Remembering Environmental Martyrs
19th June 2012 - by Fr Frank Nally
Columbans Parig Digan, Frank Nally and Aodh O’Halpin joined the ‘Carnival of Dirt’ on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral on Friday 15 June 2012. It was a protest against destructive mining and a commemoration of environmental martyrs.
When the Columbans emerged from St Paul’s Underground station, they could hear the funeral dirge of a Jazz brass band playing on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. Several hundred people had gathered to support a protest against the theft of land, killing and imprisonment of objectors to big mining companies’ interests, and the collusion of local, national and international governments. They also remembered the victims of mining killings in recent years, several of whom have been priests who are remembered as environmental martyrs in their regions.
The mild manner of security policing in the City of London’s financial zone contrasted sharply with the armed militias and security forces hired by mining companies in the global south to gain control over mineral resources. Powerful financial institutions like the London Stock Exchange, the City of London Corporation and the London Metal Exchange came under fire in the protest.
A ‘funeral procession’ set off. A wide range of white coffins of different sizes were carried – some to represent the children who had died from malnutrition or toxic poison and poisoned fish, a result of their parents being forced off the land, or even killed. Others carried the names of the world’s biggest mining companies, such as Xstrata, BHP Billiton and Glencore. The procession made its way to the London Stock Exchange, just at the side of St Paul’s Cathedral, and then on to the City of London Corporation, eventually reaching the London Metal Exchange.
The Exchange may soon be subject to a takeover by Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd for £1.39 billion. The deal however needs approval from the UK’s Financial Services Authority and shareholders representing at least 75% of LME’s ordinary shares.
At each of the venue stops, speakers highlighted how these institutions support and benefit from the profits of mining companies and corporate control the world markets. As this war on people’s lives, values, livelihoods and precious environments was being told, ferocious gales of wind blew and driving rain threatened the progress of the funeral procession. And this was all in the middle of a London Summer! A reminder indeed of the impacts of the City of London’s “business as usual” approach to the issue of climate change which causes severe weather.
When we read our prayers and recalled the murdered martyrs, through photos and banners carried with the coffins, the sun started shining. We recalled Valmore Locarno, Fr Fausto Tentorio, Victor Orcasita, Alejandro Chacón, Fr Reinel Restrepo, Dr Gerry Ortega, Armin Marin, Dr Leonard Co, Eliezer Billanes, Jorge Eliécer, Floribert Chebeya, Raghunath Jhodia, Abhilash Jhodia, Damodar Jhodia, and Petrus Ayamiseba, to name a few who have been assassinated in brutal circumstances. The funeral march exposed in the City of London celebrated their lives. Their sacrifice and the pain of their families and friends will hopefully make the mining companies, pension funds and shareholders more aware and take responsibility for the real cost of mineral extraction for peoples in the global south and the destruction of their natural environments.
The funeral march saw representation from affected communities in Colombia, the Philippines, West Papua, India and Africa. Our governments in the North must be shamed too to take responsibility and systematically monitor companies overseas. They must put in place credible and effective regulations to ensure human and environmental rights are respected in reality.
We are all involved. For instance, coltan mining causes huge conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Armed militias create mayhem. Murder and rape are used to dominate and control the civilian population. Coltan is used to manufacture tantalum capacitors, used in electronics products we take for granted, such as our mobile phones, DVD players, video game systems and computers.
The ‘Carnival of Dirt’ march was very powerful and brought together people from the Occupy movement and many who would not be in our church pews on Sunday. Some asked why Church authorities were not there or speaking out when priests are among those murdered. The activists on the march campaign for fisherfolk, small farmers and indigenous people whose land and rivers are being stolen, poisoned and polluted throughout the world. Surely mining Chief Executive Officers and their financiers, who get rich while costing peoples their very lives and the Earth her integrity, must be embarrassed that the dirt has been spilt on their doorsteps in the City of London.
by Aodh O’Halpin, Frank Nally and Parig Digan