A human rights tragedy is in the making in Riau, Indonesia. According to riaueditor.com, the local Kapolda (chief of police) is considering ordering the feared riot police to evict a community bordering on the ravished Tesso Nilo National Park in Sumatra. The move comes after a controversial visit by Star Wars/Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford, during which he interrogated and humiliated the Indonesian Minister of Forestry so badly that, according to the Huffington Post, the otherwise NGO-loving Yudhoyono administration considered deporting him. Ford’s superstardom aside, the Minister is correct in arguing that Harrison Ford is not above the law. Simply put, Ford swept into Indonesia aboard his Millennium Falcon and let his whip-wielding archaeologist alter ego get the better of him. Ford’s temper is legendary, and he lived up to the legend and created a real life drama with his verbal whipping of the Minister of Forestry.
Ford and the global NGO overlords he serves are responsible for creating a new, complex community problem in Sumatra that will endure long after the Hollywood actor returns home to his California mansion and makes his next million at the box office. Oblivious to the civil havoc he left in his wake, he will take pride in sharing his Indonesian war stories over dinner with powerful U.S. politicians with a glass of chilled Chardonnay.
The reaction by Indonesian Government officials has been swift. As we speak, illegal settlers have been identified and plans are made to move about 1,000 families out of the Tesso Nilo National Park. Riot police, who are well known for the use of excessive force against communities, are being prepared for action and we can soon expect violent clashes. This destruction to the settlers’ otherwise peaceful existence is purely the result of Hollywood NGO power.
But with power comes responsibility and this is where Ford misses the mark. Like any movie, power is often short-lived. Ford’s power in reality is little more than a platitude of American perspectives on how to solve complex social issues with the cosmetic and somewhat naïve approach of a film star. Harrison Ford’s long standing engagement with the Green agenda is noble and his good intentions should be recognized. But prostituting himself to a global campaign of the NGO collective discredits his professional and personal achievements and should not be at the expense of humans. Like the U.S. Government in many of its recent actions – both domestically and internationally - Harrison Ford is overstepping his authority and is creating a negative backlash of public opinion.
The movie in which Ford is playing a role is part of the U.S. Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign. Other like-minded NGOs like Greenpeace, WWF, and the Rainforest Action Network were quick to show solidarity and jump on the campaign band wagon. But like rats fleeing a sinking ship, after Ford’s disastrous meeting with the Minister of Forestry officials from WWF and Greenpeace in Indonesia were found pointing to each other in a “who me?” manner as they scurried to escape responsibility for supporting Ford’s visit, the resultant reactions by national police, and the displacement of about 1,000 families. WWF and Greenpeace do not want to be associated with nor held responsible for the heart wrenching drama of hundreds of families being torn from their homes and forcibly relocated.
The heroic sheen of Han Solo has been tarnished, as Indonesians feel that Ford represents just another example the hypocrisy of American activists accusing Indonesian officials while they shy away from environmental issues in the United States. Dr. Jones and his movie buddies, the Terminator and Matt Damon, in concert with WWF, the Rainforest Action Network, and the usual collaborator Greenpeace, might get good box office sales. But their narrow world view and accusatory style has created a new problem affecting thousands of rural communities following a concept WWF has applied in India or the Sierra Club in Africa.
The events that will unfold in coming days as a result of Ford’s actions are unlikely to affect him and his cohorts. But they will surely impact the hundreds of forest dwellers who reside in the area because the WWF didn’t manage the national park adequately in the first place. It is unclear if the settlers are dwellers, and therefore ancestral residents, or immigrants who settled in the area before the national park was actually a nature reserve. In 2012, the WWF made a presentation to the Ministry of Forestry in which it made the astonishing statement that the Tesso Nilo National Park should be used no longer as a nature reserve but instead as a fund raiser. By making this statement WWF effectively admitted its failure in managing the assets entrusted to it by the Indonesian public.
Containing the Jinni
Cynics in political circles in Jakarta point out that the reasoning behind why the president keeps on falling into the foreign NGO trap is a poor understanding of what the global activism movement today is really all about. His strategic vision is relatively shallow and short-sighted since the economy is not doing that well and his political dynastic party longevity in a post-SBY presidential environment is less than certain.
One cynical unnamed official said that if the president wanted to watch Indiana Jones again he could have just bought a pirated copy in any of the VCD shops in Jakarta for less than 10,000 rupiah (US$ 1). Instead the president asked Harrison Ford to bring the slurs and Western prejudices the actor unloaded on Indonesian officials in person to Jakarta. Showing classic Hollywood panache, Ford fed the lines his NGO handlers gave him and eventually embarrassed the administration again, an administration which has been accused of playing the foreign fiddle more than being concerned about the realities of a global economy. Industry sources state that Brazil intends to triple its production output of paper and pulp and palm oil in 2014 to compete with the Asian companies. Many critical voices increasingly see the NGO action as an anti-Indonesian campaign to undermine the Indonesian companies which dominates the global market.
It should slowly dawn on the SBY administration what the true campaign motives of the “NGO friends” that the president so openly embraced are really all about. As sure as the sun rises in the east over Hollywood, the outgoing Indonesian president brought this PR disaster on himself and Indonesia the moment he set foot on the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior, which was full of criminally convicted activists who sang him a lullaby. His openness, as well intentioned as it is, lacks strategic depth. As the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” the current Indonesian administration is learning that Hollywood is part of good old politics. We heard this during Hillary Clinton’s and Harrison Ford’s public speeches in last year at the Conservation International annual dinner widely circulated on YouTube.
Officials speaking under condition of anonymity told the reporter that the Yudhyono administration attempted to execute a policy of openness and “containment” of the foreign NGOs and were quick to point out that the party of the president supported the passing of the NGO Bill that provides a legal structure to act against errant NGOs. However, the naïve notion of attempting to contain the emerging counterculture is like putting the jinni back into the bottle. It is a hopeless task and fought by the dark forces of global NGO interest groups that reach beyond the term of the outgoing president. It is, after all, going to be somebody else’s problem to deal with.
Globally the new type of aggressive U.S.-sponsored activism has put a serious dent in U.S. foreign relationships. George Friedman, in a recent article titled, Syria, America and Putin’s Bluff, pointed out the frosty relationship between the U.S. and Russia is partially a result of the open secret of the U.S. administration sponsoring NGOs. Russian retaliation against the U.S. was swift. Russia adopted a new NGO law and effectively calls NGOs that accept foreign donations as “foreign agents.” In Turkey Greenpeace and other NGOs like 350.org triggered protests over the proposed construction of a shopping center that continues today. The NGO actions, however, only hardened the resolve of the current administration of President Abdullah Gül. In the end, the global NGO groups have achieved only one thing so far: at least six activists and police officers were killed over a few trees. Activism does kill.
And so far the likes of Kami Naidoo (himself an activist with militant affiliation to former armed fighters of the ANC and 350.org, lefty anti-war mongers, and purveyors of revolutions) are not held accountable by laws in the United States since seemingly association in actions that result the death of non-U.S. citizens in Turkey and elsewhere are seen in a blasé manner by the legal communities. It should therefore come as no surprise if governments and societies lash out against what is a new violent movement in the making. It can be argued that the policies like the esteemed movie actor and the current militant Greenpeace and 350.org leadership support are in fact responsible for the reduction of democratic space.
The eviction policies of WWF and the global NGOs
The movie involving Harrison Ford and the other Hollywood “greenies” is titled “Years of Living Dangerously,” an obvious play on the Mel Gibson classic about the 1966 Indonesian communist unrests. Despite the catchy title and the media fanfare about Harrison Ford, the tragedy of the destruction of Tesso Nilo National Park overshadows the failed NGO national park policies of the WWF.
The same Minister of Forestry who was interrogated by Han Solo had previously called on WWF after an internal investigation by the ministry into the management of Tesso Nilo National Park and found that under the (mis)management of the WWF approximately 78% of the natural foliage was destroyed.
In true NGO fashion, the WWF collective (Eyes on the Forest, WWF Indonesia, and Jikalahari, a WWF paid coordination direct action body) went into overdrive with a multiple layered counter attack that would make Clausewitz’s Strategy on War proud. Following the minister’s call to WWF Indonesia to sort out its mess in the national park, reports and counter-allegations appeared in the public accusing Wilmar and an Indonesian palm oil company of “receiving possibly illegally harvested palm oil fruits.” The typical deflective strategy used by WWF shows the lack of responsibility in the failures to protect the assets given by APRIL, one of the Indonesian paper giants, and the Ministry of Forestry. It also follows the increasing militant strategies applied by WWF and the global NGO collective.
Since the Harrison Ford incident with the Minister of Forestry, orders were cut by the national police chief to execute the forceful removal of dwellers of communities settled in the Tesso Nilo National Park. In the end, the national police are doing the dirty work of the WWF. And the dwellers will not take their eviction lying down. Community members in the vicinity of the national park are already announcing preparations to fight the police. A conflict is in the making.
The eviction policy is not a new thing. WWF has a long history of evicting communities from their native lands. The Indian historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in 1996 in, The Authoritarian Biologist and the Arrogance of Anti-Humanism, that the NGOs consider human communities as having a destructive effect on the environment with the language often expressed in strong pejorative language. The U.S. Sierra Club sharply attacked the Maasai for grazing their cattle in Africa and in India WWF interests are pitted against poor tribal people who have lived in wildlife sanctuaries for centuries. The same fate seems to await the communities in Riau with the German Government recently announcing an 8 million euro aid package to be thrown behind their crusade to fix a park, which from the beginning was under the mismanagement of WWF and its global NGO partners.
Local communities are becoming the scapegoats for the failings of the global NGOs. In an attempt to save face, the WWF is using the Tesso Nilo National Park to fund its objective to create another pleasure paradise for both the affluent eco-tourism adventurer and the European $2 a day backpacker who wants to see an elephant perform tricks. None of this is credible development, helps the community, or prevents the destruction of the environment.
If the Indonesian police execute their threat of removing about 1,000 families the immediate question to be asked will be where the families will be resettled? What about the children’s schooling and their immediate needs of food and shelter? And what if the lands are actually ancestral lands? Since the outcome of the presidential instruction to evict about 1,000 families is uncertain, Harrison Ford and the foreign NGOs will bear the responsibility of the human tragedy that is about to unfold in Riau. It is unlikely that Han Solo will make a movie about it.