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Thai farmers fight the fat cats
Somrudee Boonthonglek faces a daily struggle to hold on to her 395-acre Thai farming community, says Diana Hubbell in Eater. She’s part of the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT), ordinary farmers who just want land to live on. In 2015 her 61-year-old father was tending their shop and her baby when he was shot in the head by gangsters hired to intimidate locals. Two years later more gunmen attacked her husband, who escaped.
Big palm-oil companies want the peasants gone. Thailand is “the world’s No 3 producer of palm oil”, after Indonesia and Malaysia. But the companies illegally occupy more than 27,000 acres of state-owned land. In 2009, after a court determined that one corporation, Jiew Kang Jue Pattana, had illegally occupied its land for decades, the SPFT community were given the right to settle in the area.
But the fat cats weren’t finished. Hired thugs fired automatic rifles into the five SPFT villages. Such brutality is overlooked by the military junta, which seized power in 2014. The regime wants to increase palm-oil production by 50% in the next five years. Disappearances and human-rights abuses are endemic. An estimated 8,000 families have been forcibly evicted since 2015. The top 1% of the population already owns 66.9% of Thailand’s riches. What’s happening is “a war on the poor”.
It was ever thus. In 1972 Thai security forces slaughtered as many as 3,000 farmers who were accused of being communists. The killings were known as the thang daeng (“red drum”) murders because the victims were burnt alive in 200-litre oil drums. But the Marxist SPFT is staying put. “We believe that if we are united, we are more powerful when we speak.”