Subject: Interview: Usindo has been acting like the second embassy for U.S.-Indon ties

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Jakarta Post September 10, 2002

Society doing its bit in U.S.-RI ties

Yenni Djahidin, Contributor, Washington

The United States-Indonesia Society (USINDO) has been acting like the second embassy for Indonesia in Washington since its founding nearly 10 years ago.

Founded by former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia Ed Masters, this not-profit organization has various forum to promote Indonesia. It regularly sends congressional staff delegation to Indonesia offers fellowships for scholars, and brings Indonesian public figures here to inform Americans.

USINDO current president, Paul Cleveland, is no stranger to Indonesia. In his 37-year career as a diplomat, he served in Jakarta in 1965-1968, besides in Malaysia as an ambassador, New Zealand and Western Samoa.

Cleveland recently received the writer in his office filled with furniture and wall decorations from Indonesia, to talk about the U.S.-Indonesia relations and USINDO's role. Excerpts follow:

Question: How do you see the current relations between U.S.-Indonesia?

Answer: We have had a good relationship particularly since the new era in Indonesia. We're very much encouraged that Indonesia has become a democracy. We are trying to help Indonesia as best we can. I have some real hope that the U.S. would be able to help even more in the future.

What kind of help are you offering?

Just as the U.S. assisted Indonesia in the late 1960s and early 1970s to move in the direction of free, private enterprise and open market economy, now it is necessary to help Indonesia establish democracy. The U.S. can help through its aid programs, and through providing its experience. We are the oldest democracy in the world, so we've had some experience in knowing how complicated it is. Through American and Indonesian NGOs, we're providing a lot of assistance. I'm amazed at how readily Indonesians accept advice. They don't always follow it, of course, but they seem to be very open to advice, suggestions.

But they don't necessarily do it.

Accepting advice and actually working hard to carry it out are different things. But by and large, it's been amazing how far Indonesia has come in the last few years in developing democratic institutions. For example, the amendments that have just been passed by parliament are quite remarkable. They changed Indonesia's government very substantially into a democracy that is responsible to the people. Sovereignty now rests in the Indonesian people. They have set up a system of checks and balances which are not dissimilar to the system we have. I think that is a remarkable step forward.

Especially if they do it.

Well, that's the next question. Will they do it? Indonesia has to. They passed constitutional amendments. They now have to pass laws to implement those amendments. But on the basis of past experience, the chances of them passing good laws to carry these measures out are quite good.

How do you explain to the American audience about reports alleging the presence of al-Qaeda network in Indonesia, and about the recent acquittals of Indonesian military officers from charges of human rights violations in East

Timor?

We don't explain ourselves as much as we bring Indonesians and or Americans to our forum and let them explain.

On terrorism, I would say Indonesia is a very large and extremely complicated country with 17,000 islands. It's not easy to find out what may exist in the way of terrorism or terrorists in Indonesia. The evidence is hard to come by.

Indonesia has been cooperative with the United States in carrying out anti-terrorist efforts. We both have to be very careful: In Indonesia for domestic, political reasons; in the U.S., we must not appear to be imposing Indonesian sovereignty in any way, shape, or form.

Extreme Muslims are quick and clever at exploiting anti-American feelings, and if we're too forceful or too aggressive in pressing and be seen to press Indonesia, then that can be used against out mutual interests. I think we are handling that reasonably well and working together in a cooperative way.

On the human rights trials, they have been disappointing, to the international community but also to a great many Indonesians with whom I talked. The evidence gathered by the international community, the UN and so on, was not fully used by the prosecution.

When you promote Indonesia, who is your target audience?

We want to reach to two groups: People within the U.S. government; not only the administration, but Congress as well, who are actually making policy and/or recommending policy.

The other are opinion holders, for example, certain newspapers and NGOs who have a lot of influence on what's going on in Indonesia.

How does the American business community see Indonesia now?

With a great longing, but not so great as to be pouring money in there. There are a variety of reasons American major businesses are reluctant to invest in Indonesia. There have been a lot of problems in the courts, and the Manulife case is only one example. Manulife is coming out all right, but there is another one, the Karaha Bodas case (of the U.S.-based independent power producer) which is still is underway.

Beyond that, the general atmosphere on the judicial side, the widely-recognized corruption, the costs of doing business as a result of those kinds of things, and also security problems that exist in various parts. ... There are certainly great parts of Indonesia that are quite secure, but in some places like Aceh, Papua and the Maluku, there are concerns. Also ... we'd just like to see some progress and further stabilization, before (American business people) come back in.

What changes do you want to see in Indonesia?

The same changes that most Indonesians would like to see: Further development and strengthening of the democratic political system and the actual strengthening of the court system. And the gradual -- I say gradual because I just don't think it's realistic to think that corruption is going to be wiped out tomorrow -- eradication of corruption is certainly very high on the list.

But there is another issue which Indonesians themselves recognize: The decentralization process, which is highly commendable and necessary, and which USINDO has done a fair amount to broadcast here. That needs to be

sorted out, and that's going to take time.

The election process in 2004 and beyond is in the process of being strengthened, but continuing work on that is necessary.

Continuing reform of the military, continuing effort to turn internal domestic security responsibility to the police that are capable. At the present time, the police are not. I think they would say themselves not really fully capable.

But there are all kinds of things that have to be done to establish a democracy.

Having said all that, I would go back to my original statement that I think Indonesia has done remarkably well, has come remarkably far, much further than, I think, is recognized in establishing democratic institutions. It's encouraging, but there's a lot still to do.

What can USINDO do to help?

Don't underestimate the importance of the power of information, transparency in the democracy. They are absolutely essential. These are things that the USINDO is trying to provide: Transparency and openness. What are the real issues in Indonesia, and try to explain them to Americans that they have a better understanding and therefore can provide a better advice or more kind of well targeted assistance to help.

Understanding and wisdom are the first steps to really running and operating an effective democracy.


Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 01420 80153 Email: plovers@gn.apc.org Internet: tapol.gn.apc.org Defending victims of oppression in Indonesia, 1973-2002


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