- Indonesian officials have called for DiCaprio to be barred from the country over his criticism of deforestation caused by the palm oil industry.
- Forestry minister Siti Nurbaya, however, said on Saturday that she thought DiCaprio had "acted in good faith" and did nothing wrong.
- The story has gone viral, drawing more attention to the controversy surrounding the government's development plans for the Leuser Ecosystem.
Last week, Leonardo Dicaprio was threatened with deportation from Indonesia after he visited a Sumatran jungle and then posted critically to Instagram about the palm oil industry. Some bureaucrats and politicians accused the actor of running a “black campaign” to discredit the industry, whose breakneck expansion is destroying the country’s rainforests and displacing indigenous peoples and wildlife even as it fuels economic growth.
On Saturday, Indonesian environment and forestry minister Siti Nurbaya offered a different perspective, saying she appreciated DiCaprio’s activism.
“My view is that DiCaprio’s concerns are both sincere and substantial, and he has certainly acted in good faith,” Nurbaya told foresthints.news. “In fact, we largely share his concerns on this matter. In light of this and to reciprocate his sincerity and good intentions, I am open to working together with DiCaprio in a joint effort whereby both of us can have our concerns addressed, including those that pertain to the Leuser Ecosystem.”
DiCaprio’s philanthropic foundation recently gave $3.2 million to protect Leuser, one of Southeast Asia’s last great swaths of intact rainforest. Located in the westernmost province of Aceh, the ecosystem remains in far better shape than forests elsewhere in Sumatra in part because of Jakarta’s 30-year war against separatists in sharia-compliant Aceh, which impeded the advance of industry there.
A peace treaty was signed in 2005; recently, the Aceh parliament passed a new spatial plan which opened the door to revved-up logging, mining and oil palm development in Leuser. The plan is the subject of a citizen lawsuit, and Western governments are trying to convince Aceh officials to revise it.
“When forests are destroyed, it leaves the community downstream vulnerable to flooding and landslides,” said Farwiza Farhan, an Acehnese activist who accompanied DiCaprio on his recent visit to Leuser. “Why should millions of law-abiding citizens be put at risk for a handful of palm oil companies who seek to destroy the last place on earth where orangutans, rhinos, tigers and elephants live together in the world?”
If DiCaprio was trying to take the Leuser controversy mainstream, he has, for a moment at least, succeeded. The actor’s potential “blacklisting” from Indonesia is making headlines across the world, written up over the weekend in BBC News, Vanity Fair and People Magazine, to name just a few publications.
Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, told Mongabay his organization had seen a “massive increase in shares and likes etc” on social media, and some new donations, since DiCaprio tweeted about its work on Thursday.
— Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) March 31, 2016
Nurbaya, who took office in 2014 after reform-minded president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was elected, tried to shoot down concerns that DiCaprio would be barred from returning to Indonesia.
“There was even an official from my ministry serving in the province who accompanied DiCaprio on his visit, in particular when he went to see the orangutans in the Mount Leuser National Park,” she said. “It’s really not relevant to link the concerns conveyed by DiCaprio with immigration matters.”
Certain Indonesian officials have earned a reputation for speaking out against efforts to curb the palm oil industry, though they do not necessarily represent the Jokowi administration. The same goes for Nurbaya, however, and it is unclear if DiCaprio will face difficulties if he ever tries to return to the archipelago.
For her part, Nurbaya said she would be open to a meeting with DiCaprio.
“Who knows, if DiCaprio is around New York when I’m at the UN Headquarters, perhaps we can catch up over a cup of coffee. I would take the opportunity to explain to him in greater detail about the efforts being undertaken by the Jokowi administration to address climate change issues.”
Follow Philip Jacobson on Twitter: @philjacobius