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Bloody Hands Full of Gold: Henry Kissinger and the Freeport-McMoRan Mine: Part I

By Cheryl Seal


It has become the joke of the day that the Bush Administration is stuffed full of “political dinosaurs” from the Cold War era who want to rattle their sabers and make one last stand like geriatric John Waynes. They are everywhere, both in front of the curtain – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, et al. – and behind it – Bush, Sr., James Baker, Henry Kissinger, and God only knows who else.

However, what these men truly represent is no joke at all. Behind the smokescreen of patriotism, national security and ideology they are driven by just one motive: greed. Every single one of these players is a politician simply as an expediency (power can buy more power). First and foremost, they are corporate tycoons whose primary goal is to advance the cause of corporations. Each one is worth millions and each one is now in a position to engineer policies that will insure they will ultimately be worth millions more.

These policies are now in the process of being pushed forward, and have so far being met with an astonishing lack of resistance. This may be because many Americans, including some Congresspeople, are too young to recall the true nature of the Cold War era. It may also be that some have simply failed to make themselves sufficiently informed on the nation’s political history. It is impossible to believe that anyone armed with the facts would fail to see the ugly template that is now being forced down over the face of the nation.

The following two-part series presents a chunk of political history that we hope will serve as a cautionary tale. It clearly exemplifies what the “political dinosaurs” now in charge of our nation are all about, how they operated in the past, and how they still hope to operate. The main figure, Henry Kissinger, personifies to a T the snake-like combination of unscrupulousness and superficial charm that characterizes all of these players, from Bush, Sr. to G.W. The setting, Indonesia, personifies all areas of Earth where any natural resources may be left for a greedy few to exploit in the name of “patriotism” and “national security,” be it Africa, the Amazon, Ukraine, or northern Alaska.

An Opportunist’s Dream Come True

Indonesia has long been a dream come true for opportunists (until this century they were called “explorers”). With its 17,000 islands sprinkled across the equator in the South Pacific atop a zone of tectonic upheaval, it is a land of incredible biodiversity and dramatic landscapes. Among its main islands are Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Timor (East and West), and Bali (of “South Pacific” fame). Its forests and mountains are treasure chests of exotic plants and animals, while its human population is just as diverse – as recently as the 1980s, an estimated 250 different languages were spoken here.

The first westerners to exploit the region were the Portuguese (although the Dutch had a smaller settlement earlier). In the 17th century, the Portuguese began to “mine” the forests for spices while dominating the natives with a heavy hand. These fragrant exports earned the region the name of “the Spice Islands.” Since then, this land, whose native inhabitants in some regions have lineages extending back as much as one million years, has been the focus of a greedy tug-of-war between different foreign powers and between these powers and the Indonesian native peoples. No Indonesian resources have been at the center of more collective strife, bloodshed, and environmental damage than oil and natural gas – unless it is gold.

After World War II, Indonesia made a determined stand for its autonomy. By 1950, they had thrown off domination by the Japanese (who had commandeered the oil and liquid natural gas supplies during the war), then pushed away the control of the British and Indian armies, and, finally, the Dutch. The new Indonesian leader Sukarno (not to be confused with the later brutal dictator Suharto) eventually became the country’s first president. Sukarno was a visionary who pursued an ideal he called “Pancasilo,” a state of Indonesian unity in which ethnic and religious tolerance would prevail. It was a dream that was doomed to failure; half-way round the globe, forces were massing that would ultimately topple Sukarno and his government.

In the United States, after World War II, the age of the automobile had dawned. Americans in geometrically growing numbers were heading off to “See the U.S.A in their Chevrolets” – great big gas-guzzling Chevrolets. They came home from their cruises to modern oil-heated homes in proliferating suburbs. Existing U.S. sources, already heavily exploited, soon couldn’t match the demand for abundant, cheap fuel and so the oil companies looked elsewhere…to places such as Indonesia. At the same time, oil-rich Southeast Asia was struggling for autonomy, urged on by the growing Asian communist party, which wanted to distribute Asian wealth more evenly and shake off western control.

For western oil and mineral companies, an independent Asia was a major impediment to the exploitation of Indonesia’s resources. To address this “impediment,” as early as 1953, the U.S. National Security Council had adopted a policy of “appropriate action in collaboration with friendly countries to prevent permanent communist control of Indonesia.” However, the only real threat to the U.S. communism in Southeast Asia posed at that time was as a hindrance to corporations hoping to tap into cheap labor, land, and natural resources.

The history of Indonesia from 1957 on is the history of the struggle of corporations, aided and abetted by the CIA and the corrupt puppet governments they helped to set up, to maintain control over Indonesia’s resources. In 1957, the Indonesian state company Pertamina was created under Sukarno for the purpose of developing and controlling oil and natural gas for the advancement of Indonesia. This development was viewed with alarm by U.S. petroleum companies, who themselves wanted control over the country’s oil and gas resources. Until the mid-1960s, most of Pertamina’s business partners were Chinese, not American.

In 1958, the CIA began to secretly finance, as well as create, political factions aligned against Sukarno. The agency also funneled money to a handful of corrupt, ambitious generals. Thus “fed,” these generals quickly began to grow in power and influence, both in the government and in business wheelings and dealings. Meanwhile, Sukarno was in the midst of his “Guided Democracy Movement.” Although he himself identified most closely with the communist group called the PKI, there were at that time three important political parties in Indonesia – the PKI, the nationalistic PNI and the conservative Muslims. This represented a greater diversity of democracy than could be found in America at that time.

By 1964, Sukarno had grown completely disgusted by American efforts to buy influence in Indonesia and announced that he would no longer accept any aid from the U.S. That was when the CIA, now operating chiefly through the ambitious, greedy general Suharto began to push forward with a relentless, carefully orchestrated plan to topple Sukarno.

The Corporate Takeover of Indonesia

In the U.S. a Harvard professor named Henry Kissinger was steadily scooping up experience in international affairs and high-level corporate wheeling and dealing – a combination that was to later prove deadly for the people of Indonesia. From 1954 to 1969, Kissinger had his fingers in a number of juicy pies. From 1954 until 1971 he was a professor at Harvard University - though it is hard to see how he found time to teach – and was in the college’s Department of Government and its Center for International Affairs. From 1955-56, he served as Study Director of Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy for the Council of Foreign Relations. From 1956-58 he was Director of the Special Studies Project for the Rockefeller Brothers and was also Director of the Harvard Defense Studies Program from 1958 to 1971.

By the time Kissinger embarked on his career as a master “diplomat” (i.e. corporate intriguer), Kissinger was extremely well versed in espionage tactics. From 1943 (the year he came to the U.S. from Nazi Germany) to 1946, he served in the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps and from 1946 to 1949 was a Captain in the Military Intelligence Reserve. After the war, he was Director of the Psychological Strategy Board and of the Operations Research Office. In the late 1950s, his influence in Washington really began to send out tentacles. Between 1959-68, Kissinger was, at different or overlapping times, a consultant to: the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the Department of State, the Rand Corporation, the National Security Council, and the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Through this spider’s web of connections, Kissinger was privy to a bonanza of inside international information, both political and corporate and was fast becoming especially well-groomed in those pertaining to Southeast Asia. By 1965, it is obvious Kissinger was using this information to speculate for personal gain in Indonesia. It is also obvious that by 1965 many top corporate execs in the U.S. mining, logging, oil, and gas industries who had staked out potential claims in Indonesia, somehow knew that Sukarno was going to be muscled out and were circling like sharks.

In 1965, Freeport Sulfur, a company based in New Orleans, cut a private deal with the Indonesian government, through Suharto (who by now had immense power in the government) to create a copper-gold mine in West Papua. Who was the deal broker, making sure Freeport got in on the “ground floor”? There is little doubt this middle man was Henry Kissinger. At the same time, Mobile Oil Indonesia was also entering into contracts with Pertamina. It has been alleged that Kissinger also served as a deal broker in this alliance. Over a dozen other oil companies were waiting for their chance to pounce. All that was needed to complete the scheme was to get rid of Sukarno.

To engineer a coup, the CIA took a page from Hitler and the 1950s GOP and turned the PKI into the “monster under the bed.” The agency composed and printed lurid, and largely false propaganda about the communist “menace” and disseminated it throughout Indonesia. Some of the literature called for all Muslims to declare a religious Jihad against the PKI - even asserting that it was “God’s will” that all communists be killed. The coup engineers targeted young Muslim men 19-20 years of age, whom they whipped into a fear-filled, religious frenzy, then armed with weapons supplied by the U.S.

What was most despicable about this plot was that until the party began to be persecuted in 1965, the PKI had maintained a strict policy of remaining within the law, conducting only legal protests and remaining unarmed, so as not to provoke the Indonesian military. The “crime” the PKI had committed in the eyes of corrupt generals and their western landowning allies was to urge poor peasants to demand more rights and more just compensation from wealthy landowners. The PKI also demanded that the big landowners cease violating the ancient Indonesian rules of crop-sharing. The peasants’ land was being used to grow sugar and rubber – not the rice that was vital to the survival of the poor. In some areas, the PKI created “armies” of farmers, who took over tracts of land and planted rice. Many of these farmers had been left without any access to land at all due to the eruption of the Ganungagung volcano.

In 1966, having set the stage by spreading suspicion, anger and fear against the communists, the CIA and Suharto went into the next act of what was to become known as the Untung Coup. Six generals still considered loyal to Sukarno were brutally murdered by Suharto and his cohorts. The communists were then framed for the crime, thereby providing Suharto with the excuse he needed to unleash a wholesale “purge” of the PKI. Hitler did much the same thing in Germany in the 1930s – he framed a young Dutch man who belonged to the communist party for blowing up the Reichstag, and thus was able to declare outright war on all communists – the only faction in Germany that had posed a serious roadblock to his complete domination.

The largely unarmed PKI members were hunted down and slaughtered in one of the most appalling bloodbaths of the 20th century. The poor farmers who had taken a few acres of land were shot down by landowners like turkeys in a shoot. Entire families in which a single member was suspected of being a communist were murdered, including children, some while they slept. Between 1965-1966 an estimated 500,000 to one million men, women, and children were massacred – most with weapons supplied by the U.S. “Time” magazine reported during this period that “travelers from [some] areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies.” However, “Time,” like all media in the U.S. in that pre-Vietnam War era (the U.S. presence in Vietnam was still a “police action” then) was still well-indoctrinated by the anti-communist, pro-corporate dogma created by the GOP in the 1950s and sustained by the CIA and a cluster of powerful insiders through the decades ever since. In the July 15, 1966 issue of “Time,” the bloody Untung Coup was hailed as “the West’s best news in years.”

In the final step of the coup, Suharto deposed Sukarno. What followed was a feeding frenzy by Suharto, his henchmen and U.S. corporations. Like a warlord, Suharto approriated the best of everything he could for himself and his family - oil wells, timber lands, and sugar plantations. Thousands of acres of land were seized by companies with the blessings of Suharto. Tens of thousands of native people were killed, displaced, or “disappeared” to make way for mining, logging, and drilling operations. Suharto and the other corrupt officers of the Indonesian military were involved in every imaginable money-generating scheme, including smuggling – “a range of activities limited only by the imaginations of the military commanders.” In 1966, Suharto declared himself committed to aiding the West in its exploitation of Indonesia. In 1967, the “Foreign Investment Law” was passed, which officially threw Indonesia’s doors wide open to foreign exploitation. In 1967, guess what western company was the first to be licensed under this new, corrupt and blood-stained regime: The Freeport gold operation.

A Feudal Regime Where Enough is Never Enough

While the U.S. companies ripped billions of dollars out of the Indonesian landscape, over 60% of the nation lived below the poverty line, many at the point of starvation. Yet, the Suharto government would always point to a handful of new schools as proof of his compassion for his country. Even today, in 2001, Freeport-McMoRan offers a slick propaganda brochure that shows scrubbed natives in front of a single school, and describes a smorgasbord of corporate largesse which doesn’t really exist. The few crusts thrown to the Indonesian natives by Freeport have been in spite of the company; most real advances in the treatment of natives has occurred between 1999-2001 and then only because of the growing public outcry.

As always, when it comes to corporate greed, enough is never enough. By 1974, the U.S. had lost Vietnam and, under Suharto’s rule, there were constant outbreaks of rebellion in Indonesia. Nowhere was the push for independence more well-organized and persistent than in East Timor. The progressive governor there decided to allow the formation of multiple political parties, which in turn lead to an intensified push for independence from the oppression of Suharto and from foreign interests. The prospect of East Timorese autonomy dismayed Suharto because he and his friends had very valuable holdings in the region, including three oil wells. If the push for independence succeeded, he might lose his “investments” (or should we say seizures). Worse yet, the push for independence could easily spread into nearby West Papua, threatening Suharto’s other interests and Kissinger’s gold mine (in which Suharto had a hefty share)!

Evidence examined recently by researchers, including investigative reporter Christopher Hitchens strongly indicates that in 1975, Kissinger helped to orchestrate a surprise invasion of East Timor by the Indonesian military. Beyond any likely coincidence, Kissinger and Gerald Ford were visiting Suharto on December 6, 1975, the night before the invasion (although Ford may have been Kissinger’s dupe, used as a legitimizing “front” – or even fall guy). The next day, just an hour or so after Air Force One had cleared Indonesian air space carrying Kissinger and Ford back to the U.S., the attack on East Timor was launched and the region was soon declared Indonesia’s 27th province. In the process, over 200,000 East Timorese people were slaughtered outright; tens of thousands more died of starvation and disease later.

For the next two decades, for the oil and mining industries in Indonesia, and for Henry Kissinger, it was to be business as usual.

See Bibliography at end of Part II