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Police Halt Activist-Led “Toxic Tour” of Corporate Polluters Sponsoring COP25

Spanish President Pedro Sánchez offered corporations a 90 percent tax break on a $2 million sponsorship.

In Spain, the country’s biggest fossil fuel polluters are also some of the most generous sponsors for this year’s U.N. climate talks. On Saturday, we joined activists on a “toxic tour” of Madrid from the Madrid stock exchange to Santander Bank. Activists explained that when Spanish President Pedro Sánchez announced that Spain would host COP25, he went to IBEX 35 — the 35 biggest listed companies in the Spanish stock exchange — offering them a 90% tax break on a $2 million sponsorship. Advocates say that these same companies “have deep and dirty links to the fossil fuel industry.” But midway through, the police shut down the tour, threatening fines of over 3,000 euros if the peaceful tour did not disperse. Climate justice campaigner for Friends of the Earth International Héctor de Prado says he was shocked and “ashamed” by the attempts by police to halt the tour. “It is not normal,” he says.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we broadcast live from the U.N. climate summit, known as COP25, here in Madrid, Spain. We turn now to the fossil fuel polluters that are sponsoring this year’s climate talks. On Saturday, activists took us on what they called a “toxic tour” of Madrid, from the Madrid stock exchange to Santander Bank to the world-famous Prado Museum. But midway through, the police shut it down. This is Pascoe Sabido of Corporate Europe Observatory, or CEO, but begun with Lise Masson of BankTrack.

LISE MASSON: So, welcome to the toxic tour. So, inside COP25, the negotiations are supposed to be tackling the climate crisis. But they’re completely failing, and they have been for 25 years because of the influence of big polluters. The same companies who are causing the crisis are derailing the talks and the real solutions in order to protect their business models. Some of these biggest polluters or even sponsoring the COP, and we’ll be paying a visit to some of them today. The first stop is, in fact, here at la Bolsa, Madrid’s stock exchange.

PASCOE SABIDO: When Pedro Sánchez, the president of Spain, announced that Spain would hold COP25, do you know the first thing he did? Not yet? No? He came here to the IBEX 35, to the 35 biggest listed companies in the Spanish stock exchange, to ask them to sponsor COP25. He asked them for 2 million euros each. And you know what? He offered them a tax break of 90% on the contributions they would make. And do you know who accepted? Some of the most polluting companies in Spain, also in the IBEX 35: Endesa, who is the most polluting; Iberdrola, a gas company who tries to be green; Suez, a French waste and water company, who’s the biggest water privatizer in Chile; so, also Santander, which is one of the biggest fossil fuel financing banks out there; as well as many, many others. And all these organizations, these companies, are going to use the COP for greenwashing and gaining privileged access to negotiators, to the talks, to make sure they protect their profits, subsidized by the taxpayer in Spain. And now we’re going to pass over to Nathalie Rengifo from Corporate Europe Observatory to talk more about the impact this has on the climate talks.

NATHALIE RENGIFO: Gracias. [translated] As my colleagues have just said, the walls of the COP smell bad, just like international climate politics. They smell of gas. They smell of petrol. They smell of oil. They smell of all the polluting things that these companies are bringing inside the climate talks. And what is worse is that the governments of the North are the ones that are actually pushing the agendas of these corporations and taking them into the negotiating rooms inside the UNFCCC. So, these governments should be defending the people and the interests of the planet biodiversity, but instead they are defending the interests of corporations inside the negotiating rooms. And these companies which are greenwashing, they are, and they continue to be, the cause of the climate crisis. And they are taking the whole of humanity and our planet towards extinction. Thank you.

LISE MASSON: So we’re now going to head to our second stop, another sponsor, a gold sponsor, indeed. We’re going to head to Santander.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re walking from the Madrid stock exchange, which is the place the organizers say represents the most dirty polluters and that are sponsoring the COP. They handed out a flyer, “COP25 Bankrolled by Big Polluters. Time to Delay.” The organizers called out Santander, the Spanish fossil fuel financier. Banco Santander is Spain’s largest bank and the 16th largest bank in the world. While it boasts of its investments in renewables, they say, its continued financing of fossil fuels is the real story, they argue. We’re now moving on to the next stop, Santander Bank.

LISE MASSON: OK. So, welcome to our second stop, Santander, as you can see. We have Yago from Ecologistas en Acción.

YAGO MARTÍNEZ: [translated] This particular bank, behind us, in the last year, it has invested over 15,000K, millions, to over 1,800 companies all over the world, including oil operations in the Arctic, fracking, any kind of dirty energy. Not long time ago, we saw the CEO of Santander, Ana Patricia Botín, going to Greenland and stating that she was so concerned about climate change. However, BBVA and Santander, they keep investing money in dirty energy industry. This is a hypocrisy. It’s what some civil society organizations in Spain are publicly denouncing.

LISE MASSON: What do we say to fossil banks?

PROTESTERS: No thanks!

LISE MASSON: Fossil banks?

PROTESTERS: No thanks!

AMY GOODMAN: The second stop on the tour was Santander Private Banking. The organizers explained what Santander Bank’s role was in investing in fossil fuel. And now, after the people stood and listened to the explanations, the police have come over. There’s a line of four police officers here. There’s around 10 police. Pascoe Sabido says, “When there’s a lot of money, there’s a lot of protection.” Now what’s he saying?

PASCOE SABIDO: He’s saying if we continue the tour, if we continue going, we have to tell them where we’re going, what we’re doing, etc. I guess around the COP there’s a lot of security, and this is quite a well-protected zone with a lot of money in it. So, when there’s a lot of money, there’s a lot of people protecting it. So they have a whole police force out to come and talk to people who are doing nothing.

POLICE OFFICER: [translated] One thing is a touristic tour, and another is to advocate as you are doing, talking about Santander Bank or maybe the stock exchange, their methods of work, as a complaint or as advocacy.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m a journalist. I’m a journalist. I’m a journalist from the U.S.


AMY GOODMAN: I’m covering the — I’m covering the U.N. COP.

UNIDENTIFIED: You have a —

AMY GOODMAN: I’m covering the U.N. climate summit. We’re going to move on. I’m allowed to walk. I don’t need to ID myself. OK, all right, we’re just going to keep walking. The police are looking for my identification. But the question is whether this “toxic tour” can continue right now. They’re trying to move on, so we’re going to follow them. The police are lined up in front of one of the largest banks in the world, that invests in fossil fuels.

PASCOE SABIDO: We’re now going to go to our next stop, which is yet another icon of Madrid. It’s the Museo del Prado. Like with many cultural institutions, they have deep and dirty links to the fossil fuel industry, including as sponsors. So, follow us this way, and we’re heading to the Museo del Prado.

Pascoe Sabido from Corporate Europe Observatory. We are heading to El Prado Museum, which is in fact sponsored by some of the COP25 sponsors, to denounce some of this. But, unfortunately, the police have just told us that if we carry on, we’re going to get a fine, and they’re trying to shut down the tour.

LISE MASSON: We’re going to gather here.

PASCOE SABIDO: So, we’re here at the Prado. Does anyone know what the Prado is?


PASCOE SABIDO: A museum. It’s Spain’s most famous art museum. It has some lovely pieces inside it. But does anyone know who sponsors the Prado? As well as Iberdrola, it turns out Endesa, Spain’s dirtiest, most polluting single company, is also involved in the Prado, because it has refurbished the Salón de Reinos, one of the big rooms in there, by giving a large sum of money, and now gets to use it for its own PR exercises. But here to give more information on Endesa, the dirty singlest — dirtiest company in Spain, we have Héctor de Prado — perfect name for this museum — from Amigos de la Tierra. Héctor.

HÉCTOR DE PRADO: Thank you, Pascoe. So, Endesa is the largest energy company in Spain. They have interests in — not only in art, as just Pascoe mentioned, also in sport. They are the main sponsors of the basketball league, for instance. And they love the coal that comes from countries such as Russia, as Chile. And despite, they try to make up their image. For instance, they are part of the Better Coal platform.

PASCOE SABIDO: A technical point: The police have said if we dissolve it ourselves, we have a smaller fine. And if they have to dissolve it for them, we have a bigger fine.


AMY GOODMAN: We are right behind the famous museum, the Prado. And the organizers wanted to talk about the energy company investment here, but the police are moving in, and they’re saying if they break it up, they’re going to charge these groups a large fine. If the people self-dissolve the group, it will not be as much of a fine. So we’ll see what happens.

YAGO MARTÍNEZ: My name is Yago Martínez. I am in Ecologistas en Acción, which is an environmentalist group in Spain.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the police officer said to you about what you were explaining to the group, what made you different.

YAGO MARTÍNEZ: He said that if it was a touristic tour, it would be OK, but this was different. This was about corporations. We were speaking bad about big corporations, and that’s considered political concentration.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel right now? Do you feel, as a Spanish citizen, that your freedom of speech was violated?

YAGO MARTÍNEZ: I’m a bit shocked.

HÉCTOR DE PRADO: I’m Héctor de Prado. I’m a climate justice campaigner for the Spanish chapter of Friends of the Earth International, Amigos de la Tierra España.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened? Why didn’t you speak?

HÉCTOR DE PRADO: Well, because we were preventing, apparently, the police came and interrupted us. They think that we are giving very bad publicity to Spanish companies. And I think that it’s our right to do this. And basically they threatened us, too, with fines of over 3,000 euros.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel about that?

HÉCTOR DE PRADO: I feel ashamed. I mean, it’s not normal. It’s not normal.

LISE MASSON: And as much as it’s frustrating, we don’t really have a choice in this instance. We’re going to have to dissolve the tour.

PROTESTERS: ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Lise Masson of BankTrack ending Saturday’s “toxic tour” a bit earlier than planned, after police broke up the walking tour.

When we come back, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has just determined 47 major companies, including, oh, Shell, Mobil, as well as ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total, could be found legally and morally responsible for human rights abuses in the Philippines that are resulting from climate change. We’ll speak with the former Philippines climate chief negotiator Yeb Saño. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Extinction Rebellion protesters danced to the song in a “discobedience,” shutting down a major street in Madrid for two hours on Saturday.

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