Saturday, January 12, 2008

Remembering Soeharto / Suharto

With this brutal, thieving tyrant on his death bed I have been waiting for Australian commentators to step forward, but so far all is silence. It is hard for Australians to forget that the world’s fourth most populous nation is just hours from our northern coast.

Not that Indonesians need be feared as people, of course, but government relationships have always been circumspect, yielding too often to strategic rather than ethical issues.

The Howard government tried to block the release of vital intelligence reports showing that the Indonesian military regime ordered the execution of five Australian-based newsmen in the lead up to the 1975 invasion of East Timor. Not that it was news of course, but just a measure of the denial of successive administrations.

The record

Given the deafening silence I am happy to look at the record of the dying despot. I make no apology for my residual anger, nor the arguable numbers attributed to his secretive regime.

Soeharto seized the Indonesian presidency the in 1966, ushering in an era of repression, brutality and corruption that would last for the next three decades. Moves to prosecute the despot were dropped as his health grew worse.

The Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) protested the back off, its spokesman Haris Azhar saying: "Soeharto is sick, so is society. Besides, the government has not responded to the fate of Soeharto`s victims."

Former President Abdurrahman Wahid better known as Gus Dur also said, although Soeharto had made mistakes during his years in power, he had also contributed many great services to the state and nation. Like?

Soeharto amassed vast wealth for himself and his family during 32 years in power. estimated the fortune at $45bn - enough to repay Indonesia's debts to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Soeharto's eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, built up a fortune as head of a leading toll-road company. Nicknamed Tutut for liking the sound of cars honking on toll roads built by one of her 55 companies, she also served as minister for social welfare in her father's government.

Second son Bambang Trihatmodjo, regarded as the clan's most capable entrepreneur, made his money as head of the conglomerate Bimantara Citra, with interests in television, cars, property, construction, hotels and telecommunications.

Youngest son, known as Tommy, ran Indonesia's controversial national car project, the Timor, for which he was awarded tax and tariff breaks that attracted criticism from other car manufacturers. He also held the lucrative monopoly on cloves, used in the country's popular kretek cigarettes.

During the 1965, CIA backed military coup, General Soeharto massacred over 1 million suspected opponents. Over 300,000 were arrested, many were only released after his 30 year-rule.

In 1975, Soeharto military invaded East Timor, claiming to restore order to prevent Communists to come to power over there. Human Rights organizations say that during the invasion of East Timor, Soeharto killed more than 100,000 men, women and children.

The list goes on, in Aceh the destruction of life and culture under Soeharto is still being uncovered, not helped of course by the tsunami destruction.

Papua (West) New Guinea still holds secrets from the Soeharto years, and is still dealt with under the same heavy hand.

Ethnic and cultural atrocities abound, often made difficult to really calculate because of the policy of transmigration, moving whole cultural communities to other regions, wiping out the culture replaced and to a degree the one relocated.

Just going back over this material, digging out what the memory has lost, is deeply troubling. Dead or not Soeharto and his corrupt family must be made fully accountable. Though I doubt any of the countries, US and Australia included, will have the will to do the right thing when it reflect previous failures.


abi said...

But he did get rid of the left-leaning Sukarno. So in the eyes of America, at least, Suharto was a good guy, and the atrocities were just glitches in the noble road towards corporatism.

Enigma4ever said...

of Watergate Summer here...

Well, thank you for writing a post on this..I was kind of wondering when some REAL posts would be written on this man..when you wrote me about him I was going to say something rude, but decided not I don't always want to be the Rude American....

( only sometimes)

Even when his illness was announced, I have heard little said...just his illness mentioned...( I do have friends far away that they are glad that he is no longer amoung the living....)

great post...

Cartledge said...

abi, I resisted mentioning Sukarno and Megawatti. The communism BS seemed to be the answer to impediment to US domination.

Enigma I had no media leads on this, but I know how I feel about it. Now I hear the Indon Govt claims the can prosecute the corruption in the courts (hahaha) but there is no mention of relief for the families and communities of those murdered by the regime.

TomCat said...

Hi Cartledge. First, thanks for your visits and comments at Politics Plus. This article is most interesting. It saddens me that my government (US) has overthrown more democratically elected governments and replaced them with totalitarian dictators than any other country in world history. We owe the world many apologies, and that for Suharto is just one of them.

Cartledge said...

Thanks Tom, after a year of shrinking into the Australian election scene I’m rebuilding US links for the next great battle. Always a delight to find a blog like yours.
You know, I’m just as angry with successive ‘toady’ Australian governments. The Aust media has been at the Indonesian issues for years, like a dog with a bone, but the political masters have still managed to keep it a non-issue.
I don’t want this shameful past buried with Suharto.