Pro-Kanak independence leader Louis Kotra Uregei passed away on October 28 after a long illness. He was 71.
Louis was a prominent figure of the Kanak independence movement.
At the young age of 30, Louis founded the first pro-independence union in New Caledonia, the Union of Kanak and Exploited Workers (USTKE), in 1981.
He was a founding member in 1984 of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), which united the major Kanak independence parties.
Louis lived through a period of major confrontations with the French colonial authorities in 1984–1988, in which about 30 Kanaks were assassinated by elite French troops.
The confrontations resulted in the Matignon-Oudinot Accords in 1988, to which Louis was a signatory.
Louis founded the Kanak Labour Party in 2007 and was its representative at successive congresses of the international Alter-Globalisation movement.
News of his death was received during the Congress of New Caledonia.
President Roch Wamytan, a member of Union Caledoniene (UC) and FLNKS, paid tribute “to the memory of a man who never ceased to work throughout his life for the construction of the country, both at political and trade union level.
“The intransigence and radicalism he demonstrated in his fights was feared by his detractors and admired by his comrades, an iron will that has time and time again contributed to social justice.
“It is a great loss for New Caledonia, a voice from the country has died out leaving behind a deafening silence.”
The UC, the largest pro-independence party, referred to Louis as “an independent leader who did not mince his words and who was not afraid … and who knew how to remind the generation of leaders of today where and how it was necessary to be heard on the national and international scene.”
Far across the Pacific, Oscar Temaru, founder of the Tahitian independence party Tavini Huira’atita, also paid tribute to “the wise man” and “companion in struggle” who had “all his life fought for the well-being of the Kanak people”.
Louis, Temaru said, was “a model for our own fight and an inspiration for the liberation of Ma’ohi Nui”.
I had the privilege of being Louis' interpreter at various conferences throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
He was as impressive when addressing his foes as he was gentle and generous with his friends.
At the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific conferences, Louis seemed at his happiest when surrounded by islanders singing about their own cultures.
The task he faced in a country where his people are a minority was daunting.
He best expressed his hopes in one of the statements in his campaign for independent in the referendum: “We want the Kanak reality to exist in this country and we do not want to become tomorrow, a community drowned in the Caledonian populace.”