“Rio Tinto played an active role in military operations that ultimately led to a civil war in which 15,000 people died.
Because of Rio Tinto’s financial influence in Papua New Guinea, the company controlled the government. The government of PNG followed Rio Tinto’s instructions and carried out its requests. BCL played an active role in the war supplying helicopters, pilots, troops, transportation, fuel and troop barracks.
It is my opinion that absent Rio Tinto’s mining activity on Bougainville; the government would not have engaged in hostilities or taken military action on the island.”
(Official statement from Papua New Guinea’s outgoing Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare)
Rio Tinto, that bastion of Anglo-Australian ethics appears to have thought nothing of hiring a mercenary army to secure its corporate profits and ensure shareholder support for obscene senior executive salaries.
In 1988, it’s last full year of operation, the mine produced 166,000 tonnes of copper and 445,000 ounces of gold, worth an estimated $1 billion at 2009 prices for both metals. In 2009 Rio Tinto plc actual earnings were US$6,298 million. If Rio Tinto’s Panguna mine had remained in operation and everything else remained equal, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that Rio Tinto’s earnings would have topped US$7 billion in 2009.These figures demonstrate the importance of the Panguna mine to Rio Tinto’s balance sheet, which assuredly suffered after the mine was closed in 1989.
The point is that like the indigenous inhabitants of Pandora, the mineral rich planet in James Cameron’s film Avatar, the indigenous people of Bougainville were cursed in having an island home made almost entirely of industrial minerals.
As on Pandora Rio Tinto’s unashamedly exploitive penetration into the Panguna region of Bougainville ushered into being a conflict of cultures; a conflict, a resolution to which became intractable, because the resolution was based on a flawed paradigm.
The paradigm is flawed and the ‘just-us’ system that supports the paradigm is flawed. What another bacchanalia induced hangover, leading to some inscrutable conundrum I hear you ask! No, not this time, at least, simply stated, it’s about two different world views. One is industrial and the other indigenous or if you prefer, the industrial world versus the landbased values of indigenous cultures. The paradigm is flawed because it attempts to reconcile the views of people who live on the land and resonate from the land and industrialism or industrial society. It’s the age old sage of the predator and the prey. That is the relationship that has been carved out -hammered out- since Europeans first arrived in the Pacific and has been accelerated the ‘western juggernaut of greed’. The west has become a society of junkies–electrical junkies. Junkies that require a fix of electronics and the energy to power them, junkies who crave bigger houses, bigger cars and the resources that are needed to construct and maintain them. Hell, the junkies that support the ‘western juggernaut of greed’ even squander the resources of those of us who resonate with the land in the name of bigger boobs, tighter arses and bigger sets of teeth, all to look good in their castles of greed.
The final flaw in the paradigm is that it is built on a western based concept of law and ownership which is based on private greed and profit, both supported by white mans ‘just-us’.
The realities are that Indigenous peoples in Australia and the Pacific are being displaced by corporations, in order to extract the natural resources found in our territories.
As in Avatar, this Pandora-like violence against Indigenous communities all over Australia and the Pacific is promoted by a racist, selfish Australian government supported by Australian and transnational corporations who have become in military invasions, coups, paramilitary groups, training of torturers and repressive forces, and the financing of anti-Indigenous governments and groups.
For decades real indigenous tribes across the Pacific have faced off with corporations—mining, logging, oil and gas—determined to exploit their land. These corporations, much like the company in the film, usually have support from the government and access to ‘security forces’, sometimes in the form of ex-military or state police. Yet unlike the film, in which the indigenous group triumphs over the corporate and military invaders, the real-life stories of indigenous tribes rarely end justly: from Freeport to the Pilbara to the Philippines our struggles continue.
You’re sitting on gold and copper reserves, which are supposed to mean you, have a great opportunity to become really wealthy.
The Indigenous people of Bougainville have literally been sitting on a hill of copper for millennia. But instead of bringing wealth, the mine in Panguna has been a curse. A curse in the form of the ‘western juggernaut of greed’ that has brought nothing but, civil war environmental destruction and private armies in its wake, to ensure shareholder agreement to obscene executive salaries. What has it brought the people of Bougainville? It has destroyed their traditional way of life and brought nothing worthwhile in return.
In Avatar the indigenous Na’vi are dismissed as “blue monkeys” and “savages” by the corporate administrator. Both the corporation and their hired soldiers view the Na’vi as less than human. This is where life and art mirror each other, as the ‘western juggernaut of greed’ sees all indigenous people as being something less than themselves, something less than human.
Maimonides famously said, evil is merely the absence of good. Conversely, the ‘western juggernaut of greed’ has brought no good to the indigenous people of Australia and the Pacific, therefore…