Sunday, May 19, 2013

Honouring a pledge for Tahitian independence


Radio Australia video.

The United Nations General Assembly has restored French Polynesia to the UN list of territories to be decolonised at a meeting boycotted by France. The resolution, passed by consensus, was sponsored by Solomon Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu last February but not tabled until Friday. It calls on France to intensify its dialogue with French Polynesia to include a fair self-determination process. France withdrew its Pacific territories from the UN list in 1947 and earlier resisted the re-inscription bid by the French Polynesian government. France has immediately condemned the UN move, describing it as a glaring interference in its affairs and a total lack of respect for the choice made by Polynesian voters.


Backgrounder by Caroline Lafargue

IN 1977, when he founded the Tavini Huiraatira party, Oscar Temaru swore to win independence for French Polynesia.

Until the latest territorial elections earlier this month, he was French Polynesia's President. The territory also has its own ministers, its own territorial assembly and its local laws. This was made possible by a new status granted by Paris in February 2004.


Among other powers handed over were school curricula, preferential employment for locals, the right to negotiate international agreements, albeit with guidance from France, the possibility of observer status in regional institutions. France still maintains sovereign powers such as defence, border security and foreign relations.

This new status makes French Polynesia a semi-autonomous territory. It's a way to stay under France's wing while self-governing at the same time. That's how the Tahoeraa party - winners of the recent election with controversial Gaston Flosse back as President aged 81 - sees French Polynesia's future, along with other parties traditionally supporting semi-autonomy.

They are in favour of this hybrid status, but that's not the case for the pro-independence movement. They have continued to lobby for French Polynesia's reinstatement on the UN list of countries for decolonisation following France's unilateral decision to remove it from the list in 1947. A subsequent referendum in 1958 at which a majority rejected independence, is denounced by the pro-independence movement, which claims the referendum wording was biased.

Going up a gear
Since his return to power in 2010, former President Oscar Temaru went up a gear and took the independence question to the UN. He and close supporter, pro-independence Senator Richard Tuheiava, have made numerous trips to New York lobbying for the territory's reinstatement. So far they claim having won the support of 73 countries, including the first countries that gave official support: Nauru, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands.

The independence campaigners based their campaign on two points: The first is the so-called nuclear debt owed by France after 30 years of nuclear testing. And the second is the claim that the economic system created by France remains an obstacle to the territory's economic development.

Even though the UN General Assembly voted in favour of French Polynesia's reinstatement on the list of countries to be decolonised, this doesn't necessarily mean independence. One thing is sure: a self-determination referendum would be organised. And there are at least three possible outcomes: independence, semi-autonomy or a freely associated state status.

In the past few months, the pro-independence campaign gathered momentum in the lead up to territorial elections on April 21 and May 5.

Senator Flosse, the autonomist movement's icon, was again leading his Tahoeraa party's campaign with the newspaper Le Monde predicting a win for the conservatives. Remarkably, however, a loss at this Tahitian election for Oscar Temaru doesn't necessarily mean the end of the pro-independence campaign at the UN.

For pro-independence campaigners, the UN vote on French Polynesia resolution has been a resounding success in spite of the rebuff in the territorial ballot box.

Caroline Lafargue's video story features pro-independence Senator Richard Tuheiava, chief campaigner at the UN; MP Edouard Fritch, Tahoeraa party, in favour of a semi-autonomous system; historian Jean-Marc Regnault; John Doom, former secretary-general of the Maohi Protestant Church and president of Moruroa e Tatou, nuclear testing victims association; Eliane, a fruit seller at Papeete's market; and young students Heremoera and Reini. 

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