Future

Canary Islands Up In Arms As Oil Drilling Looms Off Scenic Shores

Morro Jable, Fuerteventura: Paradise soon to be lost?
Morro Jable, Fuerteventura: Paradise soon to be lost?
Tomaso Clavarino

LANZAROTE - The photograph looks like something out of a glossy tourist campaign: a surfer, board under his arms, coming out of the turquoise waters that lap against the fine, white sand.

Nothing out of the ordinary, seeing as the shot was taken on the island of Fuerteventura, famous around Europe for its natural beauty and great surfing. But if you look closer at the image, you begin to notice that the dude's skin isn’t brown because of the sun, but rather black from oil.

This is just one of the deliberately shocking images that the activists of Clean Ocean Project have been distributing over the last few weeks on the beaches of the Canary Islands. This oil is a new nightmare for the Canarians since last March, when the Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy, through the Minister for Industry José Manuel Soria López, gave free reign to Repsol, one of the world's biggest oil companies, for a series of tests that should make way for the biggest oil field in Spain.

“This is a project that puts in serious danger the ecosystem of an area that, for its natural bounty, has been labeled as a Biosphere Reserve,” explains Wim Geirnaer of Clean Ocean Project. “The tests will be done with air guns through the soundwave technique which will inevitably disturb and compromise the lives of the dolphins and whales that flock to these protected areas of the sea."

It’s not only wildlife associations (WWF and Greenpeace) lining up for battle against the Spanish government's decision, but almost the entire population of the Canary Islands, who have taken to town squares in protests rarely ever seen in this archipelago.

Local institutions have also expressed their opposition to the drilling project. From Cabildos (a type of council that exists only on these islands) on the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, to the regional governments of the Canaries, the “No” to drilling has been unanimous.

“We’re against this project for two principal reasons” explained the Cabildo of Fuerteventura. “The environmental risks, firstly, but then also the possibility of the reduction in tourism. These islands live exclusively on the tourism industry and a project of this nature, with the elevated risk of accidents that it brings with it, could threaten the main income to these islands."

Oil for jobs?

Locals note the "anomaly" of having one of the rare top national leaders born in the Canaries, Industry Minister Minister for Industry José Manuel Soria López, being the man who gave the green light for this project.

The energy giant counters that the local economy is bound to benefit from the drilling project. “We think that the installation could create between 3,000 and 5,000 new jobs,” affirms Kristian Rix, a Repsol spokeswoman.

But Wim Geirnaer isn't buying it. “Everybody knows that the new jobs created require highly trained specialists who, in Fuerteventura, like in Lanzarote, just don’t exist," he said. "This is clearly an operation in favour of a private business and against the interests of an entire community.”

If, like Repsol hopes, the oil can be found, in the space of a few years the multinational will have carte blanche for drilling in an area twice the size of the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote put together. The 20 authorized oil platforms, that have the capacity to extract 144,000 barrels of crude oil per day, could be constructed quite close to the coast, for a simple reason: 60 kilometers from shore, in the middle of the Atlantic, is the border that separates Spanish waters from Moroccan.

Morocco's government has already expressed its aversion to the project and a border violation could create problems for Repsol, as well as the Spanish government.

Twenty-five kilometers from the black sandy beaches of Lanzarote, and 10 km from those in Fuerteventura. Such should be the minimum distance that the drilling can reach a depth of 5,000 meters -- the same maximum depth as the BP platform of the Deepwater Horizon, which exploded in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

And so the mobilization continues: A petition has already gathered 30,000 signatures and the Canarian government has appealed to the United Nations as well as the European Union to stop the project.

Still, the government in Madrid has announced that Repsol can begin drilling in the space of a few weeks. While the battle heats up, the Spanish government has cut incentives for the desalinisation of water (the only source of potable water for the islanders) and blocked the project for a windmill park on Gran Canaria. The islanders consider the moves from Madrid as a clear warning: oil or nothing.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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