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|US and IMF Indonesian bailout unethical
By Diane Farsetta and Ben Terrall
(A version of this article was printed in the Madison Badger-Herald and circulated nationally by USA Today.)
Prominent in the news recently are reports of the Asian economic crisis, and of US and International Monetary Fund (IMF) efforts to aid the afflicted countries.
Among these reeling, once proud Asian "tigers" is Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world.
Perhaps for no other country has the financial upheaval come at a more critical time, as the aging dictator Suharto prepares to begin his last term as president with no designated successor, in a country where the transfer of power has never been peaceful.
Suharto rose to power in 1965 in a bloodbath that left up to a million people dead. Since then, his regime has consolidated both political and economic power in the hands of his relatives and friends, leaving the majority of Indonesians near or below internationally recognized poverty levels.
The Suharto government has also been characterized by severe violations of the fundamental rights of both the citizens and the neighbors of Indonesia.
The 1975 invasion and subsequent ongoing occupation of the country of East Timor has resulted in the death of over 200,000 people, according to Amnesty International estimates - that is, one-third of the islands population.
Although the Indonesian occupation of East Timor has been condemned by 10 United Nations resolutions, successive US administrations have continued to place the "stability" offered by the Suharto regime (and its willingness to share profits from natural resources and cheap labor) above the democratic aspirations of the Indonesian and East Timorese people.
The brutal and repressive nature of the Suharto government, its corruption, cronyism, and obstruction of human, political, and workers rights underlies the current financial crisis.
While those critical of Suharto are often imprisoned, the widespread hardship caused by the drop in the value of Indonesian currency led Muslim leader Amien Rais to state recently that, "the only way to turn the situation around is to break the status quo. And the only way to do that is to replace Suharto ... people will no longer put up with another five years of Suharto repressing them."
Since the US and IMF $40 billion bailout of Indonesia does not address these serious problems with any human rights, labor or environmental criteria, it will be at best a temporary fix.
Additionally, as Representative Bernie Sanders (D-VT) pointed out to the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, under the Sanders-Frank amendment, "the United States government cannot support any IMF or World Bank loans to Indonesia unless the loan proposal guarantees internationally recognized worker rights ... plain and simple, it is against the law for the United States and the Secretary of the Treasury to support this bailout."
The destabilization of Indonesian society from both the financial crisis and rumors of Suharto being seriously ill increase the possibility of a military crackdown similar to the tragic events of 1965.
On January 6, the commander of the Indonesian armed forces announced, after meeting with Suharto, that the military was prepared to "strike down" any group daring to take a stand against the regime. He bragged that Bakin, the Indonesian equivalent of the CIA, is closely monitoring all dissidents.
The repression in occupied East Timor has also worsened dramatically since the awarding of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize to East Timorese leaders Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta.
Meanwhile, on January. 11, US Secretary of Defense William Cohen said, "I am not going to give [Suharto] any guidance in terms of what he should or should not do in maintaining control of his own country."
Cohen also pledged to restore funds for military training aid to Indonesia and expand joint training with the Indonesian military.
Should this be the position of the US, the self-proclaimed world champion of democracy?
The East Timor Action Network/US, and Dr. George J. Aditjondro, an Indonesian academic dissident in self-imposed exile, have recently condemned the IMF bailout plan and called for the US government to stop all military support to Indonesia and support the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia.
Support for free and open societies in both Indonesia and East Timor is truly the only way the US can help create a lasting, peaceful solution to the current crisis.
With support from the international community, the dangerous upheaval could become an opportunity for a transition from murderous military dictatorship to freedom and self-determination. The United States should be on the side of democracy, not corrupt oligarchy.
Note: Unfortunately, opposition to the IMF bailout in Congress has not yet become strong enough to condition money to Indonesia on human rights. Please refer to the action alert for recommended action.
Tell Congress: No Bailouts for the Suharto Dictatorship!