Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gold, politics, and environmental disaster

The title is dramatic, I know. But so is the story.
    Skipping over a nice but rainy adventure in Bali, I will jump right into to telling about an important experience I had today.
Ever heard of Freeport? Let me give you some background information:
I hope it's legal and ethically acceptable if I excerpt some information from Wikipedia (giving it all credit, of course):
   "Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., (FMCG, NYSEFCX) often called simply Freeport, is the world's lowest-cost copper producer[1] and one of the world's largest producers of gold. It was formerly based in New Orleans, Louisiana but moved its headquarters to Phoenix, Arizona, after acquiring copper producer Phelps Dodge in 2007; its headquarters are located in the Freeport-McMoRan Center in downtown Phoenix. In addition to Phelps Dodge, its subsidiaries include PT Freeport Indonesia, PT Irja Eastern Minerals and Atlantic Copper, S.A. Freeport is the largest publicly traded copper and molybdenum producer in the world." (Wikepedia 26 Jan 2012)

    First off, the Indonesians who've talked to me about this subject have the impression that the United States Government is responsible for this Freeport company's actions and treatment of Indonesians. For sake of discretion, I have only just begun researching this hot topic, but I have found no indication that the United States Government owns Freeport. The US government does not own gold-mines, even if they are based in the States, owned by Americans, and therefore relatively subject to US laws. I get the feeling that Indonesian media gives its people the misinformation that the U.S. owns this gold mine.
As I side note, I have been rather frustrated with the quality of Indonesian media sources. Example: When Kim Il Jong died, I only found out through another exchange student friend who brought a laptop and regularly reads American news online. Not until three days later did I see a clip of a few seconds briefly announcing that the long time dictator had died. That was all I heard about that, then they skipped on to the burning of a car in Los Angeles. Then a story about flooding in Jakarta. Which happens every year without fail. So, not exactly the best international reporting.

   I want to be careful and make sure that I'm not painting a negative picture. I've barely had any experiences where an Indonesian bashed America in my face. Most Indonesians are really friendly and like to practice their English phrases with me. That doesn't constitute a liking of America, but they are always proud to tell me that Obama used to live in Indonesia and they can name his favorite Indonesian foods. If they harbor resentment towards the U.S., they don't bring it up with me. Most times Indonesians are very happy that I chose to come and live in Indonesia and they like that I want to learn about their culture and have made a huge effort to learn their national language and some local languages as well. They're usually super friendly: try to teach me more Sundanese or Javanese; want to show me around town; want to take me to try a local food specialty; want me to meet their kids; tell me about their family members who have been to or are living in America--they generally are so hospitable! So don't get the wrong idea. 
I bring up this bad experience I had because I realize that I'd never heard of it before I came here; I still don't feel like I know enough about it. I think it's an important thing for Americans to be aware of: because it is a company owned by Americans--giving Americans in Indonesia a really bad name and association; and it's a ginormous environmental disaster as well as something that has been amplifying calls for Papua's succession from the Republic of Indonesia (since that's an Indonesia issue, on TV I've been seeing A LOT about the riots, protests, police violence, etc in Papua). The same people who've brought up the issue think the the United States Government has been killing thousands of people in Papua over this gold mine. Here is the only mention of violence on Freeport's wikipedia page (I realize this does't mean that there haven't been thousands of deaths, but I can't imagine they were committed by the United States Government and it's hard to believe--and if it's true then it's atrocious--that the deaths of thousands of people are completely ignored and not mentioned at all on Freeport's "permanent record"--Wiki page)
    "Best known for its Grasberg mine in Papua province, Indonesia, the company is the largest taxpayer to the Indonesian government. It mines and mills ores containing copper, gold, molybdenum and silver for the world market. Richard C. Adkerson is President and Chief Executive Officer of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and James R. Moffett is the company's Chairman.In 2003 Freeport acknowledged it had been paying the local Indonesian military and police to handle the Grasberg mine's security operations. Freeport argues that this is necessary to provide security to its employees, both local and foreign.[citation needed] The Indonesian security forces commit systematic human rights violations, particularly against environmental groups and supporters of a return to West Papuan independence as before the Indonesian military seized power in 1969.[11]
   In 2005, the New York Times reported that company records showed the total amount paid between 1998 and 2004 amounted to nearly US$20 million, distributed among both officers and units, with one individual receiving up to US$150,000. The company response was that there was "no alternative to our reliance on the Indonesian military and police in this regard", and that the support provided was not for individuals, but rather for infrastructure, food, housing, fuel, travel, vehicle repairs and allowances to cover incidental and administrative costs.[citation needed]
    Since October 17, 2011 the company halted mining operation in Papua, amid a strike that has led to a deteriorating security situation and intensified calls for independence. 70 percent of workers joined the strike appeal to increase the salary since September 15, 2011, block the roads, clash with policemen, killing of 3 people by unidentified gunmen and cut concentrate pipeline in several places." (Wikepedia 26 Jan 2012)
For sake of discretion, the last quote's neutrality is disputed on grounds that it doesn't have Freeport's side of the story. I would also like to point out the hypocrisy of Henry Kissinger--yes that Nobel Peace Prize Winner who for a long time served as the Secretary of State--who served as director of this company against whom "Claims of severe environmental damages caused by the company's engagements in the Grasberg mine in Indonesia has led The Government Pension Fund of Norway, the world's largest pension fund [13], to exclude Freeport-McMoRan from its investment portfolio, after a recommendation from the fund's ethical council." Way to promote peace, Kissinger.

This is the most recent article I could find about the protests : (excerpted from Yahoo! News)

"Freeport Indonesia union says delays return to work

Reuters – Sun, Jan 1, 2012JAKARTA (Reuters) - Workers at Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold Inc's Indonesia unit delayed their return after a three-month strike because 500 employees of sub-contractors lack job security, a seniorunion official said Monday.
The workers hope to resolve the dispute and start heading back to the Grasberg mine in the central highlands of Papua island, eastern Indonesia, Tuesday, said union spokesman Virgo Solossa by telephone.
"It's likely that we will be back to work tomorrow as around 500 workers from several sub-contractor companies still have issues that need to be settled first. Today we want to make sure that allcontractors have no issues," Solossa said.
The strike at the world's second-largest copper mine shook labor relations in Southeast Asia's largest economy because it was a high-profile attempt by workers to gain a larger share of the rewards in a booming economy.
The strike ended on December 14 with a deal under which Freeport agreed to a pay increase of roughly 40 percent for around 8,000 union members and to a framework for a better deal for roughly 15,000 other non-union workers and contractors.
Arizona-based Freeport earlier said it expected full operations at the Grasberg mine to resume in early 2012.
The union has not returned to work largely because of a dispute with contractor PT Kuala Pelabuhan Indonesia (KPI) over possible sanctions on workers who took part in the strike. Last week KPI agreed to rehire about 700 workers who went on strike with no sanctions, the union said.
Monday's dispute appeared to be similar to the union's with KPI.
(Reporting by Rieka Rahadiana; Writing by Matthew Bigg)"
The particular events that inspired me to research this was a past conversation with a family member; and today when I was trying to buy pulsa an Indonesia man gave me a nasty lecture about how America sucked and was mistreating Indonesians, etc. It hurt my feelings but I'm beyond over it because--hey! that's part of why I'm here! To show people that all Americans are not obese meat-lovers whose politics are mean and indifferent. He was intent on lecturing, so I didn't engage in arguing, I just told him that the conversation was "ngak enak, Pak" (roughly translated: "Not enjoyable/not nice, Sir").

I don't know how to end this because I have no conclusive plan of action. Definitely there was bad media representation; definitely there is a destructive American company wreaking havoc on the Indonesian environment, encouraging human rights violations, and being just all around a shitty representative of America abroad. I'd love to be able to fly over to Papua and stir up some protests about the human rights violations and environmental devastation--but alas it is far away and freaking expensive. Maybe I can swing it for my birthday? (hint, hint, mom!); until that unlikely time, I can only suggest that this information be:

Food for though, letters of protest and outrage, and petition.

Much love and Happy Late Chinese New Year!

P.S. Feel free to leave comments! While I don't have internet access a whole lot, I love feedback. If you find more info about something I blog about, share it!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

First Impressions of Bali

It's no wonder to me why bule give up their previous lives to live in Bali--even if it's rather touisty, it is still a beautiful and culturally rich paradise. We arrived on Saturday morning and landed between sprinkling grey clouds. The morning and afternoon were cloudy and filled with showers. Despite this, Bali's is still a stunning tropical heaven.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Terima Kasih!

GeoTagged, [S6.29750, W107.29841]

About a week or so I just received my Christmas package that was sent on December 15th (if I'm not wrong)! According to the Fed-Ex tracker there were security issues with the package and it spent a long time in Jakarta...
I really enjoyed receiving hand written Christmas cards from my church youth group! The attached picture is of those same cards posted on my bulletin board in my room. Some of them are not up because some of the letters were too personal and tear-inducing to be up for my everyday eye. All letters and cards were nonetheless deeply appreciated; the love that I felt from these letters was renewing, enak, and so soothing. So I wanted to make sure and acknowledge this gesture of support and love. <3 Sayang kembali!

Besok kami berangkat ke BALI!

GeoTagged, [S6.30097, W107.29842]

Of the many reasons I have to be grateful for the promise of tomorrow is the fact that it's the first day that espouses a plane flight to BALI! Just for clarification, Bali is an island east of the island of Java (where I live); Bali is not a city. Denpassar is the city into which I will fly. It is the capital of the province of Bali; the province of Bali is the oldest established one. Don't quote me but I think it was established around 1658? Look that up and correct me if you wish, I will look for a more official date, too. My lot is a ridiculously fortunate one as I am the first of the American students to check out this most famous island. My contact person, an alumnus of the YES program, invited me to join her family vacation to Bali. They are a very nice family and are very gracious to take in the bule on their family time. We leave Karawang tomorrow at four AM!