(350.org) Communities in Salento, in the southern ‘heel’ of Italy, are on the frontlines of the struggle to stop the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). If completed, TAP would connect with the Southern Gas Corridor, carrying billions of cubic metres of gas from Azerbaijan to Italy every year from 2020.
The pipeline would come onshore in the beautiful seaside town of San Foca. Local people fear its construction, including a gas receiving terminal, will damage and pollute the local landscape, coastline and clear blue waters.
Despite the climate impacts of the project (we can’t build new fossil fuel infrastructure and meet the Paris Agreement) and the objections of the local people, the Italian government and the European Commission are trying to force it through.
Facing police violence and being threatened with heavy fines, local people are organising peacefully and powerfully to stop pipeline’s construction.
Pipeline contractors move in
Local people have been concerned about the proposals for years, but the struggle heated up on 20th March, when the pipeline company – without even having permits for the work from the local government – moved in to remove hundreds of ancient olive trees near the rural town of Melendugno.
These trees are the backbone of the economy in the area and are essential to many peoples’ livelihoods. They are beloved by the local people and are hundreds (some apparently thousands) of years old.
Huge public demonstrations are squashed by police
Outraged at the removal of the trees, each day hundreds of people gathered at the site to peacefully resist the construction. They were pushed back by hundreds of police in riot gear, with shields and batons.
The local government was against the works as well. The mayor managed to stop the construction whilst the permits were investigated, but this pause lasted only three days.
Over the course of the next few days, many trees were uprooted and removed from the area.
There was a public outcry across Italy
The campaign hit the headlines in the Italian press, and solidarity actions and messages were sent by groups in Milan, Bologna and Rome.
Protests intensified, with hundreds gathering daily, and public meetings drew crowds of 500-1000 people.
But hundreds of riot police were also present, and the community could not prevent the trees being removed.
When their protests were ignored, people built barricades
One night, people built stone barricades to stop vehicles accessing the site. These barricades, supported by the mass gatherings of people each day, were successful in stopping the pipeline works for weeks.
This resistance is peaceful and creative
In the more relaxed moments when the works were paused, people continued to meet and organise cultural events, and keep up the spirit of the resistance.
Traditional musicians gathered to play and dance to “pizzica”, Salento word music, in solidarity.
In the middle of the night, police and pipeline contractors returned
Just a few days before the summer growing season began (and further tree removal would have been prohibited for the summer), a huge police escort arrived with the subcontractors in the middle of the night, bulldozed the barricades and removed most of the remaining trees.
People were incensed.
Promises to pause TAP construction for the summer are broken
The pipeline company had committed to stop works over the summer for the tourist season (tourism is vital to the local economy) — but in the middle of the night on 4 July, contractors and riot police arrived to resume the works.
Between 1-7am, 400 police blocked all roads in and out of the town, whilst the contractors moved in to remove uprooted olive trees. Those that resisted were attacked by the police, including the Vice-mayor of the town, and witnesses say that they have never seen the police so aggressive.
A few days later the pipeline company broke their commitment again, working on the underwater pipes opposite the area’s main beach. Locals took to their boats to organise a floating protest:
The community is still under threat, and being threatened by huge fines
Tension is still high in Melendugno. The community are concerned about more night-time raids, and the permanent militarisation of the area from September, when the company will really start to push this project forward.
The police seem to be trying to intimidate those taking part in the resistance. They have been identifying individuals through photo and video footage, and people have started receiving notifications of fines of €2,500-10,000 for being involved in peaceful protests and roadblocks.
But the spirit of resistance is strong, and local gatherings are getting bigger and bigger:
Nearly 14,000 people have signed a letter calling for European support for the pipeline to be withdrawn, and people resisting fracking in Lancashire, UK, have taken action in solidarity:
The local No TAP Committee is determined to stop the pipeline altogether. They believe that it is unnecessary, undemocratic, and that it will cause vast economic and environmental damage to the area.
Their message is “Né qui né altrove” – “No TAP, not here or anywhere”.
You can follow the struggle and send messages of solidarity on twitter using the hashtag #NoTAP. The local organising committee is on twitter @no_tap, and on facebook @MovimentoNoTAP.
To learn more about the TAP, which is also called the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline, take a look at the multimedia platform Walking the Line.
You can support the campaign by adding your name to the open letter to the European Commission and European public banks calling for a stop to the pipeline.