West Papua demands independence / FRFI 216 Aug/Sep 2010

FRFI 216 August/September 2010

West Papua demands independence

On 22 June 2010 the government of Vanuatu announced that it will officially sponsor West Papua’s case against its 1969 annexation by Indonesia at the International Court of Justice. It will also seek an investigation into the legality of the mining contract awarded by General Suharto to the US company Freeport McMoran in 1967, and request that West Papua be relisted with the UN Decolonisation Committee.

This could be the start of a nightmare for the Indonesian government in Jakarta and the multinational companies it protects. For 48 years they have collaborated to pillage Papuan land and eliminate Papuan identity. The Papuan dream is a referendum on independence.

Papua was first occupied by imperialist forces during European colonial times when the British, Germans and Dutch drew straight lines on the map and divided it up neatly between themselves. That line through Papua still exists today as the boundary between independent Papua New Guinea and Indonesian occupied West Papua. The western half was part of the Dutch East Indies as it was known at the time. During decolonisation most of the DEI was lumped together as Indonesia. West Papua was to be given independence but the Indonesian president at the time, Sukarno, wanted to hold on to it. There were other interested parties – huge reserves of copper had been found; there was gold in the rivers on the south coast; there was oil to be had and who knows what other resources were there to be exploited? US businessmen in the know were very interested. Dutch businessmen wanted the Dutch to remain the dominant influence. Everyone knew what the spoils could be.

So although the Dutch granted West Papua independence in 1961 and the bintang kejora (‘morning star’) national flag of West Papua was raised in the capital Jayapura, in 1963 the Indonesian military, led by General Suharto, invaded. The ‘morning star’ was torn down and the Indonesian flag raised.

The previous year, a remarkable meeting had been held in a New York hotel between some of the biggest businessmen in the world along with US President JF Kennedy, Prince Bernard of the Netherlands and the Indonesian military which essentially ceded control of West Papua to Indonesia.

The illegality of this transfer from one colonial master to another was masked by a referendum, stage-managed by the Indonesian military in 1969 – the ‘Act of No Choice’, as Papuans call it.

It is this illegal referendum that Vanuatu wants the International Court of Justice to investigate. In any free and fair referendum, an overwhelming majority of West Papuans would vote for independence, as in East Timor. Of course Jakarta will do everything within its power to stop it. The gigantic Grassberg-Freeport mine (the biggest copper and gold mine in the world) alone nets Jakarta a reported $1.5bn a year in direct taxes, royalties and dividends. Indonesia bans journalists and NGOs from visiting Papua and does all it can to silence the Papuan people. The Indonesian government recently tried to stop Al Jazeera airing the internationally acclaimed documentary Pride of Warriors.

The OPM, the armed wing of the Papuan resistance, was founded in 1965 and continues to raise the morning star flag every day in its mountain strongholds

In 2001, to try to deflect calls for a referendum, Jakarta imposed special autonomy status on West Papua. Small concessions were given, including a Papuan assembly confined to those parties legally allowed in Indonesia and based in Jakarta; Papuan political parties remained illegal. Under this special autonomy status, some of the vast revenues gained from West Papua by Indonesia were meant to be invested back into the region but many Papuans claim that where the money actually went is unknown. Promises were made about improving health and education but never materialised. Instead, an ever-larger area of Papuan rainforest (home to many Papuan tribes) was handed over to international logging companies. The transmigration programme, resettling people from heavily-populated parts of Java and Sulawesi to Papua, also intensified. Incentives for settlers include free land. No compensation is paid to tribes whose land is given away. Around 4,000 settlers arrive in Papua every month, the biggest organised settlement programme on earth.

On 10 June this year the Papuan people’s assembly unanimously declared that special autonomy had failed and demanded a referendum on independence. On 18 June 15,000 people marched to the Indonesian government building in Jayapura and gave them back their special autonomy document. 8 July brought 20,000 Papuans on the streets of Jayapura, with demonstrations all over West Papua.

The occupation of West Papua has been a dark secret for a long time, with the compliance of world governments and international institutions. For the Papuan people, as the world begins to take notice, they can start to see a glimmer of the light of freedom.

Andy Grey

Superprofits from Bangladeshi workers / FRFI 216 Aug/Sep 2010

FRFI 216 August/September 2010

At least 800,000 people work at more than 1,000 factories in Ashulia, 20 miles north of Dhaka. Factories there turned out £8 billion worth of clothes last year – nearly 80% of the country's total exports. Much of their output ends up in UK stores. Marks & Spencer sources from three factories in the area where the protests took place. Bangladesh has been one of the fastest growing zones of production over the past two years, as other Asian countries, particularly southern China, became too expensive for western retailers after wages rose 30% this year.

Up to 50,000 workers protested in the industrial zone outside Dhaka and 1,000 riot police retaliated with live ammunition, rubber bullets, teargas and water cannon. One worker died after being shot in the back by police, who also injured at least 100 people.

The workers, mostly women, are demanding wages of at least 5,000 taka (£48) a month. The current minimum wage, set in 2006, is £16. For many, the situation is even more desperate. Not only have workers had to face rising inflation over the past four years, but factories have cut wages by 20-30% in a bid to compete for orders with other Asian countries such as Vietnam, China and India. Unskilled workers in the garment sector receive just 800 taka (£7.63) a month and are often forced to work 14-16 hours a day.

European retailers, like Marks & Spencer (which made over £800m profit in 2009), Tesco and H&M are lobbying the Bangladeshi government over ‘ethical sourcing’. This may make for good PR in the west, but as long as these companies are not prepared to pay higher wages to the workers in Bangladesh, it is mere window-dressing.

When the government last raised the minimum wage in 2006, workers took to the streets to protest saying it was still not sufficient to meet their families’ needs. The situation for low- paid workers in Bangladesh is dire, with many families unable to feed themselves or afford adequate housing and factory conditions remaining poor. In March this year 21 workers died and 50 were injured in a fire at an H&M factory 50km north of Dhaka.

In Britain, with the recently announced rise in VAT, we know that corporations like M&S will push down harder on their most oppressed workers – those who make their products in Asia – rather than lowering the pay of their top earners, such as new boss Marc Bolland, who will take home £14.8m this financial year, including a yearly salary of £975,000.

Anthony Rupert

Southeast Asian crisis: gnawing away at the foundations / FRFI 141 Feb / Mar 1998

First published in FRFI 141, February / March 1998

EDITORIAL - Southeast Asian crisis: gnawing away at the foundations

The smugness of international bankers and US government officials that they have contained the southeast Asian economic crisis should deceive no one. While the world's major stockmarkets may, for the time being, have recovered from the dramatic falls of last autumn, the southeast Asian crisis is gnawing away at the foundations of the international capitalist system.

The massive $100bn IMF-led rescue operation has prevented an immediate collapse of the major southeast Asian economies and delayed the impact of the crisis on the dominant imperialist nations. In the third week of January, IMF managing director Michel Camdessus felt able to reject fears that the Asian crisis would unleash a deflationary wave throughout the world economy. The US economy, he said, was well able to absorb the shocks, the impact on the European Union would be marginal, and the threat to the emerging markets in Latin America and eastern Europe was limited. Confidence is everything when the foundations are rotten and it was, after all, what investors on the stockmarkets needed to hear.

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Tamils held in camps / FRFI 210 Aug / Sep 2009

FRFI 210 August / September 2009

Tamils held in camps

Since 18 May, when the Sri Lankan government claimed a total defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), 300,000 Tamil refugees have been held in camps throughout Sri Lanka. President Rajapakse’s government banned the media from reporting on the conditions in these camps. However, on 10 July senior international aid workers reported an average of 1,400 people dying every week in the giant Manik Farm camp alone.

In FRFI 209 we reported the barbaric assault on the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. This came after unprecedented global demonstrations that MPs and politicians worldwide paid lip service to, then ignored as thousands were slaughtered. David Miliband, the Labour government’s Foreign Secretary said he was ‘gravely concerned’ by the conflict. However, Britain continues to license sales of arms and military equipment to the Sri Lankan state and the UN Security Council agreed to a $1.9 billion loan which will aid the genocide further.

The 300,000 Tamil refugees are held in 42 concentration camps surrounded by barbed and razor wire. While Rajapakse terms these ‘welfare villages’, the high death toll is the result of water-borne diseases, starvation and inadequate water supplies. Around 30,000-35,000 children are held in Manik Farm alone, 15-20% of them are suffering from acute malnutrition according to non-governmental organisation reports. Poor sanitation and drainage are spreading dysentery and diarrhoea with an average of 70 people sharing one toilet, a problem that approaching monsoon rains will exacerbate. Rajapakse’s government has also demanded that the Red Cross scale down its operations in Sri Lanka and has recently prevented them from gaining access to the Manik Farm camp.

On 8 July the Sri Lanka government produced five doctors it had detained in the area where the LTTE leadership had retreated. The doctors had given eyewitness accounts of the slaughter and targeting of hospitals and clinics. Since May they had been held incommunicado but, presented to a select media, they retracted their previous statements and claimed that they had been coerced by the LTTE into giving false reports. However, they remain in detention and the state rejects all calls from the United Nations and other international bodies for their release. 

Sri Lanka has not escaped the global economic crisis and, in the first quarter of 2009, 190,000 industrial, apparel and construction workers were made redundant, with others suffering harsh cuts in pay. Over 200 factories have shut down over the past year and the military victory over the LTTE has encouraged ruthless attacks on jobs and working conditions of the Sinhalese working class. Many of these workers toil in Export Processing Zones surrounded by barbed wire fences patrolled by security guards with little press access. It is clear that after crushing Tamil resistance, the Sri Lankan state will not tolerate any dissent from the poorest sections of the Sinhalese as it pushes the burden of the economic crisis onto the working class.

Socialists in Britain must stand in solidarity with the Tamils and their struggle for self-determination and demand an end to British arms sales to Sri Lanka. We must support the call for a boycott of Sri Lanka until all prisoners in the camps are freed. Self-determination for Tamils!
Sam McGill

North Korea’s second nuclear test / FRFI 209 Jun / Jul 2009

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

North Korea’s second nuclear test 

On 25 May the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) conducted a nuclear weapons test, followed by three short range missile tests later the same day.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared the tests ‘erroneous, misguided and a danger to the world’. President Obama said the tests ‘pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world’. Who is a threat to the security of the world? The US has 10,000 nuclear weapons and Britain has 200. The US has 737 overseas military bases. Britain has conducted 129 separate military interventions abroad since the end of the Second World War. Who threatened the peace and security of Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Serbia, where hundreds of thousands of people have been blown to smithereens by imperialism? Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu returned from visiting Obama in May to declare Israel’s responsibility to ‘eliminate’ the ‘nuclear threat’ from Iran. Which other countries has Iran bombed? None! Who has North Korea bombed? Nobody! Nobody asks how many nuclear bombs Israel has. The real threat to the peace and security of the world resides in Washington, London and Tel Aviv. These states are willing to use war repeatedly to sustain their power.

During the 1950-1953 Korean War, the US threatened North Korea with nuclear attack. That war, conducted under the flag of the United Nations, claimed up to three million Korean lives. North Korea knows well the readiness of the US and Britain to kill Koreans and to do so with impunity. That is why North Korea conducted nuclear tests.           

Trevor Rayne