BY JASON BROWN
NUCLEAR TESTS ARE HELD IN NEVADA. Demonstrators riot against the Vietnam War. Shadows gather on a grassy knoll. And Indonesian paratroopers waft down onto the western half of a vast island, marked out on their maps as “Irian Barat”. In 1962, the world’s newest colonial force, Indonesia, is busy invading Western New Guinea.
Event surrounding that year remains murky, involving a CIA coup, hand-in-hand with big business interests in the US political system, namely Freeport, still earning billions in profit each year.
Not consulted; the people of Papua, their future decided on a far-away street in Dallas as a presidential limousine cruises past a book repository.
“When Kennedy was killed, a military dictatorship was installed and paid off” in Indonesia, says Lisa Pease, an author on the assassination and its impact around the world, “so that the interests of businesses like Freeport are given higher priority than any demands of the natives whose resources are still being pillaged.”
Fifty years after the paratroopers first land, the world’s biggest Asian invasion continues to pillage Papua at vast volumes.
Still under armed force, an estimated 750,000 people from Indonesia now live in the western half of Papua, part of a gigantic “transmigration” program, funded with the help of the World Bank.
Nearly three million Indonesians make up a dominant majority in urban centres and take up nearly all of the town jobs.
But a flood of migrants are only a small part of a bigger tsunami of social and environmental damage, including 230,000 tons of waste a day from the world’s richest copper and gold mine, at Grasberg.
Mining there generated US$6 billion in sales for 2010 alone, including $4 billion in operating profits.
“2010 was an outstanding year for our company,” reads the Freeport annual report on the company website. “After successfully managing through one of the most severe economic downturns in history, we achieved in 2010 the best financial results in our company’s history.”
Indonesia gets around a billion in taxes and proceeds from a 9% stake in the mine, a find so vast early surveyors nicknamed the area “Copper Mountain”. Some 91% is held by a US company called Freeport through interests in Australia and Indonesia.
Their contracts include the right to mine some 27,000 acres and explore a further 413,000 acres.
Grasberg is also lauded in company literature as the world’s cheapest mine. Last year, however, miners went on strike, costing the company millions. High by Asian standards, the average pay of $1.50 an hour reflects generally tiny returns for the local economy.
Another example is on the Freeport website itself, stating that US$1 million is given each year to a trust fund for Amungme and Kamoro, villages closest to the mine.
Population is perhaps the best indicator of a resource curse. At the start of the 1960s, both halves of Papua had roughly equal-sized populations, almost all indigenous Melanesian. West Papua today has a little over two million indigenous people; Papua New Guinea has seven million. That leaves a gap of about four million people between today’s population and independent estimates of over 100,000 deaths due to police and military actions.
Not surprisingly, Indonesia faces accusations from critics of “genocide”, including importing prostitutes known to have HIV or AIDS, resulting in the highest rates of infection in the fourth largest country in the world.
Outside of disease, starvation and mining, international attention is increasingly focused on agitation for separation and independence from Indonesia. Last October, thousands attended the third Papua Peoples Congress, which ended with the president-elect reading out a “Declaration of Independence”.
A youth leader at the congress texted a contact overseas that “in these next few moments we might see a massacre and bloodbath.”
As the crowds began to disperse, soldiers started shooting into the crowd, killing as many as six and injuring more than a dozen people. Police whipped and beat others, arresting 300, later releasing all but five.
Police prosecuted the “Jayapura Five” under treason charges, asking for a five-year jail sentence. A panel of judges last month convicted the men and sentenced them to three years.
The sentences were markedly lighter than earlier cases, such as that of Filep Karma, sentenced to 15 years in jail for raising the independence flag—a flag that has not been legal for decades.
Back in the 60s, after the Kennedy assassination, US agents helped engineer a coup in Indonesia and in the process handing West Papua over to Indonesia. State department officials referred to the anti-communist deal as “the big wink”.