The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Indonesia:
How a gold mine is ruining the region

May 8, 2006

The confrontation between the police and the population of a mining region, West Papua, in Indonesia, resulted in seven deaths in mid-March. The police shot into crowds of demonstrators.

The protests were against the take over of the region by the U.S. mining company Freeport McMoran. Since 1971, Freeport has had the exclusive concession to extract gold, silver and copper from this region. More than 14,000 miners dig out 200,000 tons of ore per day from the world's largest open pit gold mine. The hole in the land goes down more than two miles. An additional 7,000 tons of other minerals, mixed in water, are sent by pipeline for shipment to Japan or to the U.S.A. Next to the mine is a mountain, made out of rubble from the pit.

The miners of Freeport supposedly make three times the average worker's wage for Indonesia. And the company provides the miners with housing. But another 120,000 people surround the mine, the so-called “illegal” miners, working at whatever they can in the surrounding slums that lack actual roads, let alone sewage removal. The only public building is a barracks for troops. The government is represented there by the police and the army, whose wages are partially paid by the company.

The CEO of Freeport says such payments to the police are the best method to ensure their “dependability.” Likewise, the mining director was quoted in the local press saying that the police are needed to ensure that demonstrations are “peaceful and quickly ended.”

In 1995, the police in Papua assassinated several Papuans who opposed the extension of the mine. Even women and children were killed. In 2003, Freeport actually admitted to paying the Indonesian army to try to forcibly move the population out of the area.

It's not just that the company bribes the local police. Freeport also helped to finance the dictator Suharto. During his 30-year reign of terror, Suharto guaranteed the company would receive loans. Three payments of 673 million dollars each were given to Freeport. In exchange, Freeport promised to keep its company headquarters in the mining region, guaranteeing the length of the concession.

Freeport also engaged the services on its board of directors of Suharto's good friend, Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State. When Suharto was overthrown in 1998, Freeport made sure it engaged the services of a judge from the International Tribunal in the Hague. This judge was one who specialized in “crimes against humanity.” He assured Freeport it wouldn’t be considered liable for any crimes in West Papua.

There is a terrible price paid for Freeport McMoran's profits: the daily lives of the local population. Yes, $7.00 is supposedly a high salary. In exchange, miners breathe in dust all day long under harsh working conditions. For some of them, starvation is the goad to dig through a mountain of debris with their bare hands to find gold dust. They endanger their lives to make a bit of money. And their lives are plagued by slums under police control, prostitutes afflicted with AIDS, a military dictatorship, destruction of their countryside, poisoned rivers and the semi-disappearance of the Papuan people, who were the only inhabitants of this region until 1960.

These are some of the “incidental expenses” of capitalist exploitation.