Skip to comments.Ex-Indonesian dictator Suharto dies
Posted on 01/27/2008 10:51:57 AM PST by NormsRevenge
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Former Indonesian President Suharto, the U.S. Cold War ally who led one of the 20th century's most brutal dictatorships over 32 years that saw up to a million political opponents killed, died Sunday. He was 86.
Suharto had been ailing in a hospital in the capital, Jakarta, since Jan. 4 when he was admitted with failing kidneys, heart and lungs.
Finally toppled by mass street protests in 1998, Suharto's departure opened the way for democracy in this predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million people and he withdrew from public life, rarely venturing from his comfortable villa on a leafy lane in the capital.
But Suharto also oversaw decades of economic expansion that made Indonesia the envy of the developing world. Today, nearly a quarter of Indonesians live in poverty, and many long for the Suharto era's stability, when fuel and rice were affordable.
In a televised address, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called on "the people of Indonesia to pay their last respects to one of Indonesia's best sons ... who has done very great service to his beloved nation."
Yudhoyono's office declared a week of national mourning and he was to oversee a state funeral Monday once Suharto's body had been flown by a fleet of 11 Air Force planes to be placed in the family mausoleum.
As is customary in Islamic tradition, Suharto's body was to be washed and joint prayers were held at the family home in the presence of his six children, Yudhoyono and dozens of the country's ruling elite.
"My father passed away peacefully," sobbed Suharto's eldest daughter, Tutut. "May God bless him and forgive all of his mistakes."
Suharto ruled with a totalitarian dominance that saw soldiers stationed in every village, instilling a deep fear of authority across this Southeast Asian nation of some 6,000 inhabited islands that stretch across more than 3,000 miles.
Jeffrey Winters, associate professor of political economy at Northwestern University, predicted a time when Indonesians would "realize that Suharto is responsible for some of the worst crimes against humanity in the 20th century."
Those who profited from Suharto's rule made sure he was never portrayed in a harsh light at home, Winters said, so even though he was an "iron-fisted, brutal, cold-blooded dictator," he was able to stay in his native country.
Since being forced from power, he had been in and out of hospitals after strokes caused brain damage and impaired his speech. Blood transfusions and a pacemaker prolonged his life, but he suffered from lung, kidney, liver and heart problems and slipped into a coma on Sunday.
Suharto was vilified by historians, rights groups and his critics as one of the world's most brutal rulers and was accused of overseeing a graft-ridden reign. But poor health and continuing corruption, critics charge kept him from court after he was chased from office by widespread unrest at the peak of the Asian financial crisis.
He was protected by influential loyalists in the military and government who feared they could be implicated if Suharto ever took the witness stand.
The bulk of political killings blamed on Suharto occurred in the 1960s, soon after he seized power. In later years, some 300,000 people were slain, disappeared or starved in the independence-minded regions of East Timor, Aceh and Papua, human rights groups and the United Nations say.
Suharto's successors as head of state B.J. Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri and Yudhoyono vowed to end graft that took root under Suharto, yet it remains endemic at all levels of Indonesian society.
With the court system paralyzed by corruption, the country has not confronted its bloody past. Rather than put on trial those accused of mass murder and multibillion-dollar theft, some members of the political elite consistently called for charges against Suharto to be dropped on humanitarian grounds.
On Sunday, hundreds of mourners some weeping flocked to the family home in downtown Jakarta.
"I felt crushed when I heard he had died. We have lost a great man," said Mamiarti, a 43-year-old housekeeper. "It used to be easy to find jobs. Now it is hard."
But critics say Suharto squandered Indonesia's vast natural resources of oil, timber and gold, siphoning the nation's wealth to benefit his cronies, foreign corporations, and family like a mafia don.
Winters said the graft effectively robbed "Indonesia of some of the most golden decades, and its best opportunity to move from a poor to a middle class country."
Like many Indonesians, Suharto used only one name. He was born on June 8, 1921, to a family of rice farmers in the village of Godean, in the dominant Indonesian province of Central Java.
When Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch in 1949, Suharto quickly rose through the ranks of the military to become a staff officer.
His career nearly foundered in the late 1950s, when the army's then-commander, Gen. Abdul Haris Nasution, accused him of corruption in awarding army contracts.
Absolute power came in September 1965 when the army's six top generals were murdered under mysterious circumstances, and their bodies dumped in an abandoned well in an apparent coup attempt against Sukarno, Indonesia's founding father who helped win independence from the Dutch.
Suharto, next in line for command, quickly asserted authority over the armed forces and promoted himself to four-star general.
Suharto then oversaw a nationwide purge of suspected communists and trade unionists, a campaign that stood as the region's bloodiest event since World War II until the Khmer Rouge established its gruesome regime in Cambodia a decade later. Experts put the number of deaths during the purge at between 500,000 and 1 million.
Over the next year, Suharto eased out Sukarno, who died under house arrest in 1970. The legislature rubber-stamped Suharto's presidency and he was re-elected unopposed six times.
During the Cold War, Suharto was considered a reliable friend of Washington, which didn't oppose his violent occupation of Papua in 1969 and the bloody 1974 invasion of East Timor. The latter, a former Portuguese colony, became Asia's youngest country with a U.N.-sponsored plebiscite in 1999.
Even Suharto's critics agree his hard-line policies kept a lid on Indonesia's extremists and held together the ethnically diverse and geographically vast nation. He locked up hundreds of suspected Islamic militants without trial, some of whom later carried out deadly suicide bombings with the al-Qaida-linked terror network Jemaah Islamiyah after the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.
Meanwhile, the ruling clique that formed around Suharto nicknamed the "Berkeley mafia" after their American university, the University of California, Berkeley transformed Indonesia's economy and attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment.
By the late 1980s, Suharto was describing himself as Indonesia's "father of development," taking credit for slowly reducing the number of abjectly poor and modernizing parts of the nation.
But the government also became notorious for unfettered nepotism, and Indonesia was regularly ranked as one of the world's most corrupt nations as Suharto's inner circle amassed fabulous wealth. The World Bank estimates 20 percent to 30 percent of Indonesia's development budget was embezzled during his rule.
Even today, Suharto's children and aging associates have considerable sway over the country's business, politics and courts. Efforts to recover the money have been fruitless.
Suharto's youngest son, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, was released from prison in 2006 after serving a third of a 15-year sentence for ordering the assassination of a Supreme Court judge. Another son, Bambang Trihatmodjo, joined the Forbes list of wealthiest Indonesians in 2007, with $200 million from his stake in the conglomerate Mediacom.
Suharto's economic policies, based on unsecured borrowing by his cronies, dramatically unraveled shortly before he was toppled in May 1998. Indonesia is still recovering from what economists called the worst economic meltdown anywhere in 50 years.
State prosecutors accused Suharto of embezzling about $600 million via a complex web of foundations under his control, but he never saw the inside of a courtroom. In September 2000, judges ruled he was too ill to stand trial, though many people believed the decision really stemmed from the lingering influence of the former dictator and his family.
In 2007, Suharto won a $106 million defamation lawsuit against Time magazine for accusing the family of acquiring $15 billion in stolen state funds.
The former dictator told the news magazine Gatra in a rare interview in November 2007 that he would donate the bulk of any legal windfall to the needy, while he dismissed corruption accusations as "empty talk."
Suharto's wife of 49 years, Indonesian royal Siti Hartinah, died in 1996. The couple had three sons and three daughters.
In this handout photo released by President Office, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, center, stands by the body of former Indonesian President Suharto at his house in Jakarta, Sunday, Jan 27, 2008. Former dictator Suharto, an army general who crushed Indonesia's communist movement and pushed aside the country's founding father to usher in 32 years of tough rule that saw up to a million political opponents killed, died Sunday. He was 86. (AP Photo/President Office, Anung, HO)
Only the good die young.
Oil is a powerful factor in economic strength so long as it is produced in such quantity that a surplus may be exported. Once Indonesia ceased being an oil exporting country the miracle ended. NB: USA ceased being an oil exporter about 1970.
It's easy to get it all wrong when the only thing you know about a subject is what you are fed by "human rights goups and the UN."
What none of these sloppy hacks will mention is that the bulk of the killings was to prevent a nasty communist party from seizing power through violent revolution of their own. "Independence-mindedness" had nothing to do with it.
Suharto was a Cold War hero.
“. . . and its best opportunity to move from a poor to a middle class country.”
And, international corporatism is moving the U.S. the other direction.
If Suharto had allowed the commies to take over, they would have killed millions, the way they did in China, where the campaign against “landlords” exterminated all families holding more than one hectare (less than three acres) of land.
I don’t remember the AP listing Mao’s victims when that tyrannical killer went to his “reward.” The Chinese government still honors that mass murderer.
Killing commies should be regarded as justifiable homicide on grounds of self-defense.
The people loved him. When he went out driving the streets were lines with folks cheering and waving flags. No inducement from police or military. Stable prices and no terrorism. Trucks painted with American flags and pictures of Bush I after Gulf War I. A bustling dynamic economy.