Monday, October 25, 2010

Suharto's No Hero

Three short years after his death, Indonesia's dictator Suharto has been nominated to a shortlist to be designated a "National Hero." The final decision rests with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. and any honors will likely be announced on November 10, Heroes’ Day. President Obama is scheduled to visit Indonesia around that date.

After Suharto died in January 2008, ETAN wrote:
Indonesia's former dictator General Suharto has died in bed and not in jail, escaping justice for his numerous crimes in East Timor and throughout the Indonesian archipelago. One of the worst mass murderers of the 20th century, his death tolls still shock...
We cannot forget that the United States government consistently supported Suharto and his regime. As the corpses piled up after his coup and darkness descended on Indonesia, his cheerleaders in the U.S. welcomed the "gleam of light in Asia." In the pursuit of realpolitik, U.S. administration after administration, fully aware of his many crimes, provided military assistance and hardware, training and equipping Suharto's killers. The Indonesian dictator sought and received U.S. approval before he launched his invasion of East Timor; ninety percent of the weapons used in this illegal attack came from the U.S.  
Indonesia's human rights, anti-corruption and other activists are opposed. Agence France Presse quotes human rights activist Raharjo Waluyo Jati,
"He caused so much suffering. So many activists were arrested, detained, punished and some even killed without trial during his rule. All the mess Indonesia is in now, with problems of corruption and human rights violations, were his doing. He built this chaos."
We hope Indonesian authorities do not take their clue from the appalling U.S.'s condolence statement on Suharto's death by now departed Ambassador Cameron Hume. He observed that while "there may be some controversy over his legacy" Suharto oversaw "a period during which Indonesia achieved remarkable economic and social development." 

At the time, we expressed our dismay that the "condolence statement on behalf of the U.S. government fails to even acknowledge the extraordinary crimes of this brutal and corrupt dictator" or the U.S. role in arming and supporting the regime.

President Obama once understood this. In his book The Audacity of Hope,  Obama wrote that "for the past sixty years the fate of [Indonesia] has been directly tied to U.S. foreign policy," a policy which included "the tolerance and occasional encouragement of tyranny, corruption, and environmental degradation when it served our interests." In Dreams from My Father, he described Suharto's seizure of power: "The death toll was anybody's guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe, half a million. Even the smart guys at the [CIA] had lost count." These "smart guys" had, of course, encouraged and assisted in the coup. 

Whether or not the corrupt or brutal dictator receives the posthumous honor, we urge President Obama to apologize to the people of Indonesia and East Timor for the U.S. role in their suffering during the Suharto years and to offer his condolences to Suharto's many victims throughout the archipelago.

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