The Grasberg Mine is a massive scar 14,000 feet atop West Papua’s part of New Guinea’s Central Cordillera. It’s is the world’s biggest, most profitable gold mine and the world’s third biggest copper mine, with estimated reserves of $100 billion.
Some 20,000 people work there, making it the largest employer on the divided island and the largest source of revenue in all of Indonesia. Many of those engaged in the dangerous work of mining come from the 40,000-year-old indigenous community of New Guinea, a people the Indonesian authorities are slowly pushing into non-existence.
In 1962, the Indonesians, with the connivance of the US, grabbed the western half of New Guinea. Since then, the destruction of the environment and the local communities has advanced as Indonesians displace the indigenous population and scramble over valuable resources. Although Indonesia has barred a full accounting, there have been hundreds of thousands of deaths—many in the most brutal and deliberate fashion.
Responsibility for the destruction and slow genocide now rests securely with the Indonesian government. But the US continues to defer to its ally in the same way it does to, say, Saudi Arabia: in short, weak complaints and no action.