Craig Harris might seem like an unlikely source for a documentary on the political travails of West Papua New Guinea, the western half of the former Dutch colony of New Guinea. A Santa Barbara-based carpenter, Harris visited West Papua in 1985 after reading an article about it in National Geographic. Fascinated by the island and its history, he found himself returning again and again over the years, and as he did so he became increasingly dismayed by what he calls the “brutal repression” exacted on West Papuans by the Indonesian military. Harris has made a short documentary about West Papua; it will screens today at Victoria Hall at 6:30 p.m., and at Center Stage Theater at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Explain the premise of West Papua: Freedom to Choose.

It goes into the human rights issues of West Papua New Guinea, and what they’ve been struggling through with the Indonesian government and military. And then it goes it into the multinational situation there as well. The land is so rich that there are multinationals from all over the world trying to reap profits from it.

I understand that in the early 1960s West Papua gained independence from Holland, but then fell under the control of Indonesia, against the wishes of most Papuans.

Right. And the Papuan people are still demanding full independence from Indonesia. The Indonesian military has been brutalizing the Papuans for going on forty years now, and the Papuans really feel they have no other choice. They’re tying to do this as peacefully as possible, but there are always conflicts. There are rebels out there, and some of the skirmishes that take place, where you have Papuan freedom fighters battling the Indonesian military with bows and arrows and spears-well, the results are predictably tragic.

What prospect is there for a successful session of West Papua, a la East Timor? I can’t imagine that any of the big Western nations is excited about supporting West Papuan independence, which could jeopardize trade relationships with Indonesia.

Well, it is being difficult for the West Papuans to get the support of the UN. But nobody imagined East Timor was going to get independence, and they were able to achieve it. It’s not going to be easy for West Papua, but I know that I am optimistic, and I hope that most people involved in the Papuan cause are as well.


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