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28 May 1998 Edition

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Suhartoism lives

By Dara MacNeil

They may have forced a mass murderer from the presidential palace, but Indonesian protesters have so far failed to dislodge the corrupt social order he established. General Suharto may be gone, but Suhartoism lives on.

The appointment of Baharuddin Jusuf Habibie as a successor to Suharto demonstrates that the vested interests at the heart of the system inaugurated by Suharto 32 years ago are still very much in control of Indonesia.

Habibie, the former vice-president, is a recognised protégé of Suharto. As the Minister for Research & Technology, Habibie indulged the imperial fantasies of his genocidal superior by funnelling huge amounts of state money into enormous, outlandish projects.

Vast sums were spent establishing a shipbuilding company. The plan was to construct the supertankers that would carry Indonesia's oil overseas. But the company has been so unsuccessful that Habibie was forced to rely on the intervention of Suharto to fend off claims from the Indonesian revenue services for $80 million in unpaid taxes, lodged against the shipbuilding concern. The supertankers have been conspicuous by their absence.

Habibie also heads the national aerospace company, IPTN. The company was established to foster the development of a national aircraft production capacity. Thus far, the only activity attributed to IPTN - apart from the waste of billions of dollars - was the sale of four small aircraft to a US-based company. And that was in 1994.

The grandiose projects were an attempt to clothe the Suharto regime in imperial splendour. They were also the classic symptoms of the `Bokassa Syndrome', after Jean Bedel Bokassa of the tiny Central African Republic. Bokassa also harboured delusions of imperial grandeur.

In the early 1980s, he declared himself supreme emperor, and went on empty the national coffers by spending millions on an elaborate inauguration ceremony, complete with a solid gold, jewel-studded throne. That lunatic was deposed in 1987.

Ironically, another pet project of Habibie's - a huge, triple decker integrated transport terminal in Jakarta - was cancelled as a result of pressure from the International Monetary Fund.

They said it was incompatible with austerity measures the regime has introduced, in return for an IMF bailout to the tune of $40 billion.

Meanwhile, the same body forced through measures which resulted in the doubling and tripling of prices for basic foodstuffs and fuel. No wonder the IMF is more popularly known as the Institute for Misery & Famine.

However, while Habibie may have been a spendthrift when it came to other people's money, he proved remarkably thrifty with his own investments. Not surprisingly, he played (and still plays) a pivotal role in the operations of Indonesia Inc. - the sprawling Suharto family business empire that seemed to encompass the entire nation.

Habibie's two sons are business partners of two of Suharto's own offspring. In addition, the current president was also gifted with his very own free-trade zone, on Batam Island.

Central to Habibie's business activities is the Timsco Group. Administered by the new president's son, Timsco operates joint ventures in the chemical and telecommunications industries with Suharto's family. It also has huge agricultural interests.

Perhaps all that can be said in favour of Habibie is that his appointment as Suharto's successor could very likely trigger the collapse of the entire regime.

He has no popular political base within the country. In addition, he is disliked by the IMF and the currency markets. When Suharto announced in January that Habibie was to be his vice-president, international moneyed interests were prompt in their reaction. Already at an historic low of 7,900 to the US dollar, Indonesia's currency - the rupiah - immediately plummeted well below 10,000 to the US dollar.

Habibie's elevation to higher office is a none-too-subtle ploy to derail the momentum of the opposition. While Suharto remained in office, that momentum threatened to destroy the entire corrupt system.

However, Habibie faces the same dilemma that faced his former master. The IMF are also demanding that Indonesia significantly liberalise its economy and reduce the role of the state in economic life.

This neoliberal tonic, which has wreaked havoc elsewhere in the world, means Habibie is faced with the prospect of having to confront the vested economic interests at the heart of Indonesian life. That means the armed forces, the generals and, of course, the Suharto family empire in which Habibie plays a central role.

It is highly unlikely the newly-installed puppet ruler has either the will or the wit to do so. Mr Habibie may not be with us for much longer.


The theft of land in Brazil



Despite claims to the contrary, the Brazilian government has never embarked on a serious programme of land reform. In fact, as the activities of the mass-based Movement of the Landless (MST) suggest, the problem of land distribution has worsened in recent years.

Two years ago, for example, the Brazilian government simply handed over the title deeds of a huge swathe of land to giant US corporation, General Motors. That particular tract of land was estimated to be worth some $258 million. The claims of hundreds of landless families that had settled there and were working the land, were simply ignored. As a result, a mere 1% of the Brazilian population are estimated to own 46% of the country's arable land.

In 1997, officials in the Brazilian state of Tocantins took possession of some 105,590 hectares of land. The land is apparently ideal for the production of soya beans. This new agricultural venture has been developed in conjunction with Japanese business interests.

However, the venture exists at the expense of 130 families who actually live and work on the land. While some compensation was paid out to landlords - many of them absentee - who held titles, the claims of the 130 families have been dismissed.

This despite the fact that many of the families have lived and worked this land for the last century. Indeed, in Brazilian law that period of occupancy actually means they have a legal right to that land.

A number of local groups - including some Irish priests - have been campaigning with the families for a just solution to this problem. They refuse to be made landless and homeless in order to further the interests of Japanese corporations and banks, and their native equivalents. The settlers have demanded that development of the soya bean venture be suspended until they have been adequately compensated for their loss. If the project is to proceed, they rightfully demand that they be given compensation for the loss of their homes and crops, along with legal title to land nearby. What they ask is no more than a matter of simple justice.

It should not even be a matter for debate.

Anyone wishing to support the families of Campos Lindos, in Tocantins state, should communicate their disgust to the Brazilian and Japanese embassies.


The 1913 Rising?



Although not from far afield, this is still foreign news as it relates to the activities (or lack of them) of a foreign monarch. Referring to the proposed visit to these shores of Britain's most senior regal one, a newsreader of Rupert Murdoch's Sky News recently informed viewers that, if the visit went ahead, it would be the first of its kind since this jurisdiction ``achieved independence in 1913.'' So it would appear that the revisionist historians and their cheerleaders in the media have been right all along. That whole 1916 business was a complete waste of time after all.

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