27. Indonesia: Suharto’s Military Dictatorship & East Timor


Southeast Asia: “In the last chapter we saw how the International Business Cartel employed U.S. military aid in a neo-colonial fashion to maintain control of one of its favorite income properties – the Philippines. In the early 1960s, they overturned the nascent democracy and established Ferdinand Marcos as a military dictator. Colossal corruption, violent suppression of human rights, and the exploitation of the Filipinos and their resources characterized Marcos’ Cartel-supported regime. It was only in the late 80’s that the Philippine populace finally stood up as a group to throw him out.

Unfortunately Indonesia was also subjected to the Cartel’s neo-colonialism. The pattern was the same everywhere: place a local puppet in power to better exploit the citizenry and their resources. Recall that Sukarno’s independence movement successfully threw off Indonesia’s Dutch colonial shackles after World War II. Because he seemed to be sincerely dedicated to the Indonesian people, he was widely popular. However, Sukarno’s genuine concern for the rights and welfare of the common man was a fatal flaw as far as the Cartel was concerned. This attitude had a negative impact upon the profits of their anonymous stockholders. The Cartel decided that Sukarno had to go.”

Cartel attempts to undermine Sukarno’s rule

Cartel: “Sukarno enjoyed widespread popularity. Fortunately for us, it is not possible to make everybody happy. There are always some who will be disgruntled with the leadership, no matter how good. In this case, there were extreme Islamic groups, who wanted Indonesia to become a fundamentalist Muslim state. Also the Sumatran army did not want to be ruled by Java and were seeking independence from Indonesia. Both groups were vehemently anti-Communist. Both groups sought US support against Sukarno. We were happy to supply them with the needed armaments for an insurrection. Remember; stage 1 - de-stabilize the country.

In the early 1950s the CIA, our spies, began sending arms and supplies to the opposition. We even began bombing government positions - secretly, of course. We didn’t want the American public to find out. They can get very moral on us and ruin our plans. So our government, the USA, always maintained a public stance of neutrality. But then Allan Pope, a CIA agent, was captured attempting to sky drop US guns to Sukarno’s enemies. We denied any connection, but Sukarno was no dummy. He ceased to trust us.

I don’t know why. Our CIA only attempted to assassinate him numerous times. Somehow he always avoided the magic bullet or bomb. Sukarno claimed that he was protected by supernatural powers. But we were not to be denied.”

Sukarno: “I had been suspicious of the western imperialists before, but after we discovered the sky plane with their guns, there was no doubt that they were meddling. I didn’t know whom to trust on the international level. Everyone was out to exploit us. But I wanted to preserve our autonomy against international manipulation. While receiving aid from both the Soviets and the Americans, I attempted to maintain local control.

So who to trust? I evaluated the sources of my strength and realized that I needed a strong and loyal military to defend our country from external aggression and to preserve the order. With first the Japanese military hardware followed by generous military aid from the USA and Russia - who are both trying to buy my favor in their Cold War, we’ve got plenty of guns at our disposal.

Although it was nice to have a strong military to back me up, I also need the people behind me to maintain control. As such I have also aligned myself with the Communist Party, the PKI. It’s a natural alliance. For decades my party and theirs have fought together for independence from colonial powers. While they are a little radical for me, I have reined them in with our military. I have successfully played both ends against the middle to create the balance that has enabled our country to survive.

After the numerous assassinations attempt that I have been able to successfully avoid, I decided that I have the power of the spirit world behind me. As such I deserve to rule. After all, I am the father of Indonesia, seeing as how I have guided her to independence from colonial powers. Also I have united all the hundreds of islands in our archipelago under one banner by creating a national language and enforcing the peace. In this way, I turned a fragmented geography with a diversity of cultures into one great nation with a lot of power. It’s obvious that I have the Mandate of Heaven - as the Chinese call it. I have a unique vision that no one else possesses. I alone have the charisma to unite our country. Those imperialist and communist sharks want to eat us alive, but I will not allow that. Of all the rulers, only I have the best interests of my people at heart.

After the Allan Pope incident combined with the CIA’s constant attempts to undermine my social programs, I proclaimed a State of Emergency in 1957. They accelerated their attacks. The next year they hired a mercenary army to overthrow me. This too was unsuccessful due to my loyal army. Due to their desperate attacks, I declared another State of Emergency in 1959 to preserve order in my country.

Simultaneously, I dissolved the parliament, as the imperialists and their spies were trying to exploit our internal differences. The Western press, of course, screamed bloody murder, claiming that I was a dictator. Instead their rulers just wanted to exploit our resources and my people. When I didn’t roll over and lick their boots, they got mad and made continual attempts to overthrow me. But I am too powerful.

To placate the Communist PKI and the military, I reigned in free enterprise, which was being used by wealthy Westerners to take over our economy. This move irritated the international cartels, of course. The restrictions limited their enormous profits.

I also replaced our nascent democracy with a Guided Democracy. This meant that I along with my friends was going to gradually guide Indonesia into democracy. We were going to be the benevolent parents of the country. We would decide what was right.

Along this line, I declared myself president for life in 1963. This streamlined things tremendously by eliminating the constant petty disputes that were tearing our country apart and the necessity of constant elections. Why have elections, when I am obviously the best man for the job? The world powers kept accusing me of being a dictator when I was just like them.”

Sukarno’s hubris contributes to his downfall.

While Indonesians loved Sukarno for both treating them well and turning their country into a world power to be reckoned with, he was becoming a bit of a megalomaniac. In 1960 the British ceded Northern Borneo to the new country of Malaysia. Southern Borneo was already part of Indonesia and Sukarno wanted the northern part as well. However, the British had administered Northern Borneo and Malaysia for close to two hundred years. Accordingly, the two geographical areas, even though separated by hundreds of miles of ocean, had much more affinity with each other than with the Dutch-ruled East Indies that had become Indonesia.

Throwing an international temper tantrum, Sukarno proclaimed that Indonesia ‘must gobble Malaysia raw’. He sent the Indonesian army into Borneo and the Malay Peninsula. To preserve the balance of power, the British army came in to successfully protect its former colony. While this could be called altruism on their part, the Western powers were more comfortable dealing with Malaysians rather than Indonesians. Also the Malaysians did not want to be ruled by Javanese, who had been their rivals for centuries.

This was a huge loss of prestige for Sukarno. As mentioned in the earlier history, Indonesians were more impressed by prestige than military might. Further this loss signaled that Sukarno might be losing the blessings of the spirit world. Loss of prestige was huge in the Indonesian mind and Sukarno knew this. In retaliation, he burned the British Embassy and their houses. He also nationalized British property.

To recapture his mandate, Sukarno then attempted to conquer Dutch New Guinea. When the Dutch refused to cooperate, he expelled them from the country and nationalized their immense holdings. In 1963, Dutch New Guinea was added to Indonesia.

As part of Sukarno’s general xenophobia at that time, he also expelled about 100,000 Chinese professionals from the country. A big mistake. Although not the leaders, the Chinese had been running the country for centuries. Plus they took an enormous amount of capitol with them when they left. The expulsion of the Chinese combined with the continued erosion of international support, put Indonesia on the verge of bankruptcy.

Sukarno called in his Army to run the companies, which had previously been run by foreign powers. In so doing the Army became a major force in the Indonesian economy.

About this time Sukarno proclaimed a new set of principles with a new acronym, Nasakom, which reflected his new mind-set. While retaining nationalism and religion, he eliminated internationalism and changed democracy to communism. This new orientation was in direct and conscious conflict with Nekolim, an acronym he used for neo-colonialism, capitalism and imperialism of the ‘doomed’ Western powers. Needless to say this new orientation did not endear him to the International Cartel.

Cartel: “Of course not. He was deliberately disobeying us. This was something that we won’t tolerate. His lack of hubris had to be punished. All we had to do was exploit his weaknesses. These weaknesses weren’t hard to find.

In the early 60s Indonesia was experiencing grinding inflation, which sent their economy out of control. Sukarno was certainly partially to blame. While dynamic personally, he was a weak administrator. In attempting to emphasize the theatrical nature of human existence - the fun side, he neglected the details. In the rush of independence, no one really cared, but as the years turned into decades, the economy began unraveling. Of course we helped it along. This degeneration especially alienated the business class.

Sukarno’s course was not predetermined. Our political arm, the USA, had propped up his economy with a billion dollars in military aid between 1950 and 1965. Our aid had been matched by another billion dollars from the Russians. Neither of us wanted this rich plumb to escape our clutches. He played our rivalry like a symphony conductor to extort an incredible amount of money from us. He employed our financial largesse to conceal his lack of organizational skills. He could have played this game indefinitely.

Due his over confidence, Sukarno first thumbed his nose at us. He rejected all further aid because he didn’t want the strings that were attached. Then he broke with the Soviet Union because they wouldn’t support his aggression against Malaysia. He also withdrew from the United Nations in 1965 because they too supported Malaysia against Indonesian aggression. This withdrawal alienated the entire international community. Feeling he was blessed by the spirit world, Sukarno ignored the propensities of the situation. His pride was to be his downfall.”

1965: Suharto’s Military Coup & the Bloody Consequences

During the mid 1960s, Sukarno was able to maintain his leadership position by preserving the balance of power between the army and the PKI, Indonesia’s communist party. Sukarno consistently protected the PKI from the army. He didn’t allow the military to shut down the PKI’s congresses or censor its newspapers. Further he promoted communist party leaders to national positions of power. To many it appeared that Sukarno was on verge of turning Indonesia into a Communist state. To others, he was merely granting workers a say in government. By 1965, the PKI was a dominant political force in Indonesia with its prestige at a zenith.

However, the communists rightfully feared the growing military might of the army that was funded by the U.S. Then in late 1965, according to the official story, communists staged a coup, in which they murdered 6 generals who were ‘suspected of plotting against Sukarno’ and seized control of the government. General Suharto, who was ‘miraculously’ spared, used this communist uprising as an excuse for a counter-coup, in which the military became rulers of Indonesia. In effect, Suharto, who was supported by the Cartel, replaced Sukarno, who had communist leanings, i.e. worker-friendly.

There was, however, one highly suspicious factoid in the official story. The only generals who were murdered were anti-American. Why would communists murder those generals who were most likely to be on their side against the rising forces of international imperialism? And why would these anti-American generals be plotting against Sukarno? Further, the military overthrow followed a consistent pattern that was prevalent in the world during this time period. With the excuse of establishing social order, American-supported armies in many countries overturned populist regimes, including legitimately elected democratic leaders. Thailand, the Philippines and Chile provide just a partial list of such examples.

Be that as it may, history can be rewritten, but the events cannot be changed. After his 1965 counter-coup, General Suharto was the undisputed leader of Indonesia. Further, generous aid from the international corporate community, with the USA Treasury as its bank and its Army as their fist, continued to support his regime.

The initial acts of his new regime were consistent with the Cartel’s agenda. 200,000 known communists, including 20,000 Chinese, were hunted downed and killed in the initial bloodbath. This carnage was followed by the slaughter of half a million landless peasants that were suspected of communist leanings. In one province, the men were decapitated and their heads were piled high in the villages as a warning against further resistance. Anti-communist Muslim leaders and their followers did most of the killing.

By the end of the national extermination, up to 1 million suspected communists had been killed. There were so many bodies in the rivers that it became a health problem. 750,000 were arrested and placed in concentration camps for up to 15 years. Any communists who remained went into hiding or disavowed their previous association. Of course, there were many innocent victims of the purge, especially the Chinese who were small business owners.

And all this aggression in the name of business. What a devolution! We imagine that the average Indonesian must have looked back on the Dutch colonial rule with fondness, especially during the early years of social violence.

Suharto’s Military Dictatorship (1965-1998)

By the following year, Suharto had restored order, which meant that he had restricted civil liberties – including freedom of the press and the right of assembly. He also brutally suppressed the opposition through execution, imprisonment and torture. More importantly for the West, Suharto reversed alliances. Instead of aligning Indonesia with China as Sukarno had, he aligned his regime with the U.S.A.

The Cartel was, of course, thrilled by this turn of events that they had engineered. Indonesia was welcomed into the supposedly ‘Free World’. American officials claimed that Suharto had turned Indonesia into a ‘paradise for investors’. The nation was now a  ‘gleam of light’ in a dark world and represented the ‘hope for the future’.

Supported by his beneficent spirits, Sukarno was eased out gradually. In 1967 General Suharto, the International Business Cartel’s agent, removed Sukarno from power and then installed himself as leader in 1968. Sukarno died under house arrest in 1970.

Suharto allowed more dissent than Singapore, China, or the Philippines, but kept a tight control on political power. Despite the mass exterminations aimed at destroying opposition, especially communists, in the early years of the regime, it would be unfair to characterize Suharto’s government as a strictly military regime. While the army always maintained a firm presence, it was nothing like the repressively violent and corrupt military regimes of Diem in South Vietnam, Marcos in the Philippines, or Ne Win in Burma.

After establishing order and rejoining the international community, Suharto was careful to follow the constitution. Indonesia continued to have elections participated in by opposition parties, such as a pro-democracy party and an Islamic party. Although the government party always won, in part due to massive bribery, opposition leaders were not executed, probably because they wielded little actual power. Further Suharto retained Sukarno’s original Five Principles (belief in one God, nationalism, humanitarianism, democracy, and social justice) as the national ideology.

During the first decades of his regime, economic growth remained steady at a spectacular 7%. However, Indonesia became increasingly dependent on Western capital and, in particular, on large transnational corporations. Direct foreign investment created an Indonesian class that became rich by cooperating with these international companies. However, the disparity between rich and poor continued to increase, as would be expected. The wealth of the nation grew, but the prosperity of the average citizen fell. At least, Indonesians were not starving to death.

Further, although his administration and family were accused of corruption, these charges were never leveled at Suharto. To reduce local resentment and revolt, his administration attempted to spread economic development more evenly across the archipelago. Also Chinese businessmen gradually reentered the Indonesian commercial world, for the benefit of all. Instead of only employing military strength to accomplish their goals, his regime also encouraged cooperation and accommodation.

More importantly, Suharto’s behavior was Javanese, not Western. Following traditional Javanese religious practices, Suharto regularly participated in meditation retreats on the historic Dieng Plateau, presumably to ‘appease the spirits’. Further his regime supported and funded local culture. After a $60 million restoration, Borobudur was opened in 1983 as a tourist attraction. Then in 1985, restoration began on Lara Janggrang/the Prambanan temple complex, Java’s Hindu masterpiece.

Sukarno’s personality characteristics, i.e. personal integrity and following traditional culture, appealed to the average Indonesian, especially the Javanese. These traits combined with the general prosperity and military power contributed to Sukarno’s long and relatively stable reign as leader of Indonesia.

But be that as it may, the dictatorship finally wore itself out. The unrestrained corruption and favoritism of his regime had begun to alienate the growing middle class. Yet the high rate of economic growth insulated Suharto from any coordinated opposition. But then in 1997, Indonesia like rest of Southeast Asia was caught in a currency crisis due to turbulence in the international economy. Indonesia’s rupiah plummeted in value. There was a general economic downturn throughout the many islands of the Indonesian archipelago.

The financial crisis exposed the deep flaws in the national economy. Inflation skyrocketed. The living conditions of the poor degenerated so much that anti-government demonstrations turned into food rioting in May 1998. Due to the rising social chaos, even the military ceased to support him, and Suharto finally resigned after over 30 years in power.

East Timor’s excruciating Journey

To complete our summary of the modern countries of Southeast Asia, we must also speak about the unfortunate modern history of tiny East Timor. Located on the eastern half of a small and impoverished island on the far east of the Indonesian archipelago, East Timor by any geographical sense should be part of the nation of Indonesia. Unfortunately for the Timorese, the Indonesian government felt the same way.

Despite belonging to the same archipelago, East Timor had a different colonial ruler than the rest of the islands. While the Dutch took administrative control of all the important trading ports in Indonesia, they allowed the Portuguese to retain control of East Timor. Off the major trading routes and possessing little of commercial interest, the Timorese remained under Portuguese rule and administration for over 4 centuries, the longest of any colony in Southeast Asia. During this extended time period, the Timorese converted to Catholicism and adopted many of the religion’s customs. Outside Spain-ruled Philippines, East Timor was the only Southeast Asian territory to embrace Catholic culture.

After the Portuguese internal revolution in 1974, the new leftist government in Lisbon ‘freed’ all their colonies with the exception of Macao. Three political parties were formed to determine East Timor’s direction. One wanted immediate self-rule, another wanted to remain connected to Portugal and gradually move towards self-rule, and the last wanted to become part of Indonesia. The group that favored absorption by Indonesia only compromised about 5% of the population. The 3 factions immediately came into armed conflict.

Although the rest of the island was administered by Indonesia, the majority of East Timorese wouldn’t accept domination by this ‘foreign’ predominantly Islamic culture. A Catholic population that had been ruled by Portugal for centuries, they presumably feared absorption by the former Dutch colony with its Muslim population. Cultural traditions run deep.

In support of the Indonesia faction, Suharto moved in 30,000 troops to occupy East Timor on December 7, 1975. The massacre began immediately - 2000 in the first few days. A full-scale war ensued.

In the armed combat that followed, the Indonesian Air Force indiscriminately bombed villages and the army employed heavy artillery against the resistance. Perhaps even more devastating, the Indonesian military used forced relocation of citizens suspected harboring sympathies for the ‘rebels’, which was nearly everyone. This cruel strategy destroyed traditional village life. By the end of this rampage, the Indonesian military had massacred 10% to 30% of the East Timorese population. A conservative estimate would be 100,000 out of a total population of 600,000. The ultimate result of this genocide was that East Timor was returned to the Stone Age.

What was the international community’s response when Suharto’s regime began psychopathically and systematically exterminating the East Timorese during the late 1970s? The US, Russia, China and India ignored this blatant imperialism on the part of Indonesia. Each country had engaged in similar expansionism. Each had ‘gobbled up’ the small nations on their perimeter. The four biggest countries in the world looked aside as the 5th largest followed their example.

How did the smaller nations respond? Immediately after the invasion in both 1975 and 1976, the United Nations Security Council called on Jakarta to withdraw "without delay". Further eight General Assembly Resolutions were issued with the same intent.

What was the result of this international censure? Nothing. The U.S. blocked the UN from taking effective enforcement action. Secretary of State Kissinger and U.S. President Ford visited Indonesia the day before the invasion and said nothing then or later, even though the U.S. supplied 90% of Indonesia’s military assistance. In fact to support Suharto in his subjugation of East Timor, the Cartel-dominated U.S. government doubled military aid to Indonesia immediately after aggressions began. As an indication of its continued approval, the Cartel via the U.S. supplied $1.1 billion worth of weaponry to Indonesia in the ensuing decades.

What was the response of the American public to the atrocities that their government was perpetrating? None. The Cartel-controlled press never revealed what was going on in East Timor. Instead news coverage focused upon the communist atrocities occurring in Cambodia at the same time. Looking aside and remaining deathly silent regarding Indonesia’s ‘internal’ issues, the media conveniently ignored the deadly role of U.S. military assistance. Evidently U.S. politicians chose to ignore this genocide because Indonesia was too big and powerful to risk their displeasure. It would be bad for the international business consortium.

This is yet another example of the Cartel’s international power. It was able to block yet another United Nation resolution and completely shut down the American press on these human rights violations.

Throughout the early 1980s, the East Timorese independence movement continued to wage a low-level guerrilla campaign. A 1983 cease-fire was unsuccessful. To defuse the resistance, the Indonesian government began investing heavily in East Timor to rebuild its infrastructure. Progress was being made, as the carrot is better than the stick.


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