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  • French Nuclear Testing in the South Pacific, or When France Makes Light of Its Duty to Remember
  • Gabriel Tetiarahi

On 13 June 1995, when President Jacques Chirac announced a final round of a dozen nuclear tests [in French Polynesia], his irrevocable decision caused concern and dismay. Without bothering at all to first consult the Polynesian people, he committed an act of gratuitous violence against these people and their representatives, political parties, churches, labor unions, and nongovernmental organizations. It felt like a planned assassination of this child—all the future generations carried by the mothers in their wombs, their pu fenua—by the new occupant of the Elysée [the French "White House"].

Of course, Chirac could always count on his constant "brother," the president of the territorial government, Gaston Flosse. His campaigns—spread by the media of the Hersant group and by Radio Overseas France in favor of the tests' harmlessness and of the 1:000 new jobs that the program would generate—could not change the public opinion of the great majority, under the morally aggressive blow.

Demonstrations, support from throughout the Pacific region, and the massive presence of international media accompanied the testimonies of those who had directly suffered from the explosions, whether atmospheric or underground. The riots in Papeete were only the logical outcome of an act of violence committed by two dignitaries, Jacques Chirac and Gaston Flosse. In looking elsewhere for the culprits, the police and courts failed in their mission. The nuclear criminals were successive presidents of the French Republic, from De Gaulle to Chirac, and not the Polynesians, who were more victims than culprits.

They had also tarnished the image of France. Chirac decided then to end the tests once and for all in January 1996. The opponents of nuclear [End Page 378] testing could hardly cry victory, however. Would France wash its hands of the experiments, without taking into consideration the impact of atomic testing on the environment and especially the health of veterans, both civilian Polynesian workers and French soldiers?

From its side, to clear its conscience, France commissioned a radiological study by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Its conclusions weremade public at the French Pacific University in Papeete, but far from calming concerns among Polynesians, the results raised fears.1 The conclusions contradictedina shockingmanner the information from previously classified military sources, according to which Moruroa and Fangataufa would not be contaminated. Thirty-five years of lies, and in addition, no investigation of the aerial tests had been conducted.

Seeking another truth, the Evangelical Church and the network of nongovernmental organizations, Hiti Tau, are working together with the support of European organizations to give voice to the former workers who agreed to break the silence that surrounded the nuclear crime sites. The conclusions of a study published in 1997 are revealing. Children as young as ten to fourteen years old were enlisted to work on Moruroa. We thought slavery had been abolished in 1848. Access to medical files is still cloaked in secrecy. Under such conditions it was easy for military doctors to claim there was no link between the rise in cancers among the workers and the radioactivity of the experiments.

Conferences held in 1999 in the very heart of the National Assembly in Paris, in which a few French parliamentarians participated, hardly pushed the highest authorities of the French State to admit finally that France had not conducted clean tests, let alone admit their impact on the health of Polynesians, for whom ceaseless reports of thyroid cancers, the highest rate in the world among women, became daily worries.

The reelection of Chirac in 2002 did nothing to change his will to remain mute on the repercussions. He could, traditionally, ally himself with his constant brother Flosse, who emerged victorious in the ballot boxes in 2001 and continued to receive generous economic support from the French State.2 A reconversion fund fed annually by 18 billion CFP in French subsidies was put in place as compensation. A judicial immunity (naturally supported by the Free Masons) cloaked all the exaggerations and diversions of the local government. Directives were given to the French high commissioner in Polynesia to be increasingly lenient about thelegality...