“Do you know how Chileans first learned about Indonesia?” asks Jorge Insulza, foreign secretary of the Chilean Communist Party. “Long before the coup of Pinochet, right wingers were intimidating members of progressive movements and parties: ‘Watch out, Jakarta is coming!’”
Thus the reference to the 1965 military coup led by General Suharto which was full-heartedly supported by western politicians and companies. In a matter of months, between 1 and 3 million Indonesian Communists, atheists and members of the Chinese minority were mercilessly slaughtered in what can be described as easily the most intensive massacre of the 20th century.
A few days after talking to Insulza I was facing Chilean victims of the 1973 coup who had come to see my documentary film “Terlena–Breaking of a Nation,” about the Indonesian dictatorship, at Universidad Arsis in Santiago. One elderly woman, apparently shaken, came close to me and whispered: “we heard it was bad there, in Indonesiaâ€¦but we had no idea that it was so bad. Apparently, Chile and Indonesia not only share the same ocean, they also share a horrific past.”
In March, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided to embark on a round-the-world journey, visiting Chile, Indonesia and Australia. The symbolism of her trip conveniently escaped the attention of almost all mass media outlets.
In both countries, dictatorship officially collapsed under tremendous popular pressure: in Chile in the late 80′s, in Indonesia almost 10 years later. But both former client states developed in a radically different way: one proudly embarked on a democratic path emphasizing social development, while the other struggled under a feudal system with most people living in outright misery.
The reason for Ms. Rice’s visiting Chile was the inauguration of new Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet – a socialist, single mother of three and an agnostic. Ms. Rice had to sit through and swallow an inaugural speech in which President Bachelet paid homage to her father, Alberto Bachelet, an air-force general kidnapped, tortured and murdered in prison for opposing the 1973 coup against the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende.
Michelle Bachelet herself survived imprisonment, torture and exile, by-products of US foreign policy. But now she was proudly taking her oath at the crowded Hall of Honor of Chile’s Congress in the historical and stunning port city of Valparaiso, surrounded by her friends – leaders of left-wing governments from all over South America.
“South America has changed,” declared Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela who has managed to survive a US-supported coup. “A worker is president of Brazil – there comes Lula; an Indian is president of Bolivia; a woman is president of Chile, and in Venezuela, a revolutionary soldier, which is what I am.”
Condoleezza Rice described the elections in Chile as a “triumph of democracy,” omitting the fact that the triumph took more than 3 decades to achieve at the cost of more than 4 thousand dead and millions of men, women and children who were tortured, dispossessed or exiled. But a triumph nevertheless!
That was Chile, Ms Rice’s first visit. Chile with a GDP per capita of over 6,000 dollars, with modern infrastructure, elegant cities and with a majority of citizens now belonging to the middle class. Chile which stripped Pinochet of his immunity and put former assassins – at least some of them – behind bars. A country with a well-educated population that can freely choose between the candidates of numerous political movements, including those of Humanist and Communist parties.
The next stop of Ms. Rice was Indonesia.
There she discussed a “strategic partnership” in this “tolerant” and “moderate” country in a troubled region. Indonesia is indeed so tolerant and moderate that it doesn’t allow the Communist Party, any religion except five basic ones, atheism and agnosticism, homosexuality and cohabitation of unmarried men and women. It is so moderate that young Christian girls are being decapitated in broad daylight and human rights activists poisoned on board by airline pilots, while bombs go off in crowded markets, at tourist beaches and in front of foreign embassies. White-robed religious fanatics are marching through the streets of major cities, attacking bars and places of bad repute, as well as churches.
But Ms Rice didn’t come here to argue tolerance, moderation and democracy. This is what Steven R. Weisman of The New York Times wrote about her visit: “Referring to Indonesia, both Rice and the Indonesian foreign minister, Noer Hassan Wirajuda, used the phrase “strategic partnership.” This reflects American interest in building up this country as a major commercial and military power in the region, in part to help counter the growing influence of China.”
And above all, Ms. Rice came to increase military cooperation after the decision last year to resume military aid to Indonesian armed forces, accused for decades of gross human rights violations.
The Indonesian military is in a league of its own. It is thoroughly unprofessional, overstaffed, badly armed, untrained and corrupt. Its top brass are driving luxury sedans and SUVs on maximum salaries of 200 dollars per month. Soldiers as well as high ranking officers are moonlighting as bouncers and guards for nightclubs and local as well as foreign companies (Freeport confessed it has paid millions of dollars in exchange for protection in Papua).
It is no secret that the armed forces couldn’t defend Indonesia against any foreign adversary, but its huge barracks are spread all over the archipelago, in all cities, towns and in many villages, intimidating the civilian population. While laughable as a defense force, there is no military on earth that could “pride” itself on massacring as many unarmed civilians inside its own country as the Indonesian military.
The grand total killed by this maniacal “defense force” is unknown, but it consists of 1 to 3 million men and women during the 1965 coup, hundreds of thousands in Papua (although the official count is “over” 100 thousand), more than 200 thousand in formerly occupied East Timor (one third of the population), tens of thousands in Sulawesi, and still unknown numbers in Aceh.
So far, no high ranking official has been put on trial. 16 out of 18 government and army officials involved in the East Timor massacres were acquitted. Those responsible for massacres in all the above mentioned places are enjoying impunity; some are bragging openly about their deeds. While Chile elected a victim of torture as its President, Indonesia elected a former General who is, on top of that, married to a daughter of one of the army officials responsible for the 1965 massacres.
“The military is an important institution in Indonesia. It’s by no means completely made its reform, but we believe those reforms are underway and that we can have a more positive effect on the reforms by being part of itâ€¦” That’s what Condoleezza Rice said. What she forgot to clarify is “what reforms, exactly?” But that’s not surprising, given that her administration is well used to mixing up expressions like “war” and “peace,” “attack” and “defense,” “democracy” and “terror.”
The Indonesian government and top ranking military officers in Indonesia must be now laughing their eyes out. They are getting rewarded for doing absolutely nothing, for their terrible performance in Aceh (where the military was stealing food from aid agencies and re-selling it on the black market), for their campaign of terror in Papua and Sulawesi.
But then, Indonesia is historically a country of deceit, and as long as it continues on a firm course to maintain its savage capitalism (to hell with the majority of the people who live on less than a dollar a day: a fact that is never admitted anyway), it can count on almost unlimited support from the west, which is hooked on its natural resources and its grossly underpaid and intimidated labor force.
Michelle Bachelet didn’t remember only her murdered father. She also paid tribute to “our armed forces, which are again the armed forces of all Chileans.”
While Chileans knew about Indonesia long before their own progressive government came under attack, Indonesians seem to know close to nothing about the recent developments in South America. No wonder: the local media is owned by those who are guarding a terrible status quo. But the old phrase used to intimidate Chilean leftists should probably be reinvented, reversed and used on the desperate streets of Jakarta: “Santiago is coming!”
ANDRE VLTCHEK is a novelist, journalist and filmmaker, working in Asia and the South Pacific. He is a co-founder of Mainstay Press, a progressive publishing house for political fiction (www.mainstaypress.org). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org