Things seemed to be looking up for Indonesia in July, when President
Abdurrahman Wahid, widely viewed as corrupt and incompetent, finally
was voted out of office--and Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri
assumed leadership. Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's founding
father, Sukarno, is seen by many as a clean break from the legacy
of General Suharto, who ruled the vast archipelago with an iron
fist for more than 30 years.
But to write a new chapter of Indonesian history, Megawati must
first subordinate the powerful military to civilian control and
resolve the conflicts in Aceh and Irian Jaya, where separatist movements
have battled with Indonesian forces for decades. Claiming to assist
this worthy task, the Pentagon, White House and a consortium of
corporations want to renew weapons sales and military training.
Washington applauded Megawati's choice of a stable of advisers
with close ties to
international lending institutions and U.S. corporations. Finance
Minister Boediono is the former director of the World Bank's Indonesia
office and worked for Bank of America in Jakarta. Laksamana Sukardi,
the new minister of state-owned enterprises, is a former Citibank
executive. These choices demonstrate Megawati's commitment to creating
a favorable climate for investment.
Megawati greets east Timor
leader Xanana Gusmâo.
Throughout Indonesia, U.S. corporations doing business there benefit
from a cowed and cheap work force, nonexistent labor and environmental
protections and generous tax breaks. But as she flings open the
door to businesses, Megawati slams the door on negotiated solutions
to the bloody conflicts in Aceh and Irian Jaya.
While Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil is a civilian, other
military advisers include Lt. Gen. Agum Gumelar, whose ties to the
notorious Kopassus counter-insurgency units are well known, and
Lt. Gen. Hari Sabarno, who adamantly opposes autonomy in Aceh and
These two provinces are the sites of massive operations by oil
giant ExxonMobil and mining company Freeport-McMoRan, respectively.
ExxonMobil pays the Indonesian military millions of dollars to protect
its oil fields and operations in Aceh, an arrangement that led to
a recent lawsuit by Acehnese villagers, who charge that soldiers
on the company's payroll were responsible for rape, torture and
Historically, the United States has consistently armed Indonesia's
military with everything from F-16 fighter planes to M-16 combat
rifles. Since Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975, in which
200,000 people were killed, the United States has transferred more
than $1 billion in weaponry to Jakarta.
Congress stanched the flow of weapons following the 1991 Santa
Cruz massacre in East Timor, where soldiers wielding M-16s mowed
down 270 unarmed people. Congress strengthened the ban in response
to military and paramilitary violence after East Timor's vote for
independence in 1999. Central to this legislation are criteria for
the resumption of military ties, including the return of East Timorese
refugees and prosecution of soldiers involved in human rights violations.
Two years after the violence, a newly independent East Timor is
still struggling to recover, and Indonesia has failed to meet the
congressional criteria. Violence in Aceh and Irian Jaya continues
to escalate. Despite these grim realities, officials in Washington
are bending over backward to re-engage with the military. Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently said he is "anxious to re-establish
the military-to-military relationship with Indonesia."
While Bush himself is not well briefed on the region--his one remark
on the conflict in East Timor during his campaign was an awkward
reference to the "East Timorians"--his backers in the oil, gas and
other industries are urging that the ban be lifted. The U.S.-ASEAN
Business Council, a private body made up of the heads of corporations
with interests in Southeast Asia--including ExxonMobil, Freeport-McMoRan,
Boeing and Coca-Cola--released a report in February urging the new
administration to "lift the embargo on military equipment and training
while re-establishing direct military-to-military contacts."
The Council on Foreign Relations also argues in a July report that
the ban on military sales and training is "heavy-handed" and "short-sighted."
Their report concludes that "the United States must cease hectoring
Jakarta and re-engage Indonesia's army." Nearly one-third of the
report's 27-member panel is made up of corporate representatives,
including ExxonMobil and baked-goods giant Sara Lee, both of which
have extensive investments in Indonesia.
Given the report's pro-weapons-sales position, it is not surprising
that Dov Zakheim, a former Reagan official who just signed on as
the comptroller in Bush's Pentagon, drafted the report. Between
working for Reagan and Bush II, Zakheim was a lobbyist for weapons
manufacturers like McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing), promoting
arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel and elsewhere.
Despite the push coming from the Pentagon, White House and big
business, many in Congress oppose re-establishing military ties.
Most prominent among them is Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). He visited
a church in East Timor just days before the 1999 vote, where hundreds
sought refuge from the military violence. Everyone he met was later
killed. In memory of that horror and because no one has been prosecuted
for that crime, he pledges opposition to the resumption of military
aid: "I'll do everything I can to stop it."
Frida Berrigan is a research associate with the Arms
Trade Resource Center.