Academic journal article Social Justice

Ecocide, Industrial Chemical Contamination, and the Corporate Profit Imperative: The Case of Bougainville

Academic journal article Social Justice

Ecocide, Industrial Chemical Contamination, and the Corporate Profit Imperative: The Case of Bougainville

Article excerpt

The Spirit of the Land

IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS HARMONY, A RESONANCE, BETWEEN OURSELVES, nature, and the earth from whence we come and will return. Like a gentle mother, she gave us nourishment and protection. Her forests gave us shelter from the searing heat of the summer sun, and wood to keep the fires burning through the cold winter nights. We were at one with the spirit of the land.

Out of this harmony there emerged, as if from some poisoned seed, people whose love of power was greater than their love of life itself. They had lost the meaning of life. Hierarchy replaced harmony and the natural cooperation between peoples was replaced by coercion and violence. War, rather than reason, consultation, and consensus, became the final arbiter. Self-governing communities were replaced by nation-states, many of which used propaganda, terror, or both to maintain control over their subject peoples.

Greed and exploitation were proclaimed virtues. Corporate superstructures grew like parasites in the nation-states that harbored them. Through interlocking directorships and proliferation of subsidiaries, they eventually replaced nation-states as the dominant global power and brought governments to heel.

Democracy was subverted by corporate dictatorships that wielded more power and money than their host governments. A global corporate empire is now emerging that is more powerful, less visible, and more dangerous than the former empires of nation-states.

Our struggle is both international and local. As the tentacles of the corporate empire reach further, more and more communities come under threat. When forced to fight for their survival, the people of these communities are often subjected to organized state violence in the name of "law and order."

Such is the case with Bougainville, an island ripped apart, first by a giant copper mine and then by six years of war. When the people moved to close the mine that was destroying their land and environment, the Papua New Guinea police were given orders to "shoot to kill." (1)

Sacred Island

Bougainville is an island in the once peaceful South Pacific region, part of the Solomon Islands archipelago. The people of Bougainville have exercised sovereignty over their land continuously for thousands of years. They hold their land as their natural God-given inheritance, handed down "since time immemorial," to be preserved for future generations. (2) Bougainville is known to many as Meekamui, which means Sacred Island.

The European colonists of last century treated the people and their land as pawns on a global chessboard, as mere objects of trade, in a deadly contest for wealth and power. "Blackbirding" [slave trading] was commonplace. Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands, including Bougainville, were raided by pirates. The young men were kidnapped, taken away in chains to work as slaves on foreign-owned plantations, severed forever from their land and their peoples.

In 1899 Bougainville was partitioned from the rest of the Solomon Islands by a deal struck between Great Britain and Germany. Bougainville was incorporated into what was then known as "German New Guinea," 800 kilometers away. Fifteen years later, Germany and Great Britain were at war.

Following Germany's defeat in World War I, Australia assumed control over Bougainville under a League of Nations mandate until the island was invaded by Japan in World War II. Following World War II, the Australian government resumed control of Bougainville under a United Nations Trusteeship.

Except during World War II, when Bougainville was of great strategic importance, these colonial powers showed little interest in the island until substantial copper deposits were identified in the mountainous Panguna area of Central Bougainville.

A Breach of Trust

In 1963, the Australian Colonial Administration granted Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia (CRA), a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ), a Special Prospecting Authority to explore the Panguna area. …

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