Chevron has had five protesters arrested at its annual shareholders meeting in Houston and refused to allow another two dozen people from Chevron-affected countries around the world, like Nigeria, Ecuador and Burma. Those denied entry held legal shareholder proxies. The True Cost of Chevron Network says it organized the protest to call attention to Chevron’s human rights and environmental record. We speak to Antonia Juhasz, director of the Chevron Program at Global Exchange, who spent the night in jail after her arrest; and Emem Okon, an activist from Nigeria and the founder and executive director of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in the Niger Delta. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Chevron. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, to the practices of another oil giant, the Chevron company. On Wednesday, Chevron had five protesters arrested in Houston at its annual shareholders’ meeting and refused to allow another two dozen people from Chevron-affected countries around the world, like Nigeria, Ecuador and Burma. Those denied entry held legal shareholder proxies.
The True Cost of Chevron Network says it organized the protest to call attention to the company’s human rights and environmental record. The five who were arrested are activists from groups like Amazon Watch and the Houston-based environmental group TEJAS. They were all released on Thursday.
AMY GOODMAN: Among those arrested was author Antonia Juhasz, director of the Chevron Program at Global Exchange. She was detained after questioning Chevron’s CEO John Watson during an open comment period for proxy holders. Antonia Juhasz joins us from Houston, as does Emem Okon, an activist from Nigeria and the founder and executive director of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in the Niger Delta.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
Antonia, let’s begin with you. What happened? What did you ask Chevron’s President, CEO? And how did you end up in jail?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Chevron truly exposed its great fear at having the true cost of its operations being revealed to its shareholders and the media. It revealed its great fear at the communities who are actually impacted by Chevron being able to tell the truth about its operations. And I think most importantly, it revealed in Houston how it treats those who come to tell the truth about its operations, engage with the company, with a brutal response, a response that stifles the ability of free speech. And that was a very small taste of what’s experienced much more dramatically at Chevron’s hands all around the world.
I actually went in as a shareholder. I spoke during the shareholder response time. And as I was saying to the gathered shareholders that Chevron had denied — after showing a video of its impacts in communities during the shareholder meeting, it refused to then let those actual representatives from those communities, who had literally traveled from Burma, from Australia, from Alaska, from Nigeria, from Ecuador, all over the world, into the meeting. As I was saying, "These are the people who are here to tell you about your corporation and its operations," I was aggressively grabbed by the police, by private security. I was dragged very forcibly — I still have a handprint on my arm from the law enforcement — dragged, prone on my back, out the back, thrown by four police officers it took to get me, lift me into and move me into the van, and arrested. And I was charged with criminal trespass and disrupting a meeting, and I was incarcerated for twenty-four — a twenty-four-hour period.
And all that time, there were — the few representatives who have gotten — got in, from Angola and Kazakhstan and representing the Philippines, were — we took over the meeting and said essentially that Chevron is lying, it is afraid, it is afraid to expose the true cost of operations — of its operations. But I think most importantly, what we demonstrated was that Chevron is afraid of the organizing against it, that when the communities from the location where it operates not only tell the truth about what it does, but link and form a community and a network, that we send an enormous amount of fear and shock through this company, because, believe me, this has never happened in a Chevron meeting before. They have never felt the need to have such aggressive, physical, abusive tactics to arrest activists in the front from Richmond, California, from Houston, Texas, from around the world, and to drag me physically from inside the meeting.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Antonia, according to one report that I read, the company chairman had to actually adjourn the meeting at a certain point, because he wasn’t able to get control of it?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: This was new CEO John Watson’s very first meeting as the CEO of the company, and he absolutely lost control of the meeting. He chose to bring in an enormous, as I said, quantity of security that filled the meeting. And actually, it seemed like they were starting to outnumber the actual attendees. And he chose to have that very aggressive and physical response to me simply highlighting that people like Emem Okon from Nigeria and people from all over the world were being denied access. We then — the shareholders were actually trying to listen to me. We were also chanting. And at one point, the CEO, John Watson, simply threw up his hands and said, "You know, I don’t know what to do. I guess the meeting’s adjourned." And that was the end of the meeting, as we continued to voice our opposition and statements of Chevron’s lies and the true cost of its operations, and essentially broke up and ended the meeting in that way.
AMY GOODMAN: Emem Okon, you came from Nigeria for the Chevron shareholders’ meeting.
EMEM OKON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: From the Niger Delta. Why?
EMEM OKON: Yeah, I came from all the way from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria to be at the Chevron shareholders’ meeting. I came to represent the voices of the community women in the Niger Delta region that are suffering the direct impact of Chevron oil and gas activities in the Niger Delta. And what I witnessed on Wednesday during the shareholders’ meeting is a demonstration of the lack of respect of human rights by Chevron. Chevron has a beautiful human rights policy, where they guarantee a two-way communication between the community people and Chevron. But on Wednesday, they outrightly did not respect even their own human rights policy. What happened is a confirmation and a demonstration of the abuse of human rights in the Niger Delta region by Chevron. It’s the demonstration by the use of brutal force by Chevron to suppress the indigenous people of the Niger Delta region. It’s a direct demonstration of the fact that Chevron does not listen to the voices of the people, to the complaints of the people, to the plight and conditions of the people of the Niger Delta communities.
I came to tell Chevron that they have oppressed in the Niger Delta region with impunity for the past fifty years, poisoning our waters, devastating our environment, killing the fish we eat, burning poison gas through gas flares in the Niger Delta that has caused cancer, asthma, corroding our roofs. And they have not done anything to alleviate the sufferings of the people as a result of their — as the result of their activities. And what they did on Wednesday was a demonstration of the fact that they are not ready to change their mode of oppression in the Niger Delta region, and they are not ready to recognize and respect the human rights of the people, and they are not ready to change the inhumane way they treat the communities in which they oppress.
I am surprised at the attention that the BP oil spill has attracted in the United States, and I expect that the condition in the Niger Delta should attract the same coverage and that the international community should impress it on Chevron and every other oil community to stop their inhuman activity and abuse of human rights in the Niger Delta region.
AMY GOODMAN: Did the meeting take place — I know Chevron has taken over the Enron building in Houston. Is that where the meeting took place? And where do you go from here?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, very appropriate. And actually, in Houston, it’s still referred to as the old Enron building. Chevron simply moved in after Enron exploded — or went kaput, excuse me, and hired on many former Chevron energy traders, as a matter of fact, and continued on with its own business. What happened was that we had, you know, this amazing network of community members. Obviously, as Emem says, there’s a BP-size disaster every single day in these Chevron-affected communities, and whether that is taking place in Burma or Alaska, Colombia — one of the most amazing things was that as we walked into the meeting, there was a photograph of a basket from the Wayuu community of Colombia that was hanging in Chevron’s headquarters. Well, a representative of the Wayuu community of Colombia, Debra, was left outside, denied her proxy access in to actually address that community, but they hung the basket.
So where we go next is that we actually take this victory of really taking over the meeting, I think, dominating what the shareholders —-
AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: —- had to hear, dominating what the press had to hear, and carrying the energy and power of this network —- we are denied access into the meeting, but we carried our message outside. We continued to organize and strategize over these next two days of how you really work together as communities across a broad spectrum of oil’s influence to not only demand a change within that company, but to carry that energy to demand much greater restrictions, regulations, reining in and ultimately retiring of the entire oil industry and by the power and advocacy, most importantly, of those communities and their advocates at the front lines of oil’s [inaudible] -—
AMY GOODMAN: Antonia, we have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us. Antonia Juhasz, director of Global Exchange’s Chevron Program. And Emem Okon, founder and executive director of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in the Niger Delta.