Like the majority of humanity who are not touched by the
delights of McDonald's and Starbucks, the internet and mobile
phones, who cannot afford to eat enough protein, these are
In Indonesia 35 years ago, a military dictator
took over, a million people were killed and a red carpet was
rolled out for western capital. It was the start of globalisation
in Asia, a model for the rest of the world, leaving a legacy
of sweatshops and corruption.
Flying into Jakarta, it is not difficult to imagine
the city below fitting the World Bank's description of Indonesia.
A "model pupil of globalisation" was the last of many
laurels the bank bestowed. That was almost four years ago, in
the summer of 1997. Within weeks, short-term global capital
had fled the country, the stock market and currency had crashed,
and the number of people living in absolute poverty had reached
almost 70 million. The next year, General Suharto was forced
to resign after 30 years as dictator, taking with him severance
pay estimated at $15 billion, the equivalent of almost 13% of
his country's foreign debt, much of it owed to the World Bank.
From the air, it is the industrial design of the model pupil
that is striking. Jakarta is ringed by vast compounds, known
as economic processing zones. These enclose hundreds of factories
that make products for foreign companies: the clothes you buy
on the high street, from the cool khakis of Gap to the Nike,
Adidas and Reebok trainers that sell in the UK for up to 100
pounds a pair. In these factories are thousands of mostly young
women working for the equivalent of 72 pence per day.At current
exchange rates, this is the official minimum wage in Indonesia,
which, says the government, is about half the living wage and
here, that means subsistence. Nike workers get about 4% of the
retail price of the shoes they make - not enough to buy the
laces. Still, they count themselves lucky: they have jobs. The
"booming, dynamic economic success" (another World
Bank accolade) has left more than 36 million without work
|At a factory I saw, making the famous brands, the young
women work, battery-style, in temperatures that climb to
40 degrees centigrade. Most have no choice about the hours
they must work, including a notorious "long shift":
36 hours without going home.
Clinging to the factories, like the debris of a great storm,
are the labour camps: Hobbesian communities living in long dormitories
made from breeze blocks, plywood packing cases and corrugated
iron. Like the majority of humanity who are not touched by the
delights of McDonald's and Starbucks, the internet and mobile
phones, who cannot afford to eat enough protein, these are globalisation's
unpeople. They live wit open, overflowing sewers and unsafe
water for many, up to half their wages go on drinkable water.
Through their homes run stinking canals dug by the former colonial
masters, the Dutch, in the usual vainglorious attempt to recreate
Europe in Asia. The result is an urban environmental disaster
that breeds mosquitoes today, a plague of them in the camps
has brought a virulent form of dengue fever, known as "break-back
fever". After several visits here, I was bitten and took
two months to recover. For the undernourished young children
in the camps, however, dengue often means death. It is a disease
of globalisation the mosquitoes domesticated as the camps grew
and as the sweatshop workers migrated from rural areas, having
been impoverished largely by World Bank programmes that promote
export cash crops over self-sustaining agriculture.
I could just squeeze along a passageway. It was filled with
people's clothes, hanging in plastic, like the backroom of a
dry cleaner's. The cleanliness and neatness of people's lives
is astonishing. They live in cell-like rooms, mostly without
windows or ventilation, in which eating and sleeping are tuned
to the ruthless rhythm of shiftwork in the factories. During
the monsoon season, the canals rise and flood, and more plastic
materialises to protect possessions: a precious tape player,
posters of the Spice Girls and Che Guevera. I almost tipped
over a frying pan of sizzling tofu. There are open paraffin
fires and children darting perilously close. I watched a family
of five perched on a patch of green, gazing at the sunset through
a polluted yellow haze tiny bats circled overhead in the distance
were the skeletal silhouettes of unfinished skyscrapers. It
was an apocalyptic glimpse of a "globalised" world
that Blair and Bush say is irreversible.
A code of conduct issued by the American company Gap says:
"Dormitory facilities [must] meet all applicable laws and
regulations related to health and safety, including fire safety,
sanitation, risk protection and electrical, mechanical and structural
safety." Because these dormitories are not on the factory
site, however, Gap and the companies they contract to make their
products are not liable. Consumers humming into Gap's numerous
stores in Britain might reflect on this non-liability as they
pay for smart shirts made by people who, on the wages they are
paid, cannot afford even the buttons, let alone a decent place
to live. Ten miles from the camps, along the toll road owned
b Suharto's daughter (he distributed the national power grid
among his children banks and vast tracts of forest were tossed
to generals and other cronies), lies downtown Jakarta. This
is the approved face of the global "model pupil".
Here you can find McDonald's with sugar-plump children on Ronald's
knee, and shopping malls with Versace leather coats at £2,000
and a showroom of Jaguar cars. One of the smartest hotels is
the Shangri-la. There are four wedding receptions here every
Sunday night. Last December, attended one that cost $120,000.
It was held in the grand ballroom, which is a version of the
ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria in New York, complete with chandeliers
and gold-leaf arches. The guests wore Armani, Versace and real
diamonds, and dropped cheques in a large box. There was an eight-tier
cake with the initials of the couple embossed in icing and the
holiday snaps of them on a world tour were projected cinema-size.
The guests included former cronies of the deposed Suharto and
the chief representative of the World Bank in Indonesia, Mark
Baird, a New Zealander, who looked troubled when I asked him
if he was enjoying himself. The World Bank says its mission
in Indonesia is "poverty reduction" and "reaching
out to the poor". The Bank set up the $86 million loan
that built the Shangri-la, which, shortly after the wedding
attended by Baird, sacked most of its workers when they went
on strike for decent pay.
The Gotham City skyline of downtown Jakarta is mostly banks,
many of them empty, and unfinished buildings. Before 1997, there
were more banks here than in any city on earth, but half of
them have gone bust since the "dynamic" economy collapsed
beneath the weight of its corruption. During Suharto's 30-year
dictatorship, a cataract of "global" capital poured
into Indonesia. The World Bank lavished more than $30 billion.
Some of this went to worthwhile programmes, such as literacy,
billions went elsewhere - $630 million was spent on a notorious
"transmigration" programme that allowed Suharto to
colonise the archipelago. Migrants from all over Indonesia were
sent to occupied East Timor, where they controlled the economy.
The recent blood-letting in Kalimantan (Borneo) was directed
against Madura islanders who had been shipped in to "develop"
the territory. In August 1997, an internal World Bank report,
written in Jakarta, confirmed arguably the greatest scandal
in the history of "development" - that "at least
20 to 30%" of the bank's loans "are diverted through
informal payments to GOI [Government of Indonesia] staff and
Seldom a month would pass when Suharto was not being congratulated
by western politicians for bringing "stability" to
the world's fourth most populous nation. British politicians
were especially appreciative, beginning with Harold Wilson's
foreign secretary, Michael Stewart, who in 1966 lauded the dictator's
"sensible economic policies". Margaret Thatcher called
Suharto "one of our very best and most valuable friends".
John Major's foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, championed the
Suharto regime's "Asian values" (the unctuous code
for lack of democracy and abuse of human rights). In 1997, Robin
Cook's first trip abroad included Indonesia, where he shook
hands warmly with Suharto - so warmly that a colour photograph
of the pair of them was chosen, bizarrely, to illustrate the
Foreign Office's report on human rights in the world.
They all knew, of course. Amnesty filled cabinets with evidence
of Suharto's grisly record. Milosevic and Saddam Hussein were
wimps by comparison. Shortly before Cook flew in, an exhaustive
investigation by the foreign affairs committee of the Australian
parliament concluded that Suharto's troops had caused the deaths
of "at least" 200,000 East Timorese, a third of the
population. In New Labour's first year in office, Britain was
the biggest weapons supplier to Indonesia.
This made sense - the arms trade is one of globalisation's
great successes an Indonesia, the model pupil, has played a
vital role. When the "global economy" (ie, unfettered
capitalism) took hold in Britain in the early 80s, Margaret
Thatcher set about dismantling much of Britain's manufacturing,
while restoring the country's arms industry to a world leader,
second only to the US. This was done with veiled subsidies,
of the kind that underwrite and rig the "free market"
in the west. Almost half of all research and development funds
went on "defence" and the export credit guarantee
department (ECGD) of the Department of Trade and Industry offered
"soft loans" to third world regimes shopping for hi-tech
sabres to rattle. That many had appalling human rights records
and internal conflicts and/or were on the verge of war with
a neighbour (India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel) was not a
barrier. Indonesia was a major recipient of these virtual giveaways.
During one 12-month period, almost pounds 1 billion of ECGD
money financed the sale of Hawk fighter-bombers to Indonesia.
The British taxpayer paid up the arms industry reaped its profits.
The Hawks were used to bomb villages in the mountains of East
Timor - and the Foreign Office lied about for years, until Cook
was forced to admit it. Since then, the Hawks have bombed the
West Papuans as they have struggled to free themselves.
I drove into the Krawang region of Java, where I met a rice
farmer calle Sarkom. It is fair to describe Sarkom as representative
of the 80% of humanity whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.
He is not among the poorest, he lives with his wife and three
daughters in a small, bamboo-walled house and there are tiles
on the floor. At the front, under the eave, is a bamboo bed,
a chair and a table where his wife, Cucuk, supplements their
income with sewing. Last year, the International Monetary Fund
offered the post-Suharto government a "rescue package"
of multi-million-dollar loans. The conditions included the elimination
of tariffs on staple foods. "Trade in all qualities of
rice has been opened to general importers and exporters,"
decreed the IMF's letter of intent. Fertilisers and pesticides
also lost their 70% subsidy. This means that farmers such as
Sarkom are likely to go bankrupt and their children forced to
find work in the cities. Moreover, it gives the green light
to the giant US foodgrains corporations to move into Indonesia.
The double standard embodied in these conditions is breathtaking.
Agribusiness in the west, especially in the US and Europe, has
been able to produce its infamous surpluses and develop its
export power only because of high tariff walls and massive domestic
subsidies. The result has been the soaring power of the west
over humanity's staples. The chief executive of the Cargill
Corporation, which dominates the world trade in foodgrains,
once boasted, "When we get up from the breakfast table
each morning, much of what we have eaten - cereals, bread, coffee,
sugar and so on - has passed through the hands of my company."
Cargill's goal is to double in size every five to seven years.
This is known as "free trade". "I went to prison
for 14 years so that this would not happen," said Sarkom.
"All my friends, those who were not killed, went to prison
so that the power of big money would not take us over. I don't
care what they call it now - global this or that. It's the same
force, the same threat to our lives."
That remark refers to a chapter in Indonesia's recent past
that western politicians and businessmen would prefer to forget,
although they have been among the chief beneficiaries. Sarkom
was one of tens of thousands imprisoned when General Suharto
seized power in Indonesia in 1965-66 - the "year of living
dangerously" - deposing the nationalist president Sukarno,
who had led Indonesia since the end of Dutch colonial rule.
Scholars now estimate that as many as a million people died
in a pogrom that was directed primarily at Indonesia's communist
party, the PKI. Sarkom was 19 when he was taken away. He is
trying to write down in an exercise book his memories of the
horrors he experienced. He was for many years on Buru island,
where thousands were dumped, at first without housing, food
and water. On the day I went to see him, he had gathered a group
of friends for me to meet, men in their 60s and 70s, who had
also been tapols - political prisoners released since the fall
of Suharto in 1998. Two were teachers, one a civil servant,
another a member of parliament. One man was imprisoned because
he refused to vote for Suharto's front party, Golkar. Several
were PKI members. Adon Sutrisna, a teacher, told me, "We
are the people, the nation, that the world forgot. If you know
the truth about what happened in Indonesia, you can understand
clearly where the world is being led today." A few miles
from Sarkom's farm is a hump of earth overgrown with mustard
flowers. It is a mass grave, but it has no markings - 35 years
after the murders, the families of the victims, believed to
be a dozen, are still too frightened to place a headstone. However,
in the post-Suharto era, many Indonesians are slowly overcoming
th fear that has blighted a generation throughout the countryside,
families have begun to excavate the remains of their loved ones.
They are furtive figures of the night, occasionally glimpsed
on the rim of a paddy or a riverbank. The older witnesses recall
rivers "jammed with bodies like logs" in village after
village, young men were slaughtered for no reason, their murder
marked by rows of severed penises.
I have a friend in Jakarta whose name is Roy. Others call him
Daniel. These are just two of many aliases that have helped
keep him alive since 1965. He is one of a group of remarkable
revolutionaries who went underground during the long years of
Suharto's repression - the years when the World Bank was tutoring
its "model pupil" - emerging at critical moments to
lead spears of a clandestine opposition movement. On several
occasions, this led to his arrest and torture. "I survived
because they never knew it was me," he said. "Once,
a torturer yelled at me, 'Tell us where Daniel is!' " In
1998, he helped bring on to the streets the students whose courageous
confrontations with troops usin British-supplied anti-riot vehicles
played a critical role in finally bringing down the dictator.
Roy took me back to his primary school where, for him, the
nightmare of Suharto's rule began. As we sat in an empty classroom,
he recalled the day in October 1965 when he watched a gang burst
in, drag the headmaster into the playground, and beat him to
death. "He was a wonderful man: gentle and kind,"
Roy said. "He would sing to the class, and read to me.
He was the person that I, as a boy, looked up to . . . I can
hear his screams now, but for a long time, years in fact, all
I could remember was running from the classroom, and running
and running through the streets, not stopping. When they found
me that evening, I was dumbstruck. For a whole year I couldn't
The headmaster was suspected of being a communist, and his
murder that day was typical of the systematic executions of
teachers, students, civil servants, peasant farmers. "In
terms of the numbers killed," reported the Central Intelligence
Agency, "the massacres rank as one of the worst mass murders
of the 20th century." The historian Gabriel Kolko wrote
that "the 'final solution' to the communist problem in
Indonesia ranks as a crime of the same type as the Nazis perpetrated".
According to the Asia specialist Peter Dale Scott, western politicians,
diplomats, journalists and scholars, some with prominent western
intelligence connections, propagated the myth that Suharto and
the military had saved the nation's honour from an attempted
coup by the Indonesian communist party, the PKI. Until then,
Sukarno had relied on the communists as a counterweight to the
army. When six army generals were murdered on September 30,
1965, Suharto blamed the PKI. Since the dictator's fall in 1998,
witnesses have spoken for the first time and documents have
come to light strongly suggesting that Suharto, who had military
control of Jakarta, opportunistically exploited an internecine
struggle within the army in order to seize power.
What is also no longer in doubt is the collaboration of western
governments and the subsequent role of western big business.
Indeed, globalisation in Asia was conceived in this bloodbath.
For Britain, the goal at the time was to protect its post-colonial
interests in Malaysia, then threatened by "confrontation"
with an "unstable" Sukarno - a 1964 Foreign Office
file called for the "defence" of western interests
in Southeast Asia, "a major producer of essential commodities.
The region produces nearly 85% of the world's natural rubber,
over 45% of the tin, 65% of the copra and 23% of the chromium
ore." Of Indonesia, Richard Nixon wrote, "With its
100 million people and its 300-mile arc of islands containing
the region's richest hoard of natural resources, Indonesia is
the greatest prize in Southeast Asia."
Sukarno was a populist as well as a nationalist, the founder
of modern Indonesia and of the nonaligned movement of developing
countries, which he hoped would forge a genuine "third
way" between the spheres of the two superpowers. He could
be a democrat and a demagogue. He encouraged mass trade unions
and peasant, women's and cultural movements. Between 1959 and
1965, more than 15 million joined political parties or affiliated
mass organisations that were encouragedto challenge British
and US influence in the region. With three million members,
the PKI was the largest communist party in the world outside
the Soviet Union and China. According to the Australian historian
Harold Crouch, "the PKI had won widespread support not
as a revolutionary party but as an organisation defending the
interests of the poor within the existing system". It was
this popularity, rather than any armed insurgency, that alarmed
the Americans. Indonesia, like Vietnam to the north, could "go
In 1990, the American investigative journalist Kathy Kadane
revealed the extent of secret US collaboration in the massacres
of 1965/66 that toppled Sukarno and brought to power Suharto,
who at the time was little known outside western intelligence
circles. In a series of interviews with former US officials,
she concluded, "They systematically compiled comprehensive
lists of communist operatives. As many as 5,000 names were furnished
to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off
the names of those who had been killed or captured."
In 1966, the US ambassador in Jakarta assured Suharto that
the "US is generally sympathetic with and admiring of what
the army is doing". The British ambassador, Sir Andrew
Gilchrist, reported to the Foreign Office: "I have never
concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia
would be an essential preliminary to effective change."
Having already armed and equipped much of the army, Washington
secretly supplied Suharto's troops with a field communications
network. Flown in at night by US Air Force planes from the Philippines,
this was state-of-the-art equipment, whose high frequencies
were known to the CIA and the National Security Agency. Not
only did this technology allow Suharto's generals to coordinate
the killings, it also meant that the highest echelons of the
US administration were listening in. Suharto was able to seal
off large areas of the country. Archive film of people being
herded into trucks and driven away exists but that is all. To
my knowledge, the fuzzy photograph published here is the only
pictorial record of the actual killings in this Asian holocaust.
It ought to be salutary for journalists these days to heed
the important role that western propaganda played then, as it
does now. British intelligence manipulated the press so expertly
that Norman Reddaway, head of the Foreign Office's Information
Research Department (IRD), boasted to Ambassador Gilchrist,
in a letter marked "secret and personal", that the
spin he and his colleagues had orchestrated - that Sukarno's
continued rule would lead to a communist takeover - "went
all over the world and back again". He describes an experienced
Fleet Street journalist agreeing "to give your angle on
events in his article . . . ie, that this was a kid-glove coup
without butchery". Roland Challis, who was the BBC's Southeast
Asia correspondent at the time, believes that the cover-up of
the massacres was a triumph for western propaganda. "My
British sources purported not to know what was going on,"
he told me, "but they knew what the American plan was.
There were bodies being washed up on the lawns of the British
consulate in Surabayo, and British warships escorted a ship
full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits, so that
they could take part in this terrible holocaust. It was only
much later that we learned the American embassy was supplying
names and ticking them off as they were killed. There was a
deal, you see. In establishing the Suharto regime, the involvement
of the IMF and the World Bank was part of it. Sukarno had kicked
them out now Suharto would bring them back. That was the deal."
With an ailing Sukarno powerless and Suharto about to appoint
himself president, the US press reported the Washington-backed
coup not as a great human catastrophe but in terms of the new
economic advantages. The military takeover, notwithstanding
the massacres, was described by Time magazine as "The West's
Best News in Asia". A headline in US News and World Report
read: "Indonesia: Hope . . . where there was once none."
The renowned New York Times columnist James Reston celebrated
"A gleam of light in Asia" and wrote a kid-glove version
he had clearly been given. The Australian prime minister, Harold
Holt, who was visiting the US, offered a striking example of
his sense of humour: "With 500,000 to a million communist
sympathisers knocked off," he said, "I think it's
safe to assume a reorientation has taken place."
Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer at the time,
whom I first interviewed almost 20 years ago, described the
ousting of Sukarno in Indonesia as a "model operation"
for the US-run coup that got rid of Salvador Allende in Chile
seven years later. "The CIA forged a document purporting
to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders,"
he wrote, "[just like] what happened in Indonesia in 1965."
He says the Indonesian massacres were also the model for Operation
Phoenix in Vietnam, where US-directed death squads assassinated
up to 50,000 people.
In November 1967, following the capture of the "greatest
prize", the booty was handed out. The Time-Life Corporation
sponsored an extraordinary conference in Geneva which, in the
course of a week, designed the corporate takeover of Indonesia.
|It was attended by the most important businessmen in the
world, the likes of David Rockefeller, and all the giants
of western capitalism were represented. They included the
major oil companies and banks, General Motors, Imperial
Chemical Industries, British Leyland, British-American Tobacco,
American Express, Siemens, Goodyear, the International Paper
Corporation, US Steel.
Across the table were Suharto's men, whom Rockefeller called
"Indonesia's top economic team". Several were economists
trained at the University of California in Berkeley. All sang
for their supper, offering the principal selling points of their
country and their people: "Abundance of cheap labour .
. . a treasure house of resources . . . a captive market."
Recently, I asked one of them, Dr Emile Salim, if anyone at
the conference had even mentioned that a million people had
died in bringing this new business-friendly government to power.
"No, that was not on the agenda," he replied. "I
didn't know about it till later. Remember, we didn't have television
and the telephones were not working well."
The Indonesian economy was carved up, sector by sector, at
the conference. In one room, forests in another, minerals. The
Freeport Company got a mountain of copper in West Papua (Henry
Kissinger is currently on the board). A US/European consortium
got West Papua's nickel. The giant Alcoa company got the biggest
slice of Indonesia's bauxite. A group of US, Japanese and French
got thetropical forests of Sumatra, West Papua and Kalimantan.
A Foreign Investment Law, hurried on to the statutes by Suharto,
made this plunder tax-free for at least five years. Real, and
secret, control of the Indonesian economy passed to the IMF
and the World Bank through the Inter-Governmental Group on Indonesia
(IGGI), whose principal members were the US, Canada, Europe
and Australia. Under Sukarno, Indonesia had few debts. Now the
really big loans rolled in, often straight into pockets, as
the treasurehouse of resources rolled out. Shortly before the
Asian financial crash in 1997, the IGGI godfathers congratulated
their favourite mass murderer for having "created a miracle
© copyright John Pilger.