West Papua

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jason
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Joined: 22-07-06
Dec 26 2006 08:04
West Papua

I just got back from a trip to West Papua, a province of Indonesia. I took a rare opportunity to visit the place with a mate who speaks Indonesian coz I've always wanted to have a little look round the New Guinea country side.

I also planned to get a taste of people's struggles against capitalism there. There is a heavily supported independence movement (I 'spose analogous in some ways to East Timor), but of course highly nationalistic and inevitably, recently co-opted by coastal chiefly politicos and elites. I was more interested in subsistence people's expressions of Merdeka (freedom), which I've heard isn't always structured around national independence, but mostly about better standards of living and fair compensation and dealings with mining and timber interests, etc. Anyway, I have to pronounce mission failure coz in the cities we just spoke to independence activists and in the country the trekking was so hard we were concentrating on staying well and didn't really get a deep taste of people's views. Not even sure why I'm posting this, unless peeps want to discuss some of the limitations and potential of the movement there.

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Rob Ray
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Dec 26 2006 12:27

I've done the odd bit of writing on West Papua, they've had some proper good expressions of solidarity against the occupying Indonesian army but I do get the impression that the nationalists are only really looking for that and don't have much in the way of a radical agenda.

Having said that, the local populace has on ocassion fought back on its own (eg. closing the mines down and shutting the roads up) and there's a great deal of anger at capitalist enterprises in the region coming in, poisoning the rivers and food sources and militarising the region to protect profits when they complain.

The two real stories in the region are less the independence movement, which is led by people primarily interested in supplanting rather than freeing, and more what seems to be a patchy popular dissent that has been manifesting against mining companies and the smuggling operations being supported by the Indonesian government and a corrupt administration in neighbouring Papua New Guinea.

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jason
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Dec 26 2006 13:12
Quote:
the nationalists are only really looking for that and don't have much in the way of a radical agenda.

A case in point being the coastal chief and nationalist leader Theys Eluay, killed by special forces in 2000. He actually had large timber interests. If these type of people get into power will things change for customary owners of land? I say a big fat no. They're just as keen as the current Indonesian rulers to log the place silly.

Quote:
Having said that, the local populace has on ocassion fought back on its own (eg. closing the mines down and shutting the roads up) and there's a great deal of anger at capitalist enterprises in the region coming in, poisoning the rivers and food sources and militarising the region to protect profits when they complain.

Definitely. But currently its a stalemate. The population centres and mines are so militarised and policed that political activists can't speak up and the OPM can't mount any real offensive. Like nowadays I don't think the Freeport mine could be attacked as it has been in the past coz of increased troop presence. Conversely though, there is no way in hell that TNI can hunt the OPM in those mountains, who are now just hiding in inaccesible places. (I was told places only accessible by helicopter. I asked "where did the OPM get helicopters?" Reply: "Oh no, normal people need helicopters to get there". You gotta see the way people born and breed there can move through that terrain). Although the OPM killed two army people whilst I was there (ca. 9 December?) and a few days later a soldier on patrol was knocked out and his rifle stolen. All this happened in the Puncak Jaya regency.

Coz of the stalemate, people are looking for international salvation, much as the international community supported East Timor. Everyone I've spoken to (Papuan church leaders, independence activists, OPM representatives, refugees in Australia) all say they are waiting for Australia and other countries to help them. Naively optimistic I think.

Quote:
The two real stories in the region are less the independence movement, which is led by people primarily interested in supplanting rather than freeing, and more what seems to be a patchy popular dissent that has been manifesting against mining companies and the smuggling operations being supported by the Indonesian government and a corrupt administration in neighbouring Papua New Guinea.

Yeah, I guess we'll have to wait a bit and see if these struggles take a form independent of nationalist rhetoric.