The Fijian military has renewed its threat to depose the Government unless it drops its intentions to pardon those involved in the 2000 coup, and to put coastal property into the hands of tribal chiefs. The Australian government concerned to protect its economic interests in Fiji is pushing for the sacking of the Army chief for sedition. The head of the military, Commodore Bainimarama, on the other hand paints himself as the hero and not the villain, rescuing Fiji from imperialist recolonisation. Certain sections on the left caught in the trap of wanting to see the Fiji military in a good light, are comparing Bainimarama to Hugo Chavez. Let’s look at the background and find out what’s really going on.
“He (Fiji Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase) has been on record to say that Fijians have been waiting for these bills for donkeys years when we all know that only a handful of people will gain from these…..The people have been waiting for water to be continuous in their taps for more than donkey’s years and the rising crime rate is not doing anyone any good, including the criminals. Poverty and unemployment have risen and Qarase is waiting for bills that we are not all going to benefit from.”
Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama, Fiji Times Nov 9 2006
The Racial Tolerance and Unity Bill (RTU) and the Qoliqoli (traditional fishing grounds) Bill that are at the heart of the present crisis, are just the latest fight among the Fiji ruling class since the Rabuka coups of 1987 over who will reap the benefits of imperialist exploitation. Such troubles go back to an even earlier period when in 1874, Ratu Seru Cakabau (the King of Fiji), ceded the islands over to Britain in order to stave off a US invasion based on debts the King had run up with American business interests. Bainimarama’s current role seems to be a similar strong-man attempt to shield ordinary Fijians from the ravages of imperialist re-colonisation.
The essence of the RTU which had the backing of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) and the leaders of the Methodist Church, was to give amnesty to the right wing coup plotters of 2000 who were hell bent on subordinating all workers and non-ethnic Fijians to the tyranny of a militarised neo-liberal economic order. It was Commodore Bainimarama who prevented the coup from succeeding and who put Qarase in as a caretaker Prime Minister. He is enraged that his former protégé now has coup-makers in his government and proposes to amnesty the main ringleaders like George Speight.
Bainimarama described the RTU recently as a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the Qoliqoli Bill ‘racist.’ At first glance, the Qoliqoli Bill appears to be the reverse of the state theft of the ‘Foreshore and Seabed’ in NZ. But looking at the outcomes, both the Qoliqoli Bill and the NZ Foreshore and Seabed Act, seek to wrest control away from the majority population (workers) and place them in the hands of the few for the benefit of the few. Today in NZ, the state is imposing Marine Reserves in areas that have been the traditional fishing grounds for coastal Iwi and recreational fishers while giving consent to marine commercial mining interests to exploit whatever minerals lie off the NZ coast at the cost of the environment and NZ workers.
Clearly Bainimarama fears that the coup-makers will regain their positions of influence and exploit the resources freed up by the Qoliqoli Bill in partnership with the Chiefs and imperialist corporations at the expense of the mass of Fijian people. George Speight’s coup of 2000 (4 years after Fiji became a member of the WTO), represented an attempt to divest all state owned property over to the private sector in accordance with WTO rules. For Speight and his powerful puppet masters the stakes were high, but the profits would have been even greater. Attempts by the Bill’s supporters to justify it on the grounds of restoring traditional values, are laughable because they represent Fiji’s elite who are the only ones who would profit. The ‘Qoliqoli’ would also see tribal bosses fighting over boundaries and falling victim to more powerful commercial forces in the same way as Ratu Seru Cakabau feared in 1874.
The economic collapse since the 2000 coup has forced the Qoliqoli Bill to the fore in the Fiji parliament as a last ditch effort to fall into line with the dictates of the WTO. This is in spite of concerns expressed by PM Qarase and his Foreign Affairs and External Trade Minister Kaliopate Tavola about the negative impact that the WTO rules have on small developing countries. PM Qarase (formerly a merchant banker) at a recent DHL Exporters function spoke of the urgent need to increase exports to satisfy WTO demands. The main beneficiaries of the WTO rules in Fiji until recently have been US and Australian interests.
But what has become blatantly clear in the Pacific region in the last 10 years, is a shift away from the racist and patronising Australian/US economic influence towards that of Asia and especially China. This directly challenges the US doctrine for world dominance outlined in its Neocon ‘Project for a New American Century’ (PNAC), and it is a rude affront to Australia’s imperial ambitions in the South Pacific.
In 1998, the conservative kingdom of Tonga established ties with China whilst severing links to Taiwan. An act of economic expediency by Tonga’s rulers, it has however had the positive effect of exposing to Tonga’s workers the true nature of the relationship between Tonga and the US. This raises the question as to whether Australian and NZ intervention in Tonga in the aftermath of the recent riots, are really designed to impose a RAMSI-like solution to reverse Tonga’s deals with China, much as they have done in East Timor recently. (see article in this issue).
Ministers at the recent November 2006 Pacific Rim summit held in Hanoi, Vietnam; scoffed at a US proposed ‘Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific’ (FTAAP). This was an underhand attempt by the US to rein in all trade deals by individual nations under an umbrella that would be under the control of the US.
Recent visits to China by members of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), PM Qarase and military commander Bainimarama, reveal the common desire of both liberals and conservatives fractions of the Fiji national bourgeoisie to pull away from the overbearing dominance of Australia in Fijian affairs. Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao’s description of the China-Fiji relationship as a “model for others to follow” hasn’t gone down too well in Washington, but comes as no surprise to the US’s regional sidekick, Australia which has recently met mounting resistance to its recolonisation of Papua New Guinea, Solomons and East Timor.
Australian imperialism goes on the offensive
At the same time as Asia has become a major player in Fiji, there is little love lost between the US and Australia who are increasingly acting as competitors in the Asia-Pacific region, in particular in China itself.
As a long time investor in Asia, Australia has always seen China as its most important market which will soon eclipse Japan as its No. 1 export partner. In April this year, the negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) began and a Nuclear Transfer/Co-operation Agreement (NT/CA) for the supply of Australian uranium to China was signed.
Significantly, Australian Treasurer Peter Costello’s comment in October to East Asian central bankers about the need to divest from the US dollar as orderly as possible, didn’t exactly sound like reassurance for its old buddy. Australia is emerging as a significant imperialist rival to the US. Hence the free trade deal it signed after many years of sucking up to the US is much more favourable to the US. The Australian Wheat Board-Iraq scandal being relentlessly pursued in Washington shows that although Australia is an important ally, the US has no scruples about putting the brakes on its imperialist designs.
Australia’s behaviour toward its Pacific Island neighbours has everything to do with its hunger to control resources over a vast collective economic zone to feed its regional empire. Its standover tactics in East Timor to acquire the oil rich ‘Timor Gap’ and intervention in the Solomons are practice runs to take on bigger fish like Fiji and the re-colonisation of Papua New Guinea.
A joint deal known as the Indonesia and Australia Framework for Security Co-operation (IAFSC) was signed this week as part of a package that includes the sale of nuclear technology. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has made no secret of the fact that he wants the West Papua Independence Movement crushed, so that all efforts can be put into concentrating on resource plunder as part of Australia’s wider strategy. As a key ally of the Suharto regime during the suppression of East Timor from 1975, Australia continued to play an invaluable role to ensure that the status quo of outside hegemony over East Timor remained after Suharto’s demise.
Australian PM John Howard has made no secret of the fact that he wants to invoke the ‘Biketawa Declaration’ (a deal forced on the 16 member Pacific Islands Forum) that gives Australia the mandate to carry out military interventions under the guise of ‘regional co-operation’. All indications under the present (2006) political climate suggest that Fiji’s workers and the poor will suffer massive violence worse than in 1991 and probably far worse than what has been seen in the Solomons.
The call by Fiji’s political Right (including Qarase) for international intervention against a threatened coup, is fraught with all the contradictions that one expects from economic nationalists who call on Australian and NZ troops to protect their precious business interests. Their interventionist call is based on their recognition that the Fijian ruling class does not have the numbers to defend their privileges and therefore finds it necessary to plead desperately for an intervention force consisting of Australian and New Zealand troops to enforce the rule of international capital. It exposes them as sell-outs of the nation’s wealth before the eyes of the very people they claim to represent.
Fiji Labour Party betrays the workers
While the Fijian ruling class is united in its interests in inviting direct foreign investment, and is complying with the WTO rules, the working class made up of the majority of ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians pay the price of such investment with worsening economic and social conditions.
The Labour Party that once under Bavadra championed the poor and opposed the WTO has now become a junior coalition partner with Qarase’s conservative SDL (Soqosoqo Duavata Lewenivanua) Party. It has had its own internal differences going back to 1987. Under the abrasive leadership of Mahendra Choudhry, FLP support among ethnic Fijian’s has fallen as low as 2%, marking a clear racial divide. The main reason for this is that since 1987 there has been a determination by Fijian nationalists to split Fiji’s workers along ethnic lines with the result that they have ended up blindly supporting parties that are only interested in enriching the elite, both ethnic Fijian and Indo-Fijian.
The departure of prominent liberal-left founding FLP member Tupeni Baba to form the now defunct NLUP (New Labour Unity Party) in 2001 was a good example of this betrayal of the workers. After a short academic break in Auckland NZ his return to Fiji saw him make an opportunist shift to the Right by joining Qarase’s SDL.
The Qarase govt budget for 2007 that includes an increase of VAT (Value-Added Tax) to 15% has been supported by four FLP cabinet ministers. As a result, they face disciplinary action from the FLP Executive Council for going against Party policy. It is unlikely that the MPs will be forced to reverse their vote. As a result the poor mostly Indo-Fijians who support the FLP will suffer. Fiji Council of Social Services spokesperson Hassan Khan said recently “It is a prescription for social disharmony and has no justification.” Other social commentators say that the present poverty levels in Fiji are nothing compared to what will come after the increased VAT and other anti-worker measures.
For Fiji’s workers, the situation is pretty bleak. The Labour Party has abandoned them and the union leaders have proven to be in the pockets of the bosses.
Fijian workers were still numbed and coming to terms with the events of 1987 when, in 1991, the combined forces of military and police violently attacked hundreds of striking miners and their families involved in a dispute over poor working and living conditions. Most of Fijian society was horrified by what took place.
Since then workers have been at the mercy of corrupt union bureaucrats who serve the interests of bosses much like anywhere else in the world. For example, in May 2006 when gold prices were hitting record highs, the Fiji Mine Workers Union (FMWU) colluded with Australian-owned Emperor Gold Mine (EGM), to get rid of 300 workers by claiming a 6 month closure to cut costs. The real reason however was to dramatically increase profit margins.
Into this vacuum in Fijian politics where the majority of the population comprising ethnic Fijian and Indo-Fijian workers have no effective political voice let alone power, comes the military, and in particular Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Is it possible for the army chief to represent the interests of the workers against imperialism and its local lackeys, the voracious Fijian bourgeoisie?
Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama: the next ‘Hugo Chavez?’
The rise and popularity of working class hero Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, has given inspiration to certain sections of the workers movement especially those gathered around the ‘World Social Forum’ (WSF). His brand of ‘Bolivarian Socialism’ while little more than a populist ideology and a return to economic nationalism, has gotten up the noses of the neo-liberals. Is Bainimarama cast in the mould of a Chavez of the South Pacific?
Like Chavez, Bainimarama hails from the military where both are highly respected at all levels especially by the rank and file. His timing of his attack on the Qarase Govt. while he was overseas, normally not a good time if you want to avoid being overthrown, was designed to demonstrate the support he had back home. Public opinion on the streets of Suva while he was still overseas saw him as the lesser of two evils. Fiji President Iloilo appointed Lt. Colonel Meli Saubulinayau as Bainimarama’s replacement, but the Colonel refused. With that, the unity of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) and its 3,500 personnel looks solid. The Fiji Police backed by the Australian government is pressing ahead with charging Bainimarama with sedition or even treason. However, Bainimarama’s position still looks relatively secure. But for what purpose?
Bainimarama is on record as having said that he would much rather work with Mahendra Chaudhry’s FLP rather than Qarase. OK, but that doesn’t make him a ‘socialist’. His comments about the plight of the poor and calling Qarase’s rightwing policies corrupt, are commendable and mirror many statements made by Chavez over the years, but even the ‘Bolivarian’ statesman is way short on ‘socialism’ in the strictest sense. Chavez’s engagement with trade unions has been bureaucratic and has so far prevented the formation of a labour movement independent of the state and the military. The question arises, is the role of the Fijian Army also one of posing as anti-imperialist in order to more effectively contain and subordinate a mass uprising under a worsening economic situation?
Fiji Land Forces Commander Colonel Pita Driti on the subject of Australia and NZ’s behaviour toward Fiji, The Solomons and Papua New Guinea, said it represented “The hegemonic shoving of big brother policies down our throat.” He also said “We will not accept any foreign intervention.” This comes after his allegation that the Australians were preparing to invade Fiji. If such a threat was real, why haven’t the two battalions stationed in the Middle East been brought home and why has there not been a general mobilisation? Like Chavez, Bainimarama has made no attempt to empower the trade unions and working class to prepare them for such an invasion.
In fact there is no evidence of Bainimarama being aligned to ‘left’ causes. In December 2005, developments were starting to look that way when Bainimarama was invited by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) to China. Maybe a Maoist ‘Peoples War’ was on the agenda, who knows? The only obvious outcome was his support for the ‘One China Policy’. Then just eight months later, he led a contingent of Fiji military to the Pentagon sponsored and US State Department managed Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) exercise held in Mongolia. The Israeli’s were invited, but were too busy killing people in Gaza to come.
Bainimarama’s trip to the Middle East to review his troops engaged in imperialist warmongering (UN, MFO, Private Security) basically says it all. He has no intention of changing the status quo. Gravy train trips to former Stalinist workers states, don’t make a revolution and certainly don’t inspire confidence that it will make Fiji a better place.
Like an army on 'welfare', the UN and MFO subsidise 1/3 of Fiji’s light infantry battalions to such a degree that Fiji can’t afford to bring them home. As ‘Peacekeepers’, Fiji’s former soldiers with the UN and MFO don’t even qualify for war pensions and so are forced to find work with private security companies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan etc. The remainder left at home, are what Bainimarama expects to use to defend Fiji against an ANZAC-axis intervention.
For those tempted to regard Bainimarama as a South Seas Hugo Chavez, think again. Chavez is a populist whose popularity comes from spending some of Venezuela’s oil wealth on the poor. But if the poor were to rise up, he would use the army to suppress them. Bainimarama is not interested in the working people of Fiji becoming their own bosses. He preaches against imperialism, but his interests are no more than keeping Fijian resources for Fijian bosses. It the workers were to rise up he would put them down to preserve law and order and the rights of private property. The recent ‘stroll’ through the streets of Suva by the Fiji army in full combat kit, was an intimidating reminder of the instrument of oppression. But it is an instrument of capitalist power not of workers power. That power lies in the hands of Fiji’s workers and not the army’s guns.
South Pacific Workers Movement
The problem that has plagued the indigenous movements against colonisation worldwide has been the failure to marry those struggles to the workers movement. A combination of dispossession of control of resources and political cooption by the oppressor, have conspired to reduce the struggles of the oppressed to ‘identity politics’ within the World Social Forum (WSF) or worse, inter-ethnic warfare, dividing the working class along national and ethnic lines.
The indigenous struggle in Aotearoa-NZ is no different. Its activists have ended up in a mixed bag of rightward shifting politics. Tuhoe activist Tame Iti’s support of George Speight during the 2000 coup substituted a popular front based on indigenous identity for a united workers struggle.
Union bureaucracies in the region have played their traditional role of stifling militant activity to appease the bosses, while workers have had to put up with the increasing pressures of market ‘liberalisation.’ Reliant on labour organisations subordinated to the UN affiliated ILO and the newly formed International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) - a merger of the ICFTU and WCL - set the scene for a continuation of the treacherous leadership that workers have faced many times in the past. The rotten trend by union affiliated social democratic parties such as the ALP, NZLP and FLP to follow the path of economic neo-liberalism, is a betrayal, but one that comes as no surprise.
The fact is that the Pacific is in the process of being re-colonised by rival imperialist powers all under intense pressure to compete with the new giant in the region, China. The absence of a struggle based on the unity of the working class makes the task of organising workers in the scattered and isolated islands of the Pacific very difficult. Yet the working people of the Pacific from East Timor to Tonga are proving that they can fight back against the deepening exploitation and oppression.
The Pacific peoples urgently need an internationalist Marxist party with a program that unites and mobilises all the workers and poor farmers to fight for democracy and against imperialist re-colonisation. Such a Party and program would unite the peoples of the Pacific states in one struggle. In Fiji for example, the split in the Fijian working class along ethnic lines is fatal unless corrected. Workers need to refound the FLP as a multi-ethnic workers party on a program of rejection of WTO, the national debt, re-nationalisation of land and industry without compensation and under workers control, decent health and education etc. The FLP should organise the rank and file of the military to side with the people against both imperialist invasions and the coups of sections of the Fiji ruling class!
At the same time the workers of the imperialist countries and semi-colonies of Asia-Pacific, from Chile to China, must fight their own capitalist regimes, oppose imperialist military invasions and wars, and unite all nationalities and ethnicities in one revolutionary internationalist workers party.
Meanwhile, real solidarity action in support of workers in such places as Fiji, have to be initiated at the rank and file level if it is going to be effective. A big part of that solidarity is to get material aid to the affected workers by whatever means possible. The boycott of Fiji during the 2000 coup initiated by the CTU and ACTU was minimal, almost unnoticeable and absent of rank and file input. This must change! For an international revolutionary workers party and program!
Australian and NZ troops refuse to be used as tools of imperialism!
For a united multi-ethnic Fijian Labour Party!
Unite the rank and file of the military with their worker brothers and sisters!
For an internationalist revolutionary workers party!
For a Pacific Federation of Socialist Republics!
Whakakotahi Nga Kaimahi O Te Moananui A Kiwa!
[Workers of the Pacific Unite!]
Te Taua Karuwhero Kahui
Communist Workers Group - Member of the Leninist-Trotskyist Fraction.