In Thailand, seven women said NO! to gold mining contamination and intimidation … and won!

Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong and Suphat Khunna

Yesterday, in Thailand, a court ruled that seven rural women activists – Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong and Suphat Khunna – are innocent of accusations of having organized an illegal assembly and of having coerced individuals to act against their will. Those charges stemmed from a meeting in November 2016, but the story goes back much further and radiates far beyond the Loei Province, in northern Thailand. It’s another story of local women, in this case local rural women organizing, organizing, organizing, no matter the odds, no matter the enormity of the opposition … organizing, organizing, organizing … and winning!

The Tongkah Harbour Public Company Limited has been around since 1906. In 1907, the company started offshore tin mining. Today, the company is involved in all sorts of mineral mining and in real estate. In 1991, the Tongkah Harbour Public Company founded Tungkum Limited, with the express purpose of mining gold in Loei Province, in northeastern Thailand. Loei Province is one of the most sparsely populated areas of Thailand, an area described as idyllic. In 2003, the Thai Ministry of Industry gave Tungkum the green light, and mining began.

What followed was an altogether familiar tale of mining and environmental contamination and devastation. What had been a hard life became an impossible life and then death-in-life, another instance of necropolitical economic development. Thanks to leaks from the mines, rarely controlled, rarely admitted to by the company, rarely investigated by the State, local water and soil started showing high levels of arsenic, manganese, chromium, cyanide, mercury and cadmium. None of this was unexpected. These are by-products of gold mining and, if improperly contained, they will poison the surrounding communities of people and the environments in which they dwell.

Local communities formed Khon Rak Ban Kerd, People Love their Hometown, KRBK. From the beginning, Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong, Suphat Khunna, Mae Rot and other women have been the central driving force for the organizing effort. They have withstood armed attacks, lawsuits, public defamation, and all forms of available intimidation. They have responded with rallies, blockades, petitions, and organizing. In November 2016, Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong, Suphat Khunna were invited to a meeting to discuss their views. When they arrived, with their friends, they were accused of blocking access to the meeting place and of unlawful assembly. This week, the court decided that, instead, the seven women had “innocently expressed their opinions, which is within their basic rights under the system of democracy.”

Their lawyer, Teerapun Phankeeree, said the women “are likely to continue to oppose the mining operations … The community not only wanted the company to stop operating, they wanted the company and government agencies to restore the environment, as well.” One of the activists, Pornthip Hongchai, explained, “There is still contamination within our six villages surrounding the mine. No officials or any department have come to seriously fix or address the problem yet. Villagers know that the water is contaminated and we have to be careful and look after ourselves. We still have to buy water to drink and cook with. We’ve been buying water since 2009 when there was a public health announcement.” As Mae Rot explained, “We have nowhere else to go. This is our land and we have been here for a hundred years. We have a right to live peacefully. We can’t eat the food we grow, we can’t drink the water. All we can do is keep fighting for justice. We pray to our ancestors in the mountains for help. Recently the miners drilled but found nothing. Maybe our ancestors are listening.” Maybe the ancestors are listening, and maybe the world as well. In Thailand, seven rural women said NO! to gold mining contamination and intimidation, said NO! to some of the most powerful men and organizations in the world, said YES to democracy … and won!

 

(Photo Credit: The Nation) (Video Credit: YouTube / CIEE Khon Kaen)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.