How bad is the crime in Indonesia

Built on blood

With its snow-white beaches, the turquoise-blue ocean and palm-lined villages, the coast of Bali is a paradise holiday destination. What very few people who loll on beach loungers sipping cocktails know to this day: The island in eastern Indonesia was the scene of one of the most brutal crimes of the 20th century. Between 1965 and 1966, around a million people were killed in the country, often with axes and clubs. The anti-communist mass murder supported by the US government receives little attention today - because it was so "successful". Because the planned annihilation of unarmed leftists should inspire further coups and massacres around the world and bring Washington so much closer to a triumph in the Cold War. The American journalist Vincent Bevins traces this almost forgotten chapter in his great book "The Jakarta Method", which has so far only been published in English.

The third largest CP in the world

In the 1950s, the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was a major force in the Southeast Asian island nation, where anti-colonial reformer Sukarno had been president since independence in 1945. The PKI had a pragmatic relationship with its government. On the one hand it supported many initiatives of the "left-wing Third World nationalists", on the other hand it pursued an independent policy. The party grew rapidly at the end of the 1950s because it was able to fight for many improvements for the poor rural population, was tightly organized and was considered to be little corrupt. In 1965 the party had more than three million members, making it the third largest communist party after its counterparts in the USSR and China.

The PKI, but also the left-wing nationalist Sukarno, were a provocation for the USA. Since the Second World War, Washington's foreign policy has increasingly relied on aggressive interventionism. The CIA orchestrated coups in Guatemala and Iran - and even exerted influence in European countries such as Italy and France to push back the popular communist parties. Indonesia, however, played a very special role: the fourth largest country in the world could not remain in left hands. A plan was needed.

In 1958, a first coup attempt supported by the CIA failed. Then there was a change of strategy: The USA supported the establishment of an anti-communist front in the military. Conspiracy stories circulated in the media had their effect: within a short time a completely new, fanatical anti-communism flared up in the country.

In 1965 the PKI was banned, President Sukarno was de facto disempowered and in 1966 General Suharto was installed, who must be considered a US vassal. The mass killings began in October 1965. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed people were suddenly outlawed. Your "crime": Alleged or actual membership in or support of the PKI. Around a million innocent people were murdered within six months, and millions more were interned in concentration camps, tortured and condemned to forced labor. The massacres were carried out by various groups - Islamic militias, paramilitaries - under the eyes of the inactive, often actively involved, official security organs. The killing gained such dynamism that ordinary people also took part. The US not only looked on benevolently. The CIA supplied the Indonesian services with lists of suspects, helped with the procurement of weapons and provided means of communication.

Jakarta was almost everywhere

Bevins calls the events in Indonesia a "Tsumani who reached every corner of the earth": In other regions, too, left and progressive governments were overthrown with the help of the CIA and right-wing generals were installed in their place. In addition to Indonesia, Brazil in particular played an important role for Washington. With the help of the USA, the military put the left-wing nationalist João Goulart out of office in 1964. The anti-communist legend that served as a justification is similar to the stories that were to be started in Indonesia just a year later. After each coup, the two countries were in close ties; Brazilian and Indonesian officers were trained together in US bases. The Brazilian junta explicitly spoke internally of an "Operation Jakarta", of the physical annihilation of communism in the country. The fact that this was ultimately not implemented in Brazil with the same vehemence as Indonesia is due to internal disputes about direction.

For the USA, because of their size and geostrategic location, Indonesia and Brazil were the most important bridgeheads in an anti-communist alliance in the “Third World”. But what Bevins calls the "Jakarta Method" was soon considered elsewhere as well. There wasn't a single central plan, but right-wing dictatorships from South Korea to Sudan worked closely together, learned from each other - and repeatedly referred to the horror in Indonesia. Through years of research, Bevins, who among other things worked for a long time as Brazil correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, succeeds in proving that there were plans for downright anti-communist extermination programs under the aegis of Washington in at least 22 countries - and one in at least eleven of these Plans referred directly to the Indonesian carnage.

In Latin America in particular, tens of thousands of leftists, reformists and indigenous peoples were persecuted, murdered and driven into exile with the help of the USA. Fanatical anti-communism also served as ideological brackets here. In 1966, according to Bevin's research, the tactic of the now proverbial "enforced disappearance" was imported from Indonesia to Guatemala, where it played an important role in state terror. In Chile, right-wing terrorist groups sprayed the word "Jakarta" as a threat on houses where leftists lived. There, too, the regime called its plan for the systematic murder of the followers of Salvador Allende, who was pushed away in 1973, "Operation Jakarta" - just as generals of the Argentine coup government after 1976 saw the mass murder in Southeast Asia as a model.

Allende, Goulart and Sukarno were popular reformers who tried to implement changes in a democratic way. The PKI in Indonesia was not about to seize power by force either, but was threatening to the USA because it was popular, well organized and influential. The then Vice-President Richard Nixon once openly admitted that democratic processes should be rejected in Indonesia because "the communists are unlikely to be beaten in an election."

These coups usually hit their victims suddenly and unprepared. And they had devastating consequences: For many, they were conclusive proof that unarmed, democratic policies were doomed to failure under US hegemony. Many leftists took up arms to prevent a "second Jakarta". The newly formed guerrilla movements fueled right-wing state terror.

The Eurocentric conscience

The brutal coups and mass murders in the Global South also set the parameters of the current global world order. In many places they froze social development, gave the USA geostrategic advantages over the USSR and cemented capitalist relations. The land reform sought by the Brazilian reformer Goulart was abruptly put on hold with the coup - and has not yet been implemented. Jair Bolsonaro, the largest country in Latin America, is ruled today by a notorious anti-communist and ex-military who names the torturers of the dictatorship as role models and who openly calls for the execution of the left. With the coup in Chile, all hopes of a reduction in excessive inequality were buried and the country was trimmed as a kind of laboratory of global neoliberalism on a radical market course. The rejection of this model has led to mass protests to this day.

Hundreds of US companies settled in Indonesia, the scene of the most brutal of these massacres, after the fall of Sukarno. Just a few days after the coup, the Freeport mining company penetrated the jungles of western New Guinea. Today, the Grasberg Mine is the largest gold mine in the world. And anti-communism has been a state doctrine since those dark days between 1965 and 1966, almost a national religion. The massacre was not dealt with. The victims and their families were neither rehabilitated nor compensated. There was never an apology.

Bevins comes to a ruthless judgment: Our western capitalist world order is built on blood. And the fact that hardly anyone in the West is touched by this trail of blood, while every round anniversary of the almost simultaneous suppression of the Prague Spring is duly celebrated, shows how Eurocentric the liberal conscience ticks.

Vincent Bevins: The Jakarta Method. Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World. Public Affairs, 285 pp. Hardcover, $ 19.90 plus shipping.

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