Last night I watched The Promised Land, the 2012 American made film starring Matt Damon about a natural gas salesman whose job it is to sell a small farming community in Iowa on fracking, the controversial technique of pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals deep into the earth to release natural gas deposits found in shale.
The film was a reminder that when millions and billions of dollars are at stake, corporations will call in “the experts” to do what is necessary in order to secure the required permits, contracts and positive environmental impact assessments. Of course, in most cases, this process begins with the people who live in the communities affected and whose permission the company needs to proceed. From the company’s perspective, doing what is “necessary” does not need to include principals and human values. And this is what the film is about; a company doing “what is necessary” in order to achieve their goal – to make as much money as possible.
Since coming to Rosia Montana in September 2012, I have heard local residents speak of the tactics Rosia Montana Gold Corporation has used throughout the years in order to sell the people, and the Romanian government on the idea that removing the four mountains that surround their village is in their best interests and the country’s best interests. At first these tactics involved presenting their plan as the best plan for the future of Rosia Montana – economically, culturally and environmentally. However, most of the locals were skeptical of the company’s story. Besides, this was their land the company was asking them to abandon, land of their fathers and their father’s fathers.
So the company did what companies do when they have access to huge financial resources; they called in the experts. They brought in their management team, their public relations team, their home acquisition team… even a psychologist to study the people and the community in order to find their weakness… the weak link that could be pulled apart in order to separate them from their land, their community and their heritage.
According to published reports and the stories of those who remain, the company began to present themselves as the savior of the community, a great fatherly benefactor whose only care was for the happiness of the people.
At the same time, the company began to buy the houses of Rosia Montana, starting with those whose bond to the land was not strong. As these people left, they would bulldoze the house to the ground or leave them to fall into ruin, stark reminders that it was they who were in control. It’s been reported that company men would break the windows of vacant houses and fill them with garbage in order to surround holdouts with scenes of decay and disgust.
For those who still refused, company representatives aggressively pursued the occupants, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes more, telling them the best thing they could do would be to sell their home and move to beautiful company housing in a town 80 km away. If they still refused, their talk would turn to threats of physical and financial harm.
But this was only one aspect. The company began to buy favorable opinions, using their vast financial resources to offer money, jobs and goods to public officials, local residents and others who would favor the company in regulations, votes and referendums. In another strategy to kill the community, Rosia Montana was designated a mono-industrial site and only those businesses that supported mining were supported.
In reality, that was the plan of the company; to kill the community. They could not have a community and the mine at the same time. They needed to break up the community, to create division and discord, to destroy any vestige of community.
But the company made a mistake; they did not realize the ferocity and determination with which some of the locals would fight to keep their land and homes, their way of life. Like the locals in the movie, The Promised Land, for some, there is something much more important than money and something much more sinister about how the company came to take their land and homes.
So what is necessary in the Promised Land? A company’s drive for profit or a people’s spirit to live free, close to the land, close to their hearts?
It seems there is something else besides profit in the promised land… something the company’s board members do not see. But in their struggle to steal away the riches of Rosia Montana, they’ll have their chance.