Indigenous activists take their climate fight to the ‘belly of the beast’

A 'nodding donkey' fracking installation in Vaca Muerta, Argentina, activists challenge fossil fuel polluters
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Between 10 and 17 May, members of the Indigenous Mapuche community and a human rights defender (HRD) from Neuquén in Argentina are joining protests against big polluters in Europe. A previous article about the Mapuche visit showed how extractivism in the region has caused huge harm to the community. Fossil fuel extraction and fracking have decimated the lives of indigenous communities.

The delegation is planning to attend protests and actions against big fossil fuel companies and their financiers. Specifically, it’s targeting the companies and banks operating fracking projects in the Vaca Muerta shale basin.

Fracking shows Europe’s corporate complicity

Nearly 40 fossil fuel companies operate fracking wells across Vaca Muerta. Unsurprisingly, big oil corporations from Europe are complicit in a number of these.

The delegation is calling on fossil fuel companies to stop fracking on their ancestral lands. On 10 May, the delegation joined with climate campaign groups like Greenpeace and Uplift to take action against Norwegian oil and gas major Equinor. Environment defenders and climate activists staged protests to coincide with Equinor’s annual general meeting (AGM).

Following this, on 16 May, the delegation will attend protests in France against fossil fuel financier BNP Paribas. According to Banktrack, in August 2022, the French bank underwrote finance for Pampa Energia. BNP Paribas provided finance to the Argentinian oil and gas firm to the tune of US $50.8m. The fossil fuel company is the third-largest producer of gas in the Neuquén basin.

Organisations like Banktrack and Reclaim Finance are planning to host actions against the bank for its long-term financing of big polluters. In their 2023 Banking on Climate Chaos report, they identified BNP Paribas as number 11 on their finance ‘Dirty Dozen’. The 12 banks on this list each provided billions in financing for fossil fuels between 2016 and 2022. BNP Paribas financed fossil fuel companies with US $165.94bn during this period.

The delegation will complete its tour in Germany on 17 May, where it will join forces with Friday for the Future activists. The campaign group will be protesting during Deutsche Bank’s online AGM.

Read on...

Fossil fuel colonialism

Throughout the journey, the Mapuche representatives will also challenge other European banks and oil majors. They will highlight the companies who operate and own fracking wells across Vaca Muerta. TotalEnergies is another target of the delegation. The company is one of the leading gas operators in the basin.

Previously, I wrote that Total was named one of the top five worst companies in 2022 for projects related to attacks against HRDs. In Uganda, the company’s East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project was linked to 14 attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) during 2022 alone. Fossil fuel companies like TotalEnergies are harming Indigenous and local communities across the globe.

Lawyer of the Assembly for Human Rights of Neuquén Edith Galarza is traveling with the delegation. He said that:

Fossil finance is an issue of justice. The biggest chunk of the finance that supports the fossil fuel industry comes from places in the Global North. Those banks and companies fund destruction and exploitation in the South, and profit from it. This is what colonialism looks like in the 21st century.

In other words, fossil fuel companies continue the work of colonisation, through private plunder for profit. Moreover, Galarza explained how fossil fuel resource extraction operates in this colonial process:

For us to be traveling from our communities and going into the belly of the beast is an important opportunity to tell people what is happening to our land at the expense of the search for profit.

‘We are part of the solution’

Global North nations have long subjected Indigenous communities to the crimes of colonisation. Today, this manifests through global capitalist systems. Specifically, the rich of the Global North still strip resources from the Global South to feed their profit margins and furnish their wealth. Of course, they do so now with no greater regard for the lives of Indigenous people than they did then.

The delegation seek to highlight that respect for their Indigenous rights is crucial to the anti-capitalist struggle against corporate colonialism. Barraza said:

We are those who know that it is impossible to live without coexisting harmoniously with diversity, all that exists and lives and that to achieve this coexistence we need to plant ourselves firmly. The problem is not us. We are part of the solution.

The Mapuche’s message is a reminder that the fight against fossil fuel companies and financiers is part of the ongoing struggle against colonialism, past and present. Crucially, to end the climate crisis, we must dismantle the system that started it and continues to fuel it. And, importantly, we must build new systems with the rights of Indigenous people and marginalised communities at their hearts.

Feature image via Filo News/Youtube

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