"Sharing" the Wealth? Minerals, oil, timber, and now medicines and genetic wealth - all are fair game for governments and corpor

"Sharing" the Wealth? Minerals, oil, timber, and now medicines and. genetic wealth-all are fair game for governments and corporations

The driving force behind the relentless conflict between indigenous peoples and the waves of outsiders making contact with them is the search for resources - where resources happen to be valuable at the time. Driven by an understanding that the Earth's riches are limited, and armed with increasingly sophisticated technology, stated and corporations have been able to go, literally, where no outsider has gone before.

The natural resources located in some of the Earth's most remote placed became open to appropriation when a number of new states sprung up in the post-World War II, postcolonial period of this century, Elites and dominant groups, empowered to maintain security and promote trade, stole natural resources from indigenous nations, igniting open conflict. These clashes led to the need to military assistance, which in turn led to debt and - full circle now - the need to appropriate more saleable resources to pay off the debts.

This various cycle of resource appropriation, conflict, and weapons purchased has fed not only Third World debt but wars over the very issue of who owns the resources - a question that has been central to the rise of nationalism and the assertion of "ethnic" identify throughout the world. Nation peoples realize that without their resource base they have to no future. They also believe that these relatively young states cannot legitimately claim resources that nation peoples have utilized and maintained for centuries.

States have traditionally received considerable help from other states in appropriating the resources of nation peoples. Ten World Bank - funded colonization project in sub-Saharan Africa financed the occupation of "unoccupied" areas in a number of African countries. Subsequent problems arose; in each instance the areas were already occupied by people who had been living there for generations.

This experience is the rule, not the exception, Worldwide, development industries help states to seize resources and put them up for sale on the world market - through "obvious" projects such as miming, oil exploration, and hydroelectric development, more "subtle" projects such as colonization (which takes land), transportation (which eventually takes land, timber, minerals, and/or other resources), and credit (which finances the appropriation and/or processing of saleable resources). One issue is never, or at best rarely, addressed when development projects are launched: who owns the resources to begin with? Laws effected in the past few decades by ruling groups deny nations' claims to their resources. Such laws, many indigenous groups now argue, do not take precedence over their prior claims to resources.

The issue of who has rights to resources is being fought out on a case-by-case basis in the streets, in the forests, on the high seas, and in the courts. With any luck )and a lot of hard work), the era of resource grabs will soon be over. However, the era of the resource wars, both civil and uncivil, is just beginning. At stake is not only the issue of ownerships, but the value of resources and who has the right to manage and consume them.


Since 1962, when the Dutch handed West Popua over to Indonesia. West Popuans have been engaged in a struggle for self-determination from the from bold of the Indonesian military. As is often the case when a large nation seeks to coloniza a smaller one. West Popua contains a wealth of natural resources - minerals and timber - as well as open land on which Indonesia can results its growing population. Here is an excerpt from a 1984 report on West Popua that details Indonesia's interest in cooper mines.

Indonesian officials plan to resettle 750,000 Javanese and Sumatrans in West Papua over the next five years. Unofficially, many have mentioned the number of people to be relocated as 2 million, With the population of West Papua just over one million, such colonization would swamp the indigenous population.

Indonesian officials insist, however, that West Papua is unsettled, contains vast mineral and timber resources - not to mention 20 percent of Indonesia's claimed land area - and that the area must be developed to relieve population pressure in other parts of the country.

"Development" is precisely what worries the indigenous inhabitants as well as outside observers. the Indonesian government has used the activities of .... missionaries to "pacify" villages, to prepare them for contact with outsiders. The Papuan villages along the border and in resource-rich regions are now being relocated. The government wants to create an Indonesian "fence" of loyal colonists in these strategic areas. In some cases villages have been attacked directly; Indonesian soldiers proudly display the ears of "rebels" they have killed. In other instances, the residents have been forcibly relocated to the lowlands. As Indonesian military officers candidly remark, "Mosquito bites are cheaper than bullets," referring to a deliberate policy to relocate highland villagers to known malarial lowland areas to where they die of disease and the constant heat.…

The Tenbagapora cooper mine is located in the central western highlands of West Papua at the headwaters of the Wa River. Some 3,500 people are employed at the mine. They include 1,500 Indonesians, 1,000 expatriates, and 500 Filipinos (hired to undertake the particularly hazardous operations). Papuans have not been compensated for the loss of their lands or the pollution of their water. The mine itself has already destroyed a mountain of religious significance.

Papuans are not allowed to be trained for any jobs at the mine. About 200 Amungme are employed to sweep the area and the work in the garbage and sewage treatment plants. Amungme are not allowed to live within the mine compound - even those who work there - or to shop in the stores. No Papuan children are allowed to go to the schools. Even the surplus food Freeport Mines gives for distribution among the region's severely malnourished population is sold by Indonesian officials.

The mining compound, through copper processing and human waste, so pollutes the Wa River that villagers living along it must now walk for hours to get drinking water from alternate sources. All fish in the river have long since died. The pollution is reportedly so bad that it can be sent for a hundred or more miles out in the ocean.

In 1990 we reported on Indonesia's continuing interest in West Papua's natural wealth - this time in its valuable forests.

In 1988, the Anti-Slavery Society declared Indonesian forests operations in West Papua "a generally exploitative system of logging at the expense of the local people who lose their forests, often with little to no compensation, since forests are considered to be a `national' asset under the basic forest law of 24 May 1967" (TAPLO 1988a: 37-38). A typical example is the case of a South Korean company, PT Your Lim Seri, acting on behalf of the Indonesian concessionaire PT Kebun Sari. In Demta, 70 km west of Jayapura, the company paid compensation to the local peoples in the equivalent of US $.50 a hectare for 400,000 hectares. The company was able to earn an estimated $45 a hectare on this land. By the time the company had exported 24,000 cubic meters of unprocessed logs, land clearance and road construction had caused soil erosion and landslided, polluting the water supply of the villages of Ambora and Muris as well as damaging coastal fishing.…

In the 1970s, Jakarta-based timber companies used local military, police, and civilian officials to force Asmar villagers to go into their own forests, cut down ironwood and mahogany trees, and float them downriver to waiting ships. Although the rate had been fixed at Rp. 3,500 (rupiahs) per cubic meter, villagers often received that amount only after having handled an entire trunk. Frequently the pay was withheld for months at the stretch. All local officials were involved in the racket and were handsomely paid off by the companies. For the companies, it was a no-risk venture, involving little capital investment; even the cost of tools supplied to the villagers was deducted from their wages Asmat were browbeaten, by local government officials, into accepting logging jobs. Those who refused or who protested faced charges of subversion or of "undermining government development plans."

The compulsory log-felling scheme not only exploited forests that were the property of the Asmat, but undermined their social and cultural traditions, disrupted village life, and led to numerous human rights violations.

"The result could be the total annihilation of the Asmat people," declared the Catholic bishop of Agats, an anthropologist who has worked in the region for 20 years. An Indonesian environmental group warned that the Asmat were "on the brink of cultural starvation after a decade of enforced ironwood logging," where whole families were forced to travel with the men, for as long as six weeks at a stretch, and villages were left vacant.


Burma's teak forests are located in areas controlled by indigenous groups in the Karen, Karenni, and Shan states. The forests have become an important source of income for ethnic insurgent group such of income for ethnic insurgent groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU), although their logging methods are on a relatively small scale. Thai logging complaints, however, use more "efficient" logging methods.

Many Thai businessmen have become rich channeling goods through KNU territory to feed Burma's black market and receiving cheap raw materials coming the other way; at the same time, KNU has become almost totally dependent upon the Thai black market for its essential supplied, including arms and ammunition.

With the recent warming of relations between the Thai and Burmese military, and with Thailand hungry for timber imports, any attempt by the minorities to block or slow down logging in their territory could lead to an even higher level of Thai-Burmese cooperation and an even more concerned crackdown on the gun-runner operating along the porous border.

KNU leader General Bo Mya recently admitted that he felt "squeezed" between the Thai and the Burmese. A longtime Burma watcher summed up the minorities' position in similar terms: "They're caught between a rock and a hard place."

Probably the only real hope for Burma's forests is peace, but at the moment peace seems remote.


The human toll that logging takes can be devastating, as a recent study on health conditions in Sarawak, Malaysia, has evidenced. The study took place in the Tutob and Baram River districts in eastern Sarawak, and encompassed the indigenous Iban, Kayan, Kelabit, Kenyab, and Penan. The Penan have been waging a long-term grassroots campaign against logging interests, and they have managed to gain much international publicity and some success - but their struggle to save their forests continues.

The study area has an unusually high level of birth defects, notably cleft lip/palate (two to three per month seen in Marudi Hospital) and ambiguous genitalia (one to two per month). Presumably this is secondary to the use of DDT and other pesticides for malaria control spraying in and around housing, and for the treatment of head lice. In Long San, a chemical sprayer was seen going about his work without gloves, protective suit, or mask.…

Logging is one of the most hazardous industries in which to work in any country; the statistics of logging deaths and injuries in Sarawak are especially high. Logging ranks the highest in fatal and nonfatal industrial accidents in Sarawak, are especially high. Logging ranks the highest in fatal and nonfatal industrial accidents in Sarawak, accounting for more than 60 percent and 45 percent, respectively. Between 1980 and 1984, the logging industry in Sarawak had one fatality for every 136,000 cubic meters of logs produced and one nonfatal accident for every 7,000 cubic meters. In comparison, in 1979, the province of British Columbia, Canada, had one fatality for every 3 million cubic meters (25 times less than Sarawak) and one nonfatal injury for every 31,000 cubic meters of logs produced (four times less). In the hospitals that were visited, logging fractures and amputations took up 20 to 30 percent of the male wards. This high accident rate is attributed to crude logging techniques (in some areas logs are pulled by hand in teams) and lack of adequate education and supervision, together with inadequate or nonexistent safety equipment and a payment system based on log volume produced. Compensation for injury and death is entirely inadequate: permanent disability such as leg amputation is compensated with one year's pay, and surviving families of those killed receive a little over a year's pay in compensation.


In many Third World areas, mining and logging companies frequently fail to solicit environmental impact studies before commencing their work. On the island of Bougainville, off the Papua New Guinea coast, the colonial Australian administration first discovered copper in 1960 - on lands inhabited by some 14,000 indigenous Nasioi. In 1963, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) began prospecting.

No environmental impact study had been required or carried out at the time the Panguna mine commenced production (Hughes and Sullivan 1989). The environmental destruction caused by mining seriously disrupts subsistence and cash-cropping; expanding cash-cropping became feasible only at the expense of subsistence production (Mitchell 1917:1; Moulik 1977:44-45; Organ 1972:122-183; Ward 1975:97-101), placing an ever greater reliance on bisnis [any cash-earning activity other than wage earner] for cash earnings. Although compensation, too, provides cash, it remains a very contentious issue; land appropriation and environmental degradation have severe consequences. The Australian colonial administration decision in 1970 to flush all waste rock, silt, and chemical residue down the Karewong and Jaba rivers continues to be socially and ecologically disastrous. Up until 1989 BCL was dumping about 135,000 metric tons of tailings daily into the Jana River; the 35-km-long valley is covered 30 meters deep and one kilometer wide, and 700-hectare delta has accumulated in Empress Augusta Bay (Hughes and Sullvin 1979:37-38). Tailings are chemically contaminated with 800-1,000 parts per billion of copper, killing all aquatic life; remobilizing heavy metals ensures that such ecocide will continue long after the mining is completed (Chambers 1985:180).

In interviewing BCL chairman Don Carruthers (Griffin and Carruthers 1990:59), Professor Jim Griffin stated that Bougainvilleans had every reason to be resentful because "in 1966 the then Minister for External Territories, Charles, Barnes, visited Bougainville and told astonished villagers that, while their traditional land would yield astronomical riches, they themselves would have to be content with damage compensation and spin-off benefits, Minerals belonged to the State."


The politics of environmental and cultural survival in the Philippines contains many twists and turns. The work of the Haribon Foundation offers inspiration and promise, but the network of political ties involving high officials and timber companies is difficult to overcome.

In 1988 the Haribon Foundation, formed in 1972 to save endangered Filipino wildlife, began working to gain land tenure for ethnic groups in Mindanao and Palawan, southern islands of the Philippines archipelago. It hired lawyers and created formal links through an agreement with the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The post-Marcos head of the DENR, Fulgencio Factoran, agreed to cooperate with Haribon in awarding Certificate of Stewardship Contracts (CSCs) to tribal groups. Haribon would assist a group in organizing itself into an association, after which the group would register with the Filipino Securities and Exchange Commission (nor to be confused with Wall Street). This association would then be eligible to apply to DENR for a CSC to manage its land, normally for a (renewable) period of 25 years. No outside interest could receive logging, mining, rattan collecting, or other such concessions, or settle on the land, without the group's permission during the CSC period. Haribon would assist in determining the area of traditional land to be defined and included in the application. It would also formulate and implement sustainable resource management and development projects with the indigenous groups.…

Haribon's organizational work with trials on Palawan and its role as whistle-blower on illegal loggers has led to accusations of it being a communist front; 14 Haribon members were arrested and charged with subversion last March 15, after a month of investigation (termed harassment by Haribon.…

Ramon Mitra, Jr. [is] speaker of the House of Representatives, Corazon Aquino's confidant, and declared aspiration for the Philippine presidency in 1992. Mitra represents a Palawan constituency in the House and has publicly "branded the Haribon Foundation as communists responsible for the presence of insurgents in Palawan. He said they should leave Palawan" (Labog 1991). Mitra is a friend of Jose "Pepito" Alvarez, a principal shareholder in Pagdanan Timber Products and Nationwide Princess Timber, the province's two largest timber companies, which hold concessions in northern Palawan covering 168,000 hectares. Alvarez has been accused of "gross overcuts" and of "a constantly expanding concession" - meaning that the companies commonly cut outside their timber License Agreement boundaries (Clad 1988).…

After Oscar Lapida of Haribon found 500 flitches of kamagong, an ebony called "black gold," last January members to cutting the trees down for 50 pesos (US $1.50) each. After Lapida reported the flitches to the military 400 of them subsequently disappeared. The military later raided by Pala-wan villages, hung some men by their thumbs, and confiscated their hunting and agricultural implements. After repeated military harassment some Pala-wan threatened to commit suicide if it continued (Labog 1991). According to one Haribon-Palawan board member who witnessed and photographed illegal logs being escorted by the military (and who is one of those charged with subversion), Mitra "is involved in everything here."


Action for Citizenship, a nonpartisan human rights consortium in Brazil, is exploring the threats to rubber tapper and union leaders in the state of Acre and the dangers faced by the Yamomami Indians. This excerpt is from a report the group published after a visit in the state of Roraima, in the northern Amazon on the Guyana and Venezuela borders. That area's natural resource? Gold.

The first example of an attack on citizens' rights confirmed by the committee was in the Uanomami, village at Paapoiú, in the Surucucús Indian Reserve.

Despite the fact that the reserve has been recognized as an Indian area, the Brazilian Air Force built a runway there as part of the Calha Norte Project, a military - and government - sponsored project designed to promote the occupation of the frontier strip along Brazil's northern borders (for more information, see Cultural) Survival Quarterly 13 (1):39-43). The committee discovered no military personnel - either Air Force or Army - there; instead, some 1,000 gold prospectors have invaded the area and are decimating the Yanomami in the region. The presence of the prospectors has attracted dozens of traders and launched a constant movement of planes and helicopters. There is no official control, no presence of any authority, no police patrol. These intruders are physically, morally, and culturally destroying the Yanomami who live right next to the runaway.

They are also polluting the river; gold prospectors' huts and traders' shops are located on its banks, polluting the water and causing sickness. Worse, the prospectors use mercury in their panning process and then deposit in the water, thereby poisoning the river. With game now becoming rare, the Indians' source of proteins has been drastically reduced, and they have been forced to beg for food.

The FUNAI doctor in charge of health inspections at Paapiú. Oneron de Abreu Pithan, said that since the arrival of the prospectors, malnutrition and venereal disease have occurred and skin diseases have increased. (FUNAI is the Brazilian government's Indian agency). The death rate among Indians has risen. The doctors said that 90 percent of the Indian population at Paapiú suffers from oncocercose, an eye infection that is difficult to cure and cannot be treated on the spot. Through their travels, the prospectors are spreading this disease throughout Brazil.…

The prospectors are also bringing cultural damage to the Yanomami through their uncontrolled, promiscuous contact.…

There is also the question of noise pollution. The runaway begins less than 50 meters from the Yanomami maloca [house], so the noise of the planes revving up for takeoff is deafening. During the hour and a half the committee members spent at Paapiú, they saw dozens of planes and four helicopters parked there. Every five minutes a plane took off or landed - all while Indians (adults and children) walked on the runaway.

Brazil's nation al Indian agency, FUNAI, has long been merely an arm of the government that encourages the destruction of Indian forests and, consequently, the Indians themselves. Lumbering was extremely prevalent in the state of Rondonia and Par as this 1989 report outlined.

Lumbering can be instigated by lumbermen, Indians, or FUNAI officials. They all live in a certain proximity and can easily find each other. Sometimes lumbermen steal wood outright, quickly taking a few logs and disappearing before they can be apprehended. This has been going on for some time, for example, in the Guaporé Valley, which has relatively easy road access. At times lumber is felled but immediately seized before it can be transported. If this lumber is then sold by FUNAI, the action sets a precedent; Indians grow more interested in further transactions, while the lumber company contracted to remove the fallen wood is given the chance to persuade the Indians to sell more.

The lumbermen are extremely adept at bribing influential Indians; they ask around to find out who the local "chief" is and then make promises and give presents to him. In the case of the Gaviao and Arara Indians, for example, lumbermen gave about $300 worth of goods - most of it food - to each of the groups to induce them to sign lumber contracts. Lumbermen offer to pay travel expenses for Indians to go to the regional FUNAI office and demand to sell wood. If necessary, lumbermen take Indians to Brasilia to sign contracts with the approval of the FUNAI president.

Although some local and regional officials have few scruples, many still resist selling wood because of the problems it brings. Indians, supported it brings. Indians, supported by lumbermen, can adopt a number of measures to overcome this resistance, varying from theatrical displays (stripping to their shorts, painting themselves, proclaiming they must sell wood because of insufficient FUNAI funds or the need for a road) to demands for the dismissal of the resisting official, to serious threats of violence. Because they fear for their jobs and know that the FUNAI president supports lumbering and mining, many officials end up complying, trying to limit the damage as much as possible. Also, additional pressure comes from Brasilia to encourage local and regional officials to get their operating funds from logging.


For almost eight year, Patrick Giantonio has been walking from Mombasa, Kenya toward Douala, Cameroon, in an effort to learn more about Africa's development, health, and environmental issues from African. Her he recounts, in an excerpt from his diary, part of his journey along the Trans-African Highway - being built by Chinese and German road-building crews - with his friend Kimoto.

A few weeks later, Kimoto and I entered a large village in which a meeting of all the chiefs of the area was taking place. We were taken immediately to meet the grande chief, or the chief du collectivity, as the chief of a certain village grouping is known in Zaire. We discussed my journey, inevitably arriving at the subject of the road. The chief was anxious to know of the progress that the Chinese had made. Sitting on the edge of his sear and throwing his arms wide open, he exclaimed, "This road will be our road to development. Without it, our people will wallow in poverty the rest of our days."

I tired to approach the subject of the ecology of the forest and how he thought the road might affect this delicate ecosystem. I specified my question by asking how thousands of new settles searching for agricultural land would affect the forest. "Our forest is strong and resilient," he said. "It has provides for us for centuries. The arrival of one simple road will not affect this relationship."

Although I felt the chief's concerns for the well-being of his people were sincere, his attitude about the forest's resilience disconcerted me. Most had expressed the same viewpoint. Perhaps the strongest reason for my discomfort with the idea that "the forest is indestructible" originated in my understanding of the current rate of Rainforest destruction.

Recent statistics show that tropical forests are disappearing at a rate of between 50 and 100 acres per minute. I wondered what impact these figures could have on the microcosmic relationship between the forest and Zairean village life. Do those people who relate to the forest so intimately really control the environment's sustainability? Or can part of the root of the forest's demise be traced to the power struggles and "waste-and-want" economies of the macrocosm? After all, these people in the heartland of Zaire have as much necessity and right to seek sustenance for themselves as people from the US or Europe. The chief believed that the new road would increase quality of life and options for human survival (perhaps ephemerally). What right did I have to question those beliefs?

In this excerpt two years later, Giantonio recounts his visit with the French director of a logging concession, called Lokuku, bought by the German transnational company Danzer Corporation.

Excited to share his work, Daniel [the director] led me into a room with more chars and graphs that illustrated the process used for extracting logs from the forest. He explained that Lokuku was planing to exploit this 2-million-acre section of forest over a period of 40 years. Another employee mentioned that this rate of extraction could be halved if Lokuku wanted to - alluding to mounting international pressure from environmentalists.…

Daniel led me up to the largest chart, which illustrated both the proposed and existing roads in the forest. The roads weaved through an overall grid network that represented the section of the concession presently being logged. From each road that extended into the forest, these was a separate gridwork that represented paths shooting off from the road for a few kilometers in each direction. These were the paths of the timber prospectors, hermitlike employees who spend all their time in the forest walking these grid lines and documenting each tree to be cut.


The last great "frontier" for natural, resources is in the realm of agricultural products - seeds and plants cultivates over hundreds of years by indigenous groups - and genetic information, especially that contained in rain forests. Cultural Survival Quarterly's most recent issue focused on this topic ("Intellectual Property Rights: The Politics of Ownership," vol. 15, no. 3, 1991). In an article detailing the wealth of knowledge that Latin America has supplied in the North, Jack Kloppemburg, Jr. talks about this last great "frontier."

The scope of the hunt for raw materials in Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World has been expanded in recent years. Molecular biologists now have cracked the gene as physicists had previously cracked the atom, and in doing so have gained access to the very building blocks of life itself. We are poised on the edge of an era of production that will use DNA - genetic information - as one of its fundamental raw materials. According to biotechnology company executive Winston Brill. "We are now entering an age in which genetic wealth, especially in tropical areas such as rain forests, until now a relatively inaccessible trust fund, is becoming a currency with high immediate value."

The value of Third World genetic resource may appear high to corporate gene merchants, but that value is rarely captured by the indigenous people on whose lands genetic materials are being hunted .…

Genetic and cultural information extracted from the Third World is processed in the academic and corporate laboratories of the developed nations for the express purpose of producing new commodities for private profit. Yet when that information is collected from Andean peasants and Amazonian Indians, scientists consider it to be the "common heritage" of humanity, a public good for which no payment is appropriate or necessary. According to University of Massachusetts biologist Garrison Wilkes, "The major food plants of the world are not owned by any one people and are quite literally a part of our human heritage from the past."

It is ironic that the Third World resource that the developed nations have, arguably, extracted for the longest time, derived the greatest benefits from, and still depend upon the most is one for which nothing is paid. Indigenous people have in effect been engaged in a massive program of foreign aid to the urban populations of the industrialized North.

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