From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject How ‘Jakarta’ Became the Codeword for US-Backed Mass Killing
Date May 24, 2020 12:00 AM
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[Coups in Brazil in 1964 and Indonesia in 1965 were US Cold War
victories. In Indonesia between 500,000 and 1,000,000 were killed.
This led to the creation of a monstrous international network of
extermination and our current global economic system.]
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HOW ‘JAKARTA’ BECAME THE CODEWORD FOR US-BACKED MASS KILLING  
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Vincent Bevins
May 18, 2020
New York Review of Books
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_ Coups in Brazil in 1964 and Indonesia in 1965 were US Cold War
victories. In Indonesia between 500,000 and 1,000,000 were killed.
This led to the creation of a monstrous international network of
extermination and our current global economic system. _

,

 

In May 1962, a girl named Ing Giok Tan got on a rusty old boat in
Jakarta, Indonesia. Her country, one of the largest in the world, had
been pulled into the global battle between capitalism and communism,
and her parents decided to flee the terrible consequences that
conflict had wrought for families like hers. They set sail for Brazil,
having heard from other Indonesians who had already made the journey
that this place offered freedom, opportunity, and respite from
conflict. But they knew almost nothing about it. Brazil was just an
idea for them, and it was very far away. Suffering through anxiety and
seasickness for forty-five days, they made their way past Singapore,
across the Indian Ocean to Mauritius, down past Mozambique, around
South Africa, and then all the way across the Atlantic to São Paulo,
the largest city in South America.

If they thought they could escape the violence of the cold war, they
were tragically mistaken. Two years after they arrived, the military
overthrew Brazil’s young democracy and established a violent
dictatorship. After that, the new Indonesian immigrants in Brazil
received messages from home describing the most shocking scenes
imaginable, an explosion of violence so terrifying that even
discussing what happened would make people break down, questioning
their own sanity. But the reports were all true. In the wake of that
apocalyptic slaughter in Indonesia, a young nation littered with
mutilated bodies emerged as one of Washington’s most reliable
allies, and then largely disappeared from history.

What happened in Brazil in 1964 and Indonesia in 1965 may have been
the most important victories of the cold war for the side that
ultimately won—that is, the United States and the global economic
system now in operation. As such, they are among the most important
events in a process that has fundamentally shaped life for almost
everyone. Both countries had been independent, standing somewhere in
between the world’s capitalist and communist superpowers, but fell
decisively into the US camp in the middle of the 1960s.

Officials in Washington and journalists in New York certainly
understood how significant these events were at the time. They knew
that Indonesia, now the world’s fourth most-populous country, was a
far more important prize than Vietnam ever could have been. In just a
few months, the US foreign policy establishment achieved there what it
failed to get done in ten bloody years of war in Indochina. And the
dictatorship in Brazil, currently the world’s fifth most-populous
country, played a crucial role in pushing the rest of South America
into the pro-Washington, anticommunist group of nations. In both
countries, the Soviet Union was barely involved.

Most shockingly, the two events led to the creation of a monstrous
international network of extermination—that is, the systematic mass
murder of civilians—across many more countries, which played a
fundamental role in building the world we all live in today.

Unless you are Indonesian, or a specialist on the topic, most people
know very little about Indonesia, and almost nothing about what
happened in 1965–1966 in that archipelago nation. The truth of the
violence remained hidden for decades. The dictatorship established in
its wake told the world a lie, and survivors were imprisoned or too
terrified to speak out. It is only as a result of the efforts of
heroic Indonesian activists and dedicated scholars around the world
that we can now tell the story. Documents recently declassified in
Washington, D.C., have been a huge help, though some of what happened
still remains shrouded in mystery.

Indonesia likely fell off the proverbial map because the events of
1965–1966 were such a complete success for Washington. No US
soldiers died, and no one at home was ever in danger. Although
Indonesian leaders in the 1950s and 1960s had played a huge
international role, after 1966 the country stopped rocking the boat
entirely. But after going through the documentation and spending a lot
of time with the people who lived through these events, I came to form
another, deeply unsettling theory as to why these episodes have been
forgotten. I fear that the truth of what happened contradicts so
forcefully our idea of what the cold war was, of what it means to be
an American, or how globalization has taken place, that it has simply
been easier to ignore it.

Two events in my own life convinced me that the events of the
mid-1960s are very much still with us. That their ghosts still haunt
the world, so to speak.

In 2016, I was working my sixth and final year as Brazil correspondent
for the _Los Angeles Times_, and I was walking the halls of Congress
in Brasília. Lawmakers in the world’s third-largest democracy were
preparing to vote on whether they would impeach President Dilma
Rousseff, a former left-wing guerrilla and the country’s first
female president. Down the corridor, I recognized an unimportant but
reliably outspoken far-right congressman by the name of Jair
Bolsonaro, so I approached him for a quick interview. It was widely
known by that point that political rivals were trying to bring
President Rousseff down on a technicality, and that those organizing
her ouster were guilty of far more corruption than she was.

Because I was a foreign journalist, I asked Bolsonaro if he worried
the international community might doubt the legitimacy of the more
conservative government that was set to replace her, given the
questionable proceedings that day. The answers he gave me seemed so
far outside the mainstream, such a complete resurrection of cold war
phantoms, that I didn’t even use the interview. He said, “The
world will celebrate what we do today, because we are stopping Brazil
from turning into another North Korea.”

This was absurd. Rousseff was a center-left leader whose government
had been, if anything, too friendly with huge corporations.

A few moments later, Bolsonaro walked up to the microphone in the
congressional chambers and made a declaration that shook the country.
He dedicated his impeachment vote to Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra,
the man who, as a colonel during Brazil’s dictatorship, oversaw
Rousseff’s own torture. It was an outrageous provocation, an attempt
to rehabilitate the country’s anticommunist military regime and to
become the national symbol of far-right opposition to everything.

When I interviewed Rousseff a few weeks later, as she waited for the
final vote that would remove her from office, our conversation
invariably turned to the role of the United States in Brazil’s
affairs. Considering the many times and ways Washington had intervened
to overthrow governments in South America, many of her supporters
wondered if the CIA was behind this one, too. She denied it: it was
the result of Brazil’s internal dynamics. But that is, in its own
way, even worse: Brazil’s dictatorship had transitioned to the type
of democracy that could safely remove anyone—like Rousseff or
Lula—whom the economic or political elites deemed a threat to their
interests, and they could summon cold war demons to go to battle for
them when they pleased.

We now know the extent to which Bolsonaro’s gambit succeeded. When
he was elected president two years later, I was in Rio. Fights
immediately erupted in the streets. Big burly men started yelling at
tattooed women who wore stickers supporting the rival candidate,
screaming, “Communists! Get out! Communists! Get out!”

In 2017, I moved in the exact opposite direction that Ing Giok Tan and
her family had so many years before. I relocated from São Paulo to
Jakarta to cover Southeast Asia for _The Washington Post_. Just
months after I arrived, a group of academics and activists planned to
put on a low-key conference to discuss the events of 1965. But some
people were spreading the accusation on social media that this was
actually a meeting to resurrect communism—still illegal in the
country, over fifty years later—and a mob made their way toward the
event that night, not long after I had left.

Groups composed largely of Islamist men, now common participants in
aggressive Jakarta street demonstrations, surrounded the building and
trapped everyone inside. My roommate, Niken, a young labor organizer
from Central Java, was held captive there all night, as the mob
pounded on the walls, chanting, “Crush the communists!” and
“Burn them alive!” She sent me texts, terrified, asking me to
publicize what was happening, so I did so on Twitter.

It didn’t take long for that to generate threats and accusations
that _I _was a communist, or even a member of Indonesia’s
nonexistent Communist Party. I had become used to receiving exactly
these kinds of messages in South America. The similarities were no
coincidence. The paranoia in both places can be traced back to a
traumatic rupture in the middle of the 1960s.

Magdalena was born in 1948, when Indonesia’s independence forces,
under the leadership of the country’s first president, Sukarno, were
still fighting to expel the Dutch colonizers. She grew up in a
troubled peasant family, always tossed back and forth as a result of
marital strife, sickness, and poverty. Like most residents of Java
(with the notable exception of the ethnic Chinese), she was Muslim,
but she never got very deep into studies of the Quran. At school, she
loved gamelan, the traditional Javanese music form, in which a small
percussive orchestra plays meditative, meandering ensemble pieces,
which can rise and fall slowly for hours.

But she was pulled away from all of that fairly quickly. At thirteen,
she dropped out to work as a maid in a nearby household. At fifteen,
her mother fell ill, so she came back home and began to sell what they
could to their neighbors for some money: bits of wood, salads, cooked
meals, fried cassava, whatever they could to get by.

She had never been to a big city, but word was it was easier to get a
job in Jakarta. An aunt of hers, Le, had some connections in the
capital and told her she could help her get set up there. So, aged
sixteen, she got on the train, and rode for a full day, moving slowly
westward on tracks originally put down by the Dutch a hundred years
earlier, and arrived in Jakarta, all alone. As she passed by the
National Monument, she marveled at its scale—about ten times as high
as any building she’d ever seen.

They were right about the job prospects. Almost immediately, she
started working at a T-shirt factory. Her new employer put her in a
small, shared apartment attached to the company’s office, with all
the other girls. In the morning, she’d put on her uniform and wait.
Just after six, she and all the other girls piled into a big truck,
which took them from their little home in Jatinegara, East Jakarta,
and rode through the morning to Duren Tiga in the South, as the city
sped by. They worked from seven to four, and the pay wasn’t bad. The
men washed the cloth, and the women cut it into the right shapes.
Someone else, somewhere else, put it all together.

Conditions were okay, Magdalena thought. And she learned, right away,
that this was because of SOBSI, the trade union network affiliated
with the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) that had organized most of the
workers in the country. She joined, like everyone else did, and after
a few months got a minor administrative role in her local union,
without many real duties. She came, cut the cloth, and went home.

That was her first, very minor, introduction to Indonesian politics.
She barely understood the revolutionary slogans or ideological jargon
coming through the radio at work. She hardly knew anything about the
PKI, and had no idea that it was the largest communist party in the
world outside of China and the USSR. Nor did she know that President
Sukarno, a founding leader of the Non-Aligned Movement that resisted
taking sides with either the capitalist or the communist superpowers,
was then pitted in a major confrontation with the United States and
Britain. SOBSI was simply part of the gig, she knew, and it helped out
a lot.

“They would support us, they had our backs, and their strategy
worked,” she said. “It really worked. That’s what we knew.”

When she got off work, she was usually too tired to do much—and a
bit too young and lonely to venture out into the big city. She kept
her head down, and just observed. She didn’t talk politics after
work—she would lie around and make small talk with her best friend
in Jakarta, Siti, maybe gossiping about boys, discussing which girls
had boyfriends or husbands. Though she had always been single, she had
learned early, growing up back home, that she was considered very
pretty. Dating was something she might try later. For now, she was
working on building some savings for a life that was just a little
more secure.

In September 29, 1965, most Indonesians had no idea who General
Suharto was. But the CIA did. As early as September 1964, the CIA
listed Suharto in a secret cable as one of the Army generals it
considered to be “friendly” to US interests and anticommunist. The
cable also put forward the idea of an anticommunist
military–civilian coalition that could take control of the country
if there were a power struggle.

The leaders of the _Gerakan 30 September_, or September 30th
Movement—military officers themselves—knew General Suharto, too.
The nature of their operation, which started in the early morning of
October 1, is still shrouded in mystery. We know that for all of 1965,
the political situation in Indonesia was unstable, with the unarmed
Communists on one side and the US-backed military on the other. And we
know that as Sukarno hovered somewhere in between, American and
British intelligence services covertly agitated for conflict between
the two groups, and rumors of plotting abounded in Jakarta. The
leaders of the September 30th Movement sent out squads of soldiers to
kidnap seven of their Army superiors, whom they accused of planning a
right-wing coup. Six of those senior officers ended up dead, and the
September 30th Movement was used as a pretext for a brutal crackdown
on the PKI.

Suharto, a laconic forty-four-year-old major general from Central
Java, was serving as head of the Army’s Strategic Command, or
KOSTRAD. Suharto had studied under a man named Suwarto, a close friend
of RAND Corporation consultant Guy Pauker and one of the Indonesian
officers most responsible for implementing US-allied counterinsurgency
operations.

On the morning of October 1, Suharto arrived at KOSTRAD, which for
some reason had not been targeted or neutralized by the September 30th
Movement, even though it sat directly across from Independence Square,
which they occupied that morning. At an emergency meeting in the early
morning, he took over as commander of the Armed Forces. In the
afternoon, he told the troops at Independence Square to disperse and
put an end to the rebellion or he would attack. He retook central
Jakarta without firing a single shot, and went on the radio himself to
declare the September 30th Movement had been defeated.

President Sukarno ordered another major general, Pranoto, to meet him
at Halim Air Force Base and assume temporary command of the Armed
Forces. Contradicting a direct order from his commander in chief,
Suharto forbade Pranoto to go, and gave Sukarno himself an order:
leave the airport. Sukarno did so, and fled to a presidential palace
outside the city. Suharto then easily took control of the airport, and
then the entire country, ignoring Sukarno when he saw fit.

Once in command, Suharto ordered that all media be shut down, with the
exception of the military outlets he now controlled. He then
controlled all mass communications, and accused the PKI of shocking
crimes, using deliberate and incendiary falsehoods to whip up hatred
against the left across the country.

The military spread the story that the PKI was the mastermind of a
failed communist coup. Suharto and his men claimed that the Indonesian
Communist Party had brought the generals back to Halim Air Force Base
and begun a depraved, demonic ritual. They said members of _Gerwani_,
the communist-affiliated Women’s Movement, danced naked while the
women mutilated and tortured the generals, cutting off their genitals
and gouging out their eyes, before murdering them. They claimed that
the PKI had long lists of people they planned to kill, and mass graves
already prepared. They said China had secretly delivered arms to
People’s Youth Brigades. The Army paper, _Angkatan
Bersendjata _(_Armed Forces_), printed photos of the dead generals’
bodies, reporting they had been “cruelly and viciously
slaughtered” in acts of torture that were “an affront to
humanity.”

After some initial confusion, the US government assisted Suharto in
the crucial early phase of spreading propaganda and establishing his
anticommunist narrative. Washington covertly supplied vital mobile
communications equipment to the military, a now-declassified cable
indicates. This was also a tacit admission, very early, that the US
government recognized the Army, not Sukarno, as the true leader of the
country, even though Sukarno was still legally the president. The
United States had been trying to stop the PKI for over a decade,
precisely because US authorities knew the Communists were so popular.
The Americans tried funding a conservative Muslim party, but the PKI
kept winning over more voters; they had the CIA bomb the country in
1958 to break it into pieces, and that failed, too. But now their
ambassador in Jakarta, Marshall Green, saw “an opportunity to move
against Communist Party,” as he wrote in a cable. “It’s now or
never.”

The Western press did its part, too. Voice of America, the BBC, and
Radio Australia broadcast reports that emphasized Indonesian military
propaganda points, as part of a psychological warfare campaign to
demonize the PKI. Indonesian-language versions of these broadcasts
reached inside the country as well, and Indonesians remember thinking
that the credibility of Suharto’s narrative was more trustworthy
because they heard respected international outlets saying the same
thing.

Every part of the story the Indonesian Army told is a lie.
No _Gerwani _women participated in any killings on October 1. The
story spread by Suharto hits on some of the darkest fears and
prejudices held by Indonesians, and indeed men in general—around the
world. A surprise night raid on your home. Slow torture with blades.
The inversion of gender roles, the literal assault on strong men’s
reproductive organs carried out by demonic, sexually depraved
communist women. It’s the stuff of a well-written, reactionary
horror film, and few people believe Suharto came up with it himself.

The similarities with the Brazilian legend of the _Intentona
Comunista, _an important part of the run-up to the US-backed 1964
military coup in that country_, _are striking. Just a year after a
coup in the most important nation in Latin America was inspired partly
by a legend about communist soldiers stabbing generals to death in
their sleep, General Suharto told the most important nation in
Southeast Asia that communists and left-wing soldiers whisked generals
away from their homes in the dead of night to be murdered slowly with
knives, and then both Washington-aligned anticommunist military
dictatorships celebrated the anniversary of those rebellions in very
much the same way for decades.

The Army newspaper _Angkatan Bersendjata _published a cartoon of a
man striking a tree trunk with an axe. On the tree is written
“G30S,” the Indonesian-language acronym for the September 30th
Movement, and the roots spell “PKI,” the Communist Party. The
caption reads: “Exterminate them down to the roots.” Internally,
however, the Indonesian Army had a different name. It called
this _Operasi Penumpasan_—Operation Annihilation.

Magdalena, meanwhile, barely noticed that there had been a bit of
political chaos in early October in the capital. She certainly
didn’t know things back in Central Java, where she grew up, were
much worse than they were in Jakarta.

Her grandmother had fallen ill, so she got time off from her job at
the T-shirt factory. On October 19, she took a train back to her
village to visit her. Health problems had plagued her family her whole
life. By the time she arrived, her grandmother had already passed. The
plan was to attend the funeral and spend a week, maybe two, grieving
with the family, then get back to work in Jakarta. She went to bed in
her childhood home in Purwokerto.

The following day, in Washington, the State Department received
another cable from Green. He reported that the PKI had suffered
“some damage to its organizational strength through arrest,
harassment and, in some cases, execution of PKI cadres.” He
continued: “If army repression of PKI continues and army refuses to
give up its position of power to Sukarno, PKI strength can be cut
back. In long run, however, army repression of PKI will not be
successful unless it is willing to attack communism as such.” Green
concluded: “Army has nevertheless been working hard at destroying
PKI and I, for one, have increasing respect for its determination and
organization in carrying out this crucial assignment.”

In the early afternoon, two police officers arrived at Magdalena’s
family home in Purwokerto, less than twenty-four hours after her
arrival. “You’re coming with us. We need some information from
you,” they told her.

The entire house erupted, crying, screaming. Magdalena’s family had
heard some people were arrested recently in the neighborhood, but they
didn’t know she was a member of a SOBSI union in Jakarta; neither
they nor Magdalena knew that could ever be a problem in the first
place.

At the police station, officers began to yell at her, interrogating
her. They told her they knew she was a member of the _Gerwani_. She
wasn’t. She didn’t know what to say to them, except that she
wasn’t. She was in Jakarta, they said. Maybe she was even at the
slaughter. She didn’t know anything about this, she told them.

These interrogations started, and stopped, and started again, for
seven days. Then the officers took her to another police station, in
Semarang. As soon as she arrived, she collapsed. She was sick, or
overwhelmed. She was dizzy all over. She was, by then, seventeen years
old.

She’s not sure how long she was at the second police station before
two police officers raped her. She was _Gerwani_, in the minds of the
police, which meant that she was not a human being, and not a woman,
but a sexually depraved murderer. An enemy of Indonesia and Islam. A
witch. These men were in charge of her now.

On October 22, the State Department received detailed reports of the
extent and nature of the Army operations as killings began in Java. A
“Moslem Youth Leader” reported that “assistants” were
accompanying troops on sweeps that led to killings. National Security
Adviser McGeorge Bundy wrote to President Johnson that events in
Indonesia since September 30 “are so far a striking vindication of
U.S. policy towards that nation in recent years.”

Two weeks later, the White House authorized the CIA station in Bangkok
to provide small arms to its military contact in Central Java “for
use against the PKI,” alongside medical supplies that would come in
from the CIA station in Bangkok.

In January 1966, Senator Bobby Kennedy said, “We have spoken out
against the inhuman slaughters perpetrated by the Nazis and the
Communists. But will we speak out also against the inhuman slaughter
in Indonesia, where over 100,000 alleged Communists have not been
perpetrators but victims?” He wildly underestimated the number of
the dead, but at least he said something. No other prominent US
politician condemned the massacre. By this time, RFK was in the habit
of speaking out forcefully in ways that others wouldn’t. It’s
unclear whether he knew that the Johnson administration was actively
assisting with the massacre at that point. Maybe RFK had a kind of
conversion about the nature of black ops after his brother’s death.
Maybe it was politics. But whatever it was, Washington did not stop
helping to carry out Operation Annihilation.

On April 13, 1966, C.L. Sulzberger penned a piece, one of many in this
genre, with the headline “When a Nation Runs Amok”
for _The_ _New York Times_. As Sulzberger described it, the killings
occurred in “violent Asia, where life is cheap.” He reproduced the
lie that Communist Party members had killed the generals on October 1,
and that _Gerwani _women slashed and tortured them. He went on to
affirm that “Indonesians are gentle… but hidden behind their
smiles is that strange Malay streak, that inner, frenzied blood-lust
which has given to other languages one of their few Malay
words: _amok_.”

The Malay, and now Indonesian, concept of _amok _actually referred
to a traditional form of ritual suicide, even if the anglicization now
refers to wild violence more generally. But there’s no reason to
believe that the mass violence of 1965–1966 has its roots in native
culture. No one has any evidence of mass murder of this kind happening
in Indonesian history, except for when foreigners were involved.

This story of inexplicable, vaguely tribal violence—so easy for
American readers to digest—was entirely false. This was organized
state violence with a clear purpose. The main obstacles to a complete
military takeover were eliminated by a coordinated program of
extermination—the intentional mass murder of innocent civilians. The
generals were able to take power after state terror sufficiently
weakened their political opponents, who had no weapons, only public
sympathy. They didn’t resist their own annihilation because they had
no idea what was coming.

In total, it is estimated that between five hundred thousand and one
million people were slaughtered, and one million more were herded into
concentration camps. Millions more people were indirect victims of the
massacres, but no one came around to inquire how many loved ones they
had lost.

Their silence was the point of the violence. The Armed Forces did not
oversee the extermination of every single communist, alleged
communist, and potential communist sympathizer in the country. That
would have been nearly impossible, because around a quarter of the
country was affiliated somehow with the PKI. Once the killings took
hold, it became incredibly hard to find anyone who would admit to any
association with the PKI.

Around 15 percent of the prisoners taken were women. They were
subjected to especially cruel, gendered violence, which sprung
directly from the propaganda spread by Suharto with Western help.
Except for a tiny number of people possibly involved in the planning
of the disastrous September 30th Movement, almost everyone killed and
imprisoned was entirely innocent of any crime. Magdalena, an
apolitical teenage member of a communist-affiliated union, was
innocent.

The rank-and-file card-carrying members of the unarmed Communist
Party, who made up a large proportion of the victims, were also
entirely innocent. They didn’t do anything wrong at all, yet they
were condemned to annihilation, and almost everyone around them was
sentenced to a lifetime of guilt, trauma, and being told they had
sinned unforgivably because of their association with the earnest
hopes of left-wing politics.

When the conflict came, and when the opportunity arose, the US
government helped spread the propaganda that made the killing possible
and engaged in constant conversations with the Army to make sure the
military officers had everything they needed, from weapons to kill
lists. The US embassy constantly prodded the military to adopt a
stronger position and take over the government, knowing full well that
the method being employed to make this possible was to round up
hundreds of thousands of people around the country, stab or strangle
them, and throw their corpses into rivers. The Indonesian military
officers understood very well that the more people they killed, the
weaker the left would be, and the happier Washington would be.

It wasn’t only US government officials who handed over kill lists to
the Army. Managers of US-owned plantations furnished them with the
names of “troublesome” communists and union organizers, who were
then murdered.

The prime responsibility for the massacres and concentration camps
lies with the Indonesian military. We still do not know if the method
employed— disappearance and mass extermination—was planned well
before October 1965, perhaps inspired by other cases around the world,
or planned under foreign direction, or if it emerged as a solution as
events unfolded. But Washington shares guilt for every death. The
United States was part and parcel of the operation at every stage,
starting well before the killing started, until the last body dropped
and the last political prisoner emerged from jail, decades later,
tortured, scarred, and bewildered. At several points that we know
of—and perhaps some we don’t—Washington was the prime mover and
provided crucial pressure for the operation to move forward or expand.

And in the end, US officials got what they wanted. It was a huge
victory. As historian John Roosa puts it, “Almost overnight the
Indonesian government went from being a fierce voice for cold war
neutrality and anti-imperialism to a quiet, compliant partner of the
US world order.”

In 1971, as the Brazilian dictatorship collaborated with right-wing
forces in Chile, the word “Jakarta” was put to new use. In both
countries, the capital of Indonesia now had the same meaning.

_Operação Jacarta_, or “the Jakarta Operation,” was the name of
a secret part of an extermination plan, according to documentation
compiled by Brazil’s Truth Commission. Testimony gathered after the
fall of the dictatorship indicates _Operação Jacarta _may have
been part of _Operação Radar_, which was aimed at destroying the
structure of the Brazilian Communist Party. The goal of _Operação
Jacarta _was the physical elimination of communists. It called for
mass murder, just as in Indonesia. Before the Jakarta Operation, the
dictatorship had aimed its violence at open rebellions. _Operação
Jacarta _was a hidden plan to expand state terror to Communist Party
members operating openly with civil society groups or in the media.

The Brazilian public would not hear the words _Operação
Jacarta _until three years later. But in Chile, the word
“Jakarta” made a very public arrival. Around Santiago, especially
in the eastern part of the city—up in the hills, where the
well-to-do people lived—someone began to plaster a message on the
walls. It took a few forms. “_Yakarta viene_.” “_Jakarta se
acerca_.” That is: “Jakarta is Coming.” Or sometimes, simply,
“Jakarta.”

The first record of “Jakarta” appearing as a threat was in a
January 1972 edition of _El Rebelde_, the official MIR newspaper. The
cover asked, “What is Djakarta?” and on the inside showed a photo
of the word slapped onto a wall. In a small article, “_La Via
Indonesia de Los Fascistas Chilenos_,” the paper attempted to
explain what the message meant. The Indonesian Communist Party had
played an active role in an “independent, progressive” state, and
then—overnight—all that was left of its members was a “sea of
blood.” At this point, not all of the Chilean left knew the
Indonesian story, and the idea of a wave of violence here seemed
far-fetched.

The second article on Jakarta came out in February 1972 in _Ramona_,
a Communist Party youth magazine. It claimed that the right wing had
adopted something called “Plan Djakarta,” and said it had gotten
the plan from David Rockefeller or Agustín Edwards (the owner of
the _El Mercurio_ newspaper, which received CIA funding). “The
Chilean extreme right wants to repeat that massacre,” the article
explained. “What does that mean concretely? The terrorists have a
plan which consists of killing the entire Central Committee of the
Communist Party, the top of the Socialist Party, the national
directors of CUT, the _Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de
Chile _union organization, leaders of social movements, and all
prominent figures on the Left.”

Wall painting was a popular political device in Santiago in the early
1970s. On the left, volunteer collectives painted murals with
elaborate images created by young artists inspired both by famous
international muralists, such as Diego Rivera in Mexico, and by
Chile’s indigenous Mapuche culture. On the right, money pouring in
from Washington or supplied by local elites was used to contract
professional painters, who were both more efficient and less talented,
because they were used to plastering simple advertising messages.

Patricio “Pato” Madera, a founding member of the left-wing Ramona
Parra Brigade of muralists, recognized the “Jakarta” graffiti as
the handiwork of the same class of hired hands who had been painting
right-wing slogans in recurring terror campaigns since 1964. But this
was an escalation. It was a mass death threat.

_Operação Jacarta. Yakarta Viene. Plan Yakarta. _In both Spanish
and Portuguese, in all three ways it was used, it’s clear what
“Jakarta” meant: anticommunist mass murder and the state-organized
extermination of civilians who opposed the construction of capitalist
authoritarian regimes loyal to the United States. It meant forced
disappearances and unrepentant state terror. And it would be employed
far and wide in Latin America over the two decades that followed.

  

Magdalena has been beautiful her entire life. All throughout the time
she was in prison, guards tried to marry her. She resisted, even
though she knew this would improve her situation, maybe even get her
out early. She didn’t want a relationship like that.

When she did get out of prison, more men tried to marry her. She
resisted. She didn’t feel safe with any man who had not been
imprisoned himself. She knew that she was marked for life as a
communist, as a witch. Any regular man was likely to view her as a
reject, she worried, and treat her like garbage if and when he felt
like it.

“How could I trust a regular man to be my husband?” she asked me.
“What if he got angry? He could just beat me, call me a communist,
and no one would help me.”

In Indonesia, being communist marks you for life as evil, and in many
cases, this is seen as something that passes down to your offspring,
as if it were a genetic deformity. Children of accused communists were
tortured or killed. Some women were prosecuted simply for setting up
an orphanage for the children of communist victims. One Indonesian
businessman close to Washington warned US officials, years after the
killings, that a strong military was needed because the offspring of
the communists were growing up.

Magdalena is serene and radiant at seventy-one, but also shy and
guarded. She lives alone, in a tiny one-bedroom shack, down an
alleyway in the city of Solo, in Central Java. She lives on two
hundred thousand rupiah a month, or about fourteen US dollars. She
gets a tiny bit of help from her local church, which supplies her with
a monthly stipend of five kilos of rice. But she has no family, and
she has none of the traditional ties to her community that sustain
most women her age. Those were cut when she was accused of being a
communist.

When I first pushed my motorcycle down the little road to her home,
and walked into her living room, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is
not how elderly Indonesians live. They live in houses with big
families—and if they don’t have that, the neighborhood takes care
of them. As I walked into her house, no one on her street greeted us.
She was not wrong when she figured that she would be marked for life.

This kind of situation is extremely common for survivors of the 1965
violence and repression. It is estimated that tens of millions of
victims or relatives of victims are still alive in Indonesia, and
almost all live in worse situations than they deserve. This ranges
from abject poverty and social isolation to simply being denied the
admission that a parent or grandparent was killed unjustly—that
their family was not guilty of anything at all.

The small organization that advocates for survivors in this
region, _Sekretariat Bersama ’65_, has fought for decades for
recognition of the crimes committed against people like Magdalena. The
survivors thought there could be some kind of a truth commission or
national reconciliation process; they thought there should be
reparations paid to the victims; they thought, at least, there should
be a public apology for what happened to them, an affirmation that
they are not less than human. None of that has taken place.

In the center of Indonesia’s capital, there is a structure called
the _Monumen Pancasila Sakti_, or Sacred Pancasila Monument. My ride
there, just like any ride between two points in Jakarta, was through
gridlock traffic, slowly making my way through crowded, polluted
streets. Recently, Indonesia’s military has banned foreigners from
entering this complex of memorials and museums—it appears
authorities don’t want international researchers to examine the
site. After visiting, I understand why.

The Sacred Pancasila Monument is a large white marble wall with
lifesize figures representing the victims of the September 30th
Movement standing in front of it. It’s just a few steps
from _Lubang Buaya_, the well where the six murdered generals’
bodies were found.

But as for everyone else who was killed, there’s no memorial. There
is an entire museum—the _Museum Pengkhianatan PKI (Komunis)_, or
the Museum of Communist Betrayal—that exists to reinforce the
narrative that the communists were a treacherous party that deserved
to be eliminated. As you walk down a bizarre series of darkened halls,
a series of diorama installations take you through the history of the
party, demonstrating each and every time they betrayed the nation, or
attacked the military, or plotted to destroy Indonesia, down to
reproducing Suharto’s propaganda narrative about the events of
October 1965. There is no reference to the up to one million civilians
killed as a result.

At the exit, kids pose for photos in front of a big sign that says,
“Thank you for observing some of our dioramas about the savagery
carried out by the Indonesian Communist Party. Don’t let anything
like this ever happen again.”

_Vincent Bevins is an American journalist who has worked in the UK for
the Financial Times, in Brazil for The Los Angeles Times, and in
Southeast Asia for The Washington Post. His book The Jakarta Method:
Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that
Shaped Our World is published in May. (March 2020)_

_Follow Vincent Bevins on Twitter: @Vinncent
[[link removed]]._

_ESSAY IS ADAPTED FROM THE AUTHOR’S BOOK THE JAKARTA METHOD:
WASHINGTON’S ANTICOMMUNIST CRUSADE AND THE MASS MURDER PROGRAM THAT
SHAPED OUR WORLD
[[link removed]],
PUBLISHED THIS WEEK BY PUBLIC AFFAIRS. _

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