U.S. on East Timor

Hypocritical Tears and Imperialist Concerns

Revolutionary Worker #1022, September 19, 1999

"The biggest island prison in the world" --this is how someone described East Timor several years ago. "For us who live here, it's hell."

Now, following the August 30 vote for independence sponsored by the UN, the situation has become even more nightmarish for the people of East Timor. The Indonesian occupation forces--the official military and their plainclothes "militias"--are on a bloody rampage against pro-independence forces. This means the fascist armed forces are waging war on the entire people of East Timor, since it has long been clear that the overwhelming majority of this small nation of 800,000 wants to be free of Indonesian rule.

According to news reports more than 200,000 people--a quarter of the population--have been forced to flee in recent weeks to neighboring West Timor or into the mountains, where they face the danger of starvation. No one is certain how many have been killed by the armed Indonesian forces. One report said that hundreds of decapitated bodies could be seen on the road to Dili, the capital.

As the blood flows in East Timor, U.S. President Clinton and other representatives of major powers are claiming to be "shocked" at the actions of the Indonesian death squads and full of "humanitarian" concern for the people who are being brutalized. They are putting on a big show of being "indignant" at the Indonesian government and military for not bringing the situation "under control." Clinton put on a stern face and demanded that the Indonesian government accept a UN "peacekeeping force"--led by U.S. imperialist ally Australia--that would go into East Timor and "restore security."

As usual, what imperialist spokesmen say in public, and their actual concerns and interests, are two very different things. Behind their crocodile tears and phony "humanitarianism" are cold-blooded imperialist calculations.

The hypocrisy of Clinton and the U.S. imperialists is truly outrageous and sickening. They claim to be upholders of independence for East Timor. But the U.S. backed Indonesia's brutal invasion in 1975. And, for close to 25 years, the U.S. openly supported the genocidal occupation which has wiped out more than a quarter of the Timorese people. (See accompanying article for more on this history.)

The U.S. and its big power allies pretend that they were taken by surprise by the savage actions of the anti-independence armed gangs. But these militias were active long before the August 30 referendum. U.S. officials were fully aware of them--and knew that these groups were backed and supplied by the Indonesian military. In fact, Admiral Blair, the commander of the U.S. military forces in the Pacific, met last April with Gen. Wiranto, head of the Indonesian army, to discuss the militias. Knowing all this, the U.S. pressured the armed Timorese independence forces to lay down their guns in preparation for the UN-sponsored vote. And the U.S. arranged for the Indonesian military to provide "security" for the referendum. The imperialists bear full responsibility for the carnage in East Timor.

Clinton and other heads of Western governments are now attempting to put some public distance between themselves and the Indonesian military. As the eyes of the world focus on the horrors in East Timor, the imperialists want to avoid being associated too closely with the Indonesian butchers and their ugly crimes. But this is a cynical, two-faced move by the major powers. They want to put themselves forward as champions of "democracy" in Indonesia and the Third World. But at the same time, they are scrambling to stabilize and shore up the oppressive system in Indonesia, which plays a key strategic role for U.S. imperialism in the region.

Imperialism has built up and relied on Indonesia as a source of relative stability in Southeast Asia, a dependable ally for the U.S. and a crucial source of oil and other raw materials for Japan and other nations. The sheer size of this country of 200 million people--fourth largest in the world--means that what happens there has a profound impact on the whole region. The Pentagon has expressed much concern about instability in Indonesia--both because of the international shipping lanes that go through Indonesian waters and because the country has the world's largest Muslim population.

Until last year, the U.S. firmly backed the fascist Suharto dictatorship which came to power in 1965 through a CIA-backed coup. But a sharp economic crisis hit the country two years ago, touching off widespread protests and deep political crisis. The U.S. worried that the instability in Indonesia could "spill over" to other countries in the region and even beyond. Southeast Asia plays a key role in the current imperialist order--and crisis in Indonesia is a serious concern for the U.S., Japan and other powers. So the U.S. pressured Suharto to submit to an International Monetary Fund plan--giving the imperialists even more direct control over the Indonesian economy. Eventually, the U.S. forced Suharto to resign and carry out a "democratic transition" by handing power to one of his cronies, B.J. Habibie. The U.S. hoped that this would save the bureaucrat capitalist system in Indonesia, which is dependent on and serves imperialism.

As for East Timor, the imperialists felt that the Indonesian regime's efforts to hold on to the territory--in the face of continuing resistance and international opposition--was too costly and threatened further instability. The U.S. and other imperialist powers saw the UN referendum as a way to establish formal independence--while pushing aside the armed independence forces and keeping East Timor basically under imperialist and Indonesian control. But clearly, forces within the Indonesian ruling classes--especially in the military--felt compelled to protect their vested interests in East Timor, and mobilized the troops and death squads to go on the attack.

Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands, and there are many different nationalities. The Indonesian rulers have used the most brutal violence against East Timor, in part to send a message to all the other nationalities of Indonesia that separatist movements will be crushed. The U.S. has supported this. But after the fall of Suharto--and in the current period of a divided and weakened central state--the U.S. is worried that a renewed genocide on East Timor could have an opposite effect--influencing resistance and anti-government activities throughout Indonesia.

As they did with Suharto, the U.S. is now pressuring the Indonesian rulers to obey orders from the imperialist godfather. The U.S. wants the Indonesian government and military to give official approval for a "peacekeeping force" to go into East Timor and restore order. The U.S. rulers are not doing this out of real concern for the safety of the Timorese people and a desire to help them achieve genuine independence. Their real concerns are the strategic interests of their empire in this volatile region of the world. And these interests are in direct conflict with the real interests of the oppressed people in East Timor and around the world. If a UN or some other "international security force" enters East Timor, it will be to strengthen U.S. (and to a lesser extent, Australian) imperialist interests in all of Southeast Asia. The mission of any such force will not be to liberate the people--but to stabilize and protect the existing system of exploitation and oppression.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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