as a result of environmental destruction to feed insatiable consumerism, and when the world economy is suffering a meltdown from runaway economic globalisation, it is most perplexing to Korn-uma that our decision-makers - be they the yellows, reds and the in-betweens - insist on pursuing the same environmentally destructive paths.
"Our country is abundant with food sources. Why do we want to destroy our food security and our potential to be the centre of safe food for the world?
"Our community is blessed with healthy seas. Yet the authorities want to turn us into another Rayong. But look at the Rayong people's suffering. Why trade an abundant source of food, people's livelihood and health with money that benefits few families?
"We must question this cult of economic growth if we want to save the environment and the little people," she said.
There is a need to go beyond political polarisation in order to understand the country's real challenges.
"But we have little chance to do so if we keep looking at things in black and white, pushing those who disagree with our views to the opposite side.
"For the past few years, we have been swamped by divisive yes-or-no agendas. Do you want Thaksin or not? Do you want the royally-appointed government or not? Do you sympathise with coup-makers or not? Do you endorse the coup-supported constitution or not? Are you Red or not? Or are you Yellow?
"Forced to take sides, we are robbed of a chance to discuss the complexity of the situation and to select the good things in different arguments to build common ground."
Korn-uma lost her husband and soul mate, Charoen Wat-aksorn, in their mission to save their communities from destructive industrialisation.
But she refuses to let it kill her spirit. She braves through corrupt police and judicial red tape to give justice to her murdered husband because she believes in the rule of law and community rights, and is ready to defend it.
Korn-uma is not alone in her beliefs and determination to effect change on the ground.
And that is good news, indeed.
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