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Friday, November 25, 2005

Report from Fiji

Elections are due in Fiji next year. Already the election games are on. The word “games” is not really appropriate given the issues still at stake in this divided country.
The Indo-Fijians and the indigenous Fijians are not going to be “reconciled” any time soon. The Labour opposition led by Mahendra Chaudhry (Indo-Fijian) and his deputy Poseci Bune (indigenous Fijian) are the best hope for the majority of Fijian people: the workers and poor cane farmers.
I am staying at my brother's holiday house/Lockwood show-home on the reclaimed piece of swamp that is the ‘island’ of Denarau. A river crossed by a single causeway through a manned security gate provides a ‘safe haven’ for the tourists and wealthy house-owners who are “Bula-ed” everywhere they go. Other 24/7 guarded gates provide and prevent entry to the subdivisions with names such as “Mariners Reach”, “The Cove” and “the Links”. The massive ‘homes’ behind the gates remain uninhabited much of the time.
Every morning hundreds of workers, both Fijian and Indo-, pour onto the island in ramshackle buses and grossly over-crowded vans and pick-ups to team over the huge Sofratel or Hilton building sites at the end of the road, or to work on the many house building projects in train around the subdivisions. Huge palms, ripped out of the bush, are unceremoniously trucked in every day sweeping the access road with their dragging fronds. These will provide the ‘natural’ em-palmed surroundings for the hotel guests. Denarau is the ‘holiday in the construction site’ destination.
A palm-lined 18-hole golf course is provided for the entertainment of the holiday makers and residents alike; although, the heat seems to limit the numbers taking advantage of it. The swimming pool is a much more welcome amenity.
We strayed down the road from hell the other day, along road works for 11 kilometres from the main, sealed, Nadi-Suva road to a resort under construction with yet another 18-hole golf course. All the works were under the aegis of New Zealand-based companies. The rest of the loop road was even worse, but we rock-hopped our way gingerly around it in our old Toyota rental (Toyotas rule in Fiji!). On the way we passed cane farmers hand loading (over loading) their trucks with the soot-blackened, harvested cane. Passing one of these trucks on the road is a death-defying experience, so wide are their loads. Every so often came a welcome hundred-metres or so of tar-seal outside the local school – sometimes a Fijian school and then an Indian one – separate development is alive and kicking here. Towards the end of trip the road shared the river crossing with one of the cane railways that criss-cross the countryside - no room for error there.
Hundreds of workers are engaged in massive tourist resort projects all around the coast, especially within an hour or two of the international airport at Nadi. They say there will not be enough aircraft capacity through Nadi airport to bring in the numbers of tourists being catered for. Apparently this development is all a spin-off from 9/11 – Fiji is apparently a terror-free zone. Tell that to the Indo-Fijians who cowered in the ditches in fear of their lives during the 2000 ‘crisis’.
In the words of Poseci Bune spoken in the Fijian Parliament recently (reported in the FijiSUN newspaper):
“Terror and lawlessness were unleashed in the suburbs and rural countryside (around Lambasa) when marauding thugs were allowed to roam at will (by the rebel forces at the Lambasa barracks), looting, plundering, raping and beating up residents. Houses were taken over, vehicles, crops and livestock were commandeered and in many cases, wrecked. Scores of frightened families were forced to either flee their homes or hide in drains at night to escape from the thugs.”
Bune was defending the Labour Leader, Chaudhry, for refusing to take part in a sham matanigasau (traditional apology) ceremony organized by the Lands Minister, Ratu Naiqama, who was present at the Sukanaivalu Barracks during 2000 while these attacks took place.

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