The Multinational Monitor


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The Pacific Islands: How BP Destroys Fiji's Forests

The situation of the Pacific Islanders, and in specific, those living in Fiji, was explained by Simone Durutalo, currently at the University of the South Pacific. Durutalo spoke with Multinational Monitor during a break at the Washington conference.

What is the impact of multinational corporations in Fiji and the Pacific Islands?

The basic problem that we face in places like Fiji and a few other Pacific islands is the exploitation of our resources, which are very limited in the first place. Not only is land very important to us, but also the marine life and the sea.

Large fishing multinationals with their canneries deplete the fishery resources which the people in the Pacific depend on for their survival.

In small islands, where you have a penetration of multinationals, and they exploit the bigger forests and mineral resources, the impact is triple.

Which are some of the biggest companies in the Pacific, and when did they first start operating?

When the Pacific colonies gained their independence in the late 1960's and 70's, the penetration of the big multinationals really began. Some companies had been there before, but the big ones in international terms - like British Petroleum, which is the most important one in the case of Fiji - only arrived during this period. BP is now into the exploitation of Arabian pine plantations on the main island of Fiji. The company has something like 52 thousand hectares planted.

Why did the government allow the 'companies to come in and exploit the resources?

The interesting thing about Fiji is that you have a black government which is in power. They are being used as a tool by the multinational, which is not peculiar to Fiji.

The government favored the multinational because it is based on their development model. They think that foreign investment is great, that we need foreign capital to come in and develop the undeveloped resources, that sort of dependency mentality. They think that multinationals are the greatest thing on earth.

You disagree?

These ideas are mistaken because now a lot of people of Fiji, the native people, are suffering. They are just realizing that the coming of the multinationals is not the boon it was supposed to be.

How are the people suffering, as you say?

The people are suffering because now their land is being taken up by mines and forestry, to say nothing of the impact of fisheries. What has happened is they have taken away the resources, the land, the fishing areas, and so on, which was the basis of the native people's subsistence economy. This has caused a total disorientation of the people, a breakdown of their life.

How have the native people responded to the coming of the big international companies?

The native people wanted to control their own resources. They wanted the pine industry to be their own pine industry. This is our land. This is our labor that planted the thing; why should the government give it out to a multinational? Last year, this struggle resulted in a confrontation between pine forest workers and the police, and some native workers were thrown in jail.

What's the current status of the efforts by native people to oppose the multinationals?

The campaign in Fiji is very confused. The action has always been on the political front, and the government has argued: "How can you form an indigenous association when your government is black native?" So in that sense, you are caught in a contradiction, and it is not like, for example, the situation of natives where you have a white government in charge, or in Brazil where you have a military government where the enemy is always clear.

It is very hard for people to realize that it is their own government that is collaborating with the multinational, that their own black leaders that they elected are screwing them up in the end.

We are just now trying to think in terms of strategy and tactics. We are in an exploratory stage, beginning to fight back, but we have not really organized ourselves.

Timber, tourism, fishing: The corporate threat

The Pacific Islands - Hawaii, Fiji, the Marshall Islands and others - suffer similar conditions: they are the testing grounds for Western military installations and the camping grounds of foreign corporations.

The following is an excerpt from a statement the delegates from the Pacific Islands issued at the Washington conference.

Because we live on small islands, our livelihood depends on a limited amount of natural resources. For several decades, the U.S., British, French and Japanese governments have used our valuable lands and waters for their military installations, and nuclear testing, which have destroyed our health and environment.

Many Pacific Islanders are not standing by idly. Today, 1,000 people are occupying the U.S. missile range on Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands. They are the Kwajalein landowners who are protesting the , "slum" conditions they have been forced to endure. When the missile range was built in 1964, hundreds of landowners were relocated to Ebeye, a 65-acre area, in overcrowded, concentrated camps, with diseases, unemployment and suicide rates among the highest in the world.

In Belau, the people have adopted the first anti-nuclear constitution in the world, and the government of Vanuatu has taken the lead and turned away an American naval vessel because it may have been armed with nuclear weapons.

Another threat to the Pacific Islands' self-determination is the exploitation of natural resources and our cultures by foreign corporations:

  1. Tourism is one of the most devastating industries. It is destroying our coastal areas and eroding our culture faster than other industries. It has destroyed the authentic nature of our cultures and turned them into plastic Coca-cola cultures.
  2. The timber industries have decimated the irreplaceable tropical forests of islands such as Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti and Hawaii, while American and Japanese fishing companies are totally destroying our fisheries which we depend upon for our subsistence.

Unless Pacific Islanders gain the right to self-determination, our ocean beds will soon be stripped and mined of manganese, and their toxic waste products returned to pollute our shores. The U.S. and Japan also plan to use the Pacific as nuclear waste dumping grounds.

In Hawaii, the entire Island of Kaho'olawe is bombed and shelled by the U.S. Navy. This island is sacred to native Hawaiians, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Bi-annually, the navies of Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia join the U.S. in desecrating our shrine with their combined target practices.

These and untold other activities will destroy our fragile environment, delicate lifestyles, and rob generations to come of a cultural identity and national pride.

We in the Pacific see this conference as an important step forward furthering international recognition of our self-determination struggles and those of other indigenous peoples around the world.

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