Tahitian independence activists on tour


By Dave Wright

While the movement against French nuclear testing in the Pacific continues to grow in Australia, the people of Tahiti, who are most directly affected, have staged large demonstrations opposing the resumption of testing at Moruroa atoll.

On June 29, 15,000 people marched in the capital, Papeete, and thousands more did so on Bastille Day.

Two touring Tahitian activists, Chantal Spitz, a teacher from the island of Huahine, and Ettiene Teparii, a broadcaster with Nuclear-Free Radio Tefana who is also on the management committee of the Polynesian Liberation Front, Tavini Huiraatira (the pro-independence, anti-nuclear party), spoke to Green Left Weekly.

Spitz described the anger of the people of the region at the resumption of testing. She explained that when France stopped testing in 1992, many people thought that would be the end of it.

"Since President Chirac decided to resume the testing, never before have we seen as many people as we saw marching in the streets. We marched for six days around the island, and at first we were about five or six thousand. On the last day, June 29, we reached Papeete. June 29 is the day France declared the area a colony in 1880. Many joined the march and we were 15,000 people. We saw people who never dared to march in the street before", she said.

Thousands of people went to the harbour to welcome the Rainbow Warrior, which had just returned from Moruroa.

Spitz said, "When we reached the two entrances of Papeete, we heard that the Rainbow Warrior was not allowed to come to the main harbour and had to go further down. So we decided to stay on the beach."

There were meetings to discuss more actions. Papeete was blocked off for three days. The next big demonstration occurred on Bastille Day, July 14.

Spitz explained that the march had been organised by Tavini and that there were also protests on most of the other islands.

Teparii highlighted the misinformation put out by the French government regarding the terrible effects on people's health from the testing. He said that information on the issue was subject to military secrecy provisions.

"During the period from 1966 to 1974, all statistics have been hidden by the French army. These statistics exist, about the health of the people who worked on the sites of Moruroa and Fangataufa.

"For example, when in Moruroa someone dies, automatically the doctor must be a military doctor. And the papers are secret, even the family has not the right to know any thing about the death. Sometimes they are sent to Paris to the military hospital", he said.

He added that 100-200 people from Tahiti each year went to France for medical treatment, mostly for cancer.

Spitz said, "It seems to me there are too many cancers for the style of life we have: no stress, no traffic etc".

There have also been other effects. In 30 years, the people have lost their self-sufficiency.

When the military built the airport, thousands of workers from other islands were brought to Papeete. It now has a population of about 180,000, and only 20,000 people live on the other islands in French Polynesia.

This influx has created many social problems such as unemployment, drug abuse and violent crime. The French government has devoted very little to improvement of infrastructure for the indigenous population.

"I am sure that in the coming years it will explode in Papeete. Young people have nothing. Ten per cent of the population are really rich because of the testing. Most people don't have anything", Spitz said.

She highlighted the need for independence for the people of the region. "We are teaching our kids to be proud to be Tahitians, because we were taught that to be Tahitian was really a bad thing. Because we were taught all non-white people are stupid and don't think, and that we need the white people to come and teach us to speak, how to think and how to express ourselves.

"It took us 20 or 25 years to get rid of these ideas which the school and colonialism put in our heads."

She also thought that the Australian government's aim was only to make itself more dominant in the region. "When the French get out, we do not want Australia to replace it. We want to be completely independent."