Tuesday, June 07, 2005

300 Protestors take to the streets

Refinery pollution demo at the weekend

Environmental campaigners and residents of the Campo de Gibraltar marched yet again last weekend in a bid to highlight pollution levels in the area.

But far more than a straightforward demonstration, the event turned into what one man present described as “a toxic tour” of the petrochemical complex.

About 300 people armed with banners, placards and facemasks walked from Puente Mayorga to Guadarranque, tracing a route along the length of a perimeter fence topped with nasty-looking razor wire.

Under the scorching midday heat and the watchful gaze of a hefty police contingent, protesters of all ages – including a small number from Gibraltar - rammed home their point. Many of them live in the immediate vicinity of the industrial complex and have firsthand experience of what that can mean.

There has been much debate over the past fortnight as to whether emissions from the complex comply with the legal limits. But at times on Saturday the stench and fumes – legal or otherwise – were overpowering, even on what locals repeatedly described as “a good day.”

The message from the marchers was clear.

“This is to show the authorities that we are still alive, that we are still here,” said Raquel Ñeco, a resident of Puente Mayorga and an environmental campaigner.

“We need to be treated with respect and with seriousness. The health of the residents is the most important thing.”

Shortly after their arrival at Guadarranque, the marchers were treated to a lightning visit from Javier Arenas, president of the Partido Popular in Andalucia and a former Spanish Government minister.

He arrived with his entourage in a fleet of cars and immediately gave an impromptu briefing to the handful of journalists present. As with other politicians who have taken note of the local pollution debate in recent weeks, he promised to champion the cause of cleaner air and tighter controls on industry. But as he wandered away from the reporters to approach the marchers, he was greeted with a chorus of “fuera, fuera, fuera.” It was clear that some of the protestors were not happy. Sr Arenas and his team, sensing the mood, swiftly took refuge in a beachfront bar, each entrance guarded by a handful of Guardia Civil.

The Popular Party (Partido Popular) politician eventually managed a quick word – and a photo opportunity – with some of the environmental campaigners, but it was clearly not what he had turned up for.

By Monday, officials from the Junta de Andalucia were describing him as “an opportunist and a scavenger.”

As for those who marched on Saturday, they simply hoped that all the political attention generated over the past few weeks will finally start to yield results.

Related Links and Articles:

The Environmental Safety Group (ESG)/BBB (Bay Bucket Brigade)

27 May 2005 - Junta intensifies efforts to combat Campo Pollution

25 May 2005 - CEPSA emissions within the Law - Confirmed

24 May 2005 - BBB responds to confusion on Benzene level limits

24 May 2005 - Scientists create confusion over Benzene legal limit

18 May 2005 - IU express concern in Andalusian Parliament

13 May 2005 - CSIC report confirms high levels of pollutants in the Bay of Gibraltar

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