DHAKA, BANGLADESH, April 6 — Tens of thousands of workers and farmers have been waging a six-year battle to stop construction of one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines — backed by U.S. and British imperialists — that would evict 50,000 members of 23 indigenous groups and directly affect the farming and access to water for another quarter of a million people.
On February 28, over 2,000 protestors blocked railways and highways, disrupting traffic across the country. They’re demanding the government halt the Phulbari Coal Project and expel its sponsor, the U.K.’s Global Coal Management Resources (GCM). A July 2009 diplomatic cable, released by Wikileaks, reported that the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, James Moriarity, urged the government to authorize the Project as “the best way forward,” citing 60% U.S. corporate investments in GCM. In a December 2010 cable, he again urged the government to push the Project.
In addition to forcing the eviction of 50,000 from the region, a 2006 government Expert Committee concluded that 130,000 would be directly affected and 220,000 would suffer a reduction of water for drinking and irrigation for farming. The mining would unearth toxic heavy metals (mercury and acid-forming sulfur) that would contaminate soil, water and air.
Eighty percent of the area covered by the Project is farmland and, due to its elevation, is one of the few regions in Bangladesh protected from flooding. Its destruction would worsen hunger in a country in which half the people already don’t have enough food. The mine’s lifespan would be 36 years and would extract 16 million tons of coal annually, two-thirds of which would be exported.
Its profits would impoverish thousands while “lin[ing] the pockets of a few hedge-fund managers in the U.S.” (Joanna Levitt, executive Director of the International Accountability Project; Truthout website, 4/8)
When tens of thousands initially protested on August 26, 2006, government-backed paramilitaries fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing three and wounding over 200. This sparked a four-day general strike, forcing the government to agree to expel GCM and ban open-pit mining. The company suspended operations and its personnel fled under police escort following the burning down of its information office.
Two months later, “Despite violence and intimidation aimed at silencing opponents, some 100,000 people participated in the final rally,” notes Levitt, which ended at “an incredible one-week, 250-mile Long March from Dhaka [the capital] to Phulbari.” The source of the violence in this six-year campaign is the notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), government death-squad killers, trained by the UK in “investigative interviewing techniques” — torture.
With all the hoopla about “the West” advocating “democracy” in the Middle East, when profits are at stake this is the kind of imperialist exploitation “democracy” has been visiting on the workers and indigenous farmers of Bangladesh. We should support the latter in any way we can, including demonstrating at the government’s embassies to let the protestors in Bangladesh know we stand in solidarity with them. Their struggle is one more example of why a society controlled and run by workers — communism — is the only solution to the horrors visited on the working class by the profit system.