The Patong Fire. Another Fictional Account
Washington Post, November 9th, 2002
Phuket, Thailand – In an unprecedented attack on tourist facilities in Southern Thailand, fifty-nine bungalows were burnt down on early Thursday morning, Nov. 7th. The bungalows belonged to the Sunshine Vacation Home, one of the region’s biggest and most prestigious tourist resorts. They were part of a planned expansion of the hotel complex, located along popular Patong Beach. The bungalows were set a few hundred yards from the already existing hotel facilities, and were still unoccupied at the time of the fire.
According to the Royal Thai Police Force, the fire had to be blamed on arsonists. “We don’t know who did this, and why it was done, but after a thorough investigation of the site, the evidence clearly indicates arson,” Police Commander Pragoon Kamtrakul told the media.
For many years, tourism has been one of the backbones of Thailand’s national economy. “I have no words for this. I wish I could understand what motivates people to do such a thing,” Charles Lloyd, the British owner of the Sunshine Vacation Home told the Washington Post. “We employ almost five hundred Thais, and maintaining good relations with both the Thai authorities and the Thai people has always been a priority for us.”
Apart from the Sunshine Vacation Home, Lloyd owns another hotel in Phuket, one in Krabi, and three in Pattaya. He is also the proprietor of the biggest tour operating business in Thailand, and has heavy investments in the tourist industry in neighboring Malaysia, as well as Indonesia, and the Philippines. As far as the possible identity of the perpetrators was concerned, Lloyd refused to speculate: “I leave that to the Thai authorities.”
Security at the Sunshine in the night of the fire focused on the main hotel area. Petty thieves and con artists have become a problem in Thailand’s tourist centers in recent years, but reports of violent or armed attacks remain rare. The new set of bungalows was not considered a security risk. There were only two guards on duty, mainly to guard the tool shed. From their reports, several fires broke out simultaneously on the site around 2 am. They spread within moments, both due to the winds, and the fact that the bungalows were mainly built from natural local materials. When the fire service arrived fifteen minutes later, it was already too late to save any of the structures. The guards reported that they had neither noticed anyone entering the compound nor leaving it. They were the only people on site at the time the fire started.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Phirapong Wajorajit spoke of a “disgraceful attack against freedom and security in our country” and a “terrorist act”. Those responsible, whether of national or foreign origin, and regardless of their motivations, would have to be “brought to justice and suffer the consequences of their actions”, he declared at a press conference in Bangkok yesterday.
Meanwhile, opinions on the possible identity of the arsonists were widespread among the local community. Some vendors at the market of Phuket Town, only a few miles from the site of the fire, suspected rivalry between the resort owners. Others spoke of foreign attempts to destabilize Thailand and weaken its economy. Social service employees in the adjunct government building mentioned the dissatisfaction of marginalized and disgruntled Thai youth as a possible reason. In the eyes of many, the Thai people would only partially benefit from the still mainly foreign-owned tourist industry, they claimed, and recalled the protests in Phuket when the first Club Med arrived on the island a couple of decades ago. According to many locals in the stores and bars around town, however, Muslim fundamentalists had to be blamed.
The Royal Thai Police Force was not willing to confirm or deny any of these possibilities. “As of yet, we have no leads to the identity of the perpetrators,” Commander Kamtrakul said. But he promised that the Thai Police was “absolutely committed” to finding those responsible.
Many tourists decided to leave the island of Phuket the day after the fire. Some moved to regions considered safer, some cut their holidays short and went home. However, the majority of visitors decided to stay. Amongst them, Johan and Karina van der Elst from Belgium: “We don’t know what exactly happened at that hotel, but we like it here in Phuket, and everyone is very nice. It is our forth time here, and we will stay.” Tour groups also continue to visit the temples and monasteries of Southern Thailand, and to organize off-shore cruises. How much damage Thursday’s fire has done to Thailand’s tourist industry in the long run, remains to be seen.
Two weeks after the bungalows were burnt down at Patong, and while the Thai authorities still had no idea about the identity of the people behind the attack, a communiqué was sent to various press agencies, and published on the internet. A group called The Min Yuen Brigade claimed responsibility for the arson:
On Thursday, November 7th, at 2 am, we set fire to a new set of tourist bungalows built at the Sunshine Vacation Home Hotel at Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand. It was an act of protest against the further development of mass tourist facilities, particularly in the non-Western world. Apart from the disastrous ecological effects of mass tourism and the development of related tourist facilities, the tourist industry is in almost exclusive control of Western capitalists and a national bourgeoisie. It is a tool of further colonization of the people in the so-called ‘Third World’ whose land continues to be stolen and whose labor continues to be exploited. As a national economic factor, tourism perpetuates dependence on foreign investors and employers in colonized nations, thereby undermining any social process towards self-reliance and self-determination. Mass tourism is one of the purest forms of the neocolonial world order. It further reduces non-Western cultures and traditions to a fashionable commodity on the leisure market for the rich and privileged. It turns people into exhibits. It plays on notions of the ‘wild’ and ‘exotic’. It replaces respectful interaction and exchange with pretentious intrusion and stereotyping. Mass tourism is racist.
We are not against people traveling. In fact, we encourage people to do so to help overcome prejudice, misconception, and ignorance; to build bridges, make friends, and learn; to share, disregard borders, and fight self-centered bigotry. But, in our travels we have an obligation to be modest, unassuming, and respectful. We have to experience foreign countries and cultures as travelers willing to be guests, not as tourists demanding to be masters. We have to perceive the people as brothers and sisters, not as servants. We have to come as visitors, not as corporations and businesses. We have to live with the people, not in secluded tourist areas. We have to consider the ecological and social impacts and consequences of our presence. We have to be aware of the dynamics of cultural change, not demanding cultural clichés to satisfy our racist stereotypes of exoticism.
The tourist industry is destructive: ecologically, economically, socially, politically, spiritually. We refuse to witness this any longer in silence. That is why we have decided to take action. Burn ‘em down!
The Min Yuen Brigade
The communiqué was soon considered authentic by international law enforcement agencies. That a group of apparent European anti-tourist-industry activists (this was concluded from content and form of the communiqué) claimed responsibility for what was now mostly referred to as the “Patong Fire” came as a major surprise to both Thailand and the international community. And it did send some shockwaves down the spines of Third World tour operators, especially in Southeast Asia. The communiqué had a few immediate consequences:
1. The search for the members of the Min Yuen Brigade was taken over by Interpol, while the Thai Police reduced its role to providing collected evidence and logistic support. They – rightly so – saw the perpetrators long gone from their country.
2. Foreign investors put some of their tourist development projects on hold, particularly in Asia, but also in tourist centers of the Pacific or the Caribbean. They wanted to see whether the Patong Fire turned out to be nothing but a one-time event, or a spark for a wider movement seriously threatening their business operations.
3. Third World governments, particularly those of Asian countries with a big interest in the tourist industry, promised to step up security for tourist facilities and to implement special laws guaranteeing harsh sentences for potential “anti-tourist terrorists”.
Among the foreigners leaving Thailand shortly after the fire at Patong was a group of five young Europeans carrying backpacks, who crossed the border on Thursday evening at Padong Besar, supposedly heading for Kuala Lumpur:
Nir Tobin, 25, Israeli with American passport, and long-time traveler.
Stephan Wisniewski, 25, from Germany, anthropology student on regular field trips to Africa and Asia.
Caroline Sagnier, 24, French, who had just finished a year as a volunteer with an environmental organization in Cambodia.
Piedro Lorca, 24, from Spain, traveling since he was seventeen.
Ronnie de Beer, 24, Dutch, who had come to Thailand from Nepal where he had stayed with Maoist rebels.
Fourteen hours earlier, the five had entered the construction site of the new Sunshine Vacation Home bungalow village at Patong from the unlit ocean side with ten canisters of gasoline. They had made sure that the guards were over at the tool shed, and that no one else was on the property. Then each of them started a fire in a strategically chosen location. The rapidness with which the fires spread surprised them, as they ran back towards the ocean. They watched the flames and the arrival of the fire-fighters for a couple of minutes, then made off to the respective guesthouses they were staying at.
They met the next morning at nine to join a number of tourists heading south towards the Malayan border after the news about the fire had reached them.
The five had no problem crossing the border, with Thai immigration officers expressing their regret that they were leaving, assuring them that those responsible would be caught and that all foreigners would soon feel safe again when visiting Thailand. The five smiled. Then they got on a minibus to Penang, where they split up. Only Sagnier and Wisniewski checked into a hotel together, the others went to stay in different guesthouses. They all left Malaysia within two weeks.
Nir Tobin was born in Tel Aviv in 1977 to a couple that had just recently migrated to Israel from Chicago. Over the next eighteen years the family would constantly move back and forth. Nir and his two younger sisters grew up with two passports, two languages, two national and cultural identities. They always went to American schools, though. Even in Israel. It would keep their educational options wider, their parents thought. However, when Tobin turned eighteen and had to decide whether to go to a US college or join the Israeli army, he chose the Israeli army. Supposedly, because he thought it was his duty, as an Israeli, to serve in Israel’s defense force; but, truly, because his parents – who had moved their US home to Florida by now – wanted him to do otherwise. After his army service, Tobin, like so many of his Israeli compatriots, went traveling. He liked the traveling life, and instead of following the routine of returning to Israel after a year to go to school, or start working, he continued to move around. From South America, where he had started, he went to New Zealand and Australia, then to Asia. He soon understood himself to be a “true traveler”, strongly distinguished from ordinary tourists, who he became to loathe.
Stephan Wisniewski was born in 1977 in Hamburg to German middle-class parents. His father was an accountant, his mother a schoolteacher. He had one younger sister. An early fascination with foreign cultures led him to pursue anthropology studies at the University of Bremen after his high school diploma. He got increasingly concerned about what he saw as the negative impact of globalization and the expansion of both Western goods and ideologies, joined Survival!, and co-founded a student group for the support of indigenous people and cultures. He had been on research trips to South Africa, Madagascar, Burma, Indonesia, and, recently, Cambodia.
Caroline Sagnier was born in 1978 in St. Malo, France. Her parents took pride in their Breton heritage, and Caroline and her two older brothers were raised accordingly. They learned Celtic dance and music, wore the traditional dresses on occasion, and even learned to speak Breton. Although Caroline would grow embarrassed of the folklorist aspects, she would never lose her attachment to Brittany. A small Gwenn ha Du was always pinned to her backpack. When she was eighteen, she moved to Paris for a year and got involved with environmental politics. She worked with Greenpeace for two years, before she got a job at an ecology center in Tours, and got engaged in more radical activism. In 2000, she went to French Polynesia as part of a nuclear waste observation team for ten months, and in January 2001, her application to work for a year at the new, French financed, Environmental Center in Phnom Penh was accepted.
Piedro Lorca was born on the Catalan coast near Barcelona in 1978 to an Italian sailor and his Catalan wife. The marriage lasted only two years, and Piedro never saw his father again. His mother struggled to make ends meet, got married to an abusive Catalan sailor, and divorced again. Piedro spent a lot of time growing up in his grandmother’s house on the coast, and at his aunt’s apartment in Barcelona. The first time he lived on the street for a few months was when he was fifteen. His mother tried, though, and they always kept an affectionate, if complicated, relationship. Having dropped out of school early, Piedro managed to get by on low-paid jobs, panhandling, and petty crime for which he never got caught. When he was seventeen, he left Spain for the first time to go to France, and then started to wander around Europe, mainly living in squats from Marseille to Berlin. When he was twenty, he made his first trip to Northern Africa and spent time in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Piedro was street-wise and quickly figured out how to play the game of a traveler with little, or no, means. He knew how to cross borders that were closed, how to enter countries without a passport, and how to get around visa requirements. He had gotten himself into trouble a few times, but always managed to get himself out again. He enjoyed the challenge. On his second trip to North Africa in 2000, he made his way through Libya to Egypt, and then decided to head for Thailand overland. He made it there by the end of 2001 and ended up living a life in Bangkok akin to his exploits as a street-kid in Europe.
Ronnie de Beer was born in 1977 and raised in Rotterdam, before his parents retired to Groningen. His father had been a factory worker, and Ronnie grew up in a socialist household with an older brother and a younger sister. He finished school and did an apprenticeship as a mechanic. He joined a syndicalist organization when he was sixteen, and, by the end of his apprenticeship, moved to Amsterdam as a political activist. He moved around in radical socialist circles, attended many rallies from supporting free health care to protesting the visit of the US president, got particularly active in anti-imperialist groups, went to live in London for a year, and came back to Holland to work in an autonomous youth center. Interested in the Maoist uprising in Nepal, he went there in August 2002 to learn about the situation first-hand. After three exciting, but demanding months of living with Maoist rebel units in the Nepali mountains, he decided to go to Thailand for a four-week holiday before returning to the Netherlands.
While going through the routine of checking Thailand’s immigration records of the days around the Patong Fire, an Interpol agent noticed a group of five young Europeans leaving the country at Padang Besar just a day after the arson. Even though there had been almost 10.000 foreigners on visitor permits or visas leaving Thailand within 72 hours after the fire (a number only slightly higher than the country’s usual tourist turnover), the five fit the profile the agents were looking for (European, young, independently traveling), and Interpol asked the respective national police units to run checks on them. One of them came back positive. Ronnie de Beer had been arrested twice in the Netherlands at militant political rallies. One time for assault on a police officer during anti-government protests in The Hague.
On December 2nd, 2002, de Beer was arrested at his parents’ home in Groningen, Netherlands, in connection with the Patong Fire. He had returned to the Netherlands three weeks earlier by plane from Singapore. De Beer was held and questioned for 48 hours, then released, due to lack of sufficient evidence for a court hearing. When Interpol’s investigation in the case didn’t lead anywhere, de Beer was interrogated one more time. His refusal to cooperate with the authorities, and his denial to proclaim neither guilt nor innocence, had turned him into a prime suspect. Yet, once again, despite of de Beer’s confirmed presence in Phuket on the day of the fire, he could not be linked to the incidence in a way justifying an arrest warrant.
With de Beer, the four people he had crossed the border with had become suspects, too. Tobin was questioned by police in Israel upon arrival at Tel Aviv Airport from Athens on December 17th. Sagnier and Wisniewski got interrogated by Turkish border police after entering the country from Iran near Dŏgubayarzit. All three claimed they didn’t know de Beer and that he had just happened to be in the same minibus from Hat Yai to the Malayan border.
The search for Lorca remained without results, until on May 4th, 2003, Interpol declared its search for the arsonists of Patong incomplete, and reduced its personnel working on the case drastically. The two agents who remained assigned to the case part-time were more or less an alibi. In six months there had been no successive attacks, and the Min Yuen Brigade was considered a one-time fluke. Catching the suspects wasn’t a priority anymore.
The formation of the Min Yuen Brigade had been rather arbitrary. The only real bond uniting the five individuals involved was a grudge against the tourist industry, especially its role in the so-called “developing countries” (a term deemed patronizing and eurocentric by most members of the group, and hence not used often).
Sagnier and Wisniewski had met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in August 2002. Sagnier was finishing her year as an environmental volunteer. Wisniewski had come to Cambodia to write a paper on the impact of tourist development on the Khmer villages around Angkor Watt. While Sagnier had discovered disturbing links between tourist development and ecological damage, Wisniewski saw the culture of the Khmer people in the vicinity of Angkor Watt brought to the brink of destruction by the tourist economy. The two became a couple and had long talks about what to do against what they saw as a major evil in Cambodia, possibly in all of Southeast Asia, and possibly in all non-Western countries raided by Western notions of tourism. Yet, they didn’t really find a satisfying answer to their question.
In early October, when Sagnier ended her service, the two went to Bangkok to plan a trip of three months in order to see more of the region’s countries before going back to Europe. In a bar on Khao San Road, they met Tobin who had spent a year traveling in Nepal and India, and had just recently come to Southeast Asia. He expressed his disgust at the tourists he had encountered along the way, and was enthusiastic about Sagnier’s and Wisniewski’s criticism of the tourist industry in Cambodia. He confirmed that it was like this everywhere he had gone, and that something had to be done. Sagnier and Wisniewski said that they had been convinced of this for quite a while, but hadn’t really been able to figure out what to do yet. Campaigns to raise awareness seemed too long-lasting – and often futile in the end. Tobin agreed. He said something had to be done right away. Something bigger. Something that would get their message out instantly, and would reach many people at once. Something, like, burning down a hotel.
At first, Sagnier and Wisniewski weren’t sure if Tobin was sincere, but the longer he explained why he believed such an action would be both effective and safe, not only did they believe that he was, they also got intrigued by the idea.
The three met regularly over the next few days around Bangkok. Their plan became increasingly serious and concrete. Finally, they decided that - from what they had heard (none of them had ever been there) – Southern Thailand sounded like a good place for doing damage where it should be done: at the resorts themselves. First of all, Southern Thailand had some of the most popular tourist resorts in Southeast Asia; secondly, they had heard about the history of the anti-Club-Med sentiments in Phuket; and thirdly, and probably most importantly, they figured it’d be easy to get out of the country from there: Malaysia was only a few hours away and could be entered without a visa.
Since Sagnier and Wisniewski still wanted to see a few things on the way to Phuket while Tobin had to stay in Bangkok for at least a few more days (he was waiting for mail), they decided to travel south separately. They would meet up in Phuket two weeks later. The only problem remaining was that they needed more people. Possibly three, at least two. They said they’d try to recruit along the way.
Two weeks later they met in front of the General Post Office in Phuket at 4 pm. With Tobin was a Spanish traveler, Piedro Lorca. Tobin had met him on Khao San Road, too. Lorca had appeared to be a hardcore budget traveler with a healthy distaste for mainstream tourism. When Tobin introduced him to the trio’s idea, Lorca said that it sounded like fun and that he’d be part of it.
The next night in Phuket the four met de Beer whose anti-colonialism, anti-globalization rhetoric seemed to qualify him as a candidate to join the group. When they proposed a direct action to him, he said he’d give it some thought. He confirmed to partake the next day.
The five decided that their team was now big enough. All that was left to be done, was finding an appropriate target, and coming up with a concrete plan for how to do what kind of damage.
The Min Yuen
The min yuen was a people’s movement against colonial rule in the late 1940s in what is today Malaysia. It had strong ties to the communist resistance movement and threatened the colonial British regime. De Beer had suggested to revive the name. He didn’t really know too much about the history of the min yuen (and neither did any of the others), but it was the name of a former anti-colonial people’s movement in the region of their strike against Western colonialism, so it seemed like a good option for giving themselves a name. Besides, everyone agreed that min yuen sounded good. So, the Min Yuen Brigade was formed.
In a sense, the way the group had been put together seemed hazardous. A lot of trust was put into each other by people who hardly knew who they were working with (with the obvious exception of Sagnier and Wisniewski). Yet, maybe by a lucky twist of fate, it had worked out well. Not a word had been said to anyone outside the circle about their idea, and it would remain that way. Maybe because of the intuitive trust each one had to put into the others, the sense of one’s individual responsibility was very high. In any case, once preparations got under way, the five acted as if they had trained for this for months. Soon, the set of bungalows constructed at the Sunshine Vacation Home seemed like an ideal target. Doing a maximum of property damage while not in the least endangering the life of anyone had been a priority in all their discussions, and targeting a construction site of almost fully finished tourist bungalows sounded like a great choice in that respect. Besides, their research had revealed that the Sunshine was owned by Charles Lloyd, one of the biggest players in Southeast Asia’s tourist industry.
The site also seemed ideal for sticking to their original idea of arson. Practicalities were easily figured out: approaching the site under the cover of darkness, spilling gasoline all over, starting five fires at different points, getting the fuck out. Deciding on Thursday, the 7th of November, as the day of the attack was rather arbitrary again. They wanted to avoid the weekend, with slightly less transport out of the country, yet wanted to wait towards the end of the week to have enough time for the last preparations: observe the routine of the guards on site at night, decide on which bungalows to ignite the fire at, organize gasoline, decide on where to get rid of the canisters, which guesthouses to stay in, etc.
By Tuesday, they had it all figured out. They had all they needed to light the fire, had an approach- and retreat-path along the beach, had located a garbage dump close by to get rid off the canisters (there were already hundreds there), and had checked into different guesthouses with at night well hidden paths to get back to and where no one had asked for ID’s when checking in. They decided on leaving together the next day for Malaysia. This decision had taken a while. They were well aware of possibly raising suspicion (at least once the communiqué would be out and immigration records would be checked, which they expected, de Beer nonetheless not thinking of his former arrests in Holland as a possible problem), but at the same time they wanted to make sure that they all got out of Thailand alright, and that no one would be left behind. Besides, they could always (as they did later) stick to the story that they randomly met as minibus passengers. They also decided to only write and release the communiqué once in Malaysia, and then leave it up to the individuals to leave the region by air before the communiqué’s release, or, if they considered it safe enough, to stay.
Eventually, almost all of them did fly out. De Beer had planned on going back to Holland around that time, anyway. Tobin was almost out of money, and decided to fly to Greece to work on a friend’s boat for a few weeks (somewhat ironically, a charter yacht for tourists). Sagnier and Wisniewski flew to Calcutta to start going back to Europe from there overland. Only Lorca said he’d just stay. In fact, he wanted to go back to Northern Thailand. He said he’d find a way to avoid authorities. The others were a bit skeptical, but, after all, it was his choice, and they had agreed upon leaving these choices up to each of them.
They memorized each other’s email addresses and made sure they had no mention of names or anything similar in their notebooks. The hand-written draft of the communiqué was taken by Tobin, who said he’d put it out once he had received emails from de Beer, Sagnier, and Wisniewski, confirming that they had made it to their destinations okay. The communiqué had been discussed and written together at a café in Penang. It united Sagnier’s environmental concerns, de Beer’s anticolonial perspective, Wisniewski’s cultural protectionism, and Tobin’s general contempt for tourists. (Lorca didn’t really care much about the contents.)
On Wednesday, the 13th of November, at 2.45 pm, Tobin boarded an Olympic Airways flight from Kuala Lumpur to Athens.
On Friday, the 15th of November, at 9.10 am, de Beer got on a Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Frankfurt, where he connected to a flight to Amsterdam.
On Sunday, the 17th of November, at 2.45 pm, Sagnier and Wisniewski were headed for Calcutta from Kuala Lumpur on Air India.
The communiqué was on the net on Wednesday, November 21st.
Both, the fire and the communiqué, made headlines for a few weeks. Experts on international terrorism, as well as academic achievers of the social sciences, discussed the possibilities of a new phenomenon of anti-tourist terrorism in smart columns and editorials. But since any dramatic follow-up to the Patong Fire was missing, the debates died down quickly. By the time Interpol gave up on the case, hardly anyone cared anymore.
There was an ongoing discussion about the attack in the underground media of radical environmentalists, anarchists, and anti-globalization activists, but it remained within these circles, and could hardly be called a public debate.
However, Philip Bender, a British journalist for the Guardian, had taken a particular interest in the case and had followed the international investigation. Now that the case had been pretty much put on ice by the authorities, he got in touch with Ronnie de Beer. Bender had always suspected that de Beer had indeed something to do with the fire. Bender was also known for his sympathetic coverage of left-wing political activism. He traveled to Holland, and after a couple of meetings with de Beer, and a lot of emails, he got all five members of the Min Yuen Brigade to give him “anonymous” interviews over the internet.
Bender’s intention was to get the Guardian to print the interviews in subsequent Saturday editions. But concerns arose both about the authenticity of the interviewees, and about possible legal implications. Bender suggested to introduce each interview with a disclaimer, clarifying that it hadn’t been proven that these people really were the ones responsible for the Patong Fire, but that, based on his research over the last six months, he had very good reason to believe that they were. As far as legal implications went, Bender argued that no one could incriminate him for establishing contact with anonymous individuals in cyberspace. Even though the editors conceded that his arguments were valid, they thought they’d be taking too much of a risk for something of too little public interest, and decided not to go through with the project.
Bender was disappointed, but didn’t want to leave the interviews unread. On August 2nd, 2003, they got distributed on the internet through the Indymedia Network:
by Philip Bender
The following interviews were conducted on five consecutive days, from July 5th to July 9th, with five apparent members of the Min Yuen Brigade who had declared itself responsible for the arson at the Sunshine Vacation Home Hotel at Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand, on November 7th, 2002. The attack is now mainly known as the “Patong Fire”.
Even though I have no means to prove this, I am convinced that these are the authentic voices of members of the Min Yuen Brigade. I do, however, not know how many members the Min Yuen Brigade has in total, and I was not able to identify any members personally. I have no information on race, gender or class background of the individuals interviewed, and, due to the ongoing investigation, these issues could not be addressed in the interviews. For the same reason, we were unable to discuss details of the arson itself. The questions therefore focused on motivations, intentions, and convictions of the interviewed.
The corporate press showed itself unwilling to print these conversations. I am convinced, however, that the public has a right to hear the members of the Min Yuen Brigade declare themselves. This is why I’ve decided to make these interviews accessible on websites supportive of bringing alternative and suppressed news to the people. I hope you will find an interest in reading the following exchanges.
1 - Nir Tobin
How did the Min Yuen Brigade form?
It was almost coincidental. I had wanted to set an example against the ever-increasing tourist industry for a long time and finally ran into some like-minded people. And then, things went from there.
So, would you say that you were the instigator behind the attack?
Well, I don’t know. I brought up the idea first, if that’s what you mean. Yes.
Would it be accurate to describe you as a leader?
No, it wouldn’t. There were no leaders. Maybe I was an inspiration, but that was it.
So, why had you thought about, as you said, “setting an example” against the tourist industry for a long time?
Because as a person who loves traveling and, you can say, dedicates his life to it, I can see the damage tourism does, and it is painful to watch, and it has to stop.
What kind of damage are we talking about here?
Well, mainly the damage in cultural and personal relations. A tourist will never be able to establish a cultural or personal relationship with the people he is visiting. He is paying to live a privileged fantasy life for two weeks completely set apart from local realities.
Some would say it’s the tourists’ right to live in such a fantasy world. That’s what they are working hard for during eleven or eleven-and-a-half months of the year.
Yes, well, I have nothing against trying to live fantasies. But not when other people have to suffer for it. You gotta find ways to live your fantasies without making others suffer. A lot of travelers do, in fact.
But can’t travelers only be travelers because they are privileged, too? The overwhelming majority of people in the so-called developing countries could never afford to be a traveler. Aren’t travelers, in this sense, also living a privileged fantasy life?
Okay, I admit, they do. But like you said, in this sense. Meaning, in the sense that we are privileged as Westerners. But that doesn’t have anything to do with being a traveler or not. Even if we stay in Averagestown, Alabama, all our life, we’ll be privileged with our nice car, big-screen TV, sprinklers on the lawn. I’m not saying being privileged makes you a bad person. You just are, ain’t nothing you can do about that. However, what you can do something about is the way you deal with your privilege. Like, do you think you have a right to it and use it to perpetuate the suffering of others, as tourists do? Or do you acknowledge that it is an injustice, and try to work for a world in which people aren’t privileged or underprivileged anymore, but equal?
And you think travelers do that?
True travelers, I would say so, yes.
How? And what is a “true traveler” in your opinion?
Well, you gotta read our communiqué. It’s all in there. Especially important is that travelers – true travelers, if you will – adapt to their environment. They unite with the people they visit. That’s how they learn and share. That’s how they overcome borders. And that’s how they work towards a world of equality. They don’t have much money to spend, but that doesn’t matter. They give in other ways. In any case, they are not just a source of money.
But won’t you always be different from people you visit in economically poor countries, simply by being a privileged Westerner?
You are always different from everyone else in one way or another. I’m talking about adapting to the common man’s way of life: what to eat and how to eat it, where to sleep, where to wash, what to wear, etc. That’s how you gain respect as a person. That’s how you overcome differences. Privilege doesn’t really matter anymore at a certain point. At least, not really. But it’s complicated. I admit.
And tourism is an obstacle to these, let’s say, genuine intercultural and interpersonal relations?
Absolutely. It makes the tourists think they can buy respect with money, and it makes the locals think that money is more important than respect.
Well, maybe to some of them it is?
Fair enough. But in the long run, that’s not how we’ll live together in peace and happiness.
Because we don’t learn how to relate to each other genuinely?
Precisely. That’s maybe the biggest danger of the tourist industry. It destroys our ability to grow as human beings. A tourist doesn’t have to have any personal skills. He doesn’t have to make local friends, find his way around, find affordable food and accommodation, learn how to survive on a daily basis. If you will, a tourist needs no personality. All he needs is money. But money won’t make us live together in peace and happiness. Personality, however, might.
What about the concept of ecotourism, or sustainable tourism, homestays, village tours, that sort of thing. Would you see that as a viable alternative to, let’s say, a holiday in a Club Med?
No, not at all. These people are still paying big money for their trips, they are visiting the local people as requisites in their tourist Disney worlds, there to be photographed and stared at, just good enough to tell exciting stories about back home. It doesn’t matter how “green” the tourist industry paints its facade. The tourist experience always remains a commercial affair, and commercial affairs keep people personally apart.
Your communiqué also contains strong ecological and anti-colonial rhetoric. How does this fit in with what you’ve said so far about tourism hindering personal development and personal relationships?
I think these are all related factors. But, honestly speaking, there are others in the group who’ll be able to say more about that. They concern themselves more with these wider political questions. Me, I’m mainly trying to defend the traveler lifestyle against a commercial industry.
Why did you name yourselves after the min yuen?
Because it was a Southeast Asian anti-colonial people’s movement. That seemed appropriate. And it was a way to show our respect for what these people did.
What does the future of the Min Yuen Brigade look like?
Oh, man, I really don’t know. Besides, even if I did, I probably shouldn’t be talking about it.
Any more attacks?
Well, like I said, I don’t know at this point. To tell you the truth, I personally would just love to see us having started something. Like a widespread militant traveler’s movement. A crossover of the F.T.R.A. and the E.L.F. or something. That’d be fantastic. And maybe the Min Yuen Brigade would remain an element of such a movement, and maybe not. We will have to see. But that wouldn’t be very important. The movement is important. The Min Yuen Brigade itself is not really.
2 - Stephan Wisniewski
How would you define the main purpose of the Min Yuen Brigade and the Patong Fire?
The main purpose of the brigade and the fire was to raise awareness, I suppose. To bring attention to a global problem, and to make people think about it.
And you think you’ve achieved that?
To a certain degree, yes.
And what exactly is it that you want people to think about?
The effects of mass tourism, particularly in the so-called Third World.
And the effects, I must assume, are mainly negative to you?
Oh, yes. Without a doubt. I mean, me, personally, I’m mainly concerned about the destruction of indigenous peoples’ ways of life, of their traditions, their languages, their cultures.
How does mass tourism contribute to that?
In various ways. The most obvious being that it takes away people’s land and their resources, and thereby their livelihoods. Resorts have to be build somewhere, airports have, roads have, jungle paths have. And mostly that’s on the land of indigenous people. And then tourist resorts need labor, food and water supplies, as well as garbage dumps. And that’s how the people’s natural resources get either stolen or poisoned. In this way, indigenous people are robbed of the very basis of their traditional forms of life. They end up as dislocated people, on land they don’t know, sometimes in urban slums. The only other choice they have is to become shamefully exploited workers at the resorts themselves.
Some would argue that this improves their living standards.
Yes, some would argue that, but I think it’s ridiculous. First of all, when people talk of living standards, it is something they measure in terms of the materialistic values of Western society. The more goods you can afford to buy, and the more you are able to reap the supposed benefits of technological progress - the better your life. But such a standard of living has, in fact, nothing to do with real quality of life. Quality of life doesn’t depend on a few dollars more or less, not even on having a generator or not, it depends on having peace, dignity, joy, and love in your life. And I see that when the Akha get together in their traditional houses in the villages, but not when people sit around a TV in a shack made of corrugated iron to watch “Commando”.
Would you say that, ideally, indigenous people should just be left alone?
Yes, pretty much. I mean, I’m not against visits to indigenous communities under any circumstances. But the visitors have to come as invited guests, in small numbers, and, most importantly, with the appropriate respect.
And they can’t come as tourists, not even as respectful ones?
No, not as tourists. Which allows me to point out another major negative effect of the tourist industry: the commodification of culture. Tourists don’t visit indigenous people with a genuine interest in them as people. They visit them to shoot a cultural trophy, so to speak. Like those people who pay thousands of dollars to have a lion basically delivered in front of their rifle so they can later claim they’ve shot one. Cultural traditions are complex and alive, they can’t be reduced to dead stereotypes. But that’s what the tourist mentality does with all the slide-shows, the photo-books, the museums. That’s why those ecotourist programs you asked about in the first interview I just read, might even be worse than the Clubs. At least in the Clubs the tourists stay in their secluded tourist area. The “cultural tourists”, on the other hand, try to make the whole planet theirs.
So, the “cultural tourists” contribute to what’s often referred to as “cultural exploitation”?
Yes, very much so.
But – at least so the argument goes – tourism brings money to communities that need it.
Well, that’s both wrong and stupid. It’s wrong, because the vast majority of businesses involved in Third World tourism are owned by Westerners. Only very little money stays in the countries themselves, and compensation for taking the land and resources away, as well as salaries for local workers, are ridiculously low. But, what’s more important – and what goes back to what was said before – is that money is no source of happiness for indigenous people. If anything, it corrupts them. Here we have the next major negative consequence of global tourism: introducing Western materialism into the hearts and minds of indigenous people and making them dependent on it.
But couldn’t one accuse you of romanticizing indigenous cultures in your apparent radical critique of Western notions of technological progress?
Sure, one could. But I don’t care. This life of greed, competition, exploitation, and destruction sure doesn’t bring happiness. A simple life in harmony with your social and natural surroundings might. We should at least leave such a life to the people who are still in touch with it.
3 - Caroline Sagnier
You have just read the first two interviews. Is there anything you’d spontaneously like to add?
In general, I agree with what’s been said so far. Yet, I personally have a bit of a different focus maybe.
Which is …?
The environmental aspect. Basically, our society, or the global community, if I can say so, can’t continue to grow as it has over the last, I don’t know, one hundred years. This seems obvious to everyone, yet nothing is done about it.
What do you mean when you talk about “growing”?
Oh, growing technologically, mainly. And, which is related, growing demographically. It’s not even so much a question of overpopulation. I think that issue is highly overrated and very often has racist and misanthropist implications. The planet can support a lot of people. It’s just a question of appropriate means of food production and distribution, appropriate means of housing and settlement, and appropriate means of producing sustainable energy and maintaining according systems of transportation. This is all possible. And then the world population will find its natural limits, if I can say so. Not because of war and famine and other appalling scenarios, but because of slowly finding a new biological balance between the human species and other species and ecosystems.
So, it is not overpopulation you are talking about when you say that the global community can’t continue to grow the way it did for the last one hundred years?
No, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is the space, if I can say so, that the human species, or at least the rich and privileged nations, need and occupy. That’s what makes the world seem too small. Not the people. But the cities. The freeways. The mines. The factories. The clear-cuts. The waste of water resources, energy resources, food resources. And that’s what will ruin us. The idea of progress as growth: bigger, bigger, and bigger. No matter what gets lost in the way. Even if, in the long run, it will be our planet, and hence we ourselves.
So, are you advocating a Schumpeterian notion of “small is beautiful”?
Ah, Schumpeter this or that. That’s not important. It’s not even important whether small is beautiful or not. It’s our only chance for survival.
And, as I understand it, the development of the tourist industry goes against this only chance for survival?
Entirely. It’s growth. It’s an expression of a culture with zero respect for life. It’s part of a destructive death machine.
And you are dedicated to stopping this machine?
Yes. I will do whatever I can, and whatever I can morally justify to do that.
And you can morally justify the Patong Fire?
Of course. No one got hurt. We were very conscious of that and made sure it wouldn’t happen. That’s where my problems would start. Hurting life, regardless of whose it is. But all we did was give the death machine a blow. A few more and it might start to sway. And a few more and it might fall. Who knows?
One could say that people got hurt that night. At least, financially.
Making rich advocates of the death machine a little less rich is not hurting someone. You can only hurt life. Money has nothing to do with life. In fact, if these people would sit back and think for a second about what we did, and why we did it, they would understand that this is what they should do as well, for their salvation. But for most of them it’s too late. Money is their god, and money is the worst god of them all. People sacrifice themselves to it every day. One by one.
All this sounds to me as if you attacked a tourist resort mainly as an expression of modern industrial society as a whole. Your struggle aims more at that society in its entirety than at the tourist industry in particular. Is that correct?
Yes, that is correct. Honestly speaking, as far as I am concerned, we could have blown up a factory or a freeway as well. But a tourist resort was a good start. I can just hope it won’t stop there.
And from what I understand, you don’t see this struggle confined to the non-Western world either. Is that correct, too?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, there are factors of neocolonialism and exploitation that add particular aspects to actions in non-Western countries. But especially when we talk about the ecologically disastrous effects of the tourist industry – or modern society in general - of course this applies to the Western world, too. So, as far as I am concerned, a tourist resort – or a freeway – in Italy, or France, is as good a target as one in Thailand.
4 - Piedro Lorca
So far, we’ve had pretty different perspectives on the main motivations to burn the bungalows at Patong Beach. What would you say was your main motivation?
Hmm, that’s not even that easy to answer. I’m tempted to say that I just thought it’d be a cool thing to do. But that sounds too unreflective. I did think it was a good idea even apart from it being a fun thing to do. And I had my reasons to support the action and be part of it. But maybe I’m not so, well, passionate about certain things as others who were in the group.
What does that mean?
It just means that I don’t have any particular agenda, if you want. See, I think, saving the planet, and protecting the indigenous people, and fighting exploitation, and so on, are all very honorable things to do, but I don’t necessarily concern myself too much with these questions in my daily life, I have to admit.
So, what do you concern yourself with?
My survival, mainly. And I don’t mean that in an egoistic way. I mean, I’m all for sharing and helping each other out and stuff, and, actually, if anything, that’s what I’d really like to work for, a society where people share and help each other out … but, what I mean is that I haven’t had it all that easy growing up, and I was out on the street a lot, and in a society like ours, you are just forced to learn to fend for yourself, I guess.
So, how can we bring this back to your motivation to be part of the Min Yuen Brigade?
Oh, yes, I guess I haven’t answered your question yet. Sorry. Hmm, let’s see: I think why I liked the idea, and why I decided to do my part, was because tourism, at least mass tourism, stands for the things that made it hard for me to find a place in society, having had a rather weak social background. And this forced me to do many things I didn’t really feel good about doing. Anyway, what I mean is that tourism stands for money, privilege, arrogance. For people who expect other people to serve them, to smile at them even when they are treated like shit. I don’t like that. I don’t think you should have to smile at someone who treats you like shit. But in the tourist resorts that’s standard, and it’s expected. And it stinks.
Others have said that they are expecting, or at least hoping for the Patong Fire to start a wider militant movement against the global tourist industry, even against industrial society as a whole. What do you think of that?
Honestly, I haven’t given that much thought. Again, I’m maybe less political than others who were in the group. Or less thoughtful, or less sincere, or I don’t know. I don’t know if this fire will lead to anything. I mean, it’d be great if it did, honestly, but do I really care much about whether it does or not? Admittedly, I don’t think so. I mean, we did our thing, for whatever individual reasons we wanted to do it, and I thought it was good. But what comes now, one has to see, and, once again, I’m definitely not thinking about political activism all the time, or have any big desire to be a Buenaventura Durruti. I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind as well.
Let me ask you this: You’ve talked twice about members of the Min Yuen Brigade as people who “were” in the group. Does this mean the Min Yuen Brigade doesn’t exist anymore?
Ah, that’s not even what I meant, really. Actually, I don’t know if it still exists or not. Time will tell, I guess.
Your apparently more individualistic outlook reminds me a bit of what was said in our first interview. You have read it. Do you agree with that person’s statements on what a traveler is, as opposed to a tourist?
I don’t know, to be honest. I mean, yes, independent traveling on low means needs creativity and certain social skills, I guess, and also at least a certain level of being street-smart. But, the friend who gave the first interview seems to see traveling as something entirely positive, as a choice made by truly independent people with a strong character and great personality, etc. I don’t know. First of all, once again, what’s the big deal, really? If you travel, you travel, and others don’t. What makes you more special than them? It’s not that personality and all that only come from traveling, if you know what I mean. And, secondly, especially if it’s not by free choice but because you have no other option, being a homeless traveling kid is definitely not always just fun. Sometimes, it can really suck. So, do I agree with what’s been said in the first interview? Both, yes and no, I guess.
5 - Ronnie de Beer
This is our final interview. You’ve read the others. What has to be added?
Neocolonialism and the tourist industry?
Yes, neocolonialism and the tourist industry. As far as I am concerned, that’s the way the tourist industry, especially as it operates in the colonized world, has to be analyzed.
So, you think the members of the Brigade so far have missed the point?
No, not at all. They just have a different focus. All I’m saying is that if we want to analyze the role of tourism in the global economy, we need a neocolonial analysis in the context of neoliberalism. If we want a complex picture, anything else would be shortsighted.
You’ve spoken of the “colonized world” before. So, for you colonialism is still a reality?
Oh, of course. Actually, the term “neocolonialism” only acknowledges the fact that after the official political independence of the nations of the colonized world, their economic exploitation had to take on different forms. But there’s never been a break in the colonial continuity.
And the different forms you are talking about are the exploitation of resources and labor by foreign capital?
Yes. I know it’s not very original, but that’s what it is. Unfortunately, with the failure of the attempts of State socialism and the decline in socialist libertarian struggles in the colonized world, a lot of people take this for an outdated and simplified ideological leftist view. People don’t understand that colonial exploitation is still very, very real. And it still causes injustice, poverty, and suffering. And this is nothing to be ridiculed, or taken lightly. So many people I talk to say: “Yes, yes, you are right, but what are we supposed to do?” Well, with such an attitude we won’t get anywhere. I understand that it’s hard. The system seems stronger than ever. But we still have to try. That’s all we’ve got. If we don’t even try, then what’s gonna happen? And then people say: “Look at the historical examples trying to rectify the situation. They’ve all failed!” Well, so what? That’s not the point. The point is trying to make a change, regardless.
A change to … ?
A change to a free socialist society. A society in which workers have control over the means of production. In which farmers’ associations control the agricultural sector. And in which public services, health, education, and so forth, are taken care of by councils democratically appointed by the community.
Is this like a wide social vision of anarcho-syndicalism?
Well, I’d call it anarcho-communism, but I don’t think labels matter all that much. Anarcho-syndicalism is fine, as long as syndicalism is not understood in a reductionist proletarian sense.
This doesn’t sound like a vision that has to go along entirely with the radical anti-technological views we’ve encountered in some of the earlier interviews.
Yes, that’s probably true. I’m definitely not a primitivist. I’m not against development per se. But that’s a complicated debate. One I’d rather have internally.
This might be a delicate question, but since you’ve been stressing the anti-colonial factor so much – is there anything you have in common with Islamic fundamentalists who attack Western institutions in the name of anti-imperialism?
Well, this is a delicate question. Generally speaking, no, of course not. This is both different in means and goals. A lot of people have been killed in alleged Islamic militant attacks. We don’t’ condone that. Also, I don’t think these people are fighting for an anarcho-communist society. Possibly for something very much opposed to it. Then again, a lot of things about this so-called Islamic terrorist threat remain very unclear to me. I mean, who really knows what’s going on here? So, as far as I am concerned, we do what we do, and what we think is right. Whatever other people do, they do, and that’s their business, and I don’t even really wanna comment on that.
Let me ask you about the meaning of the Patong Fire. As for others in the brigade, was the arson at the Sunshine Vacation Home for you mainly an attack against something tourism represents, more so than an attack against tourism itself?
Both. Let me put it this way: It was an attack on one of neocolonialism’s most disturbing aspects. Most disturbing, because, apart from the exploitative economic structure of each tourist business, the tourist industry has a lot of further destructive implications, ecologically, culturally … the comrades have already said a lot of important things on this.
As a business, however, you would say that any tourist resort, agency, etc., follows classic capitalist patterns?
Oh, most definitely so. There is a bourgeois capitalist class of owners and managers who get rich on the poorly paid resources and labor of others. And in tourist businesses in the colonized world these factors are multiplied. That’s why there is so much investment there. I mean, it’s an easy calculation: a chef, a waiter, a cleaner, a security guard, you name it, at a resort in Kenya, the Dominican Republic or Thailand gets paid maybe a tenth of what an employee at a hotel of a similar standard gets paid on the Côte d’Azur or in Florida. Land leases or purchases are a fraction of what they are in the colonizing world, so are construction and maintenance costs, so is the food. Yet, a guest pays almost the same price. Hell, even if he or she paid only half, someone would still be making a killing! And for what? For being rich and having the capital to invest. These are sweatshop principles, only well hidden in an environment of tropical fruit cocktails and swimming pools.
What if the workers managed the resorts themselves?
They wouldn’t. If a social situation arose giving them the capability to take over the resorts, they’d drink the cocktails and use the pools themselves. They wouldn’t clean up after the white man anymore.
- Off the Record -
As explained in his disclaimer, in the official interviews Bender couldn’t ask anything related to the individual identities of those interviewed. Personal questions were discussed, however, once the official interviews were over. Here are a few responses that might be of interest:
Stephan Wisniewski on the question of whether using the name min yuen for the brigade couldn’t be seen as an example of the cultural exploitation he had condemned in his interview: “Well, I agree that it could be seen this way. We even discussed this. But then the intent to honor the men and women of the min yuen and to let people know in which tradition we see our struggle seemed like stronger arguments. Someone even brought up orang asli as a possible name for the brigade. But that did seem too pretentious. I don’t know. Difficult.”
Caroline Sagnier on whether she would have preferred more females in the group, and on why she was the only one: “Of course it would have been nicer to work with more females. It’s always nicer. But it just didn’t happen that way. Why? Well, why are you interviewing us and not a woman? You tell me.”
Ronnie de Beer on the question of whether the Min Yuen Brigade couldn’t be criticized for being patronizing, maybe even perpetuating a colonial attitude, by claiming to act in the interest of the poor in the colonized world: “Good question. I don’t know. It’s hard to answer. I guess once you are convinced – as I am – that you do act in the interest of the colonized poor by attacking the colonial powers, you just see what you do as a necessity for giving the colonized poor a voice. I mean, I really believe that they would do what we do themselves if they had the means and if they didn’t have to fear the massive repercussions they do have to fear. In fact, sometimes the colonized poor do take action, regardless. But often, I’m afraid, they still need someone to help them out. And that’s what we do. And that’s all we do. I mean, we don’t tell the poor what they should do, we just support them in what they wanna do anyway but what they sometimes just can’t do themselves. So, no, I don’t think that we are patronizing or that we perpetuate a colonial attitude. That we are needed to support the colonized poor’s struggle is an unfortunate consequence of colonial history. It’s paradoxical maybe, I agree. But what are we supposed to do? Nothing?”
Washington Post, November 27th, 2003
Washington, DC - The recent global series of attacks against tourist facilities, and the tourist industry in general, does require increased attention within the War Against Terrorism, George Berger, a speaker for the US Defense Ministry, declared at a press conference in Washington yesterday. The press conference was held in the wake of last weekend’s violent protests against the International Tourist Development Summit in Mexico City. A 22-year old German protester was killed by what police officials claim to have been a ricochet bullet, during riots which left 48 policemen and an unknown number of protesters injured, and caused several million dollars of damage in the Mexican capital. A total of 112 arrests were made, including many young Europeans and North Americans.
The Mexico City protests seem to have been in line with the increasing number of attacks on tourist facilities in various countries over the last six months. The attacks included: the simultaneous firebombing of eight Thomas Cook branches in London, Paris, and Rome; continuous tear-gas attacks on Club Meds in Indonesia; a hacker infiltration of the French tourist agency Nouvelles Frontières’ computer system; the sabotage of heavy machinery at the construction site for a planned rainforest lodge in Costa Rica; the sabotage of seven helicopters of heli-skiing company Powder Dreams in British Columbia, Canada; the repeated ambushes on tour groups visiting mountain communities in Bolivia and Peru; an arson at the private residence of Hans-Jürgen Höchst, chief executive of Germany’s leading tour operator Neckermann Reisen; the sabotage of an entire fleet of safari vehicles at Adventure Tours in Nairobi; frequent muggings of hikers in Northern Thailand; arsons in tourist resorts in Tunisia, Brazil, and the Philippines; the bombings of two beach resorts in Senegal; and the erasure of almost all computer files and records by nightly intruders at the Lonely Planet head office in Melbourne, Australia. The damage done by these attacks has long reached a height of billions of dollars. So far, no one has been killed or seriously injured, but, according to Berger, this would only be “a matter of time”.
Tourists have been victims of terrorist attacks for decades. From hijackings of European tourist charter plains and cruise ships in the 1970ies and 80ies, to the kidnappings of trekkers in Kashmir, Kurdistan, or Yemen, to the hostage-taking of vacationers at resorts in the Southern Philippines, to the deathly attacks against sightseers in Egypt, nightclubbers in Bali, or holiday-makers in Kenya, tourists have been the targets of terrorist campaigns. However, tourists so far were mostly targeted as a means to an end: to draw international attention to a certain issue, to instill fear and insecurity in a certain community, to force negotiations with a certain power, or simply to exchange hostages or collect a ransom. In almost all cases, the goals of the offenders usually lay in political or criminal realms beyond tourism.
The recent series of attacks, however, seems to be part of a campaign against the tourist industry itself. The communiqués released after the attacks of the last six months might have been very different in focus, style, and argumentation, but they have a common basis in their rejection of the tourist industry as an alleged instrument of ecological destruction and economic exploitation. The communiqués are usually sent to international press agencies and posted on the internet.
At the Mexico City Summit it was revealed that the recent attacks have already caused million-dollar losses for tour operators, travel agents, resort chains, airlines, even guidebook publishers. Most representatives of the tourist industry spoke of a “serious crisis”. At the Washington press conference yesterday, Berger compared the situation to that after 9/11. He said that the Department of Defense was discussing to lend army personnel to the international joint efforts to go after those responsible. Berger pointed out that such efforts were necessary, since many of the groups behind the attacks are suspected to consist of highly mobile individuals with different national backgrounds. Even though in some cases the involvement of nationals can’t be excluded as a possibility, the general character of the campaign, in particular the communiqués themselves, lead to young European environmentalists and anti-globalization activists as the prime suspects.
The search for members of the “brigades” and “commandos” signing responsible for the attacks, proves difficult. So far, only four suspects are in custody, all awaiting trial. Two French citizens in connection with the firebombing of one of the Thomas Cook branches in Paris, and an Italian and a New Zealand citizen in relation to the helicopter sabotage in British Columbia. “The War on Terrorism is not an easy war to fight,” Berger read from a statement released by the Defense Ministry. “The individuals we are looking for could be anywhere. In the end, however, we will hunt them down, and justice will prevail!”
William Dole, one of the newly appointed ethical advisors to the White House, and honorary president of the right-wing Christian human rights organization Heavenly Justice, declared that the tourist industry in Third World countries was a sign of progress and economic prosperity, and that it would create highly demanded jobs and some of the best professional opportunities for the local population. “A cleaner at a luxury resort in Mexico can make more money for his family than a school teacher, and he can even get more benefits!” Dole claimed in an interview on CNN yesterday. “The justifications for the anti-tourist attacks that are circulating on the internet speak either of youthful confusion, or pure ignorance, or both,” he declared further. “All that these people do, is to deny tourists their right to leisure, businessmen their right to profit, and people in the Third World their right to work, development, and the benefits of progress. Their opposition to tourism is based on dangerous leftist ideologies of the past: Marxism and radical environmentalism.”
Experts on international terrorism see the origins of this new international anti-tourist terrorism in a November 2002 arson attack against a hotel at Patong Beach, on the island of Phuket, in Southern Thailand. The “Min Yuen Brigade”, who claimed responsibility for the act in a communiqué now widely conceived as an unofficial founding paper of the anti-tourist terrorists, is regarded by many as the current movement’s beginning.
No members of the Min Yuen Brigade have ever been identified, and no one has ever been charged in connection with “the Patong Fire”, as the attack became known.