Death of a Dictator: Indonesia’s Suharto

Indonesia’s former president, General Suharto, has fallen ill and is not expected to survive. So I suppose now would be as good a time as any to reflect on the devastating effects of his more than 30 years of iron rule over the country of Indonesia.

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Indonesia is a country that should not be poor; it is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, agriculture, tin, copper, gold, and rubber. It was colonized by the Dutch in the 16th century and exploited by the West for hundreds of years. In 1945, the nationalist leader Sukarno declared Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch and became the country’s first president. Sukarno opposed imperialism and capitalism because he felt both had taken a devastating toll on the lives of the Indonesian people.

However, in the mid-sixties, General Suharto seized power from Sukarno, aided by the US and Britain due to his anti-communist sentiments. Suharto then presided over army-led massacres that killed an estimated 1 million people and wiped out the country’s only mass-based political party (the communist PKI). Ethnic Chinese and communist sympathizers were all rounded up and killed. A CIA report refers to Suharto’s atrocities as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century,” comparable to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

Within the next few years, the economy of Indonesia was completely redesigned in the interests of foreign investors, giving the West access to vast mineral wealth, markets, and cheap labor…what President Nixon called “the greatest prize in Asia.” Suharto’s agents met with representatives of global capital (international banks, credit cards, big oil, tobacco, defense, technology, etc.) to design the legal infrastructure and conditions of their investment in Indonesia.

Suharto continued to maintain a “good investment climate” for foreign companies in Indonesia while compiling one of the world’s worst human rights records. His regime provided guarantees of cheap labor, the suppression of trade unions, torture, killings, limited environmental regulation, and privatization of resources to benefit Indonesian elites and foreign investors.

I’m not even going to get into his 1975 invasion of East Timor, which resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians and is known to be the “worst atrocity relative to population since the Holocaust.”

Nevertheless, the World Bank praised Suharto’s economic transformation as “a dynamic economic success” and called Indonesia “the model pupil of the global economy,” while Bill Clinton referred to Suharto as “our kind of guy.”

During the whole process, Suharto was soliciting development loans from the World Bank and other international banks. As you might have guessed, there was a bit of corruption and embezzlement involved. Much of the loan money disappeared while his cronies and family members were awarded control of public utilities, TV stations, taxis, or tollways.

Suharto was forced to step down under threat of an Indonesian revolution in 1998. The World Bank estimates that up to a third of the loans made to Suharto during his reign went to the pockets of his cronies, estimated at around 8-10 billion dollars.

The saddest part is that this insurmountable debt (now approximately $130 billion) was created in part by just a few spineless, Indonesian elites. But it is the poor citizens of the country that will bear the terrible burden of lifelong payment and suffering, never once having known the vast wealth of their resources.

 

For a good documentary on globalization and the exploitation of Indonesia, here is John Pilger’s The New Rulers of the World:

Taunting Iran: A Delicate Balance

Last week, the US government and the media warned of a dangerous incident in the Persian Gulf. The accounts dramatized a serious threat posed by Iranian speedboats to three U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Pentagon released a video of the Hormuz confrontation, parroted here by CNN. Their version of the incident contained an Iranian officer saying, “I am coming for you…you will explode after a few minutes.

However, new information has shown that the incident did not involve such a threat. From Gareth Porter:

The new information that appears to contradict the original version of the incident includes the revelation that U.S. officials spliced the audio recording of an alleged Iranian threat onto to a videotape of the incident. That suggests that the threatening message may not have come in immediately after the initial warning to Iranian boats from a U.S. warship, as appears to do on the video.

Also unraveling the story is testimony from a former U.S. naval officer that non-official chatter is common on the channel used to communicate with the Iranian boats and testimony from the commander of the U.S. 5th fleet that the commanding officers of the U.S. warships involved in the incident never felt the need to warn the Iranians of a possible use of force against them.

Further undermining the U.S. version of the incident is a video released by Iran Thursday showing an Iranian naval officer on a small boat hailing one of three ships.

Here is a video of the Iranian version of the incident.

Despite the substance of the video, the administration still used the incident to warn of an Iranian threat. Bush said there would be ‘serious consequences‘ if Iran attacked US ships and maintained that Iran is a ‘threat to world peace‘. The president has now embarked on a tour of the Middle East, which is sure to be hailed as evidence of his strong commitment to peace (despite the historical record). In reality, the trip is nothing more than a PR stunt which will attempt to warn other Arabs of a dangerous Iran. “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere,” Bush said Sunday, “So the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf, and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it’s too late.”

An event like the Strait of Hormuz incident brings to mind another misunderstood event, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to the massive build-up of American armed forces in Vietnam. The Tonkin incident (though it never occurred) resulted in a joint resolution of Congress that granted President Johnson the authority to conduct military operations in SE Asia without a declaration of war. Ten years, 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American deaths later, where is an apology or an admission of error?

Our country must be overly questioning and critical when a supposed ‘dangerous incident’ occurs. We cannot afford to be duped yet again into another costly war.

Check here for more info on the Hormuz incident.

The Fight Continues…

The primary season is underway. With one state under their belt, the Republican candidates squared off in another debate Saturday night on ABC. Each of the candidates still failed to grasp Ron Paul’s view of American foreign policy:

It makes you wonder if they really believe what they say. To quote Giuliani: “It has nothing to do with our foreign policy. It has to do with their ideas, their theories, the things that they have done, and the way they have perverted their religion to a hatred of us. And what’s at stake are the things that our best about us: our freedom of religion, our freedom for women, our right to vote, our free economic system. Our foreign policy is irrelevant, totally irrelevant. If you read what they write, if you bother to listen to what they say, this comes out of their own perverted thinking.”

This is a battle of good vs. evil, freedom vs. terror, Christians vs. Muslims…thanks for clearing it all up for us, Mr. Mayor. Looks like Rudy might be sipping a bit too much of his own Kool-aid, just check out his recent fearmongering commercial:

At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire (backed by “Droopy” Joe Lieberman), John McCain upped the ante on our commitment in Iraq. When asked about Bush’s talk of staying in Iraq for fifty years, McCain replied, “Make it a hundred.”

Four of the Democratic candidates also had a ‘debate’ in NH, Kucinich and Gravel once again excluded from the process. Fresh from his Iowa victory, Obama tried to stay positive. Edwards seemed to be setting himself up for a vice-presidential bid on an Obama ticket, as he continued his aggressive attack of Clinton and the ‘status quo’.

Kucinich has filed a complaint about his debate exclusion, mentioning that Disney (ABC’s parent company) has made contributions to all four of the Democratic candidates involved in the debate.

Mid-week Roundup 12/12

Losing our minds over Illegal Immigration

NAFTA has the power to trump state laws!

The Historical Truth of Our Relations with Iran

Report shows Bush manipulated climate science, suppressed scientists.

Nigeria battles Pfizer in court for conducting an illegal, unauthorized drug trial on Nigerian children.

Bad News for Prescription Drugs: pharmaceutical sales reps may be given licenses.

Murdoch Ready to Makeover the Wall Street Journal

Did you know Venezuela is a Constiutional Democracy?

Taiwan and mainland China: conflicting amnesiacs

New Orleans Homes to be Demolished (with video)

Why Won’t the Candidates talk about Americans’ Economic Pain?

Nuclear Disarmament and Peace on Earth…what’s that?

A Decent Article by Sean Penn calling on Americans to do what’s right

Meet a Millionaire with a Lower Tax Rate than You! (with video)

The Wolf Returns…

Wolfowitz

The disgraced ex-president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, has managed to find new work in familiar surroundings. Wolfowitz, known as one of the primary architects of Bush’s Iraq policy, was forced to resign as president of the World Bank after approving an illegal high-paying promotion for his girlfriend Shaha Riza.

Despite the disgraced departure, Wolfowitz was quickly welcomed back as a ‘visiting scholar’ to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank that has placed many of its members in the current administration. So he didn’t have to wait long before landing a post back in the Bush administration, serving under Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The ‘Wolf’ had formerly served as Deputy Secretary of Defense under Bush II and under every president from Nixon to Bush I.

A bit of background on Wolfowitz:

  • He famously served as Reagan’s Ambassador to Indonesia, strongly supporting the brutal dictator Suharto, one of the worst mass murderers of the last century.
  • He also served as the State Department official responsible for Asian affairs under Reagan. He oversaw support for the murderous dictators Marcos of the Philippines and Chun of South Korea.
  • He is a long-time advocate of preemptive military policy. He is the guy that publicly claimed in 2003 that Iraq “can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.”
  • When Turkey sided with 95% of its population by choosing not to allow U.S. troops use their country as a base for the war against Iraq, Wolfowitz berated the Turkish military for permitting this to happen. He said, “Look, you have power, you can force the civilian government to do what we want them to do. The idea that they should listen to 95% of the population is outrageous.” He demanded that Turkey apologize to the United States and say that it understands its job to help the United States.

Despite his long-standing opposition to democracy, isn’t it nice to see the Wolf returning to the pack?
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Diego Garcia

I’d like to take you around the world to a small island in the Chagos Archipelago of the Indian Ocean, a British colony by the name of Diego Garcia.

Diego Garcia

In the 1960s and 70s, the US and British governments collaborated to secretly expel the population of Diego Garcia in order to make way for an American military base.

First they made a policy decision to deprive the island of basic needs: salt, sugar, dairy products, oil, medicine. Then they rounded up and killed nearly one thousand of the pet dogs and warned the island of bombing, in order to encourage the native population to leave out of fear.

Those that left the Chagos Islands were not allowed to return home. Others that stayed were corralled onto boats, expelled, and dumped in the slums of the nearby island of Mauritius.

After living for years in intense poverty conditions, in 1982 the Chagos Islanders demonstrated in the streets of Mauritius. They managed to gain a small settlement of less than 3000 pounds per person, which would fail to cover their debts. In order to receive the sum, they were forced to thumb-print an English legal document that renounced their indigenous rights.

The British have falsely claimed that the islands were uninhabited when they first obtained them, that there was no indigenous population. Yet the British High Court has found this atrocity to be in defiance of the Magna Carta on three separate occasions and ruled the population to be returned to their homeland. But a royal decree during the Blair administration put those hopes to rest by ensuring the native peoples will never return home.

Today, the island of Diego Garcia (known as a British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) or Fantasy Island) is home to one of the United States’ largest military bases and part of the space surveillance network. It has been used as a launching pad for the bombing campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda suspects are also rendered to “Camp Justice” on the island for “interrogation.” The Pentagon has referred to the island as “an indispensable platform for policing the world.

If you’d like to hear more about the experiences of the Chagossian people, you can watch this one-hour documentary.

Extraordinary Rendition

Extraordinary rendition describes the kidnapping and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another. The term has become prevalent in the Bush administration’s prosecution of the “war on terror.”

Amy Goodman reports one of the many examples of this practice with the story of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen:

The U.S. government also engages in “extraordinary rendition.” This Orwellian phrase describes how foreigners are grabbed off the street or from their home and secretly delivered to some other place, outside the U.S. (in Arar’s case, Syria), where illegal and brutal interrogations can take place beyond the reach of Congress and the courts.

Arar’s Kafaesque nightmare began Sept. 26, 2002. He was returning to Canada from a family vacation, with a plane change at New York’s JFK Airport. There he was pulled aside, searched, questioned and imprisoned. Two weeks later, U.S. authorities sent Arar to Syria.

Arar spent the next 10 months enduring brutal beatings and psychological torture, kept in a cell the size of a grave. Arar was accused of being connected to al-Qaeda, and of having been to a training camp in Afghanistan. Neither was true, but after weeks of beatings, he admitted to everything. Worse than the beatings, Arar said on “Democracy Now!,” was how he suffered while isolated in the dank, windowless cell:

“The psychological torture that I endured during this 10-month period in the underground cell is really beyond human imagination. I was ready to confess to anything. I would just write anything so that they could only take me from that place and put me in a place where it is fit for a human being.”

As inexplicably as Arar was kidnapped to Syria, he was released home to Canada, a broken man. Canada just finished a thorough inquiry that completely exonerated him and supported his request for financial damages. Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Bush ally, has asked Bush to “come clean” on the Arar case.

Leahy is demanding action: “The Bush administration has yet to renounce the practice of sending detainees to countries that torture prisoners, and it has yet to offer even the hint of an apology to Mr. Arar for what he endured with our government’s complicity.”

Leahy also pressed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the issue back in January.

Maher Arar’s case is not an isolated incident. The procedure of extraordinary rendition, though not exclusive to the Bush administration, has become quite prevalent in the ‘war on terror’. Other cases include:

  • Abu Omar: kidnapped in Italy in 2003, rendered to Egypt for interrogation, held for four years before being released
  • Khaled Masri: detained in Macedonia in 2003, drugged and rendered to an American-run prison in Afghanistan for interrogation, held for five months, then released on a road in Albania, where he made his way home to Germany
  • Mamdouh Habib: detained in Pakistan in 2001, transferred to Egypt, then Afghanistan, tortured, transferred to Guantanamo and released without charge 3.5 years later
  • Muhammed al-Zery: arrested in Sweden in 2001, flown on American jet to Egypt, tortured and beaten, imprisoned for two years, then released without charge

In the case of Abu Omar, an Italian court has issued an arrest warrant for twenty-two CIA agents suspected of the kidnapping. Hopefully that will help to remind US authorities that these practices are in violation of international law.