By: Sarah Thompson
Note: originally published on Sarah's blog From the Belly
I’ve been told to wait until I leave the country to post this. I just landed in New Zealand, so, here it is.
West Papua currently consists of two provinces in the western half of the island of new Guinea adjacent to the independent Melanesian nation of Papua New Guinea. West Papuans have been struggling for independence (or at least the ability to self-determine) since the Dutch colonial era (they were originally slated to become another nation when the Dutch left the archipelago, but the US’ Cold War fears changed their fate).
This is a mineral rich, predominantly Christian, predominately black Indigenous province located on the eastern-most periphery of the archipelago. Indonesia has the highest population of Muslims in the world, it is densely populated, and has a expanding capitalist economy that is the target of increasing multinational corporations, and producing a growing consumer class and waves of refugees to Australia.
For a rough but strikingly accurate analogy: Australia is to Indonesia and West Papua as the United States is/was to Latin America, in terms of: forcing trade agreements, developing covert military operations that defile human rights, ruining the ability of small farmers and rural communities to survive, creation of fear in the Australian psyche about the “threat of Indonesia” and the immigrants coming from there, extracting resources, and geo-political manipulation. And the struggle to resist the structural and direct lethal violence is similar to the creative and courageous and subversive and life-sustaining and cultural work done/ongoing in Latin America.
This delegation, led by local Papuans and their Australian Quaker comrades, met with all sorts of members of civil society who are part of nonviolent efforts to resist oppression in this context of brown colonization (cut and pasted and expanded from their experience of white colonization). The international isolation is huge. The network of informants was visible, and we were chased by immigration numerous times, and told we couldn’t be there legally. We were on a pastoral visit to churches, and visiting friends, so we were within our legal rights. Indonesia has banned foreign journalists from entering and documenting what is happening. Two tried to get in awhile ago, and they were arrested and deported.
What’s happening is that many Papuans are targeted and intimidated and tortured and killed, because they want to be free. Many massacres of Papuans by Indonesian military or civilians paid to kill have not made the news; impunity is rife. Nonviolent demonstrations for self-determination are regularly shut down by the police. Symbols of freedom (e.g. independence flag–called the Morning Star Flag) are banned. There are many political prisoners. Papua has a relatively high rate of HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, and alcoholism.
The Papuans problem has been framed in terms of development/poverty. Some say, “the Papuans are poor and if Jakarta gives them more money they will stop clamoring for justice and self-determination.” Yet activists say, “we don’t want rice, we don’t want water, we want freedom!” We heard of the pressure on movement leaders and NGO workers to use the development framework to explain their actions, show “improvement results” in the society, as well as to talk about the conflicts and violence in Indonesia within that framework. Yet other frameworks are more helpful (anti/post-colonial struggle, resistance to economic exploitation, self-determination struggle, bioregional livelihood struggle, lateral violence, etc.)
February 15 is a special day for me, since in 2003 I led my first anti-war march in Atlanta, as a first-year in university. It was a day the world said No! to war and it was a serious coming of age when the US still decided to invade. 12 years later I am still learning from the events of 2003. I am now at the pivot point between being a delegation participant and good follower to returning to my role as articulator of CPT mission, vision, values, and stories. I am trying to rest in between, and catch up on correspondence related to the upcoming April 15-18 Steering Committee, organizational budget, vision work with the Program Director and Communications & Engagement Director, and maintaining contacts with friends and funders worldwide.
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