Tahitian politics after the testsAs the French nuclear tests drew to an end, and with elections for the Territorial Assembly of French Polynesia scheduled for March, JAN MALEWSKI spoke to GABRIEL TETIARAHI, president of Hiti Tau, about Tahitian politics.
Hiti Tau (New Times) is a confederation of non-governmental organisations. Its founder members include many activists of the CSIP trade union, a pro-independence movement which draws inspiration from the USTKE trade union of France's other Pacific colony, Kanaky (New Caledonia).
Founded by seven organisations in 1992, Hiti Tau had 50 affiliated groups by 1995. Hiti Tau also serves as secretariat for the Pacific Island Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO), of which Gabriel Tetiarahi is president.
Hiti Tau's campaigns include opposition to French nuclear tests; defence of the environment; defence of human rights and civil liberties; the defence and extension of women's rights; defence of the rights of indigenous peoples. Hiti Tau calls for public debate on the 1847 treaty of annexation of Tahiti by France and the re-inscription of Polynesia on the UN's list of non-self-governing territories. Question: What is the state of the anti-nuclear movement in Polynesia? There isn't any mobilisation any more. People have realised that, whatever they do, [French President Jacques] Chirac will not reverse his decision. There are still some symbolic demonstrations. Each time there is an explosion, you can see a mixture of anger, concern and humiliation. A number of people were arrested following the riots. Torture was inflicted on five A Tia I Mua trade union members. One of them, Henri Tematitahio, is now paralysed in half his body. Some of the younger detainees have been released, but others, particularly trade union militants, are still in prison. No judicial inquiry has been made. This is a real colonial judicial system. While the A Tia I Mua trade union has not been dissolved, the state was able to ensure the resignation of its leader, Hiro Tefaarere. He has since been sacked from his state job. Question: How do you evaluate the mobilisations against the tests since June 1995? The mobilisations have been excellent. We have never seen so many people rise up against nuclear tests. Three groups have stood out in their opposition to the tests: the [pro-independence party] Tavini Huiraatira, Hiti Tau and the evangelical churches. We are grateful to Greenpeace for bringing the international media to Tahiti. But they also made an important mistake. They were unable to produce pictures of anything more than a conflict between themselves and the French state. Their media work made it look like the tests were taking place in a human desert. Greenpeace must be taught to work with local groups. They never tried to coordinate their activities with ours. They always tried to impose their own point of view. Nowadays, they are quite isolated in Tahiti. They tried too hard to make this island into a means of fundraising for themselves. Question: You recently returned from a voyage to New Zealand. At Papeete airport, all your papers were confiscated. What does this say about human rights in Polynesia, particularly the rights of militants like you? Those who come under the most systematic attacks are the trade union leaders, and political and NGO activists who work in the territory's civil service. Some are assigned to new offices in a different region, others reprimanded for the slightest lateness in arrival at work. I have been subjected to 10 years of harassment at my workplace and prevented from travelling abroad. My applications for leave go straight to territorial President Gaston Flosse. In December 1994 he prevented me from travelling to the United Nations to address the commemoration for the Decade of Indigenous Peoples. Those militants who do not work for the territory's civil service still face harassment, for example by customs officials at the airport. Many of these militants are used to seeing a police car parked outside their home. Such harassment has helped create a certain consciousness, an understanding that we must group together to fight back. Hence the birth of Hiti Tau. Question: Many of the participants in the 1995 riots at Faa'a airport were quite young. What is the social situation behind such outbursts of violence? The working population is 62,000 people. Then there are 20,000 unemployed workers, 85% of whom are younger than 25. Every September, 2000 young adults join the labour force. Only 700-800 find a job. This is the real political failure of the nuclear test program. Billions of francs have been wasted, and youth have become disoriented. The family structures here still allow them to find stability. But with the economic difficulties and our shrinking resources, these family structures are disintegrating. Young people aren't interested in the future because they don't have a future. Some of them orient themselves towards the Tavini Huiraatira, because it has structures for young sympathisers. Question: Territorial elections will be held in March. Is the rumour that [Tavini Huiraatira leader] Oscar Temaru will not be standing accurate? Oscar made some hasty statements without consulting his party. The situation is unclear, but I don't think Tavini is ready for a real boycott. A real independentist boycott campaign requires a real, active campaign, the creation of a "provisional government". Tavini doesn't dare go this far. After all, they get most of their money through their participation in the institutions [of colonial Polynesia]. Question: What do Hiti Tau say about independence? It is legitimate to gain our independence. But it is not just a question of demanding our rights. There is also the issue of our self-education in our responsibilities and obligations. The problem with the independentist movements is that they have no propositions for a state budget or for a constitution. They don't have any alternative project. They nourish themselves on the deceptions and corruption which the colonial system generates, but the electorate is not convinced. Hiti Tau is not a political party. Our contribution to the debate is to ask a number of questions. For instance, what will be the rights of the minorities in an independent Polynesia? What development model will we adopt? What role will non-governmental organisations play in that development? Question: How important is the cultural heritage of the Maohi people for the movement for the independence of Polynesia? Our heritage, our culture, allows us to meet with other peoples as equals. Having our own culture is not about being better or worse, just different. In the political sphere, this means convincing the electorate to accept cultural differences, and to accept to protect the rights of minorities. There is no debate on this in Tahiti at the moment. Leaders ought to make sure that the rights of minorities will be guaranteed in an independent Polynesia, not make populist speeches along the lines of "those who want to stay can stay. All the others should leave." Independence should come in the framework of a multicultural country, where the French as a minority of European origin would have certain rights. Our language, reo maohi, is not recognised officially. French is, de facto, the exclusive language of the territory. Yet no political leader demands that reo maohi become an official language. But in Hiti Tau, we hold our meetings in the Polynesian language.
[Abridged from International Viewpoint.]