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|Massachusetts Moves Closer to Indonesia Sanctions
By Mark Salzer, Greater Boston ETAN
On May 29th, the Massachusetts State Legislature's
committee on State Administration approved a measure that would impose sanctions against
companies that do business with Indonesia. The bill, H3730, "An Act to Regulate State
Contracts and Investments with Companies Doing Business with or in Indonesia," now
proceeds to the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee for consideration.
Burma activist Simon Billenness of Franklin Research contacted ETAN early last year to
advise us of the bill's existence. The bill's lead sponsor, Representative Antonio Cabral
of New Bedford, had introduced the Act in 1995, but the business community's efforts had
put it into a study.
|ETAN-Boston demonstrates outside the Massachusetts State house as
the Legislature considers an Indonesian sanctions bill.
Cabral reintroduced the bill in the fall of 1996, bolstered by the
state's enactment of a Burma sanctions law. Thanks to grassroots organizing, the state now
prohibits state contracts with companies doing business with Burma. Cabral added to his
bill a state pension funds divestment component that was modeled after apartheid-era South
Africa divestment legislation that Massachusetts also pioneered. (It has since been
modified along the lines of the divestment legislation crafted for Northern Ireland.)
On February 27, a hearing was held on the bill at the State House. Supporters who
testified included José Ramos-Horta, George Aditjondro, Constâncio Pinto, Charles
Scheiner, Allan Nairn, Bella Galhos, and Abigail Abrash of the RFK Human Rights Center.
Concurrently, on the steps of the State House fifteen ETAN members demonstrated in support
of the bill (photo, page 3). The hearing ran 6½ hours, of which five was taken up by
testimony from supporters.
Although Wayne Forrest, Executive Director of the American-Indonesian Chamber of Commerce
said that "99% of Indonesia lives in peace" and so, presumably we should not
regulate business, the business community took up the remainder of the time with a general
chorus reminding legislators that their bottom line was profits.
Indonesia has a $6 billion trade relationship with the United States, 40 times as much as
Burma. Massachusetts ranks 16th in the United States in total exports to Indonesia,
shipping nearly $50 million in products during 1996, according to Cabral.
Companies such as Raytheon, Gillette and Reebok International Ltd., all headquartered in
Massachusetts, do business with both the Commonwealth and Indonesia. These companies (many
represented through the Associated Industries of Massachusetts) and officials from the
State Department, the Office of Special Trade Representative, the European Union and the
British government have all sent envoys to meet with Cabral. (The Massachusetts Burma law,
which went into effect on January 1, has sparked an international furor among U.S. trading
partners. The European Union and Japan have protested to Washington about this law.)
The recent enactment of GATT gives the World Trade Organization (WTO) jurisdiction over
international trade, and tries to prevent national and local governments from adopting
stricter standards. Despite many legislators' assertions that it is a state's right to
decide how the state spends its own money, Senate co-sponsor, Marc Pacheco of Taunton,
said the bill was amended to make it conform to the WTO's Government Procurement
Pacheco said he hoped the bill, which must now go to the House of Representatives Ways and
Means Committee, "would send a strong message to the dictatorship in Indonesia that
they must change their ways and provide the people of East Timor basic human rights and a
measure of self-determination."
The Indonesia legislation was amended to exempt individual purchasing contracts of more
than $500,000 and construction contracts of more than $7 million to avoid any potential
violations of the WTO act.
While the changes may end conflicts with Washington and the EU on the Indonesia bill,
opposition is expected to continue from corporations. Many are likely to be uncomfortable
with a legislative list of those doing business in the country, Mr. Pacheco said.
"They may feel uncomfortable, but there's a heck of a lot of people who feel
uncomfortable in East Timor," he said.
If the measure passes both houses of the state legislature, the ban would remain in effect
until Indonesia complies with United Nations resolutions calling for self-determination in
Cabral is promoting counterpart bills in Connecticut, California and New Jersey (all via
Portuguese-American legislators) and is also urging Massachusetts counties to divest their
pension funds. He says that Middlesex County (the Boston/ North Shore area), with pension
funds of $425 million has already agreed to divest and Bristol Country is considering it.
On June 7, a Providence press conference announced the beginning of a similar effort in
H3730 has anchored Greater Boston ETAN's organizing efforts. On the day of the hearings,
José Ramos-Horta spoke at the Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government to 350
people about the bill. Through Simon Billenness we have strengthened our ties to other
activists struggling against corporate interests.
In April, over 150 Burma, Nigeria, Tibet and East Timor activists came together to discuss
effective organizing strategies. Professor Noam Chomsky spoke at the beginning of those
workshops and also with Constâncio Pinto in March (co-sponsored by South End Press).
Constâncio Pinto also spoke with Anthony Arnove at Harvard in early spring (co-sponsored
by the ISO).
It was at this talk that Catholic youth club director Bob Doolittle first conceived of
organizing youth clubs to share the story of East Timor with other youth clubs. These
students arranged to bring Bishop Belo to Cambridge on June 1st. ETAN/Greater Boston also
flew Elaine Brière to Boston for the US premiere of her award-winning film, Bitter
Paradise: The Sell-out of East Timor. Harvard Film Archives graciously turned over all
proceeds from the two showings to ETAN. (This hard-hitting documentary is available on
video from ETAN/US for $30, see page 9.)
Throughout, we have used the bill as an educational and organizing tool with great
What you can do?
If you are from Massachusetts or know people there, please have them contact:
- Committee Chair Paul Haley, State House, Room 243, Boston, MA 02133.
- Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran, State House, Room 256, Boston, MA 02133
- Members of the House Ways and Means Committee.
- Your State Senator and Representative.
The state switchboard telephone number is (617)722-2000. Please let ETAN/ Greater
Boston know of your progress: 51 Marathon Street, Arlington, MA 02174-6917, email:
etanbost@Lbbs.org. If you would like a copy of the bill to show to other states'
legislators , please contact us.
Boston photo by Mark Salzer