Suharto: The U.S. Butcher in Indonesia

Revolutionary Worker #958, May 24, 1998

For over 30 years, the U.S. imperialists have had a blood pact with Indonesia's Suharto dictatorship. The U.S. backed Suharto's rise to power in the mid-1960s when as many as a million Indonesians were massacred. Since then the U.S. has backed Suharto's fascist rule--including Indonesia's brutal invasion and occupation of East Timor.

The 1965-66 Massacre

In 1965-1966, Suharto led a right-wing military clique in the takeover of the government. The coup overthrew a coalition government headed up by Sukarno, which included the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) as a major force. Suharto and the military unleashed a horrible massacre that turned the rivers red with the blood of hundreds of thousands of PKI members, supporters and other victims. Estimates of people murdered range from 250,000 to a million. Hundreds of thousands more were arrested and tortured.

Sukarno used some nationalist rhetoric and took some actions reflecting national bourgeois interests. However, he did not stand for genuine independence from imperialism, and Indonesia was still dominated by the U.S. and other powers. But by the 1960s, the U.S. was in deep trouble in Vietnam. The Cultural Revolution in Maoist China was sending shockwaves around the world. Anti-U.S. sentiments were growing in Indonesia. In March 1965, for example, students took over the U.S. embassy in Jakarta to protest the murder of Malcolm X in New York City. Indonesia has large oil reserves and is situated in a strategic position in Southeast Asia. So the U.S. wanted a strong and reliable regime in Indonesia to protect U.S. imperialist interests. Suharto and his clique fit the bill.

In the early 1960s, the U.S. stepped up backing of the rightist forces in Indonesia, especially in the military. U.S. aid to the Indonesian military shot up, and thousands of Indonesian army officers were trained in the U.S. The CIA built networks of agents and informants in the trade unions, where the PKI had much influence. According to former CIA agent Ralph McGehee, "In 1963, responding to [CIA director] Colby's direction, U.S.-trained Indonesian trade unionists began gathering the names of workers who were members or sympathizers of unions affiliated with the national labor federation, SOBSI. These trade unionist spies laid the groundwork for many of the massacres of 1965-1966. The CIA also used elements in the 105,000 strong Indonesian national police force to penetrate and gather information on the PKI." (Covert Action Quarterly, Fall/1990)

The U.S. rulers applauded Suharto's coup. The Chicago Tribune editorialized in October 1965, "We must say it's refreshing to read of young Moslems burning down Communist Party headquarters for a change and shouting `Long Live America.' " In July 1966, when the immensity of the bloodbath in Indonesia was clear, Time magazine declared that the ousting of Sukarno was "the West's best news for years in Asia."

East Timor

On December 7, 1975 the Indonesian military invaded East Timor. This small country is half of an island which is the size of New Jersey and is located north of Australia. The invasion took place a week after East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, had declared independence--and only hours after U.S. President Ford and Henry Kissinger had left Jakarta after meeting with top officials of the Suharto regime.

One writer described the invasion as "one of the most brutal operations of its kind in modern warfare." According to the Bishop of Dili, the capital of East Timor, "The soldiers who landed started killing everyone they could find. There were many dead bodies in the streets. All we could see were the soldiers killing, killing, killing." Within a few months, the U.S.-trained and supplied Indonesian military killed over 60,000 people.

But the Timorese people, led by the nationalist party Freitlin, waged fierce resistance and controlled large parts of the country after two years of intense warfare. The U.S. and its allies stepped in to supply the Indonesian military with massive amounts of weaponry. With this backing, the Suharto regime launched a major offensive. War planes carried out saturation bombings of guerrilla areas. They also used napalm and chemical/biological weapons. This was combined with large-scale ground assaults and a deliberate policy of starvation through a "scorched earth" campaign to destroy agriculture and imprison people in strategic hamlets. U.S. pilots and mercenaries reportedly assisted the Indonesian troops.

By the end of 1979, at least 200,000 Timorese people had been killed by the Indonesian invaders. This was almost one-third of the Timorese population--the greatest genocide relative to population since the Holocaust.

The people of East Timor have continued to resist--and the U.S. has continued to back the genocidal Indonesian occupation. Aside from weapons sales to Suharto's military, the U.S. has trained Indonesian officers, many of whom go on to see duty in East Timor. One U.S.-trained "elite" unit, called Karpasus, is known in East Timor as the nangalla, or "knife-wielding killers." The U.S. Agency for International Development has financed the change in the agricultural system from one of subsistence growing of food crops to a cash-crop plantation economy monopolized by Indonesians. Loans from the World Bank and other imperialist financial institutions allow the Suharto regime to divert resources to the war in East Timor.

Today, Indonesia has around 60,000 soldiers, police and informers in East Timor--one for every ten Timorese. Torture, rape, disappearances and massacres are daily facts of life. As one Timorese said in 1994, "We the people of East Timor call it the biggest prison island in the world. You must understand that. For us who live here, it's hell." The Suharto regime is the warden of this island prison--but their bloody occupation has the stamp of U.S. imperialism.

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