One of the seamiest of all imperial stories in recent times has been the Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975 and the subsequent genocide of a third of its population. The United States has been complicit from the start, from motives of "security" and, more concretely, from lust for natural resources such as timber and minerals, mainly gold.
Of course, the major economic interest of the multinational corporations is oil. In fact, a major new reserve has just been tapped off the coast of East Timor. The trove here can be reckoned in the billions, with oil companies such as Pennzoil, ARCO, Chevron, Caltex and Royal Dutch/Shell directly involved. All of a sudden the overweeningly confident Clinton White House looks defensive on the matter of possibly illegal campaign contributions and the role of a wealthy foreign conglomerate based in Indonesia, named the Lippo Group. The master of financial ceremonies is an old Arkansas associate of Bill Clinton's, James Riady. Back in 1992 Riady organized a loan from the Worthen Bank of $3.5 million, which helped Clinton through the crucial New York primary. Another go-between was Webb Hubbell, then on his way from the Justice Department to prison.
The desire of Lippo and kindred trading companies based in Indonesia is similar to that of the Indonesian government itself: the friendly attention of the U.S. Commerce Department and, more generally, a spirit of sympathetic cooperation on the part of the U.S. government. Nowhere is this sympathy more eagerly sought than in the matter of East Timor, which Indonesia has been occupying since December 1975, having slaughtered about a third of the population in that period.
It's not that the Clinton administration has been markedly more friendly than its predecessors to the Indonesian military regime headed by General Suharto, now in power for 30 years. Suharto came to power in a brutal coup aided by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1965. The American oil companies and the CIA had been trying to oust the socialist President Sukarno for nearly a decade. Suharto ordered massacres of dissidents and privatization of the Indonesian economy. Singapore became a model of the "fascist capitalism" now practiced throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim.
Ever since President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Jakarta on December 5, 1975, presumably giving the okay for the invasion of East Timor that occurred two days later, all subsequent administrations have embraced the butchers there. Kissinger was rewarded for his Indonesian exploits with a seat on the board of directors of Freeport McMoran, the New Orleans-based mining giant. Freeport McMoran operates the huge Mt. Erstberg gold mine in Irian Jaya. The mine is an environmental nightmare, leaking deadly toxins into three major river systems. The company has forcibly relocated thousands of indigenous people of the Amungme, burning down villages and unearthing graveyards in the process. When the tribal leaders resisted these outrages, Freeport called in a private security force and some of the more vicious elements of Suharto's army. Hundreds of villagers were killed.
Nor is Bob Dole in any position to wag his finger too energetically at Clinton in this regard. He was the Republican who appeased Suharto by killing an amendment brought by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont in 1994 banning use of U.S. arms in East Timor.
The pussy-footing of the Clinton government around a regime that has been justifiably accused of genocide in East Timor was vividly displayed in an exchange on October 11 between White House press spokesman Mike McCurry and Amy Goodman of the Pacific Radio Network. Goodman is well-versed in the behavior of the Indonesian military, since she was nearly killed while witnessing a massacre of 250 East Timorese, back in November 1991.
Goodman asked McCurry for the White House reaction to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to courageous advocates of justice and independence for East Timor, Jose Ramos Horta and Bishop Belo. McCurry responded with some boilerplate about the importance of bringing "a calmer atmosphere to East Timor," along with respect for "fundamental human rights."
Goodman: "President Clinton will push for the sale of F-16s to Indonesia when Congress returns in January. I've spoken to both Jose Ramos Horta and Bishop Belo, and they say Clinton is key in self-determination for East Timor. Will he now continue to push for those weapons sales to Indonesia? Jose Ramos Horta says it's like selling weapons to Saddam Hussein."
McCurry: "Well, that's not the view of the United States government. We make arms transfers of that nature when they are in the interest of the United States..."
Goodman: "How does this support democracy when the Clinton administration is pushing weapons to a place that's killed a third of the population in East Timor, one of the great genocides of the 20th century?"
McCurry: "You don't use F-16s to kill civilians and crack down on dissidents."
Goodman: "But you're supporting the military dictatorship by doing it... President Clinton is not only going to push for the F-16s, but also for the restoration of IMET, military training aid. And that was cut off after the massacre of November 1991, which I witnessed and survived, where more than 250 Timorese were killed with U.S. weapons. Congress cut it off because they said the human rights situation was so bad. It hasn't improved in these five years--it's coming up on the fifth anniversary next week. Why is President Clinton considering restoring that military training aid to Indonesia right now?"
McCurry: "On the IMET funding I'd really prefer that you get--they can give you a much better briefing over at the State Department on that."
In other words, the Clinton administration mumbles a few trite phrases about human rights while simultaneously telling the Indonesian generals to pay no attention, since $200 million worth of F-16 plane purchases, plus IMET training, are what really count as significant gestures.
But this congenial atmosphere has now been rudely interrupted by two entirely welcome October surprises: the scandal of foreign contributions and the favors they purchase, and the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Ramos Horta and Bishop Belo. The beneficiaries of this happy conjunction will, one hopes, be the unfortunate people of East Timor, still seeking independence after 21 years of horror.
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