Naked City

No Laughing Matter

Flinging algae might get you arrested on the University of Texas campus, but it doesn't carry much weight in court. At least that appears to be the lesson from two arrests made by the UT Police Dept. last Friday -- of two Austin men who were protesting on campus against New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and the company's CEO, Jim Bob Moffett, a UT alum. The two men, Alfredo Reza and Adam Seehaver, were arrested by UTPD after one of them allegedly threw algae against the molecular biology building, which was named for Moffett.

UT police charged Reza with Class C criminal mischief and Seehaver with Class B criminal trespass. But Municipal Court Judge John Vasquez looked askance at the charges. "The judge found there was insufficient evidence to arrest them and threw both cases out," said Alex Veltman, a lawyer for Reza and Seehaver.

The demonstration was held to protest the environmental and human rights damage caused by Freeport's vast Grasberg gold and copper mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, which contains the world's largest gold deposit. The mine currently dumps about 200,000 tons of waste tailings per day into a local river system, a process that has caused flooding in the region and has inundated more than a dozen square miles of rainforest. In addition, numerous cases of torture and murder have been documented in and around the mine area. The company denies any responsibility for the abuses, but for many years, including the period when the abuses occurred, the company supplied the Indonesian military with food, transportation, and housing. Earlier this year, company officials said Freeport no longer acts as the military's quartermaster.

In 1990, during a hearing before the Austin City Council, Moffett bragged that during his stint on the Forty Acres, he had the highest grades on the UT football team. In 1993, then-UT president (now Chancellor) Bill Cunningham, who was serving on Freeport's board at the time, persuaded Moffett to donate $2 million for the molecular biology building, then asked the UT Board of Regents to name the building after the tycoon. In 1995, Cunningham resigned from the company's board. Shortly afterward, he exercised his stock options on Freeport stock, making a $650,000 profit in one day. Freeport paid his income tax on the transaction. On Monday, The Daily Texan quoted Cunningham as saying that Moffett is a "very generous philanthropist" and that UT has "benefited a great deal from his support."

Reza, who spent 19 hours at the Central Booking Facility downtown, said he is glad that the charges against him were dropped. As for the algae, he said it came from Barton Creek, which he said has been affected by the Barton Creek PUD development started by Moffett's company. "I was just returning the scum that's generated by the effluent that comes from the affluent," he said.

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