A memorial to Oronto Douglas republished with permission from OtherWorldsArePossible.org
By guest author Daphne Wysham
April 23, 2015
If they knew him at all, the world knew Nigerian Oronto Douglas as the former attorney for the writer, playwright and Ogoni human rights activist Ken Saro Wiwa. Despite Oronto’s and even President Bill Clinton’s best effort, Ken was framed and hanged in 1995 together with 8 other Ogoni men who dared resist Shell Oil’s drilling in their homeland under former dictator Sani Abacha. Or perhaps the world knew Oronto as a top advisor to the former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan.
To his friends, Oronto was so much more. He was a man of profound sacrifice, service, love, integrity, and faith. He was a true Christian, taking to heart the message of the rebel Jesus. Like Jesus, he was at his most fierce in taking on the money-lenders in the temple. Oronto’s “temple” was the natural world, and in particular, the lush and verdant landscape of the Niger Delta. In speeches and interviews, he took on the oil companies and their backers, repeatedly proclaiming, “They drill and they kill!” He urged people of conscience to divest from fossil fuel companies.
His fearlessness in the face of violence, torture and even threats of death meant that he carried the message against the planet-plunderering oil companies around the world, speaking truth to power, no matter the price.
I first met Oronto Douglas at the Kyoto international climate negotiations in 1997. We were on the same panel which Friends of the Earth had pulled together. As soon as he started to speak, the journalists – all of whom had been sleepily typing away at their computers – rushed to our corner of the hall, riveted by his powerful, personal story.
When I learned this brilliant orator had never been to America, I helped arrange for Oronto to come to the US. I knew Americans needed to hear his message. We traveled together to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, New York and Washington, DC. Again and again, tirelessly, passionately, he told of the occupation of the Niger Delta by oil companies, the colonialism that predated them, and his love of the Niger Delta and its peoples. At every location, when Oronto ended his speech with a call for divestment from oil and gas companies, I could predict just how many seconds would pass – three, exactly – before the audience would rise to its feet in a standing ovation.
Oronto came from a village in Bayelsa State where human rights were routinely violated, the earth was scorched in decades-old caked oil spills, the water was polluted, the air rained toxins from endless gas flares, and troops routinely gunned down or tortured those who protested. Nevertheless, he quickly came to recognize that climate change and the oil companies operating in Nigeria were an even greater threat than the government itself – and not just to Nigeria, but to the entire planet. And so he and his fellow Ijaws, the largest ethnic nationality in the Niger Delta, determined in 1998 to usher in the New Year with “Operation Climate Change,” a maneuver which required the cooperation of all of the oil workers of the Niger Delta and thousands of protestors, to draw attention to the rights of the Ijaw to self-determination on their territory. Their declaration of independence was released in the now For a few days, he and his fellow activists and the oil workers managed to shut down all of the oil flow stations, shutting in over half of all of Nigeria’s oil production. As troops fired on demonstrators, his friends knew Oronto was a hunted man.
Try as we might to generate news coverage of the political motivations behind “Operation Climate Change” in the U.S. and the cause of the Ijaws, we failed. It was over the holidays between Christmas and New Year’s, and every journalist seemed to be on vacation or unwilling to cover such an obscure topic. Our fear was that Oronto and his comrades would be hunted down in the creeks where they were hiding and killed without any international press attention. So a group of us decided we would raise the funds to take out a full page ad in one of Nigeria’s largest news dailies, with signatures from activists and world leaders, and the statement: “The World is Watching: Peace in the Niger Delta.”
It was on another of his trips to Washington, D.C., when we decided we needed to do more to elevate Oronto’s status in the international press, so we arranged for him to meet President Bill Clinton. Oronto was able to have a photograph of him shaking hands with Bill Clinton, which we immediately ensured was sent to the press in Nigeria, with the caption, “Oronto Douglas meets President Clinton.” We had determined the higher Oronto’s profile, the safer he would remain. Little did we know that, try as we might to protect him from an assassin’s bullet, it was the pollution–the drillers’ and spillers’ carcinogenic fossil fuels–that would end up killing him.
Oronto was compassionate, joyful, hard-working, tireless, determined to work for justice, environmental protection and peace. His spirit and example inspired me to take more risks, to be more fearless, to do more than I was doing to be of service. He made a point of always lifting up those around him, no matter how heavy his sorrows and important his work. He may be taking a call from the president of Nigeria, he still had the scars of torture on his back, but he made time for the smallest of concerns in his friend’s lives. This was particularly the case if children were involved–he loved children and they loved him.
Oronto had a grand vision of a united Nigeria, one held together not by the outdated boundaries of colonialism nor torn apart by the dangerous animosities of tribal identities but by the agreement of a sovereign national conference. I hope one day that dream of his becomes a reality. It is sorely needed, particularly as oil prices have fallen and the budget for Nigeria’s government, 80 percent of which comes from oil revenues, has dropped with it. In the interim, Oronto played a pivotal role in helping Nigerian elections become more free, transparent and fair, which became evident when President Goodluck Jonathan quickly ceded power to Muhammadu Buhari despite a close election.
I saw him on numerous visits to the US, always finding out about them at the last minute, days or maybe even hours before his arrival. Sometimes he was in the US meeting with the State Department. Other times he was getting treated for cancer. Had I known that the last time I saw Oronto would be my last visit, I would have done more than just accompany him to see his doctor. If he had had the time or energy, I would have held a press conference and shouted to the rooftops: Here walks a modern day hero, a man who can show us the way back to the temple, a man who is far more powerful than the money lenders, the oil companies and the politicians, a man unafraid of the killers and the drillers. Here walks the one and only Oronto Natei Douglas! But, of course, he would have none of such fanfare.
To all of you who loved Oronto, and I know there are many, he was indeed our beloved Oronto, but he was also God’s beloved Oronto. And he is now most certainly in God’s embrace. May God bless his widow and his sons and lift them up at this most painful time, as Oronto did for all of us, and may his spirit and the supreme example of a life of service and love that he led live on in all of us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
For more information, please see: “Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights and Oil,” by Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas.
Daphne Wysham is a Climate Policy Fellow with the Center for Sustainable Economy and an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.
The ¡Buen Vivir! galley, in the international headquarters of Global Justice Ecology Project, is curated by Orin Langelle, director of Langelle Photography, and GJEP Board Chair. Langelle Photography is a part of GJEP’s Social Justice Media Program. The gallery hosts art and photography exhibits with environmental and social justice themes 3-4 times per year.
The Struggles for Justice exhibit, featuring photographs by Orin Langelle, opened 3 April 2015 and has a closing reception planned for 19 June 2015, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. –The ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery in Buffalo’s (NY) Allentown District at 148 Elmwood Avenue.
The exhibit features photographic examples of the many campaigns and issues which Langelle was fortunate to be involved in and document in the late 1980s and 1990s. All of the photographs were shot with 35 mm Nikon Cameras using film.
Struggles for Justice: Forests, Land and Human Rights – Late 80s to Late 90s is dedicated to Judi Bari (7 November 1949- 2 March 1997). May 24th of this year will mark the 25th anniversary of the attempt to kill Bari when a pipe bomb exploded under the seat of her car. Bari maintained she was targeted due to her success in bringing environmentalists and mill workers together to protect the ancient redwoods.
GJEP Joined the group opposing this new prison –the largest in the region–proposed for construction on former coal mining sites in eastern Kentucky.
31 March 2015–Organizations and individuals from across the country have joined the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) in filing a comment opposing a plan by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to build a new federal correctional facility in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky. The comment, filed on Monday pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), addresses multiple issues related to a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that analyses two potential locations for constructing the largest federal prison in the region—both on former coal mining sites.
The public comment, which can be read in its entirety here, follows several years of controversy surrounding this project in a rural region where the prison industry has made many unfulfilled promises of economic prosperity to local communities.
The comment provides a thorough analysis of the impact of the proposed facility siting and addresses social, economic and ecological concerns, including:
Ø Health impacts on the surrounding community from prison sewage and industrial waste;
Ø Health concerns for prisoners who will be forced to use highly contaminated water;
Ø Impacts to forest, farmland and regional waterways;
Ø Impacts to over 50 threatened species, including the rare and federally-endangered Indiana Bat;
Ø And finally, whether the prison is actually needed and what alternatives exist to our nation’s longstanding policy of mass incarceration.
The proposed prison siting cannot proceed unless the BOP complies with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. Based on HRDC’s findings set forth in the comment, the EIS fails in numerous respects to adequately identify environmental impacts and describe legally-required mitigation efforts.
“For 40 years the federal government has been building prisons on abandoned mines, toxic waste sites and polluted military bases, endangering the prisoners, staff and communities that house these facilities,” stated HRDC Executive Director Paul Wright.
“The time has come to end the prison building binge, reduce prison populations and house prisoners in the communities that they come from and will return to in safe conditions that protect prisoners, staff, the environment and public safety.”
HRDC has been advocating on behalf of the human rights of people held in U.S. prisons, jails and other detention facilities for the past 25 years. As an advocate for incarcerated people, HRDC is concerned about the environmental impacts of prisons—both the impacts felt by prisoners themselves as well as impacts on the “external” social and ecological environment.
HRDC also publishes Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine on prison- and criminal justice-related issues nationwide. For more information, please visit: www.prisonlegalnew.org and www.humanrightsdefensecenter.
Along with these two groups, HRDC’s comment was signed by 9 other organizations and 8 individuals, including the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that has litigated on behalf of the Indiana Bat; the Abolitionist Law Center, which is representing prisoners who have reported serious health issues at SCI Fayette in Pennsylvania related to surrounding coal operations; the Global Justice Ecology Project; and three professors at Eastern Kentucky University.
UPDATE: Since the filing of the comment, HRDC has received confirmation that at least 5 additional organizations in Kentucky have signed on in support of the comment and the BOP is considering a request to extend the comment period to allow for additional public input.
Urgent: Please take action before March 26, when Timoteo’s trial resumes
The Guatemala Solidarity Project urgently calls for solidarity with political prisoner Timoteo Chen Tun and the indigenous and peasant movement in Guatemala after last week’s disturbing “trial.” Timoteo Chen is a community leader and health worker who should be honored for his longstanding commitment to others. Instead Timoteo is in prison for organizing nonviolent action against the theft of indigenous lands by the company Hidro Santa Rita.
Timoteo has been in prison for nearly a year. The public prosecutor’s office has no evidence against him and has repeatedly suspended hearings and invented new charges in order to keep him in prison. Representatives of Hidro Santa Rita have visited him in prison to threaten him and pressure him to sign documents in their favor. They have also visited and threatened his family.
Timoteo was arrested while leading a health workshop at a nearby community and the impact on the area has been devastating. He is one of the few health workers in the area and has been tirelessly doing this work for over 10 years. His family has fallen into extreme poverty and Timoteo doesn’t even have shoes to protect his feet from the cold cement floor of the mountain prison he is unjustly being held in.
TAKE ACTION NOW!
On March 11, 2015, the notoriously corrupt public prosecutor’s office of Coban, Guatemala again showed its criminality and audacity by accusing Timoteo Chen Tun of the murders of 11 year-old David Estuardo Pacay and 13 year-old Ageo Isaac Guitz. Numerous people witnessed the murders and there has never been any doubt about who did it. David and Ageo were murdered on August 23, 2013 by Guillermo Bol. Bol was an employee of Hidro Santa Rita, a company that is trying to steal land from Timoteo’s home community of Monte Olivo as well as numerous surrounding communities.
On that day fellow Monte Olivo community leader and environmentalist David Chen was meeting with Inter-American Court of Human Rights investigators about the repression against area communities. The armed Hidro Santa Rita employee went to David Chen’s house, threatened to kill him, and instead shot his two nephews David and Ageo who were nearby.
Police refused to arrest Bol or investigate the murder of the children. After continued protest and refusal of the police to take action, Bol himself was murdered. It is possible that Bol was murdered by people looking for vengeance for the murder from the children and to prevent him from killing others.
Timoteo Chen was arrested in April 2014 while leading a health workshop at nearby community Cubilguitz. The district attorney has invented numerous charges against Timoteo. Because there is no evidence against him, the prosecutor has repeatedly requested a delay in hearings. Timoteo remains in prison without having the right to a fair trial. After a judge ruled against various charges for lack of evidence, the prosecutor recently invented the story that Timoteo killed the young children.
Timoteo’s incarceration is part of a series of acts of repression against his community Monte Olivo and dozens of nearby indigenous q’eqchi’ communities. The purpose is to steal their land for cattle grazing and the construction of a hydroelectric plant to sell electricity abroad.
In 2008, the government issued Hidro Santa Rita a license to build the electric dam without consulting area communities. In 2010 over 20 communities held official assemblies to demonstrate their opposition to the project. On March 22, 2012, soldiers invaded Monte Olivo and created a military base there. After significant nonviolent protest, the military withdrew in April of 2012.
In January of 2013 arrest warrants were ordered against Monte Olivo community leaders on false charges. On August 14 community leader David Chen survived an assassination attempt, and on August 23 his nephews were murdered. On November 8, 2013, neighboring community Xalaja Canguinic is attacked by paramilitaries. Dozens of houses are burned to the ground and community leader Carlos Guitz is shot in the back and paralyzed.
In August 2014 over 1,000 soldiers attack Monte Olivo and surrounding communities. Three leaders are assassinated, dozens are injured and homes are burned down. Peasant leader Thomas Chen is beaten unconscious and arrested.
Hundreds of q’eqchi’ leaders have arrest warrants against them in attempts to terrorize communities and facilitate the theft of their lands. While the Obama administration threatens Venezuela allegedly because of concerns about human rights abuses, the US continues to collaborate closely with the Guatemalan military and security apparatus. Guatemalan soldiers continue to be trained at the US Army School of the Americas. US Marines and Special Forces participate directly in training and missions inside Guatemala. Before the recent wave of repression, US officials attended the opening of a new “model police station” in which it was announced that the police would work to “reconstruct the social fabric of the area.”
Written by Marina Sitrin, 2 March, 2015 UpsideDown World
What began with a few neighbors meeting to find out what it would mean if Monsanto located in their town, turned into hundreds, thousands and, within weeks tens of thousands of residents and supporters organizing regular demonstrations and creating an ongoing blockade of a construction site. Not just any construction site, the location of what would have been – if not for people’s power – the largest genetically modified seed processing plant in the world. The town of Malvinas stopped Monsanto. Their story and inspiration resonate across the globe. As Vanessa and others reflected, if they can stop the giant Monsanto they can change the world.