and Robert Weissman
Clinton administration’s shamefully slow response to the savagery unleashed by
the Indonesian military and militia on the people of East Timor allowed a
vicious slaughter to take place. East Timor’s capital, Dili, now lies in ruins,
hundreds or quite likely thousands of Timorese have been killed since they voted
overwhelmingly for independence on August 30, and tens or hundreds of thousands
of Timorese are now hiding in the mountains facing starvation and fearing
possible attacks by Indonesian armed forces.
pressure from grassroots activists, Congress and foreign governments and aroused
by the sheer savagery of the Indonesian attack on the Timorese, the
administration has now ratcheted up its rhetoric of condemnation, announced
meaningful cuts in military aid, and watched approvingly as the International
Monetary Fund and World Bank suspended new loans. And as a result of
international pressure, Indonesia has agreed to allow a peacekeeping force into
all this slow progress, until the Australian-led peacekeeping operation lands in
East Timor, there remains the substantial possibility of a new round of
bloodletting. Even stronger pressure from the United States, as well as other
international powers, will be needed to assure that calamity does not occur.
aside the ghastly history of U.S. military and diplomatic support for the brutal
and illegal Indonesian occupation of East Timor — a 24-year occupation in which
an estimated 200,000 Timorese were killed — why has the U.S. response to the
unfolding butchery in East Timor been so laggardly?
New York Times went a long way to answering this crucial question in a September
9 front-page story titled, "With Other Goals in Indonesia, U.S. Moves
Gently on East Timor."
have myriad interests" in Indonesia, explained State Department
spokesperson Jaime Rubin in one of his daily briefings, "and what our job
is is to try to balance those various interests."
in the government and chattering class, such as Eleanor Clift of Newsweek,
echoed this basic sentiment. The United States should be "realistic"
in setting its policy on East Timor, they urged, noting the multiple U.S.
"interests" in Indonesia and the importance of promoting
the prescription was to balance these "interests" in
"stability" against the lives of the Timorese, it is worth identifying
what they are.
have a business interest," said Rubin in identifying competing U.S.
interests in Indonesia. That is, the U.S. government wants to protect U.S.
investments in Indonesia — Nike’s subcontractor factories, the mines of
Freeport McMoRan, the oil drilling of Texaco, Chevron and Mobil. Strong
diplomatic pressure on Indonesia might conceivably have led to the revocation of
concessions and privileges for U.S. corporations, worried the practitioners of
from this point of view, was the possibility that support for the Timorese will
somehow flare up Indonesian separatist movements in Aceh (where Mobil is heavily
invested) and Irian Jaya (where Freeport McMoRan runs the world’s largest gold
broader U.S. business interest was in maintaining the flow of IMF and World Bank
money to Indonesia, so the country maintains its commitment to the
"structural adjustment" policies which require it to remove
restrictions on foreign investment, further orient its economy to exports,
privatize government enterprises and cut subsidies to the poor.
given the precarious state of the Indonesian economy, and the success of the IMF
in deepening Indonesian dependence on foreign money flows, a sudden cut off of
IMF and Bank monies might in fact send a harmful shock to the economy (whatever
the long-run benefits of severing ties with the international financial
institutions). The announced cut off of funds is actually a suspension of future
monies not yet allocated, and is only temporary, so the feared effect on the
international markets has been muted.
course, it would be misleading to say the U.S. government was slow to act in
Indonesia/East Timor only because it wanted to protect Nike and other U.S.
multinationals. In addition to the commercial and broader economic stability
issues, the U.S. foreign policy and military establishments attach great
geopolitical importance to maintaining good ties with the Indonesian government
and especially the Indonesian military (viewed as a counterweight to China and a
dependable regional ally).
there is no doubt that the U.S. "business interest" played a
significant role in the decision to "move gently" on East Timor in the
early days of the post-election slaughter. Even the New York Times acknowledged
a U.S. government concern that a threatened IMF and aid cut off "could also
harm American corporations that have large investments in Indonesia."
time, we’ll know how many Timorese died in the weeks following their vote for
independence, in part because of U.S. government concern about "our
business interest" in Indonesia.
Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.
Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They
are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack
on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999; http://www.corporatepredators.org)