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
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
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,
Henry Kissinger page