November 6, 2004

Chiraqistan in the Pacific

We’ve had the pleasure of visiting Huahine, one of the islands of French Polynesia, several times. It’s quite lovely, the people are pleasant, and a good time was had by all.

However, he fly in the Polynesian ointment is that they are controlled by our old pseudo-ally, France. Many of the French people on Huahine are lovely people with whom we have no quarrel. But as colonial overlord, France has not covered itself with glory.

France’s most famous offense against the Polynesians is that when they decided that their dubious gloire demanded that they develop a nuclear weapons capability, the force de frappe. Of course, the Hexagon (metropolitan France) was no place to test nukes, and so they chose Mururoa, an atoll in Polynesia, with disastrous results for the environment and the islanders – a few menial jobs for a while but lots of radiation where it wasn’t supposed to be. The same technology that makes the aircraft carrier De Gaulle a useless hulk and the new Paris airport terminal a pile of twised steel and concrete.

France has tried to make up for this particular offense by throwing subsidies around. It also exports retired civil servants, and more or less monopolizes most businesses that aren’t the province of the Hakka Chinese. Their policies are old-fashioned mercantilism. French wine is cheap, but other imported products are expensive and poor quality due to the exorbitant import duties.

And it goes without saying that the French display their customary arrogance with respect to the maohi (Polynesians). On the other hand, they have turned the islands into a dependent welfare state, so that unless their subsidies were replaced, it would be a slow, hard way up if the French left.

For many years, “autonomous” Polynesia’s President has been their own Ferdinand Marcos, a crony of French President Jacques Chirac named Gaston Flosse. Flosse is the Ferdinand Marcos of Tahiti. Like Chirac, he has a reputation as a crook. Some say he made his money from bribes related to gambling. An unsavory, self-aggrandizing old man.

In recent elections, a pro-Maohi, pro-independence leader, Oscar Temaru unexpectedly won a coalition victory and was elected President. Flosse, with the connivance of the Chhiraqistanis, bought off a small group of Temaru’s supporters, staged a vote of no confidence, and reassumed the Presidency.

Now Flosse and his supporters have occupied the key government buildings, refusing to move until new elections are called. 25,000 Tahitians marched in support of Temaru, and there’s a standoff until Paris decides whether to call new elections or to order Temaru and his group to leave. There’s a French Navy presence and some foreign legionnaires (fugitive Romanians with shady pasts and whatnot). More could be brought in from New Caledonia.

Real unrest would threaten tourism, and even conceivably a revolt, which would be embarrassing to France. Tahitians, of course, aren’t allowed to own guns. They hunt the immense wild pigs on the slopes of the volcanoes with spears.

It is to be hoped that Temaru prevails and new elections are called. Among other things, they want to encourage Polynesians to learn English, which is the language of education in most of the Pacific, as well as to promote the study and use of Tahitian.

My more aggressive self fantasizes that the next time France beats its chest and obstructs the United States for money and out of its customary snotty resentment, the U.S. send a small naval task force and some marines to lie offshore while Polynesia declares its independence and throws the French out.

In this day and age, why should the singes capitulards (“surrender monkeys”) be allowed to keep and mismanage a colonial empire?


For a reasonably fair, but damning look at the U.S.’s troubled relationship with France, read Our Oldest Enemy, a revealing debunking of the idea that France is our oldest ally.

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