Friday, February 27, 2009

Secret American Empire - Ch.8

Tsunami Profiteering

December 26, 2004, was a black day. Not only for the immediate victims of the terrible tsunami, but also for all of us who belive in compassion, charity, and goodwill to our fellow inhabitants of this planet. The tragic story behind the shameless exploitation began several months before that natural disaster struck.

Indonesia selected another military man as president in September 2004. Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, according to The New York Times, “moved swiftly up the ranks during the authoritarian rule of Gen. Suharto...”

he had been chosen for military training at Fort Benning, Georga, in 1976, and completed two tours in the United States under the International Military Education and Training Program. After the tsunami, he became the perfect leader to shatter the independence movement in Aceh province.

Like many of the local movements throughout the archipelago, the one in Aceh was driven by a desire to gain independence from a government that was viewed as economically exploitative and brutally repressive. While their environment and culture suffered at the hands of foreign corporations, the people of Aceh received few benefits. One of Indonesia's largest resource projects, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility, is located in Aceh, yet only a tiny percentage of the LNG profits are directed to local schools, hospitals, and other investments that would help those most adversely impacted by the venture.

Resource-rich Aceh has been yearning for independence from Indonesia for five decades.” according to Melissa Rossi, an award-winning journalist who has written for Newsweek, Newsday (New York), Esquire, George, MSNBC, and The New York Observer, and who occasionally sends me personal e-mails from global hot spots. “Oil wells line the coasts, which explains why the Indonesian government is clamped onto Aceh like a leach.” Although few records were released to the public, an estimated ten to fifteen thousand people were killed during thirty years of fighting in the province before the tsunami swept out of the ocean and across the land.

Secret talks between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM, in Indonesian, for Gerakan Aceh Merdeka) began in 2004. GAM appeared to have gained a bargaining position that would allow the people of Aceh to share some of the profits generated from oil, gas, and other local resources; a degree of local self-rule, and other rights demanded for decades. However, the tsunami changed all that.

Because GAM was a local organization, centered in the area destroyed by the giant waves, it was seriously impaired by the chaotic aftermath. Some of its key people died or suffered the loss of family members. Its communications and transportation systems were devastated. It redirected its activities away from the resistance and bargaining processes and into caring for tsunami victims and managing recovery efforts.

The government, on the other hand, moved quickly to take advantage of the pandemonium. Fresh troops were flown in from Java and other unaffected areas of Indonesia; within months they would be bolstered by US military personnel and mercenaries, like Neil, the ex-CIA operative who headed up a team that guarded US contractors. Although the armed forces took command under the pretext of relieving disaster victims, their unspoken goals included quashing GAM.

The Bush administration wasted no time. In the month after the tsunami, January 2005, Washington reversed the 1999 policy implemented by Clinton that had severed ties with Indonesia's repressive military. The White House dispatched $1 million worth of military equipment to Jakarta. The New York Times reported on February 7, 2005: “Washington is seizing on an opportunity that came after the tsunami... Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has moved to strengthen American training of Indonesian officers considerably... In Aceh, the Indonesian Army, which has been fighting a separatist rebellion for 30 years, has been on full display since the tsunami... The army's uppermost concern appears to be to keep a stranglehold on the armed forces of the Free Aceh Movement.” In November 2005, Washington lifted the arms embargo and resumed full relations with the Indonesian military.

Exhausted by their efforts to recover from the disaster and help local communities rebuild, and faced with overwhelming pressure from the Indonesian army and its US supporters, GAM signed a very one-sided peace treaty with the government. Once again, the corporatocracy was – and is – the big winner. The tsunami virtually assured that the exploitation of Aceh will continue unabated.

A cogent example of the way natural disasters are exploited by the corporatocracy is offered by Aceh's Leuser Ecosystem. For three decades, local resistance had kept lumber and oil companies out of one of the world's richest forests. Now that GAM has been crushed, the region is reopened to exploitation.

Mike Griffiths, a former oil company executive, left his lucrative job and devoted himself to ecological conservation in the mid-1980s. He helped found the Leuser International Foundation in 1994. he guided NPR's Radio Expeditions program to Aceh in 2006. Radio Expedition's host, Michael Sullivan, reported, “With peace, the pressure on the forest is likely to increase, and the biggest threat – even more than logging of valuable tropical hardwoods and oil palm plantations – is roads.” The radio program went on to explain that immediately following the tsunami, US engineering and construction companies lobbied the World Bank and other “aid” agencies for money to construct these roads, which will primarily serve the lumber and oil industries. Mike Griffiths told NPR: “If you loose the Leuser Ecosystem, you don't only lose the last real chance for the tiger, the orangutan, for the elephant and for the rhino; you lose the basic foundations for the welfare for four million people – that is how many rely on this pace for water, flood protection and erosion protection.”

The relationship between Indonesian ruling elites, the US government, and international corporations is indicative of methods employed by the corporatocracy around the world during the post-World War II era. Empire building has been conducted largely in secret. Since democracy assumes an informed electorate, these methods pose a direct threat to America's most coveted ideal. They also serve as a disturbing commentary on the results of my work and that of so many “development experts.”

The insidious nature of our work was highlighted for me personally by three separate incidents. They were exposed after the 2004 tsunami, although the roots of each reached back into my earlier career.

- pages 50-53, The Secret History of the American Empire

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