Indonesia: Riau farmers fight for their rights

This is a statement by the National Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas). One of the main organisations that founded Papernas is the People's Democratic Party (PRD), which played a leading role in the mass movement that overthrew Suharto in 1998. The PRD is building Papernas to continue the struggle against the neoliberal anti-poor policies that have been continued by post-Suharto governments.

On January 15 and 16, a number of organisations affiliated to Papernas — the Riau Movement, the Central movement of Riau People, and the Urban Poor Union — organised a mass gathering in Pekan Baru, the capital of Riau province, in order to advance the struggle for their rights.

The farmers and the poor came from five districts, travelling for up to ten hours. The preparation for the gathering was carried out over three months — collecting daily dues, painting banners and placards and organising participants.

Riau farmers have won several recent battles. On 6-10 December, simultaneous take-overs of traditional land by farmers took place in the subdistricts of Suluk Bongkal, Pantai Cermin, Melibur and Blutu.

At the mass gathering, farmers urged the government to wipe out corruption, illegal logging and the land plunderers who have become parasites on the economy. So far 122 corruption cases in Riau have been investigated by corruption eradication committees and then transmitted to the police and Supreme Court.

Riau's soil is rich with natural resources. Chevron Pacific Indonesia has eared much wealth through taking 3.2 million hectares of land and extracting 2 billion barrels of oil.

People's land has been taken over ever since the government of Suharto, which provided privileged rights to exploit forest resources to certain private companies. In Riau more than half the land was granted to pulp companies, including 300,000 hectares of land granted to PT Arara Abadi.

Of the five million people who live in Riau, 50% live under the poverty line.

Dita Sari, a member of Papernas' advisory council, told the gathering: "Farmers have been demonstrating to win back their rights and have raised the slogan: 'retake, plant on, and guard the land'.

"Land is supposed to be a source of life and welfare. How can land do this if more than half a million hectares are granted to private companies?"

"Without mass mobilisation the struggle of farmers will not gain great things", Sari said. "Mobilisation without political consciousness will be easily defeated. Therefore, we, the people must take over politics in order to take back all the rights that have been plundered by the elites."

At the gathering, the farmers promoted Rinaldi, the current head of Papernas in Riau, to be their candidate for governor in the coming election. The demonstrators enthusiastically chanted slogans in favour of the nationalisation of mining and oil industries so they can be run for people's welfare and revoking the priviliges granted to private companies to exploit Riau's forests.