Kissinger Rejects Democracy
the 35th anniversary of the so-called "Act of Free Choice"
(AFC) that resulted in West Papua's annexation by Indonesia, newly
declassified documents depict the administration of President Richard
Nixon as unwilling to raise any objections to the process despite
its assessment that the move was overwhelmingly opposed by the Papuan
memos were released by the independent National
Security Archive (NSA) Friday. Washington's Cold War courtship
of Gen. Suharto, who had come to power in a military coup d'état
in 1966 and ruled Indonesia with an iron fist until his ouster in
1998, was considered a much higher priority than a plebiscite on
independence "which would be meaningless among the stone age
cultures of New Guinea," according to a memo by then-national
security adviser Henry Kissinger to Nixon on the eve of a meeting
with the Indonesian strongman in Jakarta in June, 1969.
should tell (Suharto) that we understand the problems they face
in West Irian," wrote Kissinger who advised Nixon not to bring
up the subject on his own lest Washington be more closely identified
with a process that it knew was flawed.
newly released documents, which consist of 11 diplomatic cables
and memoranda concerning West Papua from February, 1968, through
the end of the AFC in August, 1969, confirm that Washington was
most concerned at the time about Indonesia's support for U.S. policy
in Vietnam and elsewhere in southeast Asia and saw in Suharto a
key ally despite Jakarta's official nonalignment policy.
is described in the Kissinger cable as a "moderate military
man ...who, although indecisive by outside standards, is committed
to progress and reform."
cables are also remarkably similar in tone to another batch released
by the NSA in 2001 on the reaction of Kissinger and President Gerald
Ford to Indonesia's planned 1975 invasion of East Timor.
Suharto asked for Ford's "understanding" for such a move,
according to one secret memorandum cable, Ford replied, "We
will understand and not press you on the issue. We understand the
problem and the intentions you have."
is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly," Kissinger,
who accompanied Ford on the December trip, is reported of having
told Suharto, assuring him as well that if the invasion goes forward,
"we will do our best to keep everyone quiet until the president
launched the invasion of the former Portuguese colony immediately
after Ford left Jakarta and annexed the territory the following
year. Over the next several years, as many as one third of estimated
750,000 East Timorese died or were killed in counterinsurgency operations
by Indonesian forces.
Suharto was ousted almost a quarter of a century later, however,
East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a 1999 referendum,
and, despite retaliatory action by the Indonesian military, which
destroyed much of the territory's infrastructure, achieved formal
independence last year after a transition period overseen by the
the East Timorese, West Papuans have maintained a low-level insurgency
against Indonesian rule since the territory's annexation.
East Timor, however, West Papua, which was renamed Irian Jaya under
Suharto, became a key focus of the regime's transmigration schemes,
so that Javanese living in West Papua currently outnumber the indigenous
addition, the California-sized territory, which makes up half the
island of New Guinea, holds important natural resources, particularly
gold, other minerals, and timber, which have drawn considerable
investment from both Indonesian and western, including US, companies
that are used to dealing with the authorities in Jakarta.
newly released documents, which consist of 11 diplomatic cables
and memoranda on US assessments of and policy towards the UN-sponsored
AFC, show that Washington was well aware in 1969 that the vast majority
of the estimated 800,000 Papuans opposed annexation by Indonesia,
largely because of the violence and repression committed by Indonesian
troops that had occupied the former Dutch territory since 1962.
US ambassador in Jakarta at the time, Frank Galbraith, wrote in
one memo on July 9, 1969 that "possibly 85 to 90 percent"
of the population "are in sympathy with the Free Papua cause."
He also noted that recent Indonesian military operations, which
had resulted in the deaths of possibly thousands of civilians, "had
stimulated fears and rumours of intended genocide among the Irianese."
Act, which was endorsed unanimously by 1,022 "representatives"
of the Papuan population who were handpicked by Jakarta, was administered
and controlled entirely by Jakarta.
Act was carried out pursuant to a U.S.-brokered 1962 agreement between
the Netherlands and Indonesia that awarded control of what was then
called West New Guinea to Jakarta subject to its agreement to carry
out an election on self-determination, in which all adult Papuans
were to be eligible to vote, no later than 1969. Once in control,
however, Jakarta quickly moved to repress the independence movement.
Washington every intended to hold Jakarta to its pledges about the
election process, however, that sentiment dissipated after Suharto
took power in 1966 and initiated the killings of an estimated 500,000
suspected Communists, as well as economic reforms designed to promote
foreign investments. Indeed, the first company to take advantage
of a new foreign investment law was the US mining company, Freeport
Sulphur, which won concessions over vast tracts of West Papua. The
company, which became Freeport-McMoRan, has been operating the world's
biggest open-pit gold mine in West Papua for some three decades.
the UN's observer reported serious violations of the self-determination
process and 15 countries strenuously contested the AFC's
validity the UN General Assembly "took note" of
the AFC's results, effectively recognizing Indonesia's annexation.
all of the secret US cables assume, whether explicitly or implicitly,
that Jakarta itself would never accept any outcome other than annexation.
One telegram early on during the six-week APC compares the exercise
to "a Greek tragedy, the conclusion preordained. The main protagonist,
the (government), cannot and will not permit any resolution other
than the continued inclusion of West Irian in Indonesia."
activity," the author predicts, "is likely to increase
but the Indonesian armed forces will be able to contain and, if
necessary, suppress it."
himself appeared to understand the fraud, stressing to Nixon that
''you should not raise this issue'' because ''we should avoid any
US identification with that act."
the same time, US officials were always doubtful whether even a
free plebiscite would make any sense in any case. One 1968 telegram
from US Ambassador Marshall Green in Jakarta stresses that "we
are dealing here essentially with stone age illiterate tribal groups"
and that "free elections among groups such as this would be
more of a farce than any rigged mechanism Indonesia could devise."
At another point, Green expresses concern that UN special Representative
for West Irian, Ortiz Sanz, may not be sufficiently aware of these
"political realities" and should be "made aware"
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World