Letters to the Editor
Readers write about President Suharto's infamous legacy.
Remembering Suharto's controversial reign
Regarding the Jan. 28 article, "Indonesia's Suharto: a complex legacy": The article correctly contends that the United States was "a reliable ally" of the now-deceased dictator. But it misrepresents the nature of United States support for President Suharto.
The US not only had close military ties to Indonesia in the 1970s and '80s, but in the 1960s and '90s as well, helping Suharto seize power through a coup that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. The article is incorrect in saying that Washington stopped military assistance to Jakarta after a 1991 massacre in East Timor. The cutoff involved only International Military Education and Training funds, a ban the Clinton administration sidestepped by providing training to Suharto's brutal military in Indonesia, rather than in this country. Moreover, the administration sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weaponry to Indonesia and engaged in joint military maneuvers through the end of Suharto's reign.
Regarding Indonesia's illegal invasion and occupation of East Timor, Washington was not simply "aware of Suharto's plans" of aggression. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, while meeting with Suharto the previous day, gave the authorization for the Dec. 7, 1975 invasion – as declassified documents demonstrate. From then until the occupation's end in late 1999, Washington provided billions of dollars in economic aid and substantial diplomatic cover to Jakarta – in addition to all sorts of military assistance.
Regarding the recent article on Suharto: The Indonesian dictator's death may allow him to escape justice for his corruption and many human rights violations, but those who carried out his orders in committing massacre, torture, and theft must not get off so easily.
The Indonesian military remains largely unaccountable for past and current human rights violations, and efforts at reform have stalled in recent years.
Suharto's military was the key instrument of his power, so Congress's decision to cut defense aid to Indonesia during the '90s was essential in forcing Suharto from power.
Congress should once again use its available leverage and restrict assistance to Indonesia until its military becomes an accountable institution with respect for human rights. Such a change would certainly help in neutralizing Suharto's corrosive legacy.
In response to the recent article chronicling Suharto's rule: The premise that Suharto's legacy was a "complex" one is ridiculous. He was clearly one of the worst mass murderers of the last century, and his only economic legacy was one of plunder and pillaging.
Indonesia's economy today is a mess because of his legacy – rather than promote sustainable development, he amassed huge foreign debt and gave away Indonesia's natural wealth to corporations in exchange for political and military support from the US and other allies.
Anyone who honestly believes that Suharto established functioning health and education systems should be so brave as to have surgery performed in one of the clinics he established, or to send their children to one of his schools. Perhaps then they will stop being so apologetic.
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