Friday, 19 August 2016

The Olympic games show the fraudulent liberty of right wing Libertarianism

The Olympics are on again, and while the physical achievements of the athletes are quite impressive I’m not really that fussed about who wins medals and who got disqualified for nudging a bar. Even if I was the corruption, security crackdowns and forced relocations of thousands of locals that always seem to accompany these global events would sour me on the topic. It does provide some interesting lessons about government priorities, corporate ethics and culture clash. And very occasionally there will be a very important symbol of protest.

A bit of trivia that I learned about the 2012 Olympics provides an example of why right Libertarian types (Anarch Capitalists, the Watchmen state types, and the Ron Paul style Libertarians of the USA etc.) vision of a perfect society is basically a fraud. The main fixture of the Olympics is of course the medals, and how many medals one nation can accrue. For the 2012 games the precious metals supplied for the shiny medals was supplied by a global mining giant called Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto has stretched across the globe in the US, Canada, Australia, Madagascar and Indonesia. They have a very murky record in practically every operation they run. One part of Indonesia that is of particular interest to Rio Tinto and other mining conglomerates is West Papua, an area that has suffered over fifty years of martial law and is under the direct control of the Indonesian military. If you wish to visit West Papua legally, you require a permit with the signatures of 18 heads of different ministries, and the conflict is estimated to have killed between 100-500,000 people[1].

Indonesian military "pacify" a village

The resource extraction companies like Rio Tinto that operate in West Papua are not independent of the security apparatus, there labour practices and environmental destruction including dumping toxic chemicals into the river system

“ The mine reportedly has caused “massive environmental destruction” in West Papua due to the dumping of waste, including toxic metals, into Indonesia’s river system.(16)   According to WALHI, a leading Indonesian environmental group, the mine has already disposed of one billion tons of tailings into the local river system, resulting in copper concentrations in local rivers that are double the Indonesian legal fresh water limit. Over the life of the project, the mine reportedly will dump up to 3.5 billion metric tons of waste, despite the fact that riverine disposal is expressly prohibited under Indonesia’s water quality control regulation.(17)”[2]

Because of human and labour abuses at mining sites company infrastructure has been targeted, a riot in 1996 shut down the Grasberg mine (one of the largest open pit mines in the world) for several days and cost the company several million. In response the mining companies stepped their support for the Indonesian military.

“  In 1996, local people rioted, destroying $3 million in equipment and shutting the facility down for three days.  Shortly thereafter, Freeport-McMoRan, Rio Tinto’s partner, reportedly started providing significant support to the Indonesian government and military to ensure the protection of the mine.(18)   The company reportedly made an initial investment of $35 million in military infrastructure and vehicles and paid at least $20 million to military and police in Papua between 1998 and 2004.(19)

§    Serious human rights violations have reportedly occurred near the Grasberg Mine and Rio Tinto and Freeport-McMoRan have been accused of complicity due to their reliance on the military and police for security at the mine.  According to Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, “in the mid-1990s the Indonesian security forces indulged in indiscriminate killings, torture and disappearances of local people in their safeguarding of the mine operations and their campaigns against West Papuan secessionists.” (20)”[3]

The support that Freeport (the operations company that Rio Tinto owns 40% of) has given to the Indonesian military and police in West Papua is more than the millions of dollars given to the Police and Military. Company support for this armed protection has become so extensive that Indonesian troops and police are barracked on company property, drive company vehicles, and sport company uniforms[4] and receive direct bonuses and are even fed by the company.

“During a recent interview in Jakarta, the respected Amungme traditional leader ('Mama') Yosepha Alomang demonstrated that she did not need to read the New York Times to know that although the government security forces [including police and military] receive three free meals a day from Freeport, they still receive generous "food allowances" and other payments. The payments were recently revealed to the wider world in an exposé by Jane Perlez and Raymond Bonner published in the New York Times. [5]

In return for this generosity the army and police (The distinction seems pretty arbitrary to me) maintain discipline on company sites, keep the area clear of terrorists and on occasion spy on troublesome civil society groups for the company. Indeed when this cosy relationship was exposed in 2005 by the New York Times the Indonesian military fully admitted to the relationship,

“A military spokesman, Major General Kohirin Suganda, said yesterday the military "as an institution" had never benefited from the Freeport payments. He also claimed that individuals did not enrich themselves, rather that the money was spent on the forces in the field. "We have heard that Freeport provides support such as vehicles, fuel and meals directly to the units in the field," Gen Suganda told the Associated Press. "That's the company's policy. It was not done because we requested it."”[6]

This is deplorable but you might be wondering what the point of this is. The abuses and murders being carried out in West Papua are by state institutions; the police and the army. Well for the sake of argument let’s assume that a world revolution took place, inspired by the ideas of right libertarianism, and the state everywhere was overthrown or dissolved, or whatever. Would anything change for the people of West Papua? I realise this is a hypothetical but I don’t believe it would. Rio Tinto, Free Port and the other resource and mining companies would still be there. The metals in the ground would still be there, the market and the capitalist system would still be functioning. So not much has changed, the people of West Papua are being oppressed and a key component of that oppression isn’t even scratched.

Rio Tinto et al aren’t using Indonesian soldiers because they personally oppose the regions secessionism and believe in an Indonesia one and indivisible. They are doing it because they want to keep profits up and costs down.

Since they’ve already shown for decades that they’re prepared to ignore the local population’s needs with their business practices and that they are willing to enforce this  corporate policy through armed force. What’s to stop them from continuing to do so? There using the state army and police, because they were already there. If the army and police go away along with the rest of the state then what’s stopping the companies from building their own security forces? They already employ by proxy Indonesian soldiers so it wouldn’t even be a radical break.

If you’re being menaced by an armed force does it really change anything from your point of view if that force is motivated by a desire to maintain national unity or to get a bonus? If the people are not much happy being beaten by the “people’s stick” would they be much happier being beaten by the “Individuals privately owned stick”?

The simple reality is that both state and capital are oppressive and exploitative institutions so getting rid of one and ignoring the other, leaving aside the question of whether it’s possible won’t stop exploitation or oppression, it simply changes the jargon and uniform logo’s.

[3] Idib
[4] Leith, Denise. The Politics of Power; Freeport in Suharto's Indonesia. University of Hawai'i Press, 2003.

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