Freeport and a Nation without Sovereignt

Title : Freeport, How Have Giant Gold and Copper Mines “Colonized” Indonesia?
Writer : Torry Kuswardono, Siti Maimunah, et al.
Publisher: WALHI – East Java, Jakarta, 2006
Thickness: x + 90 pages

A series of pointless humanitarian tragedies. This is the portrait of Indonesia, a country lacking sovereignty, and that worships ‘objects’ rather than ‘collective dignity and prestige as citizens’. A history that tells of suffering, poverty, stupidity and shallowness. However, not a bar of this has brought the wisdom of learning and improvement. This story begins with the drama of PT Freeport Indonesia.

Since 1967 and the signing of the Generation I Mining Work Contract between the Government of Indonesia and PT Freeport Indonesia, the lives of the Amungme, Kamoro, Dani, Nduga, Damal, Moni and Mee (Ekari) ethnic groups have withered. Environmental damage as the destructive output of PT Freeport Indonesia’s mining activities has been the major factor in the wreckage of the future for these seven ‘children of the earth’. They no longer joke. The laughter of children is no longer heard. The same goes for the community kinship which once joyously and cooperatively wove the threads of the future. Conflict now emerges with regular and unceasing frequency.

Various crimes committed by PT Freeport Indonesia have eroded the quality of life of the seven ethnic groups located at the PT Freeport Indonesia mine – both humanitarian crimes and also environmental crimes. According to The New York Times (27 December 2005), the volume of PT Freeport Indonesia’s mining waste is twice the size of the Panama Canal (viii). It is no exaggeration that the Papuan land faces ruin on a massive scale.

The Republic of Indonesia Ministry for the Environment (KLH RI) is aware of the environmental destruction caused by PT Freeport Indonesia’s mining activities (23 March 2006). Unfortunately, environmental transgressions are not taken seriously at the green table, even though PT Freeport Indonesia is proven to have broken Environmental Law No. 23/1997. In contrast to KLH RI’s attitude, the Government of Norway has retracted US$ 240 million (around Rp 2.16 trillion) of pension funds that had previously been invested in Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc, after observing the destructive impacts of mining carried out by PT Freeport Indonesia (ix). To borrow the phrasing of Amien Rais, what sort of nation and government do we have?

Freeport’s Crimes

Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc was once a small company in the United States, the result of a merger between Freeport Sulphur and McMoran Oil and Gas Company. However, since discovering the third-largest gold and copper deposits in the world, in West Papua to be specific, Freeport has transformed into a world-scale gold mining company (p. 5).

The history of natural resources conglomerate Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc involves many stakeholders, mergers, and shifts in ownership. In its operation, Freeport McMoran plays a duet of businesspeople with officials and politicians in the United States. This acts as a lubricant in its corporate expansion and capital accumulation in all corners of the globe, not excepting in West Papua, Indonesia. For example, Henry Kissinger, the former United States Minister for Foreign Affairs, became the company director. In this dance, Freeport McMoran provided some $730,000 to members of the US Congress, including President Clinton and the Democratic Party (p. 7).

PT Freeport Indonesia is a subsidiary company established by Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc, who own the majority of its shares. PT Freeport Indonesia has conducted exploration at two sites in the Tembaga Pura region, Mimika Regency, Papua Province, namely the Erstberg mine (from 1967) and the Grasberg mine (since 1988).

Since exploration conducted by PT Freeport Indonesia, a number of serious crimes have been committed. First, systematic, ongoing and deliberate destruction of the environment. Second, taxation crimes. Third, humanitarian crimes, where the basic rights of seven ethnic groups in the location of the PT Freeport Indonesia mine have been violated. Moreover, PT Freeport Indonesia in 2003 acknowledged that it had paid the Indonesian military (TNI) to evict the local population from their area. According to a report by The New York Times (December 2005), total payments during 1998-2004 reached almost US$ 20 million.

Chris Ballard, an Australian anthropologist who previously worked for Freeport, and Abigail Abrash, a human rights activist from the United States, estimate that 160 people were murdered by the military between 1975-1997 in and around the mining area.

Marginalization of the Nation of Papua

The people used to believe in mythology related to the first man, who originated from a mother. After death he became the earth that extends throughout the Amungsal (Amungme land), an area regarded as sacred by the local people such that it is forbidden by tradition to enter it. The metaphor of ‘mother’ became symbolic of how the seven ethnic groups in Amungme Land lived in and interacted with the environment. However PT Freeport Indonesia entered this sacred area in 1971 and opened the Erstberg mine. Since 1971, the Amungme ethnic groups have been moved away from their land to the mountain foothills. Since then the environmental condition of Amungme has slowly but surely been destroyed. The lives of the Amungme, Kamoro, Dani, Nduga, Damal, Moni and Mee (Ekari) ethnic groups have become increasingly oppressed by boundless poverty and suffering.

Just look and see. When Papuan people scraped for some gain, mining the tailings in the Kabur Wanomen River, they were roughly expelled by the PT Freepart security and Indonesian defense personnel, and even shot and killed. It seems inconceivable that the people they are chasing away are our own people, scraping waste for a scrap of profit from a mountain of abundance that we actually own. Must Indonesian people lose their lives just to get a piece of gold the size of a grain of sand from the industrial waste of PT Freeport?

The sadness is even more overwhelming when we realize that there is a modern city, Kuala Kencana, near Timika, where the senior staffs of PT Freeport reside. Meanwhile, just 6-7 kilometers away, there is a Papuan orphanage where the standard of living is the same as if the children had never been “found”. Within this radius, our people can still be found wearing penis gourds.

The government seems two-faced in dealing with Papua. We grind down an abundant mountain in the name of national prosperity, but let our people live as if in the Stone Age when it comes to caring for cultural values. Papua is the pride of the United Nations of the Republic of Indonesia. Manifest that pride in the chests of Papuans. Don’t let them be forced to seek their own dignity. Isn’t Indonesia a collection of nations who historically developed unity to confront colonizers?

The clash with Freeport is indicative of Indonesia-US relations, wherein the public psyche sees a “weak country” facing a superpower. The US as a superpower with all manner of foreign policy instruments can dictate its desires, and erode our nation’s bargaining position. This perception of RI-US bilateral relations is the product of collaboration that is unequal and that is not mutually beneficial.

In view of the complexity of the Freeport problem, the authors of this book make major recommendations: first, to carry out a thorough evaluation of all aspects of PT Freeport Indonesia’s mining; second, to facilitate a full consultation with the Papuan indigenous peoples, especially peoples located around PT Freeport Indonesia’s mines; third, to follow-up on findings of legal violations through the relevant authorities; and fourth, to map and study a number of scenarios for the future of PT Freeport Indonesia, including the possibility of closure, production capacity and processing of waste (p. 69).

With a prologue narrating the identity of Freeport, their work contract, PT Freeport Indonesia’s crimes in Papua, violations of human rights and military business, plus a good epilogue touching on the attitude that the government must take in order to salvage the dignity of all citizens, especially the peoples of Papua, this 90-page book is well worth the read for anyone who still cares.

posted by Ndie @ 21:10:00 0 comments

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