- Valdya Baraputri
- BBC News
Let’s think of crystal clear waters, wide white sand beaches, palm trees and a green mountain in the background.
Now that travel has become a distant memory for most due to the covid-19 pandemic, this idea seems like a tourist’s dream come true.
And this idea is exactly what the Indonesian government wants to come to mind when it comes to Mandalika, the diamond in the rough of tourism that has been called “the new Bali.”
But the program to develop a luxurious resort there, supported largely by the government, He has received complaints of human rights violations.
Although Mandalika is a key investment project for Indonesia, it also has foreign investment, such as that provided by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
What is certain is that this place, located on the island of Lombok, East of Bali, it is truly beautiful.
And to exploit its maximum tourism potential, the government wants to attract the big names in luxury hotel chains such as Pullman, Paramount and Club Med.
In fact, a circuit has already begun to be built for motorcycling grand prix competitions, although that is not exactly associated with a relaxing vacation in the tropics.
‘Threats and intimidation from locals’
It all sounded very promising for the Indonesian tourism industry. However, at the end of March United Nations experts pointed out that the project “tramples on the human rights” of the locals.
In the complaint, the international organization indicates that the people who live in the area have been “threatened and intimidated, so that they leave their lands without any compensation. ”
And criticism was also directed against AIIB and the French group VINCI, which is the main investor and is in charge of the construction of the motorcycle circuit, several hotels and a hospital.
The regional authorities and the police have responded that the complaints of forced eviction and land grabbing are not true and have even accused the experts of the UN to create a “false narrative.”
The AIIB indicated, for its part, that its work fully adheres to environmental and social regulations and that it will respond “promptly” to complaints that have been expressed in the area.
“The final UN report found no evidence of alleged coercion, use of direct force and intimidation related to the acquisition of land and the relocation of people,” the bank said in a statement.
However, when a BBC team traveled to Mandalika to find out what was going on, the experiences they reported from locals varied widely.
Dozens of families, including their livestock, are reluctant to leave Kuta village, while you can see through the palm trees how the construction of the motorcycling circuit is progressing.
The situation there is complicated by the fact that not all the inhabitants of the village have the documentation that accredits them as owners of the land where they live.
Among hundreds of homes in the village, about 180 do not have property titles and they have no way to challenge the eviction order in court.
One of the village residents said that she is reluctant to leave because she believes her family never sold the land to the government.
Meanwhile, other residents in the same sector have been told that this land already belonged to the state.
Many of those who do not have title to the land have been relocated elsewhere, located about two kilometers from Kuta.
But Olivier De Schutter, one of the UN analysts who was in the area and who is an expert on poverty and human rights issues, told the BBC that those who have not left are forced to live next to the place where the motorcycling track is being built.
“What is really worrying is that the construction work on these hotels and the motorcycle circuit has started without the families actually being relocated in adequate conditions,” he said.
De Schutter adds that what the government has done, of taking the villagers and relocating them to another corner of the islandIt is not enough because many of them depended on their old village for their survival.
“Having a roof, water, electricity and food is not enough,” De Shutter said.
“You should have the ability to survive. Otherwise, these communities are going to be in dire straits. ”
And he pointed out that a monetary compensation does not solve a process as complex as a relocation.
Damar is one of the villagers who received compensation from the government. He also notes that is not sufficient.
Another former Kuta resident who spoke to the BBC says he grew up in a place that is less than 500 meters from the site where the motorcycling circuit is being built and that he has proof that he owns part of that land.
“I still remember the first meeting in 2019; they immediately said ‘in August, the land must be vacated´ “, he told the BBC.
“So we were confused, there has been no socialization, no deliberation, no agreement from the two parties,” he added.
According to Damar, his land was valued by an independent team and that is what they paid him. But he insists that money doesn’t pay for the pain and suffering of starting from scratch somewhere else and the sadness of leaving the community in which you have built your life for years.
“We took the compensation money because we had no other option,” he said.
A question of sustainable development
There has also been criticism about whether those megaprojects are still timely in the 21st century.
In fact, the luxury enclave of Nusa Dua, in southern Bali, was also developed by a state corporation. In that case, it worked to transform Bali into an international destination.
But that was in the 1970s, when there was not much tourism in the region and, possibly, without the backing of the state, no luxury resorts would have reached the island.
Today, however, experts point out that it’s a different story.
“Large-scale tourism development that tramples human rights is fundamentally incompatible with the concept of sustainable development,” said the UN specialist statement.
“The time has passed for racetracks and massive transnational tourism infrastructure projects that benefit a handful of economic players rather than the population as a whole. Postcovid-19 economies They should focus on empowering local communities, improving their ways of life and participating in decision-making. “
Meanwhile, work on the projects continues. The motorcycle circuit is largely finished and is scheduled for July this year.
A World Superbike event is already scheduled in November, while a round of the motorcycle world championship is planned for next year.
The people who live there will have little or no chance of staying in the area.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.