Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bomb explodes at Indonesian airport, built by U.S. gold mining giant

Bomb explodes at Indonesian airport, built by a U.S. gold mining giant, no one died.

September 14, 2008

The Associated Press

JAKARTA -- A bomb exploded Sunday near an airport built by a U.S. gold mining giant in Indonesia's restive Papua province, police said. No one was injured and there was little damage.

The blast half a mile from the runway at Moses Kilangin airport came days after two mortars were detonated on a road leading to the massive mine operated by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

"Whoever did this is trying to create unrest and to get international attention," said police chief Maj. Gen. Bagus Ekodanto, as an elite anti-terrorism unit and bomb squad rushed to the scene.

Papua is home to separatist rebels who have long denounced the mine operated by PT Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of the New Orleans-based company. They see it as a symbol of Jakarta's rule over the region.

A little-known group calling itself the West Papua National Army circulated pamphlets early last week demanding its closure, but police have refused to speculate who was behind any of the recent attacks.

The police chief would not say whether Sunday's bomb was related to the explosions on Friday. But other officials noted that all three makeshift bombs were made out of old mortars.

Ekodanto said Sunday's blasts occurred in an empty field and that no one was hurt.

Part of the mortar hit a small electrical depot, creating a loud explosion, said Col. Paulus Waterpau, a senior detective. Residents said they could hear the blast three miles away.

Access to the airport was cut off and witnesses said Freeport's mine in Timika also was under heavy security.

Freeport's mining complex in Timika is one of the world's largest single producers of copper and gold, the company says on its Web site. Open-pit mining at the site began in 1990 and is expected to continue until mid-2015, it says.

The Grasberg mine has seen violent worker protests in the past, and environmental groups accuse the company of pollution and stripping the desperately poor province of its natural resources.

Separatist rebels were blamed for a 2004 ambush on a road leading to the mine that left two Americans dead. Indonesian security forces were initially suspected of taking part in those killings to extort higher protection payments from Freeport.

ONE of Rio Tinto's largest shareholders has sold its $1.1 billion stake in the mining company over concerns about its West Papuan Grasberg goldmine.

David Robertson

September 10, 2008

The $US375 billion ($469 billion) Norwegian sovereign wealth fund said yesterday that it had sold its shares after failing to persuade Rio to improve operations at the West Papua mine, which has been called one of the world's worst eyesores.

The Norwegian Finance Minister publicly shamed Rio in a statement that accused the company of “severe environmental damage”.

The Grasberg operation in West Papua, Indonesia, is the world's largest goldmine and the third-largest copper mine, but it is notorious among campaigners for human rights and environmental activists.

Grasberg is operated by Freeport McMoRan, a New Orleans-based miner, and Rio is a 40 per cent shareholder in the opencast pit.

Human rights advocates assert that Freeport's security guards and the Indonesian military have been responsible for the rape, torture, murder and arbitrary detention of people living near the mine. Freeport has consistently denied these claims.

The Australian Council on Overseas Aid reported that in 1994 and 1995 the Indonesian military, assisted by mine security, was responsible for the death or disappearance of 22 civilians and 15 others described by the Indonesian Government as guerillas.

After shareholder pressure, Freeport confirmed to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that it had paid the Indonesian military $US4.7 million in 2001 and $US5.6 million in 2002 for security services.

Environmental concerns at Grasberg centre on how the operation dumps 230,000 tonnes of tailings, or waste rock, into the Ajikwa River every day, and campaigners claim that this has produced high levels of pollution.

Mine tailings are often laced with cyanide - used in the gold extraction process- and toxic quantities of metals such as lead, copper and zinc.

A report by Friends of the Earth said that acid mine drainage, a common side-effect of opencast mining, had caused toxic levels of selenium and arsenic in the nearby river systems. It said that up to 70 per cent of aquatic life was suffering from chronic toxicity.

A spokesman for Rio Tinto said: “We work closely with Freeport and are comfortable with the work they have done at Grasberg.

“The tailing management system is the right one to use and the environmental damage that has been alleged is not the case.”

However, this was not a view shared by the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, which manages wealth generated by the country's North Sea oil.

Norwegian Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen said: “There are no indications to the effect that the company's practices will be changed in future. The fund cannot hold ownership interests in such a company.”

Rio Tinto responded by saying that it had been aware of the fund's concerns but was surprised and disappointed by its decision to sell.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Owen Espley said: “It is excellent to see the Norwegians trying to use their influence to change behaviour and then walking away if that engagement is not successful.”

The Grasberg mine contributed $US159 million to Rio's profits of $US7.3 billion last year, but the operation is scheduled for a large expansion from this year.

It is estimated that the mine, located in national park that is on the World Heritage list, will cover 230 sq km when completed.

London Mining Network campaigner Richard Solly said: “In terms of environmental pollution, this mine is undoubtedly one of the worst in the world.”

A little history

Richard Adkerson, the Grasberg mine, Max Jarman and the banality of evil...

May 31, 2007

Betcha Max Jarman's seen his mini-me..

I wonder what it feels like to butt-lick one of the biggest assholes on face of the planet? That's what I'd like to ask Arizona Republic journo (and I use that word loosely) Max Jarman, after reading his verbal rim-job of Richard Adkerson, CEO of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. in Sunday's business section. Titled blandly, "Freeport CEO stays focused on the future," the article is an example of everything that's wrong with journalism today. Adkerson is an environmental Darth Vader, a Dark Prince of Dirt whom The Bird wrote about in the May 3 column item "A Hole." His company's Grasberg mine, the largest gold mine in the world, is an immense gaping sore visible from space, caused by the excavation of nearly a billion tons of earth in the past 30 years. This environmental mega-disaster has been the subject of a shitload of critical articles, including a massive 6,000-plus-word expose on the Grasberg mine by The New York Times titled "Below a Mountain of Wealth, a River of Waste."

The Grasberg mine from space, courtesy of NASA.

The Times article documents the Grasberg mine's rape of the local landscape, and the way Freeport-McMoRan's bought off the Indonesian military to the detriment of the environment and the local Papuan population. Indeed, the Times article reports that,

Company records obtained by The Times show that from 1998 through 2004, Freeport gave military and police generals, colonels, majors and captains, and military units, nearly $20 million. Individual commanders received tens of thousands of dollars, in one case up to $150,000, according to the documents.

As you might expect, the Indonesian military is not exactly known for its support of human rights, and it's used its close connection with the Grasberg mine to suppress the locals and squash any rumblings of a separatist movement. The Times cites "Australian anthropologist, Chris Ballard, who worked for Freeport, and Abigail Abrash, an American human rights campaigner," who estimate that "160 people had been killed by the military between 1975 and 1997 in the mine area and its surroundings." Violent demonstrations and rioting have erupted previously in Papua over the Grasberg mine's pollution and the human rights abuses of the military, which many locals associate with Grasberg.

The ecological damage caused by Grasberg is enormous, and so severe that even the Indonesian Environment Ministry has denounced it, but they can't do diddly because Freeport-McMoRan has a lock on the military. For example, the Times article states,

A multimillion-dollar 2002 study by an American consulting company, Parametrix, paid for by Freeport and its joint venture partner, Rio Tinto, and not previously made public, noted that the rivers upstream and the wetlands inundated with waste were now "unsuitable for aquatic life."

An operation in any way similar to Grasberg would be impossible, illegal in the U.S. But in Indonesia, Freeport-McMoRan can do anything it wants. It's corporate evil of the blackest stripe, which in part allows Freeport to rake in billions. Grasberg itself has an estimated worth of $50 billion. In addition to being the world's largest gold mine, it's the world's third largest copper mine, and copper is in high demand. Since acquiring PHX mining co. Phelps Dodge this year, Freeport-McMoRan has become the largest publicly traded copper company in the world. Richard Adkerson, an accountant by trade, is the company's top bean-counter. He started out providing accounting services to Freeport, then later teamed up with Freeport's founder and chairman James Moffett, becoming CEO in 2003.

With the Phelps Dodge acquisition, Adkerson's moving to Sand Land, which is the reason for Jarman's piece. But in that piece, you'll learn nothing about Freeport's environmental abuses, its ties to the Indonesian military, or even the fact that Adkerson's previous home in New Orleans' French Quarter has been the target of protesters waving signs saying things like "A Rich Murderer Lives Here." Instead, Jarman makes only passing reference to Adkerson having to deal with "angry indigenous people," and "aggressive environmentalists."

Of course, Jarman never explains why those indigenous people might be angry or why the environmentalists might be aggressive. Rather what we get is the functional, modern-day equivalent of a puff piece on Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann comes to mind because of that phrase "the banality of evil," which author Hannah Arendt uses in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. Eichmann was of course a far, far more evil bean-counter, but the similarity is in Adkerson's ordinariness, which is one thing reporter Jarman gets right in his prolonged puffery. We learn Adkerson was "good at math" as a kid, that he's a cordial Southerner, that he enjoys "bird hunting, fly fishing and hiking," and that he "grew up in a landscape shared by Elvis and Oprah."

He's also the CEO of a company that does some really evil shit. But Jarman ignored this issue in the Sunday profile. The Repugnant did do a piece by Andrew Johnson back in November raising the Grasberg controversy. However, that hardly excuses Jarman's kiss-ass approach to Adkerson seven months later. Jarman also penned a Q&A in December with Adkerson, but asked just one fleeting query about protests at Grasberg, making it sound like it was some weather problem Adkerson had to address. And in at least one other piece on Freeport in November, Jarman made a brief, desultory reference to riots at Grasberg.

I'm not saying Jarman has to agree with Adkerson's critics, but the ongoing controversy over Grasberg is certainly worth mentioning and challenging Adkerson about at length. Maybe Jarman just loves blowing execs like Adkerson in print. Who knows? Personally, I get madder at douchebags like Jarman than I do dicks like Adkerson. It's brown-nosers such as Jarman who sometimes make me truly ashamed to be in any way associated with the Fourth Estate.