Fwd (GLW): Articles on Fiji

Alan Bradley alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Sun Jun 4 19:56:47 MDT 2000

FIJI: West threatens split

The claim by the terrorists who have kidnapped Fiji's prime minister and
government that their actions are supported by most “indigenous” Melanesian
Fijians has been dealt blow by the announcement that Melanesian Fijians in
the western provinces of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, are prepared to
form their own government in opposition to the coup plotters.

The west has a long history of support for the Fiji Labour Party (FLP). Dr
Timoci Bavadra, the FLP prime minister overthrown by Sitiveni Rabuka in the
1987 military coup, hailed from the west. Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry,
who is now being held captive by coup leader George Speight's gangsters, is
also from the region. The vice-president in the deposed government, Ratu
Josefa Iloilo, is from the village of Veiseisei.

Many in the west -- Melanesian Fijians and Indian Fijians -- work on the
sugar plantations and mills, and in the tourist developments. The area is a
stronghold of trade unionism. Many traditional chiefs in the area also back
the FLP.

A non-racial protest gathering on June 3 to defend the elected government
held in Veiseisei, between Nadi and Lautoka -- about 160 kilometres from
Suva -- attracted around 600 people. The rally was called by Ratu Sairusi
Naganigavoka, who is a supporter of Chaudhry. The rally was also endorsed
by the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC).

The rally included a prayer meeting that included Methodist (most
Melanesian Fijians are Christians), Hindu and Muslim ceremonies. It was
attended by Melanesian and Indian Fijians.

According to a June 2 report on Fijilive (<http://www.fijilive.com>), Ratu
Sairusi has warned that the west may establish its own government if
Speight succeeds in forming a government.

The FTUC leadership met on May 31 and deferred a national stoppage planned
for that day until June 5 because most industry, schools and shops were
already shut.

Following a meeting with the martial law leader Commodore Bainimarama, FTUC
secretary Felix Anthony told Workers Online's Andy Casey, “We put our
demands to him that the constitution should be reinstated and that the
elected government should be put back into place. To be frank, he wasn't
listening. He clearly stated that at this stage only one issue concerned
him: how to get the hostages out of the parliamentary complex. That is his
first and only priority.”

The FTUC issued a statement that accused the military of being complicit in
Speight's coup. “The Fiji Trades Union Congress, like all other democratic
bodies in the country, cannot give any recognition to the unlawful and
illegal interim military government. It will exert all the pressure it can
to restore the 1997 constitution and the democratically elected government.
Its resolve and determination to achieve both these goals is absolute.”

Anthony condemned the Australia Fiji Business Council's call for Australian
trade unions to lift bans on postal, airline and shipping services to Fiji.
“They are only looking at their business and how they should continue to
make money ... We have bigger things at stake here like democracy, the rule
of law and the restoration of a democratically elected government”, Anthony

Meanwhile, the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical,
Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) in Brussels on June 2
backed the FTUC's call for the restoration of democracy in Fiji. The ICEM
executive committee pledged to “mobilise a campaign of international
actions” in support of the FTUC's demands for the release of the hostages
and a return to democracy.

On June 1, the International Transport Federation of unions called on its
affiliated trade unions around the world to monitor maritime and airline
links with Fiji and target cargoes bound to and from the island state. The
ITF asked affiliates to forward information about any cargo and passenger
transport services to the ITF worldwide coordinating body.

The ITF has six affiliates in Fiji. Chaudhry was general secretary of the
ITF-affiliated Fiji Public Service Association from 1975 to 1999.

Australian transport unions on May 30 delayed the departure of an Air
Pacific flight from Sydney to Nadi for more than two hours, eventually
loading passenger luggage but imposing a strict ban on all freight and
mail. Maritime workers in Melbourne on May 30 refused to load 50 containers
on to the Fiji-bound Columbus Queensland, and workers at other wharves
began stockpiling cargo marked for Fiji.

The Direct Kookaburra, due into Australia on June 2, will not be worked by
Sydney wharfies, who have voted against loading it with containers for
Fiji. The Kapitan Tasman, due in Melbourne on June 5 will face similar


Pacific Journalism Online shut-down

SUVA -- The Pacific Journalism Online web site at the University of the
South Pacific (<http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/>) has been closed by the USP
administration. Vice-chancellor Esekia Solofa said the decision to shut the
site -- which is run by journalism students -- was made for “security

“The recent damage [by supporters of coup leader George Speight] to Fiji
Television premises show that because of Pacific Journalism Online, the
whole of USP might have been at risk”, said Solofa.

The web site, which includes the award-winning newspaper Wansolwara, has
provided extensive, critical coverage of the political crisis in Fiji.

Alternative web sites of Pacific Journalism Online and Wansolwara have been
established at <http://www.journalism.uts.edu.au> (thanks to the University
of Technology, Sydney, journalism department) and

FIJI: `A great deal has been lost'

The overthrow of the Fiji Labour Party-led government “is not a struggle
between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians” BRIJ LAL, a professor of
history at the Australian National University and a director of the ANU's
Centre for the Contemporary Pacific, told Green Left Weekly's JONATHON
SINGER on June 1. Lal was one of the people who drafted Fiji's 1997

“This is a struggle for power by a band of men who were defeated in last
year's election or are missing out on the gravy train on which they were
riding in the 1990s”, Lal said.

“A great deal has been lost” with the overturning of the 1997 constitution,
Lal explained. The constitution “was prepared after a great deal of
consultation in Fiji and overseas. We travelled around the country,
received something like 800 submissions from individuals, political parties
and organisations. We received an enormous amount of assistance from
constitutional experts from around the world.

“The report that we wrote, which formed the basis of the constitution, was
widely praised. The constitution itself was unanimously endorsed by the
parliament and the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC).”

The constitution, according to Lal, embodied “multi-ethnic cooperation,
coalition and government, and a fair and just society which protected
indigenous rights but opened the space for democratic politics. All of
those things are now gone.”


The situation in Fiji is now moving in opposition to “international norms
of human, civil and political rights. The thought that you can ... enshrine
the racial supremacy of one group is simply wrong, and is not acceptable.”
Attempts by conservative Melanesian Fijian leaders to reverse aspects of
the bill of rights -- such as the provision that prevents discrimination on
the grounds of sexual orientation -- “will not stand international
scrutiny”, said Lal.

“We are looking at a situation that is dangerous, and not just for the rest
of the South Pacific. The idea that if you disagree with any aspect of the
constitution you can simply hijack parliament, terrorise the people ... and
get the constitution revoked is a very dangerous thing for any democracy in
the Third World.”

Lal said the GCC had been constitutionally recognised for the first time in
1997, having the right to nominate the president and vice-president as well
as 14 of the 32 senators. “Traditionally, the GCC has played the role of an
umbrella organisation of indigenous Fijian interests, but increasingly it
began to see itself as the custodian of national interests.

“Today, it stands as a diminished body, ridiculed and humiliated. It failed
to live up to the expectations the people had of it and gave in to [coup
frontman George] Speight's demands.

“It refused to stand by the constitution it unanimously endorsed. There was
no place in its deliberations for principles of democracy and the voice of
the government held in detention.”

Lal told Green Left Weekly that the credibility of the Fijian military is
“in tatters” and that it is deeply factionalised. “Sections of the military
joined Speight. How is it that sophisticated armaments stolen from the
military are now in the hands of thugs roaming the streets of Suva? How is
it that this military that can be terrorised by hooligans?

“A truism is that once the colonels are out of the barracks they don't go
back. To rule the country under martial law for three years does not serve
anyone's interests, except for those who are now in power and are supported
by the army.”

Australia must respond

Australia has a very important role to play in opposing the crushing of
democratic rights in Fiji, Lal argued. “This is partly because the
descendants of Indians are in Fiji because of Australia; they went there as
indentured labour to work on [the Australian company] CSR's plantations.”

Lal said: “There will be other Speights, so an immediate and concrete
response from Australia is needed to send the message that the Speights of
this world cannot hijack a parliament and get away with it. The Australian
government should take immediate action. Postponing sanctions until a later
day will be highly counterproductive.”

Democratic Socialists support sanctions against Fiji

“The Australian government should immediately impose the comprehensive
sanctions on trade, shipping, travel, mail, banking and sporting links on
Fiji called for by the Fiji Trades Union Congress. They should be
maintained until the 1997 constitution is restored and the elected Fiji
Labour Party-led People's Coalition government is reinstated”, said John
Percy, national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) in

Percy criticised the sanctions announced by foreign minister Alexander
Downer on May 29 as “completely inadequate and tokenistic”. Measures
announced include the suspension of some aid projects, the banning of coup
leader George Speight from entering Australia, the suspension of military
exercises between the Australian and Fijian armed forces, a review of
sporting contacts, including a possible ban on visits to Australia by
Fiji's rugby team, and a recommendation that Fiji be suspended from the

Percy rejected Downer's argument that general trade sanctions would only
hurt the Fijian work force and have no impact on the alliance of
Melanesian-Fijian landowners, corrupt politicians and businesspeople behind
Speight's bid to restore a Melanesian supremacist regime.

“This argument is pretty rich coming from a government that has sacked
100,000 of its own employees over the last four years”, Percy said.
“Canberra is no more committed to saving the jobs of Fijian workers than it
is to protecting the jobs of Australian workers.”

Percy also rejected Downer's claim that trade bans would have a “wholly
disproportionate impact” on Indian Fijians. “The same sort of excuse was
used in the 1980s by the British government for not imposing comprehensive
sanctions against apartheid South Africa when these were called for by the
African National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

“British PM Margaret Thatcher argued they would `disproportionally' hurt
the victims of racial discrimination, but her real concern was to protect
British business interests in South Africa.

“Howard and Downer's reluctance to agree to the Fijian people's request to
impose comprehensive sanctions is motivated by their desire to protect the
profits of Australian-owned businesses. Australian capital dominates every
sector of the Fijian economy. Textile and clothing sweatshops in Fiji
produce $400 million worth of exports, half of which are sold in

Percy welcomed federal Labor Party foreign affairs spokesperson Laurie
Brereton's call for full sanctions to be imposed immediately. “Lesser
measures are unlikely to apply the pressure required to see Fiji return to
democratic constitutional rule”, Brereton was quoted as saying by the May
30 Australian Financial Review.

“Brereton's absolutely right about that”, Percy told Green Left Weekly.
“But simply saying it won't force the Howard government to impose full
sanctions immediately. What is needed is a campaign of mass protests like
those that were organised by the working-class movement in Australia last
year to defend democracy in East Timor.

“If the ALP was to take the initiative to organise mass street marches and
rallies in defence of democracy in Fiji, that would exert far more pressure
on Howard and Downer than any number of parliamentary speeches by Brereton
and his colleagues.”

Without such mass solidarity actions, Percy added, there is a danger that
the ACTU's bans on airline flights, shipping and communications between
Australia and Fiji would fail to gain sufficiently broad public support to
counter the likely legal threats that would sooner or later be mounted by
the employers and the Howard government.

Protests demand action on Fiji by Australian government

“What do we want? Democracy! When do we want it? Now!”, chanted 250
Indian-Fijians and their supporters at a rally outside Parliament House in
Canberra on May 31.

The protest, organised by the Movement for Democracy and Human Rights in
Fiji, was addressed by representatives of the Indian-Fijian community in
Australia and several Labor members of the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Anil Singh, vice-president of the MDHRF, told the protesters, “We want all
trade to stop, sanctions to be imposed so that Fiji is isolated and the
idiots that are in charge, the terrorists, come to their senses”.

He also said that Australia had done the wrong thing by doing little to
campaign against the 1987 coups in his country.

A leaflet handed out by protest organisers at the rally urged “the
Australian government, the governments of the Pacific region and the
international community to show their support for the return to legitimate

“We urge all supporters of democracy and human rights to call upon the
authorities in Fiji to uphold the constitution and the rights and liberties
of all Fiji's citizens.”

A delegation from the rally later met foreign affairs minister Alexander
Downer to demand that the Coalition government immediately apply sanctions
against Fiji.

In Brisbane, 1000 people rallied in New Farm Park on May 28 to also demand
an end to George Speight and his followers' coup and the return of
democracy in Fiji.

The rally, organised by the Movement to Restore Democracy in Fiji
(Queensland), heard speakers from the Indian- and Melanesian-Fijian
communities in Brisbane. Placards declared, “Restore democracy, not gun
rule, in Fiji”. One speaker stated, “We want action, not words, from the
Australian government” to force Speight to back down.

Another speaker pointed out that the majority of ministers in the deposed
government of Mahendra Chaudry were Melanesian-Fijian, not Indian-Fijian.
It was a genuine multiracial government, he said.

Rally chairperson Annukar Mishra, representing the MRDF, called for
everyone to continue the campaign for democracy in Fiji, and to maintain
the pressure on the Australian government to take swift action on the

A rally demanding the restoration of democracy in Fiji will be held in
Sydney on Saturday, June 10, 1.30pm, Northumberland Park, Liverpool.

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