Workers in Indonesia Rise Up Against Freeport

Here’s what we know:

Copper
Copper Mine in Indonesia by pjriccio2006 on Flickr

Freeport MacMoRan is the world’s lowest-cost copper producer and the largest gold producer in the world. Producer is a funny term, they pull it from the earth. I suppose the production label comes from everything they do to the stuff they take from the earth.. the processing.

The company is almost 100 years old with its headquarters in Arizona, but of course its operations are located all over the world.  Freeport operates the largest copper mine in the world, the Grasberg Mining Complex in West Papua, a province of Indonesia.

West Papua has long been the stage for conflict, where the Indonesian government uses whatever means at its disposal to keep the independence movement down. For many Papuan people the mine is a major part of that conflict, due to the massive environmental damage it causes on their territory, the lack of financial benefit or return to the region, and the use of notorious elements of the Indonesian Military to handle security. Since 2002 there have been several incidents involving the shooting deaths of workers at the plant.

For the past two months workers at the mine have been on strike, demanding better wages. According to Reuters, their current payrate is $1.5 to $3 an hour. They are now demanding that it be raised to $12.50 to $37 an hour.  Recent demonstrations by the workers have attracted crowds numbering around 8,000. According to the Jakarta Post, during one of those demonstrations police fired into the crowd and killed 2 workers.  The paper also reports that Freeport had been trying to fire all the workers and have them replaced, a tactic an Indonesian Minister said would be a violation of their labor laws.

Freeport is number 136 on the Forbes Fortune 500 list, with over $4 billion in profit for 2010. They have been heavily criticized by human rights organizations and corruption watchdogs for their payments to the Indonesian Government and the Military in an effort to maintain the status quo and quell labor disputes at their mine. The millions of dollars in lost revenue are often mentioned in the media for every day their mine is shut.  What does their copper go into? The list is massive and touches on many aspects of our everyday lives in the western world.

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Indonesian Elections and West Papua

Last week Indonesians voted in only the second presidential election in their nation’s history. A race between three major coalition parties, it was the Democratic Party Coalition of current President Yudhoyono that cruised to victory with 60% of the vote. A former military man who was known to many as a “thinking General”, his first term seems to have earned a good amount of support among Indonesian voters.

But what of his policies in regards to West Papua? In the last few weeks the reports have been rolling in about the Indonesian military activities in that region; burning down of homes, attacks and arrests of accused opposition members. Though I can’t sit here and say for sure these activities were ordered by the president himself, they have still occurred under his leadership. A leadership that since 2004, could have sought peaceful and open dialogue with the independent West Papua movement as well as human rights workers on the ground who have been trying for decades to raise awareness for the plight of the region.

Does the re-election of Yudhoyono mean that Indonesians approve of the government’s actions in West Papua? Do the reports coming from the region ever see the light of day in Indonesia? And is there any chance that in this second term, the president might shift his approach away from diplomacy by the barrel of a gun? These are only a few of the questions that need answering following last week’s elections. Questions I’d like to pose in an upcoming podcast to someone closely following the vote in Indonesia.

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Statehood Doesn’t Pay Bills

Nationalism has long been the cause of alot of pain and broken dreams in the history of the world. Yet nationalism is the force that brings about so many changes in so many places, even in this day and age.

I was working in Portugal several years ago when East Timor formerly declared it’s independence from Indonesia. Needless to say it was a big deal in Lisbon, at some level, as the nation watched a new country set out on the quest for freedom, prosperity… insert lofty goal. And of course, as I watched the ceremony in Dili, I can’t deny a feeling, based on all that I know from world history and the inequality that is the world economy, that East Timor would never really achieve much of a quality of life. For all the beauty and nobility of independence, you could spin the globe, crunch the numbers, and know that the new nation’s odds of a prosperous survival were slim to none.

Burning down the borderNow we watch Kosovo. I know, I know, different details, different history, some different problems. But the facts still spell out the same feelings. Independence and freedom from whatever oppression, past or present, that certainly sounds good. No wonder lots of good people out there support the declaration. Yet what chance does it’s people have in this global economy and the political chess game that leaves a majority of the new nation as a bunch of expendable pawns; useful for flag waving news footage, but not worth a serious investment or some serious problem solving strategies. Powerful forces in the world of business and politics might have been salivating at the chance to use the cause and the region for their own goals, but now they can salivate even more as disorganization and internal struggles make it easy to profit.

Now you hear the whispers in different parts of the world get louder; Turkish Cyprus, Abkasia, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Palestine, Western Sahara, Aceh… places where the calls for independence grow louder now. And who would dare speak against many of those cases, where people have suffered and hoped for independence for so long.

While I don’t speak against most of these calls, I will add a question to the equation. How will they live? Will there be a way to seriously live without the threat of famine, violence, or some other terrible factor. Do they have some way to stand on their own two feet in a global economy that specializes in picking apart new nations without the luxury of lots of money or some magic resource?

Independence sounds lovely. But when calculating and dreaming of the kind of life people should have, I wish we would factor in what happens once you’ve got that independence. That’s the part that could really help make a better future for all people.

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bm243 Aceh Villagers vs. Exxon-Mobile

It might seem like an impossible battle, but it is actually possible for people outside the United States who suffer from the activities of an American company, organization, or government, to take their fight to a US court room. And that is just what a group of Villagers from Indonesia have been trying to do for the last few years.

This podcast is to explain the case of the Villagers from Aceh versus Exxon-Mobile, one of the world’s most powerful oil companies which stands accused of sponsoring torture, rape, and kidnapping in Aceh. How could such crimes have happened? How is it that a group of people in another country can actually seek justice in a US court? This podcast explains the issues involved, the Alien Tort Act which makes it possible, and the progression of the case until now.

I also recommend reading my sources, Scotusblog and articles by David Corn of the nation, among others.

 

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