What does Brazil have to do with West Papua? To start with, West Papua is home to the world’s third largest rainforestafter the Amazon and that in DR Congo. Not so well known is the fact that the Green State Vision (GSV) launched by West Papuan independence leaders at COP26 has much in common with the ideas presently being discussed as the 2022 election commitments of Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) and his party PT. The big question is whether Brazil would support West Papua in its enormous rainforest project. If it did, it wouldn’t only be about protecting two of the world’s most important biomes, but it would also unavoidably mean speaking out to protect the people of West Papua and thus officially to condemn Indonesia’s genocidal project there over the last sixty years. It could also be the start of a global green state (condition) vision.
This is a big, very bold question because it would, in fact, challenge the Eurocentric, imperially-based Westphalian system and embrace the broader idea of Indigenous systems that recognise “interdependencies between political actors and relations to the land”. Powerful political actors, all too often presented as paragons of diplomacy, present a problem here because state-level support for the West Papuan project would entail enraging the Indonesian regime and its big western backers (as we’ll explain below). Yet, if ever there was a global display of the fact that small states and ordinary people must wrest power from those who presently wield it if this planet and its creatures are to have a decent future, it’s just been acted out in Glasgow.
After COP(OUT)26—where the largest delegation, if they represented a nation, consisted of over 500 oil, gas, and coal lobbyists, plus “nature-based” mavens from BP, Amazon, Air France, Coca-Cola, Dow, et tutti quanti—we can only assume that if this is really our “last, best hope”, we’re toast. The rich and powerful have once again swanked their stripes and aren’t even going to contemplate the changes the “last, best” hope requires. Hope dwells elsewhere. To cut to the chase, the rich and powerful need to be taxed out of the existence they enjoy now, and the rest of us need to heed the COP26 Coalition spokesperson Asad Rehman. “The richest have ignored every moral and political call to do their fair share. Their broken promises across 26 COPs are no longer fooling anyone…We know it is ordinary people who change history, and we will change history.”
As with almost all human rights problems, the people who suffer most are the ones who are striving hardest to come up with solutions. So, maybe the most inspiring proposal to come out of the Glasgow jamboree was offered by one of Earth’s most betrayed and castigated countries, West Papua, the western half of the Melanesian island of New Guinea, which shares a colonially imposed border (slashed straight down through the centre of the island, dividing tribes and lands), with independent Papua New Guinea. With a vast mountainous interior, forest lowlands, large mangrove swamps, as well as many small islands and coral reefs, West Papua has some 250 different tribes, with unique cultures and speaking their own languages (such a godsend for evangelist missionaries of the Summer Institute for Linguistics!). They are the forest’s stewards, observing ancient, small-scale agricultural practices of cultivating yams, sweet potatoes, and pigs in the highlands, or a hunter-gatherer lifestyle with a diet largely based on sago and fish in the lowlands. West Papua’s biodiverse-rich forests cover about 34.6 million hectares, of which more than 27.6 million hectares have been designated as “production” (read: for plundering) forest.
Indonesia’s settler colonial project in West Papua is, of course, built on virulent racism. Like the forest, the people protecting the land must be chopped down and cleared away too. They’re an obstacle to progress. Since Indonesia invaded West Papua in 1963, the military has been barefaced in expressing its plans to destroy its people. At the time, General Ali Moertopo, “architect” of Suharto’s New Order that was ushered in by the military coup and mass killings of 1965-66, said the Papuan people should be transferred to the moon. More than half a century later, retired special forces (Kopassus) General Hendropriyono, former head of the Indonesian intelligence agency (BIN), wants to separate two million West Papuans from Melanesia by moving them to Indonesia’s volcanic island of Manado (tensquare kilometres). Meanwhile, Indonesia has carried out a huge social engineering (transmigration or Indonesianization) project, bringing well over a million (the actual number is a state secret) poverty-stricken people from Indonesia to live in camps cut into the rainforest. It now seems that Indonesians outnumber West Papuans. And this is not to speak of direct, murderous attacks on West Papuan villages. In brief, it’s genocide and the COP26 fat cats couldn’t care less.
In fact, the “International Community” is in large part responsible for this because it enabled Indonesia to take control of the former Dutch colony in 1961 and machinated the “Act of Free Choice” so-called referendum in 1969, overseen in situ by the Indonesian commander, Brigadier-General Sarwo Edhie who is known for directing troops during the massacres of the 1965-66 military coup (supported by said “International Community and “A Gleam of Light in Asia” for The New York Times) in which between 500,000 and two million civilians were murdered, most as “communists” (a cavalier death count which speaks volumes about how regime and its allies respect human life). In West Papua, the “International Community” represented by the UN’s grand poohbah, Fernando Ortiz Sans, covered up for the killers when they rigged the “Act of Free Choice”. To give just one example, we now know from a declassified CIA “TOP SECRET” document that, even before the military coup, UN Acting Secretary-General U Thant colluded with President Sukarno to facilitate the Indonesian takeover. Here’s what the “Act of Free (read: “Free of”) Choice wasn’t: not a referendum (the population wasn’t allowed to vote); not in compliance with the New York Agreement; not an act of self-determination; not formally recognised by the UN as legitimate. This is a long, sordid story and even the presentation in 2017 of a petition with 1.8 million signatures “to remind the UN of the legacy of its failure to supervise a legitimate vote in 1969 and its ongoing duty to complete the decolonisation process” failed to get the UN to redress or even recognise the great wrong it did (and is still doing).
So would Lula’s campaign see the planetary dimension of this political opportunity and take up the struggle for a forest and human rights on the other side of the world, as part of the same project? At present, Lula seems to be the only world leader with the vision and moral stature that might be capable of bringing these two projects together. In earlier articles, we’ve described the intersectional and also international focus of Lula’s campaign, emphasising howeconomic justice in the form of an unconditional universal basic income could help to spare the rainforest from further extractive depredation; why Brazil must turn away from its past reliance on oil and gas even if nationalised; how, on the cultural front, homophobia and toxic masculinity, complete with missionaries and hired gunmen (intimately related with attacks on “Mother Earth) must be dealt with as an urgent human rights issue; the viciously destructive power of fake news and the “bullet, beef, and bible” lobby behind it; and, finally, why ecocide is a human rights issue, a crime against humanity that should be dealt with in the International Criminal Court.
In sum, West Papua’s Green State Vision commits to the following:
+ With the dual aim of sustainability and conserving biodiversity, restoring and promoting balance and harmony amongst human and non-human beings, based on reciprocity and respect with people at its core as guardians, protectors, and carers.
+ “[E]nvironmental and social protection, customary guardianship, and democratic governance”.
+ The “needs of society and the environment, rather than the economy… restoring and protecting the environment, and maintaining balance and harmony in and amongst people and the environment.” (The authors believe that this is one of several points where a universal basic income would be highly relevant.)
+ Acting globally and locally with urgent action to combat and mitigate the climate emergency; making ecocide a serious criminal offence and supporting its inclusion as a crime in the International Criminal Court; and serving notice on oil, gas, mining and logging corporations, palm oil plantations that they must introduce international best practices in environmental protection.
+ Providing free education (prioritising environmental protection and customary values and norms) and healthcare to citizens and residents, with strong policies for social protection and care.
+ Restoring guardianship of lands, forests, rivers, and other waters to customary authorities, together with important decision-making powers on their occupation and use, while observing customary values and norms and their holistic approaches; providing adequate state support with appropriate laws, policies, technical assistance, funds and enforcement; and guaranteeing that a substantial and fair proportion of the benefits of decision-making and guardianship flow to the local community, especially for education and healthcare.
+ Establishing institutional and legal safeguards to ensure that customary powers are not abused or misused, and that the environment is at all times protected and safeguarded, in accordance with international standards and principles of environmental protection and management.
+ Adopting and adapting the best features of the modern democratic State including a representative legislature, an accountable executive government, an independent, impartial judiciary, and other independent institutions and mechanisms to prevent corruption and the abuse or misuse of power at all levels (national, regional, and customary); to ensure effective protection of human rights, including the rights of women, children and minority racial, ethnic, tribal and religious groups; to consult key stakeholders before and while making laws and policies that significantly affect their rights and interests; and to co-operate with other states in combatting and mitigating the climate emergency, pursuing international criminal justice, and other key aspects of global co-operation.
+ Ensuring that the coercive arms of the state do not abuse or misuse their power and that citizens and residents of West Papua will be safe and secure from unlawful killing, arbitrary detention, and abuse and ill-treatment at the hands of the state.
Perhaps nowhere else in the world is there a state-level political project that so closely coincides with the ideas now being discussed by members of a possible future government of Brazil. They both have much in common with their grim experiences of past and present crimes, and their vision of a better future for their people.
Launching the Green State Vision, Interim President of the ULMWP (United Liberation Movement for West Papua) Provisional Government Benny Wenda, was succinct when describing West Papua’s present situation. “Indonesia tried to build development on the bones of our people. The international community must stop the genocide and ecocide of my people in order to protect planet earth. If not, the rainforest will be destroyed by Indonesia.” He also recognised that politics doesn’t come in separate little boxes where you can tick one (like save the forest) but forget the rest (like the rights of the forest’s living beings; like the people of West Papua). And it’s not a matter of each “sovereign” (recall that subservience to monarchic lords and masters is built into the word) state doing its own thing. Benny Wenda is right. “If you want to save the world, you must save West Papua.” Can Brazil help to show the way to saving the rainforests, West Papua, and the world after the Bolsonaro government-from-hell? Protecting two of the planet’s largest rainforests in a joint endeavour that respects the human rights of all people may be a big part of our “last, best hope” in these dark times. It could even be realized if enough people start demanding, yelling for a worldwide Green State Vision.