Monday, January 28, 2013

Kulon Progo Farm or Die: Interview with Widodo

Widodo is one of the local farmers in Kulon Progo who decided when he was young to go abroad as an immigrant worker just as many other youths from rural Indonesia. However, ever since the southern shore of Kulon Progo became verdant and began to yield healthy and abundant crops again due to the determination and hard work of local people he and many other village youth returned home to help their families continue in the ancestral tradition; self-sustained farming. Widodo has joined thousands of others under the umbrella of PPLP to continue to struggle against the lust for power and greed of capitalist mining corporations.

1. How do you feel about the state of the struggle of farmers in Kulon Progo today?
In general there are many things that we feel in this struggle. We have learned that the defence of our land is very important to our lives. So, when talking about the fight, the logic in learning s very important. The second is feeling depressed. Depressed because our lives are normally really good, peaceful and relaxing. However the state is providing a moral and physical pressure on us, about how we can only enjoy a life that we do not want. This, there is great benefit that we can take from the coastal community struggle in Kulon Progo.

2. Do you feel that the PPLP (Society of the Farmers of Coastal Land) in Kulon Progo have adequate support and solidarity from other farmers in Indonesia and from other people in the world in the fight to reject iron sand mining?

Relatively so, in fact we already have a lot of support from other farmers, but in our opinion it is still lacking. Our desire is that people realise the struggle in Kulon Progo is also the case of all farmers in Indonesia. We need to increase the awareness that other farmers may not have yet; that this is not only about Kulon Progo; many other farmers are experiencing this kind of struggle as well. But to say whether or not there is a lot of solidarity, we are still lacking support. Then for international solidarity, actually there is a lot of that too. We feel that international pressure is very important. It can greatly assist our movement here. However, we have not been satisfied because the struggle has not been 100% successful. So, everything is still not enough for solidarity, for both local farmers and international solidarity.

3. In your opinion, what is the cause of the lack of stronger support from local farmer movements for the struggle of farmers in West Progo or support from other groups?
There are many causes because I see that here in Indonesia it is not a kind of pure independent movement of farmers. I see that in every farmers' struggle there are other forces that actually want to control the movement. When we want networking, mutual solidarity, it's as if there is a tyrant that blocks the way. Whether it's nothing. I see that in the average movement, there is control, that's why I value the PPLP, I think no one person is in control.

4. In your opinion, what is the most important thing for farmers to focus on in the struggle to resist the iron sand mining?

There are three things which are the basis for our struggle. First, the most important focus for us is to maintain our livelihood, planting and harvesting, because if we leave it, we are not farmers anymore, we lose our identity. That is the most important. The second is to focus on how we can get the news out that the struggle against oppression is going on. All people should know, everywhere, what is going on in the Kulon Progo case. The third thing we need to do in order to resist oppression and defend our rights is always to be in contact with the formal law. This requires a legal advocate. When we, for example manage to put together a case, lawyers can play an important role. Although I have no doubt, even a good lawyer could still lose.
5. how do you think the problem of iron sand mining project will affect future generations of farmers?
I think it will be extremely influential. Not only for future generations of farmers. But it is also very influential in all matters of life on the coast here, because it would change everything. Today we have a good farm. We can all get together: we can interact with fellow farmers. We are realizing a harmonious life. The social life for that is good. But if the mine is in operation everything will be destroyed. It will undermine all aspects of social life and other aspects of life. In order to protect this, we always say that this case is our case together, the entire community. so, from the older to the younger generation, even children, today and forever have to learn how to sustain our lives. Regeneration issues etc, we still will educate them from nature. We need to be able to teach them that local, independent agriculture is essential to life because it does not destroy nature, doesn't destroy the environment and so on.

6. Can you tell us a little about the potential threat of the iron sand mining project on the environment?

Well it's a great deal. And in fact it is common for the people not to know this. It's a beach, if the mine is operating clearly coastal ecosystems will be damaged. We do not know when there will be natural disasters such as hurricanes, large ocean waves, tsunamis or earthquakes. What will happen when these ecosystems are destroyed? The function of them is to sustain life activities and can reduce the damage from natural disasters. We live here and it's protected by nature. When nature is destroyed, who will protect life on the beach and this earth? That's about the destruction of the environment. More social destruction, as I mentioned earlier, especially destruction of the local economy. With the coming of investors there is certainly big money. It's going to be the indigenous people here that would be displaced by it all. Because investors do not even think about social life, they only think about how quickly their investment would grow and benefit as much as possible. They think like that. It's what we call capitalism.

7. This has been a long struggle, has already gone on, in fact, for 7 years. do you feel that the people's struggle will continue for years to come?

I believe it will be all the way. Because I love my land, I think that my land is my life. And I think all of the coastal people think like that too. So, when this land is dredged for example, it means the same as if we gave our lives away to others. The lives of farmers will be handed over to the mining companies. So we believe that the struggle to reject the iron sand mine will keep gong, until whenever, until whenever!

8. Why do you think or believe the farmers are so ready and willing to fight for this land? What does the land mean to local farmers in West Progo?

This is a very basic question. The explanation is very wide in my opinion. Because our land is our life, as I said earlier. This life cannot be exchanged for anything. Moreover, material that is promised by investors and the government will not be able to give us prosperity, that's clear. Now when we talk about the land, then we also talk about life. When we talk about life, everything that is social, cultural, environmental, all are related to each other. That is, we can also say that our peace and prosperity cannot be measured by anything. Moreover, the calculation of being prosperous is according to this country's version or the rich people's. It could not be for the regular citizens. Even if every day we are told to just keep playing, go anywhere. We already feel peace with this life, even though our version of wealth doesn't meet their standards.

9. You stated that you didn't believe that investments could provide prosperity to the people. aren't there many people who believe that the investments will bring prosperity, bring economic abundance? Why do you not believe in it?

Who says? Whose version of the story is that? I want to know. Who can say that? Surely only the people who rule, the mining employers and the people who kiss the ass of the rulers, the investors and the businessmen. They are not independent life fighters. Where's the mine that could help the little people like me prosper? There aren't any. Moreover, talking about the country, what do they actually do? They just make up rules and laws; imprison people who are struggling, like Tukijo. There's no possible way it could benefit us. So, people who talk like that are just gullible. There has never been any evidence that when a place is mined it continues to be prosperous for the local people. Freeport is said to always be prosperous, but the reality is not like that. Yes it made the corporate owners prosperous, those who already have money, who have a high position in the company. They are prosperous. People who owned the land there were edged out. And we do not want to be like that. We want independence on our own land. I have more confidence when cultivate my own land because it is more concrete. no need to use 'this or that' rule, which is stuck in a theory. The point is that our lives have been prosperous and secure. Just today, the authorities and financiers want to evict us. But, we will stay and fight all the way. It doesn't just end there. In fact, when I was to Lumajang, East Java, the coastal farmers were already prosperous and safe there. They've been able to find a way of life according to their own model and in accordance with the well-being that they want and expect. But then again their lives were also about to be damaged by the state and investors. That's an example that I have actually seen for myself. Another example is in Kebumen, there were coastal farmers that lived independently farming. But there the TNI (Indonesian Army) one-sidedly claimed that the land is military territory. Yet it is clear that the land is public land for the use of the people, it had already been certified. That's the funny and weird thing. So that's why I never believed in the so-called 'country' or 'state', because it is usually only to protect investors rather than protecting the community or people. In addition there are many more issues, as in Porong, the Sidoarjo mudflow, a good example of a case that put people into misery and poverty. That was the act of corporate investors, why should we be deceived. There are already too many examples and we do not like them. No, we will remain like this, farming and fighting.

10. we know that the Sultanate of Yogyakarta and Pakualaman have an interest in this iron sand mining project because in addition to royal family members having an important position in the company of PT JMI (Jogja Magasa International) they are also part of the shareholders. On one hand, many people believe that the job of the palace is to protect society and uphold justice. But that image is contrary to the evidence of their involvement in the iron sand mining that would displace thousands of farmers on the Kulonprogo coast. What is your view on this?

What's the palace? It's an institution that does not say anything clearly n my opinion. When they speak about culture, they say whatever they want but we have to face the fact that the palace is merely a symbol to cover for a collapsing and outdated institution. Many people still see the palace as a symbol of an open and just empire but it only serves to try to conceal the rotting truth. The reality is that the palace and the people within clearly want to evict the residents of Kulon Progo from their land. People who are their own people they once swore to protect. For us, it's just more hard evidence that their power is only used as an exploitative tool. When they try to claim it's for distributing prosperity fairly among the people. Ah... I never believe it.

11. Can you tell me the forms or processes of the coastal farmers' struggle in Kulon Progo incorporated in PPLP that have been carried out for the last 7 years?
There have been a lot. Even I forget how many times the farmers have protested against the government. We have taken to the streets with demonstrations demanding government agencies at least listen to our protests, to the voices of the people. But yes, to this day they still insist on continuing with the mines. For example, we have already done several rallies in the Kulon Progo district directed at the government, in the regency, in front of the government of Yogyakarta. Once we went to the House of Representatives as well. Then as far as correspondence, I also forget how many times we wrote to them and even wrote to the president some 2-3 times. We'll never know whether the letters were just dismissed, used for food wrapping. I also believe the president doesn't care to read a letter from a farmer. It's proof that today cannot depend on the legal process to help us; it's all theory. I can talk like this because I've proven myself, however many times we've written letters, made legal actions, talked to te government it was all nonsense. They promise it, but the reality does not exist, even the house of Representatives... yes, I've been there maybe 5 times, they just make empty promises. Even when they have come here (to Kulon Progo), rather than to see the fate of their people, the House of Representatives Committee actually came to see how well it could be mined, not to defend the interests of society. So we do not believe in the formal legal system struggle, because it does not work, we've all tried. Moreover, I think the intentions of NGOs is not clear because what I saw was they did not support our rejection of mining, but instead they offered to negotiate a “win-win solution”, a “win-win” for the country and investors which is not beneficial for our society. So we can never really trust them. And there is evidence that NGOs have failed many other farmers who struggle in Indonesia. If it has claimed to have been successful it was false because, farmers cannot be completely independent to manage their own lives.

12. The last question, what are the best things to do, both for existing farmers in Kulon Progo, and the movements of people in general that are still struggling against oppression?
That's actually a simple answer in terms of words. We should never leave our fate to others. What determines our destiny is our own, nobody, not parliament, not the bureaucrats, not politicians, especially not NGOs. We will not allow it to be given to them. Our struggle is ours alone. We share it with everyone, we are very open, because the interests of campaign issues that occur. But for the decision-making, it lies within the community. This is not just for farmers' movements, but also very important for all movements, of the labor movement to other movements. Completions of agrarian cases in Indonesia are mostly left to the politicians and NGOs, who typically have ruined it. We are fighting independently. And the importance of three things I mentioned in our conversation earlier, building society strength on the base level, we must realize that this struggle is ours. The second, how do we build a network with friends who actually care and really want to have to think together for the benefit of the people? We opened the campaign network outside faucets so that this case would not be localised, that this case is a case of us all. That is the importance of why we must build a strong network. But we must be aware, not to let these “network connectors” becoming a “broker”. We simply need to use our logic and common sense to analyse the purpose of people that go into a conflict area. The third thing is, we need advocates, who when we come into contact with the law can back us up. so that our people who got trapped into a law case could feel more content, even though big possibility is perhaps we still going to lose the case through lawsuit anyway. If we want to win, we have to use traditional law and our own law between farmers to solve problem with anyone.

13. Any final words of encouragement?
This struggle is our struggle. We will never give it over to anyone else, and we will continue to refuse iron ore mining whatever it takes and until whenever.

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