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Freeport & Grasberg: A Chronology

By Robert Bryce, Fri., Sept. 23, 2005

1936: Dutch explorer-geologist Jean Jacques Dozy discovers Ertsberg (Dutch for "ore mountain") in Papua New Guinea. His discovery is recounted in a paper that is ignored for 23 years.

1959: Forbes Wilson, exploration chief for Freeport Sulphur Co., learns of Ertsberg from Dozy's report, visits site.

1961: Jim Bob Moffett, a football player, graduates from UT with a B.S. in geology.

1965: With U.S. approval if not direct support, Suharto seizes power in Indonesia. At least half a million people are killed.

1967: Freeport becomes first company to sign a contract under Indonesia's new foreign investment law.

1968: Moffett, along with UT boosters Ken McWilliams and B.M. Rankin Jr. form McMoRan Oil & Gas Co. The three later strike it rich in South Texas oil fields.

1972: After years of building infrastructure, Freeport Sulphur begins mining at Ertsberg, immediately has problems with weather and with mining at 4,100 meters above sea level. Wilson writes that the company is "deeply in the red" due to low copper prices.

1977: Amungme tribal people steal dynamite, blow up a slurry pipeline at the mine. Military crackdown kills as many as 900 local villagers.

1980: Freeport and Indonesian government start relocating local tribal people in the lowlands. Moffett becomes CEO of McMoRan Oil.

1981: McMoRan merges with Freeport Sulphur – a company twice as big as McMoRan.

1988: Due to its fertilizer operations in Louisiana, Freeport-McMoRan is named the top water polluter in America by the Environmental Protection Agency.

1989: UT Geology Department signs $1 million agreement with Freeport to do exploratory work at the Indonesia mine.

June 7, 1990: After an all-night hearing, the Austin City Council votes against Freeport's 4,000-acre real estate project on Barton Creek.

Oct. 17, 1990: Officials from half a dozen environmental groups send letter to Freeport, asking about problems with mine tailings.

Sept. 17, 1991: New discoveries of ore at the Grasberg deposit adjacent to Ertsberg cause Freeport to double estimates of mine reserves. They estimate future production at over 12 billion pounds of copper, 20.6 million ounces of gold, and 22.8 million ounces of silver.

1993: Mine produces 62,000 tons of ore a day.

July 1994: Independent scientists working for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a federal agency that provides political risk insurance, visit Freeport's Grasberg mine, investigate environmental problems.

Dec. 25, 1994: Demonstration by local tribal people near the mine. Military attacks, at least three civilians are killed.

April 1995: Australian Council for Overseas Aid releases report detailing dozens of human rights abuses at Indonesian mine, implicates Freeport security personnel in the attacks.

August 1995: Catholic Church of Jayapura releases report on abuses at the mine, corroborates many of ACFOA's findings.

Sept. 22, 1995: Indonesian Commission on Human Rights releases report confirming human rights abuses at mine.

Oct. 20, 1995: Austin Chronicle files Freedom of Information Act request with OPIC. Agency refuses to comment on insurance issue.

Halloween 1995: OPIC's $100 million political risk insurance coverage of Freeport mine is cancelled because the mine poses "unreasonable or major environmental, health or safety hazards."

Nov. 1, 1995: UT Geological Society cancels dinner honoring Moffett. Reason given: Moffett has "scheduling conflict."

December 1995: Mine produces 115,000 tons of ore per day and plans to expand production to 160,000 tons per day.

1998: Faced with a popular uprising and weakening support from the U.S., Indonesian dictator Suharto resigns.

2001: Theys Eluay, a leader of the West Papuan independence movement, is abducted and murdered. The Indonesian military is the prime suspect.

2002: American Patsy Spier, her husband, Rick, and several others are ambushed on a road near the Freeport mine. The shooting leaves three dead. The Indonesian military is the prime suspect in the shootings.

May 2005: Human Rights Watch and a host of other groups ask Indonesian president Yudhoyono to investigate the poisoning death of Indonesian lawyer and human rights activist Munir.

July 2005: Global Witness releases report alleging Freeport has systematically made direct payments to commanders in the Indonesian military. Grasberg mine produces 220,000 tons of ore per day. Freeport reports that in the first half of 2005, its revenue doubled from 2004, to $1.7 billion, and the company will award shareholders a supplemental dividend of 50 cents per share.

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