Her name is Cinta, which in Bahasa Indonesia means simply Love.
Cinta in pink shirt
She lives in a tiny village near Sukadana town, in Indonesian West Kalimantan, otherwise known as Borneo – the biggest island in Asia, the second biggest in the world – now totally destroyed by unbridled logging, palm oil plantations and mining, perpetrated by countless, and due to corruption and savage capitalism, unregulated local and multi-national companies.
Nearby Sukadana there is a national park, Gunung Palung. It is vast and by Indonesian standards, well guarded, although even here, at its edges, several desperate local people are beginning to burn the ancient forest, while engaging in various other nature-destroying commercial activities.
I talked to them and soon I understood: they actually have no choice. Nothing is given to them by the state, and they have to live. They have to survive, somehow.
I talked to Cinta’s mother. She has no money, and no mobile phone. She has been to the nearby city only once in her entire life, and it was when a relative of hers got seriously ill. After talking for several minutes, mother begins to cry; desperate, humiliated and helpless.
I asked her whether the family realizes that the political and economic system in her country is thoroughly rotten. She nodded.
I asked whether she knows that in many other countries things are very different. She has no idea. She stared at me, blankly. This remote village was her entire universe. She never heard anything about socialism or communism or even about stuff like social democracy. After the great massacres of the leftists and intellectuals after the Western-orchestrated 1965 coup, even the word ‘Communism’ became illegal, as a prominent Indonesian historian Asvi Marvan Adam told me. Banned also were words like ‘class’, just in case anyone would like to ignite ‘class struggle’.
Cinta’s family thinks, and they say that they know, that Western multi-party ‘democracy’ is a total farce. With dozens of competing political parties (all owned by Indonesian businessmen and right-wingers), local poor people (the great majority of Indonesia’s inhabitants) have absolutely no power, no say in the way their country is being governed.
It is not only in Indonesia, of course, although Indonesia is an extreme, almost grotesque case. I was told several years earlier by a Cambodian peasant near the border with Vietnam:
Vietnamese have only one political party – Communist – but their people participate in governing their nation much more than we, Cambodians do, despite the fact that we have several political parties. When we get sick, we have to cross the border to Vietnam and we get help. When we get hungry, we do the same. You see; you cannot eat political parties, no matter how many of them there are…
The peasant at the Cambodia-Vietnam border knows intimately two totally distinct political systems, because he lived just 500 meters from the borderline. But even in the capital, Phnom Penh, where anti-Communism is something resembling a new religion and has been already converted into the best ‘prerequisite’ for getting a well-paid job at an international NGO or at a foreign embassy, the situation is thoroughly different. There, conveniently, nobody knows anything. The only way is the Western way, with its clichés and pre-fabricated simplistic slogans.
The West is manufacturing simplistic, uniformed and one-sided ‘pseudo reality’ for all of its colonies and client states. It is one-type-fits-all sort of ‘pseudo reality’, intended to sustain collaborators and their regimes and to make the voices of people who are tormented, completely irrelevant. In fact, those who are robbed of everything are not supposed to even realize that they are being bled.
Actually, the majority of people who live in the neo-colonies are fully aware of the fact that they are suffering, but do not understand why. They tend to blame themselves, or each other: for being too lazy, too irresponsible, for producing too many children, or simply for not knowing how to compete or to get ahead.
Moreover in some countries where the propaganda is too extreme (like in Indonesia), many do not even realize, anymore, into what deep shit they have been thrown.
A few years ago, when I was filming the documentary film “Surabaya – Eaten Alive By Capitalism” (for the Latin American network TeleSur), I literally stumbled over a woman who was living in a slum, washing her dishes just a few steps away downstream from a place where a child was naked and defecating into the same polluted waterway. She had no electricity, no clean water, and her ‘house’ was made from rusty metal sheets. I asked her how she felt about being so poor, while just a few steps away rich people were burning money as if there was no tomorrow in a luxury mall. She looked at me for a few moments, then grabbed a broom and chased me down the gangway, screaming like possessed:
How dare you insult me like that? You called me poor? I’m not poor!
A few months later, in the enormous Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya, a gangster with the nickname Fire, literally cried in front of my camera:
I’m 32 year old, but I feel so old… I had several friends but they are all dead; I’m the only one who is still alive.
My friend gangster “Fire” Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya
Fire worked with me on a film, as my guide and a bodyguard. I liked him a lot. I trusted him. He was a good man who had made many mistakes in life, but then tried to correct them and find his way out of the terrible trap and vicious cycle of poverty and violence. He was aware of his condition and of the condition of his fellow slum-dwellers. However, living in Kenya, a country which became a neo-colony of the West, as well as some sort of a ‘service station’ for the US, UK, Israeli and other militaries and intelligence agencies, he was never told that there are different political, economic and social systems than the one in which he grew up – a savage capitalism and total subservience to the Empire.
He wanted to ‘make it’, to ‘help his slum’, to change his life and the lives of his neighbors. But he was not aware of the fact that some great and fundamental change could come from a revolution, from a radical change. All his life he was told that the only way forward was some sort of personal ‘improvement’, because the system in which he had been living was essentially right and just.
In that system, of course, the great majority of people are living in misery – they are terribly abused, exploited and unprotected. The violence, terribly low life expectancy and hopelessness are just logical by-products of a brutal neo-colonialist and turbo-capitalist system; they are not the results of shortcomings of a specific group of people or of some individuals.
Fire was very intelligent. I told him then, personally, what I’m writing here now. He understood. He understood well. But when we were parting, he said:
I agree with you, but people here were never told any of these things. Almost nobody comprehends what is going on in our slums. We are only taught how to blame each other. Nobody here would ever blame the UK or the US. We were all told that our misery is fully our own fault.
In Northern Kenya, not that far from the border with war-torn Somalia, I once visited a neat wildlife preservation facility. There were cute orphaned rhinos being taken care of by well-trained staff, as well as other protected but endangered species. The facility was owned and administered by a British family, and there was a very high fee charged at the gate.
After the visit, when I drove out, right outside the gate, which was manned by two robust dudes armed with submachine guns, I spotted two humble crosses. As I drove further down the dirt road, there were more and more crosses on both sides of my car. I stopped at a local deprived grocery store and asked about what I saw. A wrinkled woman explained to me in her broken English:
There is a draught here… a famine… People die while they try to get away; they drop dead… Villagers have no strength to carry them back; they just bury them on the spot.
In Kenya elephants are protected — if only people would be
Protecting animals is often very good business, an excellent commodity. Animals are cute, and they look (and often really are) defenseless. People who are starving are rough, unrefined, and scary-looking. Those who are dying from hunger or disease are far from enchanting. Saving their lives is often not such a good business.
I asked a food seller: “They feed, wash and shrink animals, but not people?”
She had no idea what ‘shrink’ meant, but about the other things she was sure:
We are worth nothing. We are poor.
I asked her whether she was angry, whether she found this system insane, beastly, in short: absolutely repulsive?
Her big hands were rough, carved with deep wrinkles. The wrinkles looked like those dry rivers around Nairobi. Then I saw her eyes and I realized: she was most likely younger than me, perhaps in her early 30’s. She looked 60 or older. She looked like she will most likely not live much longer.
She looked back at me:
Angry? Why? It is all in His hands.
She looked up.
I looked down. ‘That’, I thought ‘is definitely not going help you’. Then I bought five cans of condensed milk that I didn’t need, and some crackers.
I drove away; angry like hell, going 100km/h on narrow dirt tracks, a cloud of dust behind me, rising towards the sky.
Later, my Ugandan friend, a leading left-wing politician Arthur Tewungwa, wrote to me:
The animals roam on land that has fuck all to do with Kenyans, per se. Madness! Lord Aberdare owns 300,000 acres, Cholmondely the same etc. Elephants, rhinos, hippos are pests to poor villagers and they can’t anyway afford to go and see them as they are shuffled across the border by “beaters” depending on which side tourists are. Comedy!
But it is a comedy, which ruins tens of thousands of human lives, while nobody dares to protest.
It is often simply unbelievable, how people who have been robbed of everything, are fooled into believing that in this wide world there are absolutely no alternatives and no better arrangements for society. Or they were taught not to think at all along these lines.
Samoan man – he served in the navy and keeps blaming himself for something
Religions help to keep poor and plundered people in submission, of course, and the West has historically both been implanting and then supporting the most radical forms of religion, in virtually all of its colonies. Not just one sort of religion, but all of them, the more extreme and fundamentalist, the better.
For three full years I lived in the South Pacific, where I wrote a book, I believe the only one of its kind, describing the terrible plight of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia – a part of the world which is being literally liquidated by the various cruel geopolitical and military interests of the US, Australia, New Zealand, UK, France and Taiwan. The book is called Oceania.
There, some island nations including Tuvalu, Kiribati and Marshall Islands, are literally disappearing from the face of the Earth, or more precisely becoming uninhabitable because of climate change and the rising of ocean levels.
People are forced to evacuate their countries. But are they blaming imperialism, unbridled capitalism, and Western selfishness? Far from it! All the newspapers and media outlets are to some extent controlled by the foreigners, through ‘foreign aid’ or through the ‘educating and training’ of local journalists abroad. The education system is dependent on foreign funding as well. Consequently, capitalism is never questioned. Western imperialism is hardly ever mentioned.
The streets of Apia, the capital of Samoa, or of any other capital in Oceania, are no strangers to tall, blond young men wearing white shirts and black name tags that read Jesus Christ. They are ‘ambassadors’; they belong to all sorts of extremist religious movements and fundamentalist Christian sects based in the United States, from Jehovah Witnesses to Mormons.
Churches in Oceania are brutally exploiting most of the poor and helpless citizens. They are literally blackmailing parishioners into paying unreasonably high dues. There is constant fear of sexual abuse and rape on their premises, but there is also the tremendous pressure of local ‘cultures’ to force all islanders into religious straight jackets. There is also absolutely no criticism of these practices from the West. Why? The answer is simple: extremist religious practices keep people in total ignorance and full obedience towards religion itself, towards the feudal family structures, but also towards the economic and political regimes. And all the political regimes of Oceania are corrupted and upheld by the Western powers and lately by Taiwan.
And so, the West (US, UK and France) have been blowing up their nukes in this part of the world, essentially experimenting on people, but there is hardly any ideological challenge that Europe, US and Australia have to face here, perhaps with the certain exception of France in its colonies.
The US shoots long-range missiles from California to the center of the largest atoll in the world – Kwajalein on the Marshall Islands – but no one is taught that it is all an absolute insanity. ‘Kwaj’ proper is off limits to almost all people (it is fully controlled by the US military) who are only allowed to work on the base as manual workers, commuting by filthy ferry from the horrid and overpopulated nearby island of Ebeye. Around 90% of the people on Ebeye are suffering from diabetes, because they are literally forced to eat shit, as the country, like most of Oceania, has become (already some decades ago) a dumping ground for the most unhealthy food produced in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
Ebeye – Pollution from nearby US military base at Kwajaein, Marshall Islands
Both the former Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, Tony deBrum, as well as the Paramount Chief Mike Kabua, once told me how outraged they were, but do common people realize what has been and is being done to them?
First the monstrous nuclear experiments and destruction of Bikini Atoll, and now, these bizarre star wars in the middle of the once pristine atolls. And on top of it, the nation is facing global warming and almost inevitable demise. The Compact of Free Association with the United States” (in reality, an agreement which allows the US to colonize, ‘legally’, a great part of Micronesia) is never challenged and very rarely even questioned.
As elsewhere in the colonized world – the rich are profiting, while the poor (great majority) are plundered and destitute. While being looted, the have-nots are smiling or even dancing. They never heard from their TV sets or at school (if they ever went to one) that they are actually the victims. Living in misery is their karma or fate, or punishment for something they committed, by something supernatural. It is a truly great arrangement for the religious leaders, and especially for the Empire. For Washington, London and Paris it is simply: mission accomplished!
For hundreds of millions of girls like Cinta, it means: their lives will never change. It will be the same as the lives of their parents and grandparents, and it will consist of near slavery, of no security, of bad but unbreakable marriages, endless religious rituals and absolute ignorance about the fact that there are many alternatives and countless other ways how lives could be lived.
Not only that the Empire is spreading nihilism to all of its colonies; it is also censoring all people-oriented and revolutionary alternatives.
It is incredible how successful it is! It really is, so far. Only so far… It cannot continue like this, forever.
One day in the not so distant future, girls like Cinta may finally wake up; they will break their shackles and with newly discovered pride and hope, depart to the mountains to fight for their nation. Ciao Bella Ciao style!
How does one give them the impulse? How does one make them see, to realize their condition?
At night, in the city of Ketapang, I could not sleep. I was tossing and turning, thinking about the girl named Cinta. I had to go back before leaving Borneo. I had to talk to her and to her parents: to tell them it was all totally wrong, and that there is another life possible.
I went to a local shopping center. I bought her a green bear and few small gifts in a Japanese store. In the morning, instead of continuing my work in an area that had been destroyed by mining and palm oil plantations, I instructed my driver to go back to Cinta’s village.
But she was gone. Her entire family was gone. A neighbor informed me:
They went to far away fields, to work on a durian plantation. They will not return for several weeks.
I left the green bear in the village. I cursed imperialism and modern day slavery, and then I left.
Once again, the Empire had won. But we are not helpless either. Now my readers, on all continents, will learn about that little girl named Cinta. The stories of enslaved people are the same, all over the world. There are Cintas in Honduras, in Uganda, in Yemen, in Marshall Islands.
Imperialists should know: we are documenting, we are watching, day and night. We are connecting the stories of their victims, on all continents. We are connecting real people. And El Pueblo Unido, jamas sera vencido! ‘United, people will never be defeated!’
Alternative views can be censored, at least for some time. But the ability to dream, the capacity to hope, is eternal. And it is stuff consisting of dreams and hopes that is the most frightening enemy of the tyrants.
• First published in New Eastern Outlook
• All photos by Andre Vltchek