Friday, April 24, 2009

Clinton told: Don’t listen to ‘heavy-handed’ Australia, NZ on Fiji

A STORY that didn’t rate too highly in the Australian and NZ press this week was Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin’s "advice" to US Secretary of State Helen Clinton to take a reality check on the briefings being dished up by Canberra and Wellington. This was important for two reasons: First, somebody of his stature in the Pacific giving prominence to another, more conciliatory view on Fiji. Second, it highlights the lack of an effort on the part of “big brother” media in the region to get the diverse and balanced Pacific viewpoints over Fiji. One of the few journalists to be diligent in this respect is Radio NZ's Richard Pamatatau who has consistently provided fresh angles in his Pacific reporting.

The Fiji media, of course, were quick to give their spin as part of their new regime-tailored “journalism of hope” era, but they often overlooked another important part of Faleomavaega’s discussion on a more comprehensive US policy on the Pacific: Clinton reportedly expressed support for greater autonomy for West Papua – another blind spot in the NZ media. (This was in response to Faleomavaega's request that the Obama Administration review the political status of West Papua and "hold Indonesia accountable for continued human rights abuses" in Jakarta-ruled "province".)

Faleomavaega met Clinton after returning from a visit to Fiji (he met privately with regime leader Voreqe Bainimarama and former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry) and his message was don’t listen to the “nasty accusations” against Fiji and the country shouldn’t be pressured into rushing into elections – it isn’t ready yet.

According to a statement from his office, Faleomavaega said: “The situation in Fiji is more complex than it appears. [The United States] has had no coherent policy toward some 16 Pacific island nations; very indicative of the fact is that we have not had any USAID presence in the Pacific region for many years now."
And for too often, and for too long, Madam Secretary, in my view, we've permitted Australia and New Zealand to take the lead even when Canberra and Washington operate with such a heavy hand that they are counterproductive to our shared goals," Faleomavaega added. It makes no sense, Madam Secretary, for the leaders of New Zealand and Australia to demand early elections just for the sake of having elections in Fiji while there are fundamental deficiencies in Fiji's electoral process, which gave rise to three military takeovers and even a civilian-related takeover within the past 20 years - along with three separate constitutions to govern these islands. I totally disagree with the nasty accusations that the leaders of New Zealand and Australia have made against Fiji given the fact that it's more complicated than it appears.
Faleomavaega immediately copped blasts from the Coup four point five media blog and Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi. According to a report by Savali editor Tupuola Terry Tavita, Tuilaepa reckons Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin has been in the US too long and he is out of touch with Pacific politics:
Perhaps [Faleomavaega] has forgotten that Fiji has been independent since 1970 and its Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive branches of Government have been functioning until the military started to meddle with the affairs of government – a responsibility it was least capable of performing…
The good congressman completely ignores the fact that the regime in Fiji is a military dictatorship. And that Bainimarama’s regime has been engaging in a ruthless crackdown on dissenting public opinion and complete suppression of the media. Is not freedom of speech, freedom of the media and engaging in free and fair elections hallmarks of American democracy?
Touché!

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