Stifling Self-Determination: the Staged Independence Referendum of New Caledonia
Wayne MADSEN | 25.07.2018 | WORLD / Asia Pacific

Stifling Self-Determination: the Staged Independence Referendum of New Caledonia

If an independent Republic of Kanaky Nouvelle-Caledonie – the present-day French colony of New Caledonia – is ever to be seated in the United Nations General Assembly hall between Jordan and Kazakhstan, it will not because France has done everything possible to ensure a fair vote in the independence referendum scheduled for November 4, 2018.

The chief political party backing independence, the “Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS),” finds itself battling a perception management campaign, largely being waged in France and Australia, that independence will bring New Caledonia into the orbit of an expanding sphere of influence of China. The canard of Chinese influence has recently been advanced by Australia to call for an abatement of ties between Vanuatu, the former Anglo-French colony of New Hebrides, and China. Vanuatu, which has accepted financial assistance from China, is being used as a bogeyman by Canberra, backed by U.S. military interests in Hawaii, to argue against independence for New Caledonia.

The battle for independence of New Caledonia is opposed by 60 percent of the 270,000 eligible voters of the island group, who represent French white transplants to the colony. Some 40 percent of the population, largely the indigenous Kanaks, favor independence. Current polling indicates that the independence option will go down to defeat.

In the world’s current race to gain control over natural resources important to high-tech supremacy, New Caledonia possesses one-quarter of the world’s known nickel resources. In addition to the racist attitudes of metropolitan French migrants who moved to New Caledonia and who do not want to share political and economic power with the indigenous Kanaks, control of the nickel industry, important in the production of batteries, means the pro-independence forces in New Caledonia have an uphill battle.

French mining companies have ensured that the Kanaks, who work in the mines, do not have the opportunity to advance up the economic ladder to ownership positions in the mining industry. France has ensured that an all-too-typical colonialist system lives on in New Caledonia with the native subjugated population serving the interest of the French state and a mercantilism-based inequitable economic system.

Anti-independence propaganda being distributed to the world’s media largely emanates from the neo-conservative and pro-Zionist Lowy Institute based in Sydney, Australia and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency-funded East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Such propaganda warns that an independent New Caledonia will be subject to Chinese and even “Islamist” influence. These propaganda mills are nothing more than fronts for Western mining companies. The same arguments being used against New Caledonia’s independence in the November 2018 referendum are also being used to disparage independence in the referendum scheduled for Bougainville, an island of Papua New Guinea, in 2019. In New Caledonia, it is the nickel exploiters who dominate the debate on independence, in Bougainville it is the copper companies who have long exploited the Panguna copper mine.

French President Emmanuel Macron, a product of the Rothschild Bank, an enterprise that wrote the book on exploitation of native peoples by unscrupulous European colonialists for well over two centuries, said, during a May 2018 visit to New Caledonia, that, “after 164 years of colonization I recognize New Caledonia is a jewel.” Macron showed his cards when he called for a “sovereignty in partnership” between New Caledonia and France. Macron, playing to the music of big power politics, said that New Caledonia’s future is inextricably linked to a French “Indo-Pacific axis” that must not “fall under a new hegemony.”

Macron’s visit was accompanied by a 4,000-strong “March for France” in Noumea, the capital city. Macron might as well have said that he sees New Caledonia as nothing more than a jewel in the French colonial crown. Macron also said he wanted to preserve the status quo in New Caledonia with the assistance of the two regional colonial powers, Australia and New Zealand.

The French “Caldoches” – migrant colonialists and their offspring in New Caledonia -- are led by the Caledonia Together Party. Its leader, Philippe Gomes, was born in Algeria during the French colonial rule of that country. Gomes is one of the “pied-noirs,” or “black feet,” the term used by French Europeans who enjoyed special privileges in Algeria and were firmly opposed to Algerian independence. It is particularly galling for the Kanaks to see a pied-noir from Algeria, with all the social baggage of brutal French colonialism in that country, now leading the political force in New Caledonia who wants the territory to remain French. Gomes is more at home with multi-millionaires from the French mainland, who have built massive holiday homes and berthed expensive yachts in New Caledonia, than with the native Kanaks.

Kanaks, who live only a short walk from Noumea’s European cafés and boutiques, live in squalor. Many do not have access to the water, sewage, or electrical systems. In 1988, many Kanaks lost their lives in anti-French demonstrations on the island of Ouvéa, protests that were brutally suppressed by French military force in “Operation Victor.” Pro-independence sentiment in New Caledonia is generally found in certain geographic areas. For example, the pro-independence Melanesian Progressive Union, which joins the FLNKS is supporting total independence for New Caledonia, finds most of its support in the North Province. Pro-independence sentiment is also strong in the largely underdeveloped Loyalty Islands.

In 1980, the pro-independence Caledonian Union (UC), a Kanak-European mixed party, stated that it planned to unilaterally declare independence in 1982. Prior to the declaration, the UC Secretary-General, Pierre Declercq, a native of metropolitan France, was assassinated in his home in Noumea. The killers were never found but native Kanaks believed the assassination was carried out by agents of the French intelligence service, the “Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage” (SDECE). The successor of the SDECE, the “Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure  (DGSE), had no problem bombing the Greenpeace ship “Rainbow Warrior” in Auckland harbor in New Zealand in 1985. The action, “Operation Satanique,” resulted in the death of one of the crewmen.

Pro-independence parties called for a boycott of a 1987 independence referendum. A mere 59 percent of eligible voters participated, resulting in a lop-sided anti-independence result of 98.3 percent. The Noumea Accord of 1998 paved the way for this year’s independence referendum. So far, only one pro-independence party, the Labor Party, said it will not participate in the November referendum. Its leader, Louis Kotra Uregei, has called the vote an “electoral farce,” with France and its well-off transplants on the islands holding all the cards.

The Labor Party’s reasoning is a sound one. It argues that France has stacked the deck against independence by permitting the electoral roll for the plebiscite to discriminate against native Kanaks who have no fixed address. The French authorities and the non-Kanak majority in the territory have refused the franchise to 12,000 Kanaks. The Kanaks put much of the blame on French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who showed an unusual interest in determining who is and who is not eligible to vote. The Kanaks object to Caldoches who are recent arrivals in New Caledonia voting in the referendum. The 1988 Noumea Agreement specifies that only Caldoches who arrived prior to 1994 may vote, but the Kanaks believe there has been a manipulation of the electoral rolls to favor the Europeans.

By all rights, Kanaky should be an independent country. However, the machinations of Macron, Philippe, Gomes, and others seem intent on preventing a new country from joining the international parade of nations.

Tags: New Caledonia 

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