Papua or Pandora?
In the movie, Avatar, director James Cameron takes the viewer to a blue, mythical place where life is enchanting, different, beautiful. However, two foreign groups seek to penetrate this paradise.
One outside group is led by a sociological and environmental team. They infiltrate the area and collect data for science. Another outside group is led by a mining mission. This group sodomizes the land to extract precious resources. The movie’s conflict erupts in war (indigenous people win), includes one transcendental body experience and then concludes in a happily ever after situation. Unfortunately, for West Papuans, the plot is real and there is little chance of a Hollywood ending.
The indigenous tribes of West Papua have been fighting for survival. Outside groups have entered their enchanted homeland. These outside groups are destroying Papuans, their land and their culture. One group is global mining heavyweight Freeport-McMoran and the other is the Indonesian government. Together, they have eviscerated mountains, wreaked havoc on local ecosystems, and forced the indigenous population to live in fear, poverty and desperation.
The Back Room Back Story
Though Indonesia had gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949 the Dutch retained control over West New Guinea through 1961.
President Sukarno of Indonesia organized military incursions into the area and threatened a full invasion if it was not annexed to Indonesia.
In 1962 the U.S. Kennedy administration led talks that resulted in the “New York Agreement.” This agreement formalized West New Guinea to become part of Indonesia; but, included a clause that obligated Jakarta to hold a U.N. monitored election for self-determination for the people of West New Guinea no later than 1969.
However, in 1966, after approximately 500,000 alleged communists had been slain, General Suharto assumed power of Indonesia. By 1967 Suharto had liberalized Indonesia’s trading laws and the first foreign company to do business with Suharto’s regime was the American mining company, Freeport Sulphur Company.
In 1957 the US government announced a contract to buy Freeport production of nickel and cobaltfrom Cuba until June 30, 1965. In 1967, Freeport founded Freeport Indonesia, Inc. and negotiated a contract with the Indonesian government to develop the Ertsberg deposit. In 1971 the company changed it’s name to Freeport Minerals Company (FMC).
When Freeport miners entered W. Papua, the local tribesmen met them with standard tribal attire, armed with bows and arrows. This was the first time any of the tribes people had ever met anyone from the outside world.
Freeport, together with San Francisco, CA based Bechtel, built an infrastructure to support a wide scale mining facility. However, none of this would have been possible without endorsement from the Indonesian government. At that time President Suharto (dictator) ruled over Freeport’s mining area in West Papua.
Meanwhile, in 1967 in America, a business tycoon was building an empire. James R. Moffet formed an oil/gas company with two other people; it was called McMoRan Oil and Gas.
In 1981 Moffett led the merger with Freeport; henceforth, the combined company was named: Freeport-McMoRan Inc. After some internal re-organization, in 1991, Freeport-McMoRan Inc. became the holding company for Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold (FMCG) and Freeport-McMoRan Resource Partners (sulphur and fertilizer). A few years later, in 1994, FMCG became an independent company and its business was mining the gold ore from the tribal village of Grasberg and other Indonesian centered capital ventures.
After a bloody anti-communist slaughter that left President Sukarno politically and militarily isolated, he transferred power to Suharto who distinguished his military career during the massive anti-communist war that killed upwards of 500,000 people.
By 1967 President Suharto had full government power of Indonesia. It was that same year Freeport Indonesia, Inc. entered into negotiations with the government to exploit Papua and Moffett opened his oil company.
In his paper, “The Betrayal of West Papua and the Ongoing Cultural Genocide,” Ben King details the controversial vote that made W. Papua part of Indonesia. He quotes:
The Act of Free Choice took place in Papua in 1969. A group of 1,000 Papuan representatives, who were given the responsibility to make the choice on behalf of the Papuan people, voted to remain part of Indonesia. The British Government of the day supported the Act of Free Choice, as did the United Nations and almost all members of the international community.
Thus, it would seem the fate of W. Papuans was sealed with a vote that was made in the bowels of corruption.
In his article, “Corruption Inc.,” Ari Kuncoro writes about Suharto’s corrupt government practices:
Corruption was controlled by the first family and the top military leadership, in partnership with ethnic Chinese conglomerates. Although business complained about it, investors could accurately predict the costs associated with corruption and bureaucratic red tape and factor it into the cost of doing business.
Additionally, Suharto’s failed attempt to take over E. Timor (invading forces withdrew in 1999) didn’t seem to hamper the widespread economic development bought by Freeport’s mining business. However, as economic expansion for the Indonesian government and non-indigenous persons increased, the people who were not represented in the 1969 vote were economically and culturally neglected. The citizens of the province where Freeport is stationed prefer independence and to be internationally recognized as West Papua or “West Melanesia; distinctly separate from the Indonesian government.”
GlobalSecurity.org writes about the origins of a group who, in today’s post-Patriot Act country, would be labelled as “terrorists:”
Since the 1960s the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka or OPM), which has its own flag, has waged a low-level but diehard guerilla separatist campaign. The campaign peaked in the late 1970s with attacks on government outposts. Although the OPM became a marginal domestic actor, more visible as an international symbol, the fact of its existence justified an intimidating Indonesian military presence in the province, where suspicions about Irianese loyalties led to abuses in the civil-military relationship.
Those suspicions were raised as the conflict between Indonesia’s military, indigenous island population and Freeport’s mining facilities developed. Allegations that Freeport was using the Indonesian military as its own privately funded security force against the indigenous population were made.
The OPM was not well funded or equipped; however, they continued to make their presence known for many years. The military side of the government opposition OPM group is the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN). In 2006 they agreed to a unilateral cease fire; they chose to instead employ non-violent means to achieve their independence. However, since then, a number of dubious incidents have occurred that have led to cross-pollinated accusations of violent incitement between Freeport mining, the Indonesian government/military, and the indigenous (yearning for freedom and independence) people of West Papua. Most notably, the blatant racism and torture exhibited by the government toward West Papuans.
The people who are living in desperate fear amongst the barren, desecrated rainforest and mountains of the Freeport mining facility, are struggling to retain their human identity in our modern, global culture that trades human values for profit on the stock exchange ticker symbol: FCX.
Robert Lenzner notes in his Forbes article that Goldman Sachs is predicting gold to reach $1,690/oz within a year. FCX closed Friday, March 25, 2011 at $54.55. AKR states:
Indonesia is a G-20 nation and the fourth most populous nation in the world at 230 million people. It is comprised of over 17,000 islands, many of which are seeking independence.
The high price of gold may give some investors a Hollywood style happily-ever-after ending to their financial portfolios. However, for West Papuans, the quest for self-determination in the modern world has just started a new chapter.