The backside of the Tahitian picture post card

The backside of the Tahitian picture post card

French president Francois Hollande has had a very bad year. Just as there were high expectations when Obama came after Bush, things were supposed to get better when the Sarkozy years ended. But France has a deep state just like America, and it has a legacy of colonialism that has come back to haunt it with an array of intractable problems. As the nuclear industry staggered on like a zombie in the form of two bankrupt mega-corporations (EDF and AREVA), the terror attacks took center stage and the spoiled COP21 conference. As a reaction to the attacks, the government moved to restrict freedoms by revising the constitution in a way that would allow for French-born citizens to lose their nationality. The Eurozone crisis grinds on, refugees continue to pour into Europe, and the Socialists’ ideas on labor and pension reforms are no better than Sarkozy’s. Pamela Anderson, of all people, walked into this to add to M. Hollande’s troubles. She visited the national assembly in January to berate France for the animal cruelty behind its fois-gras tradition—an event which was at least more well attended by representatives than the vote on constitutional reform. I wonder why.

One might want to joke that Hollande is going to Tahiti this week in the hope of finding a nice overwater bungalow retreat away from all this, but he knows on the contrary that he is flying into a storm, as the visit coincides in the 20th year since the last nuclear bomb detonation in French Polynesia. The devastating effects on the culture and health of Polynesians have never been addressed sufficiently. The weather forecast calls for stormy weather during the entire time of his visit.

Part 1 The inverse of Tahitian paradise, a translation of:
L'envers du décor paradisiaque de Tahiti, Le Temps, Switzerland, February 16, 2016

Part 2 Bruno Barrillot’s study on the effects of nuclear tests on children, a translation of :

Le voyage de François Hollande à Tahiti vu par le Petit Journal

Part 1 The inverse of Tahitian paradise, a translation of:
L'envers du décor paradisiaque de Tahiti, Le Temps, Switzerland, February 16, 2016

French president Francois Hollande will visit Tahiti on February 22, 2016. He will be the first French head of state to visit in thirteen years. There is much anticipation for the visit because now, fifty years since the first nuclear tests, French Polynesia is paying the social and environmental costs of having hosted bureaucrats and soldiers from France.

A light wind rustles the fruit trees that surround the home of Marie-Noëlle Epetahui, on the peninsula on southeast Tahiti called Tahiti Iti. “Women call me day and night when they are beaten. My door is always open.” In the town of Taravao, 50 kilometers from Papeete, the manager of the local branch of Vahine Orama (Women Standing Up) welcomes hundreds of victims of domestic violence under its roof. Ms. Epetahui  explains, “The violence always existed, but the number of cases is growing. Polynesian society is undergoing profound change. Traditional structures are disappearing.”

Since the end of the nuclear testing era, in 1995, and the departure of personnel from France, jobs became scarce. Alcohol, and paka (the local term for marijuana) feed on misery and take a heavy toll. “On the peninsula, most of the problems are found in the social housing projects of Taravao, built in 2006 and 2007 by the Office of Public Habitats (OPH).” This housing office accepts families who originally came from distant islands in the hope of finding work. When they fail to find work in Papeete [the capital], they are displaced to Taravao, on the isthmus that separates the peninsula from the main island of Tahiti Nui.

People have lost the knowledge or the means to fish or gather fruits from the forest. Maiana Bambridge, former director of the OPH, currently vice president of the French Polynesian Red Cross stated, “The populations from the archipelagos of Tuamotu or the Marquesas started to arrive in Tahiti in the 1960s after the establishment of the Centre d’expérimentation du Pacifique (CEP) which was in charge of the nuclear testing program. In this period, until the 1990s, the money was flowing. People forgot how to fish* and feed themselves from the forest. They became warehousemen or support workers. Then it all ended overnight.”

The myth of a golden age before the nuclear tests

Polynesians often romanticize the golden age before the nuclear tests, but it is not so easy to go back and live on the isolated islands. Ms. Bambridge adds, “There is no high school on the Gambier or Southern archipelagos. The young people come to Tahiti to study. They stay with their parents, but cohabitation is often difficult. Pregnant women are made to give birth at the hospital in Papeete, in order to, in theory, reduce infant mortality. The Protection sociale program reimburses such relocations for health reasons, but they break down family structures.” Following a very French model, the autonomous government of the “country” chose centralization, concentrating all infrastructure and services in Tahiti, while the 138 islands that make up the rest of French Polynesia are scattered over 5.5 million square kilometers of ocean, a territory as large as Western Europe.

Close to Papeete, the runways of the airport at Faa’a were built on backfilled land. On one side is the lagoon, now inaccessible for the population, and on the other is Hotuarea, a place inhabited by squatters whom the state has wanted to remove for decades. “These people began to live there decades ago, often with the tacit agreement of the owners,” explains Moetai Brotherson, an assistant to the mayor of the city, the independence politician Oscar Temaru. “Today, this place poses a lot of problems. A lot of families want their land back.”

Drugs, obesity, diabetes

The community in Faa’a has a concentration of all the social problems in Polynesia: drugs, but also obesity and diabetes, the number one illness of the nation which affects close to one half of all Polynesians. Within a few decades, the diet of the islands was completely transformed.** Now almost all food products are imported. Butter, oil and carbonated beverages now occupy the main position on the tables of the people.

The victims of the nuclear tests must show proof that their cancer is really linked to the tests, which is scientifically impossible. Roland Oldham, was a militant who, at the age of 16, joined the first protests against the tests in 1966. He explained, “The nuclear tests certainly contaminated the Pacific and caused irreversible environmental damage, but they also trapped us in a terrible economic and cultural dependence on France.” Today Roland leads the association of former nuclear workers who are demanding compensation for health damages. “We submitted close to 900 files, but most of them were rejected because of Article 4 of the 2010 Law which is based on the notion of ‘negligible risk.’*** The victims have the burden of proof to show that their cancer is linked to the tests, which is scientifically impossible.” For him, the French nuclear program is a “cancer” that continues to plague Polynesian society, even though it ended twenty years ago.

* What should be added here is that the locals didn’t merely “forget” how to fish. They were specifically instructed not to fish in many places because marine life became contaminated with dangerous levels of radionuclides from the bomb detonations.

** Dietary factors are not the only causes of diabetes. Radioactive contamination, especially the internal contamination that is ignored in all official surveys, has numerous effects on health aside from cancer.

*** Recently the French Council of State reviewed the 2010 Law and ruled that the burden of proof should be shifted onto the State. The absence of exposure data does not permit the state to conclude that the victim was not exposed to a non-negligible risk. It remains to be seen whether more applicants for compensation will receive favorable judgments.
Polynesian protest art, 1975
Part 2 Bruno Barrillot’s study on the effects of nuclear tests on children, translation of : Nucléaire : L’Etude de Bruno Barrillot sur les atteintes aux enfants, Radio 1 Tahiti, February 17, 2016

The former representative in charge of reporting on the consequences of nuclear testing for the DSCEN [Département de Suivi des Centres d'expérimentations Nucléaires], Bruno Barrillot, published an article on these consequences in the January 2016 issue of L’Observatoire des armements. The article places particular emphasis on the effects on children-- “… a question that is all the more pressing because it involves risks of genetic damage that will affect future generations.”

Bruno Barrillot has no fear of saying what he thinks. In his latest article he begins by denouncing the silence of the State 50 years after the first test. “Polynesians are still living without credible answers about the risks they were exposed to.” The people need to know. The proof, according to him, comes from a petition done by the victims group Association 193 with “30,000 signatures demanding reparations from France.” In his article, Bruno Barrillot is most concerned with “the most fragile: women and children.” These groups carry higher risks of genetic damage that can be passed to future generations. The author affirms notably, “The successive ministers of defense and presidents of the republic were perfectly informed, test after test, about the health risks they were exposing the population and the military personnel to. But the French health authorities took no prevention measures.” In contrast, the health service of the army went out of its way to cover up the data relevant to health effects.”

To support his article, Bruno Barrillot turns to various testimonies and documentaries, such as the one by Philomène Voirin, a wise elder of Fenua [a Polynesian term that refers to land, country or ancestral home]. One testimony demonstrates “shocking revelations from the documentary Moruroa le grand secret.” For example, there were malformations such as club feet and anencephalies—children born with badly deformed skulls.

Bruno Barrillot believes political leaders of France carry the responsibility for this murderous enterprise because, according to Article 121-3 of the penal code, persons are protected from being violated in a manifestly deliberate manner, there is a particular obligation of prudence, of foreseeing the need for the security measures required by law or regulation. It is a crime to expose others to a particularly grave risk that was [known or] not possible to ignore.

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