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TPP as conquest, dispossession and erasure

April 24, 2015

“Defend Mauna Kea” image from the Hawaii Independent

As a corporate driven economic and strategic partnership, the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be seen as a 21st-century extra-colonial land and resource grab. The Investor-State Dispute System that challenges the sovereignty of States, may be nothing more than the corporate expansion of the western colonial-era narrative and the evolution of neocolonial capitalism. Attempts at conquest, dispossession and erasure are as present now as they were 500 years ago with the issuance of the 1493 Inter Caetera, Papal Bulls that set motion to the “Right of Discovery.”

Although there are differences in not only the history of Hawaii and among the histories of First Nations on the American continent, there are greater similarities when we begin to consider how peoples survive the ongoing attempts by institutionalized power towards the erasure of national histories and cultures.

National struggles– meaning nations like Hawaii or US First Nations like Cherokee, Navajo, Cree, Oglala-Lakota, for example; or the nations that were absorbed by the Aztec, Inca and Maya empires; or the nations that have been consumed within the boundaries of all States– these national struggles have mostly been about land and commodity resources.

In the United States, Monroe’s Doctrine, the Manifest Destiny trumpeted the quest for Western expansion; Truman’s Doctrine, the Marshall Plan established the expansion of State-driven global “economic cooperation”, and now Obama’s doctrine, seeks to institutionalize the corporate-driven trade and military expansion of the TPP.

The 2015 Economic Action Plan just released by Canada commits $243.5 million to the construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope and as part of the investment agreement, dozens of Canadian industries are expected to develop advanced capabilities and products transferable to future applications in defense and other sectors.

Whether it be through guns and germs or new legal rights embedded in corporate-driven trade agreements, the TPP is about conquest. There is little difference between the science of astronomy and biotech, or sectors that include oil pipelines, plant-derived pharmaceuticals, or education when the transnational investment regime asserts binding legal rights over States, Nations or Peoples.

Among all the TPP partner countries, there are nations within that have ongoing disputes with the state. Indigenous peoples are asserting a rights regime to raise the normative legal system, but this system is between Indigenous Peoples and States. So how should we look at the ISDS tribunals that privilege corporate-investor rights against the State, while indigenous national rights barely have the binding, normative recognition afforded to the transnational investment regime.

Indigenous national rights need not be contained within the “trans” national definiton, rather indigenous rights might be “supra” or “extra” national, and conflicts and reparations could reside in tribunals that have the same binding status as ISDS.

The action to protect Mauna Kea against the construction of a Thirty-Meter Telescope has succeeded in garnering international attention. The Hawaiian nation will stop the construction because the nation is alive and strong. The Federal government (as well as the state of Hawaii) will never be able to erase the nation of Hawaii, and as the nation heals, so will the mountains, the land and the ocean.

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