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A labor rights perspective and a call to action
posted September 10, 1999

In this alert:
Stop the massacre: a labor rights perspective
Call to action
Speakers available: eyewitness accounts
Contact information form

by Trim Bissell, national coordinator, Campaign for Labor Rights

The massacre now taking place in East Timor - orchestrated by the Indonesian
military and carried out by itself and the nominally distinct paramilitaries
- is ample proof that wealthy elites still rely upon state repression as an
instrument to impose their will upon the world's poor.

East Timorese are dying - not from theories originating in the Chicago
School of Economics - but from bullets, many of which can be traced to U.S.
military aid to Indonesia.

When sweatshop workers in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities engage in
wildcat strikes, the reason they stop short in their tracks is not that they
have been persuaded by Alan Greenspan's ideas about the power of the
marketplace. They stop because they are confronted by the Indonesian
military, many of whom have been trained through a long-standing U.S.
military aid program.

The "crony capitalists," on whom the International Monetary Fund blames the
collapse of the Indonesian economy were put in power and they retained their
positions because they enjoyed the full support of U.S. military and
diplomatic policy.

The present form of the global economy is a result of military policy at
least as much as it is a result of economic theory. It is a policy of
coercion enabling corporations in the global north to extract cheap
resources and cheap labor from the global south - by any means necessary.

Nike and Gap sweatshops in Indonesia are part of the same military /
economic policy which is manifesting itself in the East Timor bloodbath.
Just as advocates of the East Timorese have long been among the most
articulate members of the Nike campaign, it is now time for anti-sweatshop
activists to support the cause of independence for East Timor and to call
for an end to the massacre of its people. We have a common cause.

The next section of this alert includes suggestions for action. It includes
nothing about what role the United Nations should play in East Timor. Allies
of East Timor differ over whether to call for U.N. military intervention. We
must not allow our differences to splinter us.

Whatever our opinion about the proper role for the U.N. in this crisis, it
is clear that the United States government could apply significant leverage
in this crisis. Until the last two days, the White House and the State
Department have issued only the most tepid criticisms of their friends in
the Indonesian government.

The Clinton administration has now announced that it is cutting off all
contacts between the U.S. and Indonesian militaries. The US has taken
similar measures time and again when press attention has focused on serious
abuses by one or another of its military allies. All too often, as soon as
press attention turns elsewhere, the contacts are renewed and are justified
on the basis of including "human rights training" and other palliative
measures. The same reservations apply to yesterday's announcement of a halt
in World Bank and International Monetary Fund support for the Indonesian
government. We need to be sure that these are real policy shifts and not
smoke and mirrors.

The U.S. should be cutting off every form of aid and comfort to the
Indonesian government, including: bilateral military and economic programs,
education and cultural exchanges, multilateral military (ASEAN) packages and
any other economic supports.  The U.S. also should refuse to grant visas to
any Indonesian military officer or government official.

Finally, the U.S. should begin to wave the warning flag of trade reprisals.
(Foreign investment in Indonesia is frequently in the form of joint ventures
with the local elite, many of whom are highly placed in the military. Trade
with Indonesia is helping to finance the slaughter in East Timor.)

If there is to be a U.N. military role in East Timor, the international
force must not include any U.S. military elements. From the beginning of the
Indonesian dictatorship in 1965 and from the beginning of the occupation of
East Timor in 1975 to the present, the U.S. is deeply implicated. President
Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Jakarta in
December 1975, just before the invasion was launched, where they were told
of Suharto's plans to attack the island (Washington Post, 11/9/79). The
following month, a State Department official told a major Australian
newspaper (The Australian, 1/22/76) that "in terms of the bilateral
relations between the U.S. and Indonesia, we are more or less condoning the
incursion into East Timor ... The United States wants to keep its relations
with Indonesia close and friendly. We regard Indonesia as a friendly,
non-aligned nation - a nation we do a lot of business with." [citations
courtesy of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting ( FAIR)]