From Pinochet to Suharto, U.S. supported dictators who ‘killed their own people’
“He is killing his own people.” How many times have we read and heard that?
It is the endlessly repeated phrase that is supposed to make us hate the head of Syria enough to justify the killing of many more Syrians with U.S. cruise missiles.
Do the people who sprinkle such phrases in their “news” reports even think about them?
When did the U.S. government suddenly decide that governments which kill their own people should be “taken out”?
This Sept. 11 is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 fascist coup in Chile that brought down the social democratic government of Salvador Allende, who had been trying to narrow the big gap between rich and poor in that country through a variety of social reforms. Allende was killed in the coup, along with thousands of other Chileans. Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who led the coup, was therefore responsible for “killing his own people” many times over.
Did Washington go to the United Nations to condemn the coup? Did it institute sanctions against Pinochet’s brutal military regime? Did it do anything about it, other than make sanctimonious, toothless statements about human rights?
On the contrary. Pinochet was Washington’s man. He was a staunch anti-communist. But it didn’t matter that Allende was not a communist. U.S. corporations still wanted to get rid of him. Pinochet was their answer to the wave of progressivism that swept Latin America after the Cuban Revolution.
The role played by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in installing and protecting Pinochet is on the public record. The book “Nixon, Kissinger, and Allende: U.S. Involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile” gives many of the details.
After Pinochet had buttressed his rule through killings, torture and mass detentions, the path was cleared for U.S. corporations and banks to get back “their” property, which had been nationalized under Allende. Anaconda and Kennecott copper companies had squeezed fabulous profits out of Chile before Allende; once the generals were in power, they were welcomed back to do business as usual.
Indonesian bloodbath of 1965-66
The 1973 Chile coup was not the first time that the U.S. government helped install dictators who seized power by killing “their own” people. There is a very, very long list of them.
One of the grisliest of all was the 1965 coup in Indonesia, which led to a bloodbath of epic proportions. (See the pamphlet “Indonesia 1965: The Second Greatest Crime of the Century” at workers.org.)
The 1965 coup in Indonesia ushered in a slaughter of unarmed people that has not been equaled since. Some estimates put the number of those killed by the military and paramilitary bands at one million. The population of the beautiful island of Bali — today a high-priced tourist destination — was reduced by 10 percent as soldiers went from village to village, killing those singled out as leftists and progressive nationalists: activists in unions, student groups, and women’s and peasants’ associations. The Indonesian Communist Party, which had been the largest in the world outside the socialist bloc, was decimated.
Again, there were no condemnations from Washington. No sanctions. Not a thought of U.S. intervention against the generals.
On the contrary, editorials and articles in leading bourgeois newspapers showed how the ruling class here welcomed the carnage. James Reston, associate editor of the New York Times at the time, wrote a column on June 19, 1966, about the massacres entitled “A Gleam of Light in Asia.” The “savage transformation” of Indonesia, he said, was “one of the more hopeful political developments” in Asia.
“There was a great deal more contact between the anti-communist forces in that country and at least one very high official in Washington before and during the Indonesian massacre than is generally realized,” wrote Reston. “It is doubtful if the coup would ever have been attempted without the American show of strength in Vietnam or been sustained without the clandestine aid it has received indirectly from here.”
Just as in Chile, the coup threw open the doors to Western corporations — mostly U.S.-based — to reap vast profits from Indonesia’s abundant natural resources and low wages, made even lower by the destruction of the unions. When you read today about the mowing down of Indonesia’s great rain forests for their precious hardwoods, think of the coup and its million victims.
Bipartisan support for coups
These two examples — and there are many more, from the coup that installed the Shah of Iran to the massacre of Salvadorans and Guatemalans by U.S.-armed military dictators — show how both the two big pro-capitalist political parties backed U.S. imperialist foreign policy.
The Indonesian coup took place during the Democratic Lyndon Johnson administration. His “liberal” vice president, Hubert Humphrey, personally handled relations with the blood-stained regime of General Suharto. Humphrey was the “very high official in Washington” referred to in Reston’s column.
The Chilean coup was under the Republican Richard Nixon administration. His secretary of state, Kissinger, was the point man for relations with Pinochet.
We now have a Democratic administration, headed by Barack Obama, who actually lived in Indonesia from 1967 to 1971 after his mother married an Indonesian geographer, Lolo Soetoro, who worked for the Indonesian army and later for the Unocal oil company. In his book “Dreams from My Father,” Obama speaks of his years as a child in Indonesia and mentions the role of the CIA in supporting the generals. That book was written before he was elected to any political office.
Presidents come and go, but the think tanks funded by the wealthy corporate families of the U.S. shape policies, domestic and foreign, as well as the politicians who will articulate them. It takes more than elections to change these bloody-handed policies. It takes the building of a mass movement that rejects imperialist wars and fights in the interests of the workers and all the oppressed.