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Watering the Tree of Military Dictatorship in Fiji: It’s Not Paradise Anymore

September 18, 2009

by Margaret Smith

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself in a tropical paradise. You’re in the middle of the rainforest and everything is the perfect shade of green, the kind of color that you can’t find in a crayon box. Ferns plants and leaves completely surround you, dotted with the occasional bright pinks and purples of exotic flowers. And through the forest bubbles a clear blue river, weaving itself in and out of the trees.

Now take that image, put it in a rectangular bottle and think again. What do you get?

For the past 14 years Fiji Water has been banking off the image that their product is the cleanest and healthiest water you can find, made in the middle of paradise.

“Far from pollution. Far from acid rain. Far from industrial waste. There’s no question about it: Fiji is far away,” their website boasts.

As of late, however, this same image seems to be falling down all around them. Earlier this month, Fiji’s military-led government was suspended from the Commonwealth, an intergovernmental organization made up of fifty-three independent member-states, most of them former colonies of the British Empire. The organization said it was forced to act after Fiji continually refused to meet their demands to restore democracy within the country and resume dialogue with opposition groups.

“This is an announcement I make with deep regret — it is a step the Commonwealth is now obliged to take, and one that it takes in sorrow,” Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said in a statement.

Their move gets to the heart of the country’s current governmental crisis, one that has been grossly under-reported by the American media and easily obscured by branding from companies such as Fiji Water.

Fiji has been on a downward spiral for a while, now. The country has been under military rule since December of 2006, when Fiji’s armed forces chief Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, also known as Frank Bainimarama, seized power in a military coup and placed former President Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivudu, also known as Josefa Iloilo, in power. Shortly afterwards, President Iloilo named Bainimarama the Prime Minister of Fiji. Early this April however, Fiji’s Court of Appeals declared Bainimarama’s takeover — as well as the current interim government — illegal, and asked the government to appoint a “distinguished person” to act as caretaker prime minister and help with the country’s parliamentary elections. They also stated that this person should not be Bainimarama.

The response? President Iloilo suspended the country’s constitution, abolished all constitutional positions and dismissed all of the judges on the Court of Appeals. He also reinstated Bainimarama as Fiji’s Prime Minister and effectively delayed democratic elections until 2014 in order to give the country enough time to put in place the necessary reforms. Bainimarama has said he hopes to have a new constitution by 2013.

“I have decided that we must once and for all and in a decisive manner, map out a smooth path to hold parliamentary elections based on the electoral reforms as set out under the Charter,” Iloilo said in a presidential address on April 10. “You will agree that this is the best way forward for our beloved Fiji. It not only gives certainty but provides stability and the opportunity to carry out reforms that are crucial before true democratic elections can be held.”

Iloilo stepped down from office in late July, and his Vice President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, is now acting president of Fiji.

Fiji’s recent suspension from the Commonwealth, as well as being expelled from the Pacific Islands Forum in July, has once again brought these issues back into the public eye.

For some, at least.

The American media, by contrast, isn’t anywhere to be found. No significant reporting has been done on Fiji on any of the major news outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, Fox News or The New York Times, even as cries of human rights violations are heard around the globe. An Amnesty International report recently chronicled the country’s human rights record since Fiji abrogated their constitution in April. The report, titled “Fiji: Paradise Lost”, found that so far the government has arrested 40 people, including lawyers, opposition politicians, Methodist Church leaders and 20 journalists. While all of them have been subsequently released, these short-term arrests are seen as intimidation tactics used to suppress freedom of speech within the country.

“Security forces in Fiji have become increasingly menacing towards people who oppose the regime, including journalists and human rights defenders,” said Apolosi Bose, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher and the report’s author and main researcher. “Fiji is now caught in a downward spiral of human rights violations and repression. Only concerted international pressure can break this cycle.”

The government doesn’t seem to have any intention of backing down anytime soon, however.

“These [international responses] are sacrifices that have to be faced, in order to achieve what we’ve set out to do,” Defense Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau told Radio New Zealand International about two weeks ago, when he was acting as Prime Minister while Commodore Bainimarama was on a state visit abroad.

The government has received some support within the country, as well. Some Fijian-born bloggers say that these steps are necessary in order to get the country to stand on its own, while others say the situation needs to be put in historical context, and that the Amnesty International report does not offer a fair and balanced viewpoint.

Fiji and its fragile government are falling apart, while in the meantime most Americans remain out of the loop, sipping the water of paradise.


Image courtesy of Mother Jones.

Technorati Tags: Analysis International News Democracy Human

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Malekata Ravisa permalink
    September 18, 2009 2:57 PM

    Are you Fijian Margaret? As much as I disagree with Bainimarama’s government, Fiji Water is one thing that I am proud of. So for all you bloggers slanging Fiji Water, kindly do not take away one thing left that I am proud of.

  2. ex Fiji tourist permalink
    September 18, 2009 6:58 PM

    At last, Fijivillage has got a headline correct.

    “Govt cannot do anything-AG

    The government cannot do everything and everyone needs to play their part.

    [Illegal and incompetent] Attorney General and Tourism Minister hairyarse made these comments in the 2010 Budget Consultative Forum after the Suva City Council Administrator Vijendra Prakash questioned the government what it is doing or planning to do to promote tourism based on the increasing number of cruise liners visiting our shores.

  3. September 18, 2009 8:53 PM

    The downward spiral is no exagerration, it is happening. Bainimarama seems lost on his trek to move Fiji fwd. Thereason for this is the opposing personality of an Illegal PM who does not know how to be one and a Military Commander who thinks that he knows what is best for Fiji.
    The forced approach of ideologies to everyday Fijians is something that Bai takes for granted that the Fijians will follow it like obedient sildiers.This is not so because most Fijians value their freedom to choose what they want.
    The total loss of Freedom to the Fijian people has made the4 work of this illegal govt wanting.It has forced Bainimarama to lie about almost everything that is taking place in Fiji and as Bai tries to paint a positive poicture of optimism everything he does results only in pessimisim. This is not a good omen for the future and yet Bai is content to go along this path of destruction without making compromises and allow dialogue with the people.Bai is continuing a dead course.

  4. ex Fiji tourist permalink
    September 18, 2009 10:23 PM

    The nonsense mumbled by the bandmaster on TV tonight supports the idea that the jaundiced junta is lying through its teeth to prop up their existence.

    Statements by the bandmaster that the Commonwealth supports the jaundiced junta because they want dialogue is nothing other than taurus droppings. One ha to feel sorry for the editor of the Tv news when he is forced to present such rubbish.

    As Fijivillage said above, “Govt cannot do anything-AG”

    Never haver truer words been spoken.

  5. Peace Pipe permalink
    September 20, 2009 4:19 PM

    The greedy pursuit of money is the root of evil. Whilst the regime is there for self enrichment this is achieved through the wresting and wielding of the ultimate power of government. Fiji Water like other money seeking businesses turn a blind eye to the sins of the illegal government and bow to it for good favor. The old case of you scratch my back I scratch yours. Both have something to gain out this symbionic relationship.

  6. Mark Manning permalink
    September 21, 2009 11:10 AM

    A few good videos :-

  7. lastpolarbear permalink
    September 21, 2009 11:17 AM

    How come we don’t hear from Shamimmi, kairyarse and the likes anymore ?

  8. C.I.A permalink
    September 21, 2009 12:13 PM

    Because the list of the new lineup for the new governement that we have obtained say’s Dr Shau Khan is going to be President of Fiji.

    I cant say any any more at this stage…

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