Suharto: An American Nightmare for Indonesia

Revolutionary Worker #960, June 7, 1998

On May 20, after weeks of escalating anti-government demonstrations, Suharto was forced to resign as president of Indonesia. His brutal and corrupt regime ruled Indonesia for 32 years--built up and backed, every step of the way, by the United States.

Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, is 3,000 miles long and made up of thousands of islands. Rich in natural resources like oil, tin, copper and rubber, colonial and imperialist powers have long dominated and plundered Indonesia.

And for decades, U.S. imperialism has developed substantial economic interests here.

Clinton has stressed that U.S. economic fortunes are tied to economic growth in East Asia. And creating more favorable opportunities for imperialist investment in this region has been an important part of U.S. foreign policy. The Pentagon has also emphasized the strategic importance of Indonesia, pointing to its control of shipping lanes and the fact that it has the world's largest Muslim population. And the U.S. has worried that a collapse of the Indonesian economy would have repercussions throughout East Asia and the world.

As the economic and political crisis escalated in Indonesia, it became clear that Suharto's days were numbered. The U.S. maneuvered to ensure that whoever came to power after Suharto would be loyal and subservient to U.S. imperialism. And U.S. officials were especially concerned that the U.S.-trained Indonesian military would keep its hold on power.

Suharto turned the presidency over to his close political ally, B.J. Habibie, and the Indonesian military continues to play a key role in the government. The U.S. and other imperialist powers are saying Indonesia must now get "back on track" and implement various economic and political "reforms"--which will open the country up to even more foreign plunder and domination.


Now that Suharto has fallen, the U.S. is hypocritically trying to distance itself somewhat from his brutal and corrupt regime. But the people should never forget that the 32-year-long rule of Suharto was an American-made nightmare for the people of Indonesia.

Volumes could be written about the horrendous and genocidal crimes committed under Suharto--and how the U.S. backed, built up and directed this tyrant from his bloody beginning to his final downfall. The following are just a few episodes in this shameful history.


U.S. Blueprint for
Suharto's Bloody Rise to Power

The U.S. not only supported but provided the blueprint for Suharto's bloody rise to power. In 1965-66, Suharto led a right-wing military coup which overthrew a coalition government headed by Sukarno. The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was a major force in this coalition government and after Suharto came to power he unleashed a horrible anti-communist massacre.

The Sukarno government didn't stand for genuine independence from imperialism, but it took some actions which reflected bourgeois national interests. At this time, the U.S. was getting in deep trouble in Vietnam. Maoist China had become a powerful revolutionary influence throughout Asia and the world. Anti-U.S. sentiment was growing in Indonesia. And given all this, the U.S. wanted a more reliable pro-U.S. regime in Indonesia.

The U.S., which was already sending military forces to Vietnam, had major strategic concerns about Southeast Asia. Right before the coup in Indonesia, U.S. President Johnson said, "There are great stakes in the balance. Most of the non-Communist nations of Asia cannot, by themselves and alone, resist growing might and the grasping ambition of Asia communism. Our power, therefore, is a very vital shield."

The CIA played a big role in Suharto's coup. But U.S. preparations for a military takeover in Indonesia also involved the U.S. army, various oil companies, and an imperialist "brain trust" that included the Ford Foundation, Harvard, The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the RAND Corporation.

In 1959-60 the CFR, which had helped shape U.S. foreign policy in the post-World War 2 period, set up a special study group on Southeast Asia in U.S. policy. It included State Department personnel, various CIA operatives, bankers like John D. Rockefeller III, oil company executives, and university economists.

The CFR came up with a blueprint for U.S. policy in Indonesia which concluded that "Military training is a particularly significant aspect of U.S. aid in Southeast Asia." And in his first speech on foreign aid, President Kennedy announced that "military assistance will in the future more heavily emphasize the military security, civil works, and economic growths of the nations thus aided." Soon after this the Pentagon expanded its training of the military in Indonesia and by the time Suharto came to power, one-third of the Indonesian general staff and almost half of the officer corps had had some sort of training from the U.S.

The Indonesian army became involved at all levels in managing the part of the economy oriented toward foreign investments. For example, the army moved into the direct operation of various oilfields and, in 1957, the army was granted its own oil company. This company, Permina, was headed by Colonel Ibnu Sutowo--whose cadres were trained at Fort Benning, Fort Benjamin Harrison, Tulsa University, and the Business School of Administration of Syracuse.

The RAND Corporation, a "think tank" for the U.S. ruling class, also helped shape U.S. policy in Indonesia. One of RAND's consultants, Guy Pauker, who also happened to be on the CIA's payroll, advocated military and economic aid to the Indonesian military in order for them to "succeed in the competition with communism." And he expressed doubts that Indonesia's present leaders were capable of doing "what was necessary" to combat what the U.S. saw as a "communist threat." In a 1964 RAND memo Pauker said, "These forces would probably lack the ruthlessness that made it possible for the Nazis to suppress the Communist Party of Germany a few weeks after the elections of March 5, 1933, an election in which the Communist Party still won five million votes, almost 13 percent of the total." According to Pauker, the military had to be relied on and he explicitly mentioned Suharto as a figure the U.S. should groom for power.

In fact, the U.S. set out to train generals in the Indonesian army for a new political role. While the U.S. gradually cut off economic aid to Sukarno between 1962 and 1965, U.S. aid to the Indonesian military was stepped up.

By 1958, 250 Indonesian officers had been trained in the U.S. By 1962 this number had grown to 500. By 1965, it was 4,000. In addition, beginning in 1962, hundreds of Indonesian officers were sent to Harvard and Syracuse to gain skills in everything from business administration and personnel management to air photography and shipping.

U.S. dollars also went towards strengthening Permina, the oil company run by the Indonesian army. Suharto's bid for power required more money than it was getting from the Sukarno government. So foreign oil money--particularly from U.S. and Japanese oil companies, was channeled through Permina and became another way that the U.S. built and strengthened the military forces it wanted to come to power.

Meanwhile the CIA built networks of agents and informants in the trade unions, where the PKI had a lot of influence.

On October 1, 1965, military forces led by Suharto overthrew the Sukarno government, outlawed the PKI and initiated a mass slaughter. It is estimated that 250,000 to one million people were murdered and hundreds of thousands more were arrested and tortured.

The Indonesian army, led by the U.S.-trained generals, played a key role in the massacres--doing a large part of the killing directly, supplying trucks, weapons and encouragement to paramilitary and vigilante death squads, and actively promoting an anti-Communist hysteria that spurred on the bloody murders.

The New York Times described the Johnson administration's "delight with the news from Indonesia" and the private responses of U.S. officials who were "elated to find their expectations being realized."


Open Door for
Imperialist Investment

Suharto's rise to power meant new opportunities for imperialist investment in Indonesia.

Most of the enterprises nationalized during the Sukarno years were returned to private ownership. Goodyear and Uniroyal got back their rubber plantations. Unilever had its palm oil plantations returned. Caltex and Stanvac (a joint venture between Standard Oil of New Jersey and Socony-Vacuum) were given back their expropriated petroleum operations.

New laws were passed to attract foreign investors. According to the "Law on Foreign Capital Investment" passed in 1967, foreign firms could invest in every area but defense, they didn't have to pay taxes for two to five years, and they were permitted to own 100 percent of any enterprise, except in fields "of vital importance to the state," such as shipping, railroads, utilities, and the mass media.

Foreign investors were particularly eager to get into the Indonesian oil business. By the end of 1968, 19 foreign oil companies had been assigned concession areas. In one weekend in 1969, 23 oil companies submitted bids for offshore exploration and production. Foreign mining firms moved in to extract Indonesia's great mineral deposits. Foreign companies also moved into forestry, fishery and agriculture. Foreign capital invested in manufacturing --Singer moved in to make sewing machines, Union Carbide to produce batteries, Virginia International to make rubber, Chesebrough-Pond's to make cosmetics, International Flavors and Fragrances to make essences, and Unilever to make soap and margarine. Foreign banks also set up branches in Jakarta, like American Express, First National City, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America and United California Bank.

By 1973 foreign interests controlled 59% of the capital invested in forestry, 96% in mining, 35% in industry, 47% in hotels and tourism, and 33% in agriculture and fisheries.

After Suharto came to power Indonesia rejoined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. In 1967 the IMF granted Indonesia a $51 million loan, which helped stabilize Suharto's rule. And from that time on, the IMF and the World Bank became heavily involved in promoting economic policies and development in Indonesia that were extremely favorable to foreign capital.

Meanwhile the Indonesian army strengthened its grip after the coup--continuing to take orders from Washington. And high government offices were staffed by men trained at Berkeley, MIT and other U.S. universities on Ford Foundation grants.

Thousands of political opponents were arrested and thrown into prisons scattered throughout the islands. Ten thousand troops were stationed in West New Guinea to put down an independence movement. The army used C-130 turboprop transports--provided by the U.S.--to drop supplies to regiments fighting and killing rebels.


CIA Hit Lists

Flash forward to 1990--News Item: Former senior U.S. diplomats and CIA officers describe in lengthy interviews how they aided Suharto in his attack on the PKI and the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people suspected of "communist sympathies." According to former U.S. officials, in 1965 the U.S. compiled comprehensive lists of Communist activists--as many as 5,000 names--and gave them to the Indonesian army.

Robert J. Martens, former member of the U.S. Embassy's political section and now a consultant to the State Department, spent two years putting the list together. He said, "It really was a big help to the Army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad. There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment."

Top U.S. Embassy officials approved release of the list, which was a detailed who's-who of the leadership of the party. It included names of provincial, city and other local PKI committee members, and leaders of mass organizations such as the PKI national labor federation, women's and youth groups.

Embassy officials carefully recorded the subsequent destruction of the PKI organization. Using Martens' lists as a guide, they checked off names of captured and assassinated PKI leaders, tracking the steady dismantling of the party apparatus.

Detention centers were set up to hold those who were not killed immediately. By the end of January 1966, the deputy CIA station chief in Jakarta said the checked-off names were so numerous CIA analysts in Washington concluded the PKI leadership had been destroyed.


Island Prison of East Timor

End of 1975: East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, declares independence.

A week later, December 7, 1975: The Indonesian military invades East Timor-- only hours after U.S. President Ford and Henry Kissinger leave Jakarta after meeting with top officials of the Suharto regime.

East Timor is a small country, occupying half an island, just north of Australia. According to eyewitnesses, when Indonesian troops landed, they started killing everyone they could find. Within a few months, the U.S.-trained and supplied Indonesian military had killed over 60,000 people.

The Timorese people, led by the nationalist party Freitlin, waged fierce resistance and, after two years of intense warfare, they controlled large parts of the country. The U.S. and its allies stepped in to supply the Indonesian military with massive amounts of weaponry, and 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 people of East Timor have continued to resist. And the U.S. has continued to back the genocidal occupation--supplying the Indonesian military with weapons and training.

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.

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."


Suharto's Military:
Trained by the USA

After the massacre in East Timor, the U.S. tried to distance itself somewhat from the brutal Indonesian military (ABRI). In 1992, the U.S. Congress banned Indonesian troops from receiving warfare training under the Pentagon program known as International Military Education and Training, or IMET. But it's now come out that, despite this ban, the U.S. continued to train Indonesian military forces.

Newly obtained Pentagon documents and interviews with key U.S. officials reveal that the U.S. military has been training ABRI in a broad array of lethal tactics. Since 1993, the U.S. has held 41 training exercises with the Indonesian military, including courses in counterinsurgency techniques, psychological warfare and military operations in urban areas. These exercises have involved Green Berets, Air Force commandos and Marines.

Indonesian forces trained by the U.S. have included Suharto's presidential guard and KOSTRAD, the Indonesian government's key Army Strategic Command. But the U.S. training has mainly involved KOPASSUS Red Beret forces, which are known for specializing in torture, disappearances and night raids on civilian homes. Pentagon documents show that 20 of the 28 Army/Air Force exercises conducted since 1992 have involved KOPASSUS Red Berets.

The U.S. exercises for KOPASSUS in the period since the Timor massacre have included Sniper Level II (1993), Demolitions and Air Operations (1993) and Close Quarters Combat (1994). Ensuing KOPASSUS sessions covered Special Air Operations, Air Assaults and Advanced Sniper Techniques.

In recent years, a growing number of people have been "disappeared"--detained by security forces, forced to go into hiding, or been abducted by secret pro-government vigilante groups. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of political arrests and stories of torture by electric shock.


The Walking Ghosts
in Satan's Factory

1988: Nike starts manufacturing in Indonesia

1996: A third of all Nike shoes are produced in Indonesia

Banjaran is in a rural area on the Java Island of Indonesia. The U.S. company Nike has set up shop here and employs thousands of workers, mainly women.

People in the community call the women who work at Nike, the "walking ghosts who work in Satan's factory."

The Nike factory in Banjaran is a Taiwanese joint venture company named Feng Tay. In 1996, 7,000 workers were employed at Feng Tay--75 percent of them women, many of them teenagers with little education.

By Indonesian law, women workers are supposed to benefit from protections ranging from leave for menstruation, pregnancy and lactation to equal rights in employment, promotion and pay. But these protections are commonly ignored by companies like Nike.

Women are not supposed to have to work more than 40 hours a week. But at Feng Tay, they work an average of 50 hours per week--not counting overtime, which is extreme and usually everyday. Women who claim maternity leave are commonly laid off. And Feng Tay does not pay menstrual leave, sick leave, maternity leave, holiday pay, food or transport allowances and rarely pays bonuses--which are all supposed to be required by Indonesian law. Many of the workers here are paid below Indonesia's minimum wage of about $1 a day.

One man who was a supervisor at Feng Tay quit after five months because he said he could no longer live with his conscience. He said during his training he was told how to "control women" through verbal abuse. Another "skill" he was taught was how to make the women run--to the toilet, to the lunchroom, and anywhere else they had to go.

If Feng Tay workers are sick they must report to work, no matter how serious their illness. If they stay at home when they are sick, they are fired, even if they have an excuse from a doctor.

One woman died at the Nike factory after she collapsed from heat exhaustion. She was taken to a mosque where she lay unconscious for many hours. After she was finally taken to a medical clinic she died.

Nike shoes are also produced in sweatshops set up in Indonesia's urban areas. For example, people come from all over to work in Nike factories set up in the area known as Jabotabek--which refers to the cities of Jakarta, Bogor, Tangerang and Bekasi. Since Nike started setting up factories in the Jabotabek area in the early 1990s, the population here has grown by several million.

In the Pou Chen Complex, known to workers as "Nikomas," more than 9,000 women work making Nike shoes. Many of these young women have traveled from rural villages, trying to escape poverty. And they work hard to send money back home to support their families. The sneakers they sew are sold in the U.S. for about as much as they are paid for a whole month.

Workers have been fired for protesting the pay and work conditions. There have been reports of sweatshop managers taping women's mouths shut to keep them from talking among themselves. Many Indonesian factories have military men posted in their front offices.

Human Rights Watch/Asia reported: "Indonesian workers lack the most basic rights, the right to freedom of association. That right is restricted by the effective prohibition on unions...the constant interference of the military in labor negotiations, and the harassment, arrest, torture and even murder of labor organizers."


The struggle of the people forced Suharto to resign on May 21, 1998. And throughout Indonesia, the masses of people cheered and celebrated the end of this brutal and corrupt regime.

From beginning to end, for 32 years, Suharto's reign meant bloody genocide, military repression and torture, and crushing poverty and misery for the masses of Indonesian people. The people should never forget that all these crimes of the hated Suharto regime were backed, supported, financed and armed by U.S. imperialism.

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