Nov 1, 1997

Five More Years of Living Dangerously | by Jerry Meldon | Published in Peacework, November 1997


At the ASEAN meeting in Malaysia in late July, US Secretary of State Albright scolded southeast Asian governments for accepting Myanmar (formerly Burma) into their association, asserting that Myanmar’s government was the only one in the region that lacked the support of its constituents. By singling out Myanmar’s brutal, drug-profiteering military dictatorship, Albright was merely following the Clinton administration’s hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil policy towards human rights violators with more open markets—like Singapore and this article’s primary focus, Indonesia.

            Singapore may be more notorious for caning than the extreme and systematic forms of brutality practiced in Indonesia. But the clock seems to have stopped there in 1984. During the general election campaign leading up to January’s vote, Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong and his people’s action party labeled opposition candidate Tang Liang Hong a “Chinese nationalist bigot.” Following a libel suit, a court in Singapore awarded $1 million – not to Mr. Tang, but to Mr. Goh, and three in another $1.6 million to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew – on the Orwellian grounds that when Tang denied the bigotry charge, he damaged the plaintiffs’ credibility with voters.

            Then in August, local Foreign Correspondents Associations caved in to the Singapore government’s demand that it cancel a speaking invitation to Indonesian opposition leader, Megawati Sukarnoputi, daughter of former President Sukarno. Like republicrat Bill Clinton’s Administration, the mainstream US media have largely looked the other way regarding brutality in both Singapore and Indonesia, a major US trading partner.

            Indeed, in May, leading US dailies gave front-page coverage to France’s national election, leaving readers to search for election news from Indonesia – a country far more important to US corporate balance sheets. Then again, perhaps the dearth of news reflected the foreordained result of Indonesia’s exercise in mock democracy.

            Millions of anti-government protesters – including the 133 who died when arson gutted a Borneo mall on May 23 – had no hope for change following the May 29th vote. In fact, whether or not anyone at all voted for President Suharto’s party, Golkar – and 3/4 of the voters reportedly did – the Parliament next year will name the 75-year-old Suharto or his hand-picked successor as president for the next five years. For the military (read Golkar) selects 7.5% of Parliament and the ruling party (Golkar) selects 50%.

            The stacked deck’s beneficiary, Suharto, has ruled with an iron hand over the world’s fourth most populous nation – including its largest Moslem community – since a 1965 coup and an ensuing purge that ranks with history’s worst bloodbaths. His armed forces have brutally crushed independence movements on three of Indonesia’s larger islands. And the Mobutu-esque Suharto and his family are worth an estimated $40 billion.

            Through it all, Uncle Sam has been Suharto’s steadfast friend. And with Indonesia’s economy jumping 7% annually, the White House views the oil-rich, 13,000-island nation as it does China: an emerging market first, a police state second.

            But the relationship wasn’t always so amicable. When Suharto’s predecessor, Sukarno – who led the struggle for independence from the Dutch – chose neutralism rather than taking sides in the Cold War, the Eisenhower administration had the CIA foment a coup in 1958. The coup failed. But its planning introduced the CIA and the Pentagon to Indonesian counterparts who would later seize the day.

            In the early ‘60s, as the CIA-led Washington into an Indochina quagmire, politicians in Washington pointed to Indonesia as the major “domino” that would fall to communism should Vietnam go down that path. Then, on October 1, 1965 a series of dramatic events began that would permanently alter Washington-Jakarta relations – and the freedom of all Indonesians. That morning, under circumstances still shrouded in mystery, junior Indonesian military officers kidnapped and murdered six generals they believed were preparing a CIA-sponsored coup, and occupied parts of Jakarta. But by nightfall, forces led by General Suharto had subdued the junior officers who, Suharto said, were in league with the Indonesian Communist Party.

            Suharto – who had collaborated with both the colonial Dutch and wartime Japanese occupying force – seized power from Sukarno and called for a nationwide purge of communists. “The Year of Living Dangerously” had begun. Soldiers, police, and vigilantes slaughtered half a million Indonesians in what an official CIA report called “one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century.”

            US diplomats have since admitted handing lists of communists to the rampaging Indonesian army. In 1990, Robert Martens, who headed the Jakarta embassy team that compiled the lists, told States News Service: “It really was a big help to the army … I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.”

            A decade passed before the next “decisive moment.” In December 1975, Suharto’s forces invaded the recently liberated Portuguese colony of East Timor. On a visit to Jakarta the day before, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave the invasion a wink and a nod. The Timorese have since resisted at a cost to date of 200,000 lives, one-third of their population.

            But in November 1991, Indonesian forces made the mistake of including Americans among their victims. Before opening fire and killing 271 peaceful demonstrators in the East Timorese capital of Dili, soldiers used M-16 rifles to bash the heads of reporters including Amy Goodman of Pacifica radio and Allan Nairn of the New Yorker, who suffered a broken skull. Both lived to tell about it.

            Their reports helped persuade Congress to cut off International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds and the sale of small arms and armored vehicles to Indonesia. This in turn evoked a counter-offensive by pro-Indonesia interests including lobbyists for the Clinton-friendly Lippo Group – whose Borneo branch bank was set ablaze by election protesters on May 23rd – and Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-LA) whose state is home to the Freeport-McMoran mining company that owns rights to Indonesian gold, silver, and copper deposits valued at $50 billion.

            Congress responded by restoring IMET funding, while Clinton approved the sale of F-16 fighters to Indonesia. (Jakarta recently rescinded the order, citing Congressional criticism of human rights violations in Indonesia.)

            Constancio Pinto, US and UN representative of the Timorese underground – who fled to New England after the bloody 1991 demonstration in Dili and co-authored the book East Timor’s Unfinished Struggle – sees Suharto as “the major obstacle to democratization of Indonesia and independence in East Timor.” The voting charade on May 29th – in which Golkar vetted the candidates of the two parties allowed to oppose it, the candidacy of Sukarno’s daughter Megawati Sukarnoputi was scuttled, and civil service employees were required to vote Golkar – will do nothing to remote that obstacle.

            Nor, apparently, will the Clinton Administration, whose foreign policy begins and often ends with promotion of trade and stability. Now that US oil companies have signed multibillion-dollar deals for rights to drill into the ocean floor off East Timor, Suharto – unless he retires – is even less likely to relax his grip there. And Washington – as long as Suharto maintains stability – is more likely than ever to practice quiet diplomacy, very quiet diplomacy.



Sep 2, 1997

Return of Bolivia's Drug-Stained Dictator | By Jerry Meldon | published in Consortium News 1997


Return of Bolivia's Drug-Stained Dictator

By Jerry Meldon

A Latin American ghost from Washington's Cold War past is reappearing this summer. On Aug. 6, one of South America's most notorious drug-tainted military dictators, Hugo Banzer Suarez, will don Bolivia's presidential sash. That will make him responsible for battling cocaine traffickers in one of the world's top drug-producing nations.

The 71-year-old Banzer, a long-time U.S. favorite because of his anti-communism, forged the coalition that gave him the presidency after his Accion Democratica Nacionalista party won 22 percent of the vote in the June elections. Banzer's latest ascendancy set off alarms in Washington, despite the old Cold War ties.

A State Department spokesman warned of possible diplomatic strains if Banzer appointed Bolivian officials who "in other eras have been directly involved in narco-trafficking." In Latin America, however, the U.S. statement was viewed as an indirect reference to Banzer, who could not have survived politically in the violent world of Bolivian politics without the timely intervention of South America's drug lords.

In July 1980, for instance, while most Bolivians were enjoying a rare hiatus of non-military rule, Banzer was hiding out in exile in Argentina. Bolivia's civilian government was set to indict him for human rights violations and corruption during his 1971-78 dictatorship. But Banzer saw his political life saved when a grotesque band of old-time Nazis and younger neo-fascists -- financed with drug money and aided by the Argentine military -- overthrew the government in La Paz.

The coup was spearheaded by two men whom Banzer had introduced: Roberto Suarez, Bolivia's coca king, and Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief of Lyons whom Banzer had protected from French war crimes prosecutors. The victorious putsch -- known as the Cocaine Coup -- established Bolivia as a kind of narco-state. Saved by this mix of drug trafficking and anti-communism, Banzer returned home to resume his political career.

Still, Banzer's allegiance to the United States goes back even farther to the early days of the Cold War when Washington was worried about political developments in Banzer's land-locked South American country.

In 1952, anti-military grievances in Bolivia erupted into popular revolt. The revolutionaries, led by Bolivia's tin miners and the Movimento Nacionalista Revolucionario party, vanquished the old oligarchy. The new president, Victor Paz Estenssoro, nationalized the largest tin mines and distributed land to Indian peasants. Popular militias replaced the regular armed forces.

These developments did not sit well with the State Department. In Washington, official doctrine saw strong militaries as crucial bulwarks against communism. So, in the mid-1950s, while his compatriots were dismantling 125 years of authoritarian rule -- which followed centuries of Spanish colonial domination -- the young Hugo Banzer was under the tutelage of U.S. Army instructors at the School of the Americas (SOA).

(South of the border, the school was often called "School of the Coup Plotters" or "School of Assassins," names that gained more credibility last September when the Pentagon declassified school manuals which taught blackmail, kidnap, torture and murder of dissidents.)

But Banzer, known as El Petiso because of his diminutive stature, was a star pupil. After his SOA graduation, he received additional training at Fort Hood in Texas. His ties to the U.S. national security elite tightened even more when he was named military attache in Washington and won the Pentagon's Order of Military Merit.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, the political terrain kept shifting. Military officers ousted the reformist civilian government in 1964 and then fought among themselves for power.

Into that turmoil stepped communist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who left Cuba with the dream of sparking a popular uprising in the mountains of Bolivia. However, aided by the CIA, specially trained Bolivian rangers hunted down Guevara's armed band in 1967. After capturing Guevara, with CIA personnel present, Bolivian officers ordered the revolutionary executed, his hands severed and his body buried secretly.

To stop other revolutionary movements across Latin America, the Pentagon encouraged collaboration among the nations' militaries. As Edward S. Herman noted in The Real Terror Network, U.S. Gen. Robert W. Porter stated in 1968 that "in order to facilitate the coordinated employment of internal security forces within and among Latin American countries, we are ... endeavoring to foster interservice and regional cooperation by assisting in the organization of integrated command and control centers; the establishment of common operating procedures; and the conduct of joint and combined training exercises."

Banzer's Rise

Two years later, however, Washington had more reasons to worry about Bolivia. Left-leaning Gen. Juan Jose Torres grabbed power and extended a friendly hand to Cuba's Fidel Castro. Torres also expanded commercial ties with the Soviet Union, nationalized US-owned tin mines and expelled the Peace Corps. In January 1971, Torres withstood a first coup attempt by Banzer, who then fled to Argentina.

There, Banzer plotted a comeback. According to a report in The Washington Post [Aug. 29, 1971], Banzer crossed back into Bolivia frequently during his exile to confer with U.S. Air Force Major Robert Lundin. That August, Banzer led a second coup attempt, which Lundin aided. When Banzer's communications broke down, Lundin made available the U.S. Air Force radio system and the coup-makers won.

Once in power, Banzer reversed policies that had angered Washington. He cut ties to Cuba and denationalized the tin industry. Banzer also launched a reign of terror, as 2,000 dissidents were arrested. The New York Times reported [Dec. 30, 1973] that "all fundamental laws protecting human rights were regularly violated" and that torture was "commonly used on prisoners [who were] beaten, raped and forced to undergo simulated executions."

But Banzer won a special note in the annals of counter-insurgency for devising a strategy for combatting so-called "liberation theology," a religious doctrine which promotes social justice for the poor. After the Bolivian Catholic Church denounced an army massacre of striking tin workers in 1975, Banzer began his move against leftist priests and nuns. According to Penny Lernoux's Cry of the People, some clergy were targeted, with the CIA providing "personal data, studies, friends, addresses, writings, contacts abroad, etc." Government agents slandered and harassed progressive clergy. Foreign priests and nuns were expelled.

The anti-clergy strategy became known as the Banzer Plan and was adopted by nine other Latin American dictatorships in 1977 at a meeting of the Latin American Anticommunist Confederation. Over the next two years, 30 progressive clergymen were slain across Latin America, with government forces and rightist death squads implicated in the majority of cases.

But the Banzer Plan was only one element in a program linking Latin America's military dictatorships in a transcontinental campaign to exterminate leftists. The underlying program of violence, according to Scott and Jon Lee Anderson's Inside the League, had four main points:

    "1) All dissidents and opponents of the state are communists; 2) all communists are taking orders from the same source in the pursuit of communist control of the world; 3) since their orders come from the same source, the opposition in one nation is the same as the opposition in another; 4) for the nations of Latin America to fight a united enemy, they too must unite. This implies that one nation has the right, in fact the duty, to silence not only the opposition to one's own regime but also the opposition to any neighboring regime."

Operation Condor

This united strategy led to Operation Condor, a plan for cross-border executions of dissidents. According to a classified 1979 Senate Foreign Committee report excerpted by Jack Anderson [WP, Aug. 2, 1979], it included "formation of special teams from member countries assigned to travel anywhere in the world to non-member countries to carry out 'sanctions' -- including assassination -- against Condor enemies."

One of those "enemies" was Gen. Juan Jose Torres, the Bolivian military reformer who resided in Buenos Aires following his ouster by Hugo Banzer. As Argentina's security forces were launching their "dirty war" against leftists in 1976, Banzer's military attache in Buenos Aires threatened Gen. Torres's life. A few months later, Torres was gunned down in the streets of the Argentine capital.

Though one of Banzer's principal rivals had been eliminated, Banzer still had enemies. Amid strikes and political chaos in July 1978, Bolivian Air Force Gen. Juan Pereda Asburn overthrew Banzer, in the name -- oddly enough -- of saving Bolivia from "international communism." El Petiso fled again to Argentina.

Two years later, the Bolivian government prepared to indict Banzer on charges of human rights violations and corruption. But Banzer's remarkable luck held out. His friends, coca king Roberto Suarez and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, provided the money and muscle for the "Cocaine Coup."

Barbie, in particular, was already deep in Banzer's debt. After World War II, Barbie, known as the Butcher of Lyons for his work in Nazi-occupied France, was hired by the US Army's Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) to run a spy network of ex-Nazi officers. But French intelligence agents -- seeking Barbie's arrest on charges of torture and murder -- picked up his scent. The CIC then contacted Dr. Krunoslav Draganovic, a rightist Croatian priest who ran a Vatican "ratline" which helped hundreds of Nazi SS officers escape from Europe. Draganovic arranged papers and transportation for Barbie to flee from Germany to Italy and then to Argentina and Bolivia.

When French Nazi hunters were closing in again a quarter century later, Banzer and other Bolivian officers stepped forward as Barbie's protectors. During his 1971-78 dictatorship, Banzer repeatedly rejected French requests for Barbie's extradition. Barbie returned the favor in 1980, recruiting a mercenary army of neo-fascist terrorists, including Italy's Stefano delle Chiaie.

Friends in Need

The 1980 coup put Generals Luis Garcia Meza and Luis Arce Gomez into the top offices. But Banzer's longtime allies -- Barbie and Suarez -- were the powers behind the throne. Suarez put Garcia Meza and Arce Gomez on his drug payroll. Meanwhile, Barbie kept his goon squad in place, terrorizing Suarez's rivals in the narcotics trade as well as the regime's political opponents.

But the generals proved incompetent leaders, soon bringing Bolivia to the brink of financial ruin. Garcia Meza and Arce Gomez were chased from office in August 1981 and found themselves in legal hot water. Garcia Meza today is a fugitive from a 30-year sentence in Bolivia for abuse of constitutional power, corruption, looting the national treasury and murder. Arce Gomez was extradited to Miami and now is serving a 30-year sentence for drug trafficking.

Banzer's other allies got nailed, too. Drug lord Roberto Suarez was arrested in 1988 and is serving a 15-year sentence for narcotics trafficking. Barbie was extradited to France in 1983 where he was sentenced to life for crimes against humanity. He died in 1992, at the age of 77, of leukemia.

Fortune was much kinder to Hugo Banzer. He returned to Bolivia following the Cocaine Coup to resume leadership of his party, Accion Democratica Nacionalista (ADN). He briefly found himself in trouble when Argentina's new democratic government accused him of delivering a woman to the Argentine military who then "disappeared" her. But Banzer avoided extradition. Instead, he remained in Bolivia and brokered ADN's normal one-fifth popular vote into participation in several coalition governments.

He also adopted a more nationalistic political posture, mildly defying his old mentors in Washington. Before the June election, he opposed Washington's demands for strict enforcement of "neo-liberal" economic strategies. In an interview with Argentina's La Nacion [June 4, 1997], Banzer complained that "privatization" of major national industries had caused poverty and unemployment. Though favoring modern capitalism, Banzer said he wanted to "humanize the neo-liberal model."

In his new-found populism, Banzer seems to be playing to the anti-American sentiments of Bolivia's 300,000 coca growers, an important political force in a poverty-stricken country of eight million. Many Bolivians -- not just drug traffickers -- were offended by heavy-handed American pressure to pass a draconian anti-drug law in 1989. The law mandated long jail terms for accused drug traffickers, even if the evidence was flimsy. Until a recent change, even acquitted defendants could be kept in prison pending government appeals.

As Bolivia's new leader, Banzer now will oversee the spending of $50 million in annual narcotics control money supplied by Washington. Most of that money is ticketed for Bolivia's anti-narcotics units long renowned for their brutality and readiness to take bribes.

Washington soon may learn again in Bolivia how much loyalty $50 million can buy -- and how deep a government official's pockets can be. ~

Jun 1, 1997

[Minor Update] Zaire's Bitter Lessons are for Everyone US complicity in decades of dictatorship, plunder of fragile new nation | By Jerry Meldon | published in the Peacework Journal, June 1997


Zaire's Bitter Lessons are for Everyone

US complicity in decades of dictatorship,

plunder of fragile new nation

Jerry Mellon is chairman of the electrical [sic] engineering department at Tufts University. This editorial first appeared in the Boston Globe, May 4, 1997, when the Republic of Congo was still known as Zaire.

William Colby, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, conceded at a 1984 panel discussion on intelligence oper­ations that "the Bay of Pigs was certainly a disaster." But he urged, don't ignore the successes: "Consider our program in the Congo in the early 1960s."

This illustrates the difficulty of defending the CIA: the failures have been bad, but the successes have been worse.

The principal result of that US program in the Congo, the ravaged country known today as Zaire, was seizure of power by Mobutu Sese Seko. Washington supported Mobutu's coup as a way to protect Africa's third-largest nation from becoming a po­tential Russian beachhead. However, the by­product of Mobuto's hold on the country—the stillbirth of Congolese democracy—proved an ongoing disaster for the locals.

With Zaire's rebel forces rapidly ap­proaching the capital city of Kinshasa—and with Mobutu and rebel leader Laurent Kabi­la set to discuss a transfer of power—the lessons to be learned from the United States' mistakes in Zaire could not be clearer. And a nearly forgotten bit of history could not be more relevant.

When Belgium in 1960 relinquished formal control over its colony—then called the Belgian Congo—the country was with­out human resources. There wasn't a single native doctor, lawyer, architect, or military officer resident, and only a handful of uni­versity graduates. The value of the Congo was in its natural resources—copper, cobalt, and diamonds—and despite Belgium's agreement to give up control of the coun­try, it had no intention of forsaking that huge natural bounty.

When free elections brought the left-leaning Patrice Lumumba to power, Con­golese soldiers mutinied, and Belgian min­ing giant Union Miniere bankrolled a se­cessionist movement in the mineral-rich province of Katanga (now Shaba). The vio­lence and instability drove Lumumba to Washington for help.

But in July 1960, when Lumumba arrived, he was greeted coolly by the Eisen­hower Administration. The White House had already targeted two other foreigners who had proved troublesome—Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran, who had threatened US oil interests, and Guatemala's Jacobo Ar­benz, who did the same to the Boston-based United Fruit Co.—declaring both commu­nists and eventually having the CIA over­throw their freely elected governments.

Although the US Embassy in the Con­go had reported that while Lumumba may have been an opportunist, he was clearly not a communist, the Eisenhower administra­tion wanted nothing to do with him. It con­cluded that Lumumba was a "very difficult if not impossible person to deal with... dan­gerous to the peace and safety of the world," according to Undersecretary of State Dou­glas Dillon. John Stockwell, a former CIA Angola task force chief who was raised in the Congo, speculates that Lumumba sim­ply lost his cool after experiencing firsthand the segregated washrooms in Washington.

After getting a cold shoulder in Wash­ington, Lumumba turned to Moscow, which provided him limited assistance. That was all Washington needed to know. Lu­mumba soon fell victim to a CIA-engineered coup led by his erstwhile army chief of staff, Mobutu. Stockwell later recalled how a CIA colleague recounted "an adventure in Lumumbashi driving about town after curfew with Patrice Lumumba's body in the trunk of his car, trying to decide what to do with it."

Lumumba had hoped to use his nation's untapped mineral wealth to raise his com­patriots from abject poverty. Mobutu, on the other hand, chose as his role model Bel­gium's King Leopold II, who for 23 years at the turn of the century treated the Congo as his private plantation, and its citizens as effective slave laborers. In some respects, Mobutu would outdo even Leopold, shar­ing the Congo's resources with Western cor­porations and stashing billions in Swiss bank accounts while his constituents continued to starve.

But Mobutu, although a survivor, also played dangerous games, often at Washing­ton's behest. In the mid-'70s, as Portugal was about to grant independence to neighbor­ing Angola, Secretary of State Henry Kiss­inger persuaded President Ford to oppose the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, the likely victor in a three-way struggle for pow­er. And Mobutu had long had his eyes on Angola's Cabinda oilfields. It only took a few million in cash to persuade Mobutu to funnel CIA support to Angolans opposing the liberation movement. But despite addi­tional assistance from South Africa, those forces, led by Jonas Savimbi, were eventu­ally defeated.

Since then, Savimbi has refused to abide by a succession of peace accords brokered by the US or the UN. He had little motiva­tion to do so in the '80s, when the White House included him in its list of "freedom fighters" worthy of assistance. Indeed, Pres­ident Reagan praised Mobutu as "a voice of good sense and good will" as Mobutu con­tinued to funnel US aid to Savimbi in a war of land mines that has made Angola the prosthetic capital of Africa.

But Mobutu made the fatal mistake of offering refuge and support in Zaire to hun­dreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutus af­ter their 1994 genocidal campaign against Rwandan Tutsis, and the Hutus' flight across the border. The anger of Zaire's Tutsi popu­lation, and the long-standing animosity of Mobutu's neighbors in Rwanda, Angola, Burundi, and Uganda, have fueled a pow­erful Zairian liberation movement that has allegedly slaughtered Hutu refugees in its path, and is led by Kabila, a longtime Mobu­tu opponent and gold smuggler.

This time, Washington is not going to come to Mobutu's rescue. Indeed, it's been distancing itself from Mobutu for several years, shutting down its billion-dollar pipe­line to him in 1990, and denying him a visa in 1993. At most, the US is willing to me­diate a safe exit for the man it once herald­ed. Last week, the Clinton Administration urged Mobutu to step down and Bill Rich­ardson, the US ambassador to the United Nations, delivered a letter to Mobutu call­ing for a peaceful transition. "We believe the era of Mobutu is over," said a State De­partment spokesman. "The institutions he has built are crumbling, before his eyes and everyone else's eyes."

The United States has realized, 35 years too late, that the emperor has no clothes—only armor.