French Polynesia Battles for Independence (Page 2 of 2)

The UN Special Committee on Decolonization reviews the list annually to keep tabs on the application of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (Resolution 1514).

Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa all of the US; New Caledonia also of France; Western Sahara which falls under Moroccan rule and Tokelau which is governed by New Zealand are among the 16 non-governing territories currently on the list.

Passed after World War II, the declaration that accompanies the list uses emotive language to condemn colonization.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

French Polynesia was on that list in 1946 and earmarked for decolonization but was removed by Paris a year later during a time when France was desperately attempting to hold onto its overseas possessions despite international pressure to divest itself of its colonies.

Temaru is not without support.

In March of last year, French Polynesia held an historic vote that came out in favor of the country’s right to be re-instated on the list, and since then Temaru’s movement has gathered paced.

Last month members of the Polynesian Leaders Group unanimously pledged their support for French Polynesia’s re-inscription.

Regional groups and island leaders – Pacific Conference of Churches, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Melanesian Spearhead Group – have all voiced support for Temaru.

At a meeting in Greece in September, the World Council of Churches (WCC) also called for French Polynesia to be reinstated on the list of countries to be decolonized and asked France to “fulfill their obligations and provide all necessary means for the economic, social and cultural development of the Maohi people.”

However, sources close to Temaru say he remains only cautiously optimistic as he expects some resistance from Australia and New Zealand to self-determination because both countries have forged much closer alliances with France since 1996 when Paris ended nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

Temaru insists nuclear tests and the struggle for independence cannot be dissociated.

Almost 200 nuclear tests were conducted by France in French Polynesia between 1960 and 1996, which the WCC said have been linked to cases of cancer among civilians and former military personnel.

Temaru argues that these tests — most on which took place in Mururoa and Fangataufa – created a deeply-rooted sense of mistrust between islanders and France. Many feel a 10-year compensation package agreed to by France falls in 2009 fell well short of what they’re owed.

Temaru believes that French Polynesia’s return to the list of countries demanding independence would give it more leverage in dealing with France.

Still, further resistance is expected from those in Paris who fear for France’s international standing. France was granted a seat on the G-8 partly because of its overseas interests that encompasses the thousands of square kilometers of islands and ocean making up French Polynesia.

Independence has also been met with some resistance at home where many expatriates and some Tahitians fear independence would result in the loss of French subsidies, devastating the local economy and causing public sector wages to plummet by half.

Among the critics is Enrique Braun-Ortega, a former government minister and businessman, who said French Polynesia did not have the means to even think about winning independence.

“Temaru’s latest attempt is a ploy to divert public opinion in French Polynesia, from the fact that his government is unable, and has been incapable for the past year and a half now, to begin to resolve our local economic crisis.

“It is also a means to hide his incompetence in getting his job done, especially in reviving our crumbling tourist industry with hotels closing left and right,” he said.

But for Temaru and his supporters, self-determination has connotations that he considers more important than local economics, including the spiritual, cultural and historical.

“We have to prepare, educate our people how important (it is) to us, to us as a nation to be able to control our own destiny, to be ourselves. We have so (much) wealth and (so many) resources in this huge Pacific Ocean. It belongs to us,” he said during the PIF.

For the time being at least, those resources and the people who depend upon them belong to France.

However, if Temaru is able to convince the General Assembly to support his country’s return to the list of Non-Self Governing Territories, decades of French political intrigue will end and the people of French Polynesia will have put Paris on notice that its days in this isolated corner of the South Pacific are numbered.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief