Report on Indonesia

Several months after Suharto has been appointed as acting president, Atlantic contributor John Hughes reports that "the honeymoon days ... are over."

TWO years ago, Indonesian plotters stealing through the sultry tropical night in Djakarta seized and savagely murdered the Indonesian Army's top generals.

This attempted coup, on the night of September 30-October 1, 1965, touched off a dramatic series of events. The army struck back, grinding the Indonesian Communist Party into oblivion with ruthless efficiency. Many thousands of Indonesians were slaughtered in a nation-wide bloodbath. An obscure general named Suharto was catapulted into prominence. Indonesia was wrenched back from a headlong leftward slide in both domestic and foreign policy. And eventually Sukarno, the man who had cast his magic political spell across Indonesia for so long, was exposed, discredited, toppled.

All Fixed Up?

TWO years after the coup that started it all, Indonesia in many respects is a much happier and healthier country. But it would be folly to assume that because Sukarno has been ousted and the Communist Party has been vanquished everything has somehow been fixed up in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, there is in some American circles just this assumption. Washington is mesmerized by the Vietnam War. It is tempting in some quarters to dismiss the non-Communist giants of Asia, such as Indonesia, India, Japan, as low-priority areas which can tick along for the moment without major American concern.

Probably Indonesia will never again get American aid -- for which it has little to show today -- on the same massive scale as it did during the Sukarno era. But it certainly does need the care, attention, and sensitivity of American foreign policy makers.

Indonesia's basic problem now is to correct the massive mismanagement of two decades. Says one Western expert in Djakarta, "This country's economy is shattered as badly as any country's I've seen. It's like a land that's just come out of a major war." Clearly, the situation is not going to be transformed overnight. Nobody knows when Indonesia will have the patience to plod through this painful and frustrating period of rebuilding without the lid blowing off the country again.

The force which toppled Sukarno's "Old Order," as it is called these days, was an alliance between the army on the one hand and the students on the other, backed by many intellectuals. But with the unifying battle against Sukarno won, the alliance is exhibiting stresses, strains, and cracks. Popular reading among student leaders today is Man on Horseback, a book by an English university professor which discusses the perils of military government. Says one student leader, "I put it down, it excited me so much. I went to see a general I know and quoted him sections from it.

"He told me: 'Hah, you've been Westernized, reading that stuff.' I told him: 'No, I haven't been Westernized, I've been modernized.'"


THIS little exchange illustrates the current wave of student disillusionment with what the students see as Indonesia's militarization. An ever lengthening string of ministries, ambassadorships, and plum government jobs are going to military men rather than to trained civilian professionals. The bulk of Indonesia's ambassadors abroad now are military men. At an increasing number of conferences there show up army officers who may be personally loyal to General Suharto but whose expertise in the matter for debate is limited. At one Djakarta conference recently, where foreign business men were examining Indonesia's agricultural requirements, the government representative was an army officer who requested the foreigners' indulgence because he had not held his post long, and anyway knew little about agriculture.

Whether the students would be so opposed to militarization if the government it produced were one of demonstrable virtue and efficiency is arguable. But much of what they see happening in government they do not like. Corruption is the big issue. In Indonesia, corruption is of course relative. A general I know, who is considered honest and who lives modestly, earns 2000 rupiah a month, about the equivalent of $13. But as he says: "Man, my electricity bill is a thousand rupiah a month." From somewhere he gets the extra which makes it possible for him and his family to live with electricity.

General Suharto himself is considered incorruptible, as are the student heroes among the generals around him. But other generals in his entourage have suddenly blossomed with big houses and imported Mercedes-Benz cars after appointment to positions of influence in which kickbacks and bribes are proffered and presumably taken.

Making Money

MEANWHILE the simple foot soldier in the Indonesian Army earns about $2 a month in pay. If, however, he rents out his weapon to a criminal in need of it, he can make about $16 a day. Some soldiers do rent out their guns, with no questions asked. Others themselves use their guns to terrorize and hold up householders and shopkeepers for money and valuables. Much of the time, Chinese traders are the victims.

Aside from this criminal enterprise at the individual level, well-organized cliques and factions within the armed services are deep in smuggling rackets which cost the country vast sums in loss of revenue. Raw materials, particularly rubber from Sumatra, are shipped out by the boatload under military protection to Singapore and Malaysia. Manufactured goods come back, all without passing any customs officer's eye. Some sources say the profitable smuggling business is the reason for Indonesia's delay in restoring diplomatic relations with Malaysia and Singapore. Says one of these sources, "The military boys need another year's illegal activity to make their packet before normal relations end it all." Whether this is true or not, General Suharto himself has frequently and publicly gone on record against corruption and smuggling. One of his key generals, a student hero named Sarwo Edhy who formerly commanded the crack paracommando regiment, has been appointed military commander in North Sumatra, with orders to smash the smuggling business in which military men are implicated.

But the students are not convinced that enough is being done fast enough. Says one of Suharto's own political advisers, "The students came riding into prominence on a wave of moral indignation [to overthrow Sukarno]. They feel they wouldn't be true to themselves if they didn't criticize what they see going on now."

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