Sunday, April 18, 2010

ABOUT CORPORATIONS, THE STATE AND THEIR CASUALTIES. : An interview with one who is still fighting

[translated from the book "Mengapa Kapitalisme Menyebalkan, Katalis 2010. The case of Lapindo Brantas is well known in Indonesia, but maybe readers in other places need a short explaination: Lapindo Brantas was drilling for gas near Porong in East Java. This (almost certainly) was the cause of a new mud volcano which sprang up near the drilling site and continues to flood hot mud over an area of several square kilometers, inundating several villages and affecting many others. The case is particularly notorious because Lapindo Brantas is part of the Bakrie Group, one of Indonesia's largest corporations, who's head is Aburizal Bakrie, Cabinet Minister and head of the Golkar party.]

According to you, Cak Ir [1], what benefits have come to the people due to the presence of corporations in your area?

Basically the people have been deceived by the corporations. Persuaded to believe that there would be a better life, guarantees of work, they would have more money, things would be more modern and more pleasant. In Besuki[2] the first time the people were deceived was when a toll road was being built. Building this road was promoted to the people as a highway that local people would be able to access, and the people felt that they would obtain lots of benefits from this new road. The road would be more pleasant to use if it was asphalted, they thought. But as it turned out, local people could not access the new road that was built . Once the road was completed, luxury cars would flash by, and the local people can't join in - all they can become is spectators. Industry has also started to squeeze its way onto farming land. The first factory to be built was by Pertamina.

The main negative effect that the people felt when the toll road was built was geographical: the community was split in two, Besuki East of the toll road and Besuki West of the toll road. After the village was split in two there were other problems. If you wanted to visit your family whose house was in the same village you had to find a way around the road, whereas beforehand it was easy to visit friends and family because the village hadn't been split in two by a toll road.

Without the corporations, people could still manage to survive and actually life was more comfortable. Before there were any factories, people made a living through farming and enjoyed better living conditions than nowadays.

You said, Cak Ir, that living conditions were more comfortable as farmers. But is that satisfactory, given that not everyone owns land?

Throughout this time, farming always was truly able to support the people's livelihood. In the village there is a rice barn where villagers can borrow rice for planting if they don't have enough. This can then be paid back by the borrower at harvest-time. With the new developments, such things are disappearing. The culture of helping out your neighbours is also being lost, all that's left are the funeral processions when people die.

The key point is that the people will not obtain any benefit whatsoever when the corporations arrive, whether it be Lapindo Brantas or other factories. The people are merely being deceived. They are deceived by promises of a better standard of living, that they will get jobs or of modernisation. But can people really work in these factories on a long-term basis? At the most they can work for two or three years. After that they will get old and be replaced with younger and more creative people. When someone takes up work in the factory, they are making themselves dependent only on the factory work. When they aren't taken on any more, they no longer know what to do.

When I was still young, not all the harvest was sold, some was saved instead. Today it's not like that any more. When they harvest the crop, farmers do not take home rice, only money. In the end they become consumerist, buying this product, buying that one. The when it comes to planting season, all their money is finished.

If the people are deceived by corporations and development, how does this influence social interactions?

What's clearly lost is the means of production through farming (rice fields). Without this means of production, how can a farmer produce? How can a farmer sustain their livelihood? As development takes place, and the corporations arrive, farmer's rice fields are evicted and lost. It might be that those who want to develop land and build factories will pay a high price for these rice fields. But to buy rice fields somewhere else is also not cheap. On the other hand, when people suddenly find they have a lot of money, most people don't use the money to buy land in another place. When the money is finished, they choose to look for work in the factories that evicted them from the land. This really is the destruction of freedom. Land that before represented a farmer's livelihood is taken over by other people. Without being aware, we are being bought by other people. Once there are no more rice fields, we are in a state of constant slavery to them, those people that we didn't previously know. We are no longer free.

In everyday life, competition starts to emerge. At work, for instance. To start work, the factories tend to choose people that have enough money to pay a bribe. From this point the gap that divides rich from poor starts to grow wider. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Consumerism also becomes something to compete about. Such as: look, I have a television, or I just got a new motorbike... People are happy collecting new things which they don't actually need. When this happens, people are no longer creative and they become individualistic.

What is the most conspicuous loss that comes from these changes?

Social interactions are only valued by money. As money dominates, people increasingly accept any method to obtain it. The culture of mutual aid is also eroded. For example with community work or night-watch. Someone can pay another person to take on their community work or night-watch shift. Money also makes divisions between one person and others, and starts to reinforce the divisive concept of social status. So rich people can't be bothered to relate to poor people, and vice versa, poor people feel inferior in the presence of rich people.

But wasn't money around long before the growth of industrialisation?

Before the sort of industrialisation we see today, of course there was money, but it wasn't too significant and didn't make people as crazy as it does today. People were still accustomed to visit each other and the family atmosphere was really alive. For example if someone was sick, with that knowledge alone people would help each other out. Back then, on the Eid-Al-Fitri holiday, people would go and visit almost every other house. This sociable feeling could last a full week. But nowadays it is not so sociable. On the third day of the holiday, people are already thinking about going back to work. Another thing is the effect of technology. When they have a mobile phone, people feel it is a sufficient show of friendship to send a text message or make a call, without feeling the need to go and visit in person.

As all this happens, what is the position of the state?

To be honest, the state provides a shelter for rich people and corporations as they extort the population. It wouldn't be possible for Bakrie to operate in Porong without the permission of the regency chief or governor. The government destroys the people's livelihood together with the corporations. In truth, the people are intimidated by them. An example was during the process of land acquisition to build the toll road. People who didn't want to sell their land were threatened as they were standing in the way of progress.

What can the state actually give to us? The state only collects tax and suchlike for their own profit. The people are treated like garbage. But many people aren't aware that this state is being paid for by the people. Because of that, a large part of the population is still afraid of the state.

So the state is an institution we have to fight as well, yeah?

With all our strength and thought we have to fight the state. People can still live without a state. but the people in general are scared that if there was no state their lives would be colonised by a different country. But in fact, before we were colonised by foreign countries we were colonised by our own state. Moreover if another country comes to colonise are we just going to sit by silently and do nothing? If there is no state, we can sort things out on our own, live collectively, and look for our own solutions. The state doesn't provide any guarantee whatsoever. The proof of that is that there are many laws but never any order. Not to mention that we are never asked about these laws before they are made. Whenever we do anything, we never know whether suddenly we'll be accused of breaking some law and sanctioned for that.

If you feel that corporations can only destroy and the state oppresses as well, then where do you stand, Cak Ir?

If we just stand by quietly, it's clear we will become casualties because we are powerless. We won't get our freedom back and will only follow the existing rules. For example in the Lapindo case, there's the problem of drawing up the map of who was affected and who wasn't [3]. In this case it should be that whoever feels their life has been damaged by Lapindo is a casualty, not based on the areas that the government determines.

In order not to repeatedly become victims, we have to destroy all those that have destroyed our lives. Without destroying corporations and the state, there will be no new and better life. Maybe we can move to another place, but as long as corporations and the state exist, they will continue to destroy us in those new places as well. We can't rest at only demanding new and better lives, we also must destroy corporations and the state because they are the ones that are destroying and repressing us.

In the context of the Lapindo case, the general public are only asking for compensation. From a position such as this it is easy for the corporation to brush us aside. They will consider we are not able to fight and not brave enough to demand something more than what's in the scheme that the government and corporations have prescribed. The general public is not aware that corporations only act for the elite, and the people will always lose. Another example is the price of land (which is claimed by Lapindo and the government as the compensation price)[4] which started at one million rupiah per square metre has been changed to become 900,000 rupiah per square metre. Before the money reaches the hands of the people, it is not difficult for the corporation to unilaterally lower the price. The people need to be aware that they are always going to be on the weaker side if they enter the battlefield with them.

So what have you done to fight the destruction and oppression you spoke about?

All this time i have been trying to build up my friends' awareness that if we only demand compensation without also demanding that those responsible for the destruction are punished, we will continue to be haunted by our fears. This is not only true for the Lapindo case. Whereever there are corporations and rich people they will act like this. Those that destroy the mountains, throw waste in the seas, fell the forests are not the poor people but corporations and the rich. Corporations and the rich must be stopped. At this moment, as there is still a state, the state should be punishing them. But if the state really can't do it, then the people themselves must punish these destroyers. The Lapindo case has been going on for over 4 years now and the state does absolutely nothing. The justice system can be bought and it can be lied to. So it's the people themselves that must punish the destroyers. For example by occupying their offices and putting a stop to their activities. Unfortunately, the people in general are not yet brave enough or aware enough to do something like that. They still only want to be compensated, that's their limit.


[1[ Cak Ir is the familiar name for Muhamad Irsyad, a fighter who has stood firm in the struggle against Lapindo and the state since the first moment the Lapindo mud started to flow. Previously a farmer, he was frequently terrorised through physical threats, his house burnt, and most recently by rocks the size of a baby's head being thrown at his house. Until now this resident of East Besuki has been considered as a provocator by conservative people in the village, because he advocates a ceaseless struggle against Lapindo and the government. Some of the activities this father of three has been involved with are: spreading the campaign against Lapindo, demonstrations against Lapindo, building up the Al-Faz community (discussion, community library, activities playing with children), and so on.

[2] Besuki is the name of a village in Jabon district, Sidoarjo regency, East Java. After the Surabaya-Gempol toll road was built, Besuki was split in two and became West Besuki and East Besuki.

[3] Until now the impact map the Lapindo mud-flow has been based on Presidential Regulation number 14 of 2007, Presidential Regulation number 48 of 2008 and Presidential Regulation number 40 of 2009. "Impact map" is a term that refers to those areas which are deemed to be affected by the Lapindo mudflow to the extent that they have the right to compensation. Not all villages received compensation. In the Presidential Regulation number 14 from 2007, only four villages are categorised as eligible for compensation: Renokenongo, Jatirejo, Siring (all in Porong District) and Kedungbendo (Tanggulangin District). Presidential Regulation number 48 of 2008 only extends this to another 3 villages in Jabon district: Kedungkangkring, Pejarakan and West Besuki, and Presidential Regulation number 40 of 2009 further incudes only West Siring, West Jatirejo and 3 neighbourhood associations from Mindi village (all in Porong District). This division of territory, clearly discriminatory, causes horizontal splits and social jealousy. Many other villages feel a clear impact from the Sidoarjo mud-flow.

[4] Lapindo and the government consistently use the same phrase, compensation (=ganti rugi), when what they are trying to express is actually "buy and sell". In the case of the Lapindo mud-flow, the people definately did not recieve compensation, what happened was that the people's assets (those whose land was defined to fall inside the area of the impact map) was bought by Lapindo and the government. For the villages included in the impact map established by Presidential Regulation number 14 from 2007, their assets were bought by Lapindo. For the villages included in the impact map established by Presidential Regulation number 28 from 2008, their assets were bought by the government. The assets of the villages outlined in the impact map of Presidential Regulation 40 of 2009 were not bought. The government compensated the rent costs to an amount 2.5 million Rupiah per head of family per year, and gave a living quota of 300,000 per person for each six month period.

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