With Friends Like These

Kissinger does Indonesia

by Terry J. Allen

In These Times, April 2000


Asked why he quit writing satirical songs, Tom Lehrer replied that after Henry Kissinger won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, there was nothing left to satirize. Lehrer may have underestimated Dr. K's spirited sense of irony.

This February, the former U.S. secretary of state accepted Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid's invitation to become an unpaid adviser to the Indonesian government. Kissinger accepted "out of friendship for the Indonesian people and the importance I attach to the Indonesian nation."

Twenty-five years earlier, on December 6, 1975, Kissinger-along with President Gerald Ford-paid another friendly visit to Jakarta. The next day, as Air Force One cleared Indonesian air space, President Suharto launched some 10,000 troops on a full-scale attack of East Timor. The goal was to conquer and annex the fledgling nation, which had just been granted independence by Portugal. Kissinger now calls the atrocities that accompanied and followed the invasion-200,000 dead-"regrettable."

To this day, Kissinger maintains that the timing of his 1975 Jakarta visit was a mere coincidence and the United States had no role in the invasion. But a partially declassified State Department document of the December 6 meeting, minutes of a December 18 Washington meeting with his top advisers and other documents have been enough to convince most historians that the United States was complicit in planning, arming and supporting the invasion.

As a recent editorial in the Asian Times noted, "Kissinger is an accomplished liar in the service of his nation and his personal image' Not to mention his bank account. The strength of his fellowship for the Indonesian people is at least rivaled by that of his financial ties to the world's largest gold mine, located in the remote province of Irian Jaya (now called West Papua). Kissinger sits on the board of New Orleans-based Freeport McMoRan Gold and Copper, the majority shareholder in the massive mining operation, which also happens to be Indonesia's biggest taxpayer. Friends and family of Suharto, who was ousted in 1998, still hold much of the minority stake in the mine.

In another "coincidence," Kissinger's trip to Jakarta came at a time of rising Indonesian dissatisfaction with the mining giant and the terms of its operating contract, which was negotiated during the height of Indonesian cronyism and U.S. dependence. Recently, after several Indonesian legislators visited the company's 10,000-square-mile mining operation, Jakarta rejected a glowing environmental impact statement prepared by a firm hired by Freeport.

The government indicated it might review Freeport's contract to operate in Indonesia. But settling into his new role of adviser, Kissinger proffered his first words of wisdom. Chiding Jakarta for failing to guarantee strict adherence to working contracts signed in the past, he cautioned that "it is in the interests of Indonesia" to honor the contract. "Investors also expect an assurance in law enforcement," Kissinger reportedly reminded Yasril Ananta Baharuddinn, chairman of the House of Representative's defense commission.

Law enforcement is certainly what Freeport investors got in West Papua in spades ... and clubs. Local and international human rights groups have linked Freeport with persistent human rights violations. The Free Papua Movement, like its counterpart in East Timor, has long sought independence from Jakarta. During Suharto's 32-year reign, the military, armed with U.S. equipment, burned and strafed villages in an unsuccessful scorched earth campaign to eradicate a tiny band of ill-equipped rebels.

The army reportedly has used Freeport company buses to haul away protesters, and West Papuans have been imprisoned in Freeport chipping containers. Freeport Vice President Paul Murphy vouched for the mine's innocence: Company equipment, he said, was commandeered by the military. "For years Papuans saw the Indonesian military coming in Freeport helicopters, boats, trucks and Jeeps," a U.S. missionary told Time magazine. "So it's hard for them to see the difference."

The mining company also has touted its "exemplary" environmental practices. However, both international and local organizations have accused Freeport of massive pollution. West Papua's Environmental Impact Management Agency says that the operation has contaminated 514 square miles. Freeport officials insist that the devastated area is only 51 square miles and will soon blossom forth with bananas and pineapples.

While admitting that it dumps 220,000 tons of gravel tailings every day directly into the murky Aghawagon River, Freeport insists ,~ the water is safe and that the local hunter gatherers have failed to provide scientific studies to back up their claims that fish and shellfish-and the people who eat them-are being poisoned by metal from the tailings. Nor have they proven that Freeport's huge mountains of stored tailings may be leeching into the groundwater.

While all agree that the mining operation has brought with it many of the accoutrements of 20th century progress, some of the beneficiaries are less than grateful. They charge that economic change, including patterns of land use and ownership, have undermined indigenous cultures and spawned an epidemic of alcoholism.

All this unrest no doubt makes Kissinger and fellow Freeport board members nervous. In his new role of adviser, the former secretary of state promised to hold regular phone discussions with senior government ministers and to visit Jakarta annually. Accepting his appointment and calling himself "a patriotic American," Kissinger said "the role of Freeport in Indonesia must be a strictly commercial one and must be to the mutual benefit of Indonesia and Freeport."

But he promised not to interfere in Indonesian politics (wink, wink).

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