Pungesti is at the terrifying front line of Romania’s resource war – where villagers are fighting off rapacious corporations and their private army of violent riot police, backed by corrupt politicians. Alex Summerchild reports …
Riot police stormed into people’s houses, beating them, threatening them, and kidnapping them from their beds to take them to the police station.
Pungesti is one of the poorest villages in romania but its people have been standing up against the US giant corporation Chevron for almost four months now. They are facing the Romanian State, extreme brutality from riot police, and behind it all the US army general Wesley Clark.
The madness begins with military blockade
The madness started on 2nd December – one day after romania celebrated its National Day – when the Government imposed a military-style blockade agains the village. The riot police started to abuse people, even children.
People from all over the country decided to go to Pungesti on Saturday to support the locals. We arrived there very late on Friday and we managed to reach our hostess – a lady in the village where our friends stayed when they went to Pungesti before – in safety.
Early in the morning we went to the camp next to Chevron site, where a local farmer offered his land to activists. People were shouting “Chevron go home!”, “The government has sold the country!”, “Riot police defend the thieves!”, “Romania-Police state!”
Old people were pushed and abused because they were shouting at the riot police “Shame on you, you should protect us, this is our land and our lives!.
An ambulance was called because an old man from the village was beaten and a 25 years old boy had his ribs broken. The police hit him with their sticks and when he was on the ground they hit him with their boots. In a very short time the riot police started to arrest people without telling why and according to what law.
Breaking down the fences
In an attempt to prevent fracking and to maintain access to their own land, villagers and activists broke the fences surrounding 22,000 acres of land, where Chevron was already starting to explore for shale gas. Some of the riot police actually helped to break the fence!
After this, most of the activist leaders were arrested, again without any reason or explanation. It was unbelievable for us to see them being arrested for nothing or some of them just for trying to protect the old people from being pushed or beaten.
Later, anger, some people threw stones at the Chevron equipment and the security guards were throwing stones back.
Then the riot police started to search people saying that we had weapons and also searched the tents in the camp. Media were not allowed there at all but a reporter from Russia Today managed to film and show the abuse on TV.
While the conflict was still going on, Chevron issued a press release announcing they would again suspend their activities. Then they filed a complaint against the local villagers for damaging their fences. And the next day, they issued another press release announcing they resumed their operations.
Abducted, arrested, fined, beaten up
Three local teenagers who were taking their cattle to graze on the village’s common land were abducted by the riot police on Sunday morning and taken to the police station in Vaslui. All are underage. Lots of activists were also illegally arrested and taken to the Vaslui police station, and kept there for 5 hours with no medical assistance.
Seven people were fined, and will be forced to pay 500 lei to 5,000 lei for refusing to obey the riot police’s orders. These fines are huge: 500 lei is, for most of those people, the entire month’s pension. All of us are expecting to receive fines through post but we know we can appeal because the fines were not supported by any Romanian law.
In the evening some activists retired to their remaining tents that the riot police had failed to dismantle. The villagers ran to their homes, chased by the police, who blocked the road in and out of the village again.
When night fell, the riot police unexpectedly unleashed terror against the village. They destroyed activists’ tents under the pretext that they were filthy. A blockade was imposed again by the State troops, covering the entire Pungesti commune.
Night time – riot police on the prowl
Riot police stormed into people’s houses, beating them, threatening them, and kidnapping them from their beds to take them to the police station. Some villagers were fined because they let activists sleep in their houses over night, “illegally”.
People hid in their houses in complete darkness for fear of being attacked. In the near-by village of Armasoaia 20 people were caught by the state thugs in the local store. They went there to keep warm, but were still brutally arrested by the riot police.
Around 7:30 pm, our friends went to the local store for some groceries. Suddenly, a police van appeared down the road and 10 masked riot police descended. They ran towards them and started to hit them.
They beat women and men, locals and visitors. They captured some people and threw them in their van. Someone threw a stone at their van. A boy took out his phone to record what was happening. They attacked him and then they yelled at them that, if they dare film them, they will confiscate the phones.
The riot police came to the village at night fall to arrest the protesters they could not capture at the Chevron site during the day. Nobody was safe, not even the journalists – they even arrested a famous Romanian journalist, Oreste Teodorescu. Some people called 112, the emergency police number, to ask for help. But the local police said they were unable to help.
Protests move to Bucharest
The next day most of us decided to go to Bucharest to protest there and it was the same story of abuse from the riot police. Every single day they broke the law of Constitution and forgot about our right to freedom in a democratic country.
The villagers continue to fight to save their land and water resources. They are very poor people who lived there all their lives and so did their parents and grandparents. They have to work on the fields in order to survive so that land and the water is very important for them.
Nobody asked them if they want Chevron to abuse and poison them and their children. The government ignores their fears that fracking would ruin water and everything around.
There is huge profit and military power against people’s lives. On one side there is aggression, on the other, self-defence. The Romanian State, who like to appear nationalistic and full of religious and patriotic values, are actually supporting the giant corporation Chevron.
The Romanian government has (illegally) given Chevron 22,000 acres of land in Pungesti to start explorations for shale gas by hydraulic fracturing. The government granted Chevron rights to explore for shale gas in three other places, in South-East Romania, in Constanta county: Vama Veche, Adamclisi and Costinesti.
Before the 2012 parliamentary elections the current prime minister, Victor Ponta opposed these deals. He accused the previous prime minister, Mihai Razvan Ungureanu – the former chief of a secret Romanian service – of cutting a shady, secret deal, and promised to fight against it.
But once he became Prime Minister, Ponta suddenly expressed support for Chevron and gave them the green light to start exploring. We believe the man behind this is former US Army General Wesley Clark, presented as “an excellent economist” who is now Ponta’s new adviser on issues of economic strategy.
After the riot police imposed a military-style blockade against the people of Pungesti, following their relentless resistance, the Romanian Prime Minister saluted the brutality of the police beating people: “I praise the riot police for their actions at Pungesti”. Locals are determined to resist Chevron, the government and their riot police, as the tensions grow day by day.
We will fight on!
In another development the local mayor of Oradea in north-west romania refused a request by a Hungarian company, a subcontractor of Russian Gazprom, to start exploring for shale gas. Local media saluted the mayor’s refusal for saving their water resources.
Villagers from the central Romania county of Sibiu – my own birth-town – blocked similar explorations by a Romanian company. Resistors took the company’s equipment and banned them from their land, despite being attacked and threatened by the police.
We all know the environmental disaster Chevron caused in the Ecuadorian Amazon and we Romanians have to fight against such damage happening in our own country. In places like Pungesti we depend our land, forests, pastures, fields, streams, springs, wells and animals – they are all that we have.
We have no salaries or financial investments. This is why we have to fight Chevron, because we know that if we do not defeat them they will leave behind a poisoned landscape where we and our animals can no longer survive.
We also know we can win, if only we fight hard enough. Our Senate voted down the Rosia Montana mine in Transylvania on 2 December, after a 14-year battle, and just two days ago this was confirmed by the lower house. This is where Gabriel Resources wanted to dig out the largest open pit gold mine in Europe, and use cyanide to extract the gold.
If we can win at Rosia Montana, so too can we win at Pungesti.