Howard exploits tsunami tragedy

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No important event has a neutral or apolitical effect – not sport, music, or even natural disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunami. The Indonesian government is taking advantage of the tsunami to attack GAM (the Aceh guerrilla/independence movement). One tactic by Jakarta has been to introduce reactionary groups like the Islamic Defenders Front, Jemaah Islamiah and Laskar Mujahidin into Aceh to assist in crushing GAM.

This is similar to how the Israelis created Hamas in the past to undermine the PLO or the US assisted Bin Laden to help defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. In Palestine/Israel and in Afghanistan these antics came back to haunt the imperialists. It will be the same for Jakarta.

The response of the advanced capitalist world to the tsunami was at first disdain, then (under pressure from the public) it changed into using the tragedy to boost imperialist influence in the affected areas.

John Howard initially offered only $10 million to the aid effort – that has now increased to $1 billion ($500 million in direct aid and $500 million in loans over five years) – an increase of times 100. He has insisted that the aid be kept out of UN hands and under the firm control of the Australian ruling class.

There are similarities with East Timor in 1999. For years Australian governments both ‘Labor’ and Coalition supported the brutal Indonesian occupation. When the Australian public took to the streets to protest against the 1999 brutalities by the TNI and their militia allies, Howard changed tack and announced an Australian-led UN military intervention into East Timor.

Indonesia, weakened after the 1998 economic collapse and revolution that overthrew Suharto, had to grudingly accept. The Australian protest leaders – including so-called socialists – supported Howard’s adventure, as did the leaders of the East Timorese independence movement, and in effect sub-contracted their liberation out to Canberra.

Now of course even blind freddy can see that Howard is getting more than his money back from poor East Timor, with Australian oil and gas companies stealing more than $1 million a day from disputed oil fields.

Today, with the tsunami, Howard is doing the same. That is taking advantage of the tremendous mood to ‘let’s do something’ from the public and turning it to the advantage of the ruling class.

The “$1 billion” from John Howard will be distributed not by democratically elected committees of the people affected by the tsunami, or even the Indonesian regime, but by a joint commission overseen by Howard and Indonesian President Yudhoyono and staffed by Australian officials and led by AusAID’s Bruce Davies. “A lot of ideas will come from the Indonesians themselves”, commented Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in the colonial manner he does so well.

“The federal government and Australian companies look set to keep firm control of the awarding of hundreds of millions of dollars Indonesian recontruction contracts” (Financial Review 14th January 2005). No wonder the same newspaper congratulated Howard at being “a dab hand at dealing with crises”.

Days earlier (8-9th January 2005) the Financial Review bluntly explained that: “the groundswell of generosity (from the West) did not stem from humanitarian concerns alone” (!)…For many nations, (the tsunami) is a golden opportunity to seek to expand their influence in a region full of fast-growing economies, particularly in Indonesia…Australia’s massive pledge, for example, should lead to greater co-operation with Jakarta in the war against terrorism, while a viable Indonesian economy promises benefits for Australian trade and investment. Australian companies are also more likely to be involved in the rebuilding of key infrastructure in shattered Aceh province over the next five years.”

Even a few weeks ago who would have believed that Australian troops could be on the ground in Aceh or US troops in Sri Lanka? For the US and Australia the tsunami is an opportunity to rebuild their image in the underdeveloped world, especially in the Muslim world. However the presence of foreign imperialist troops will generate big anti-imperialist movements in the future.

The Socialist Party and the CWI call for:

* All foreign debts should be cancelled immediately
* Democratic control of aid by committees of local people, workers and poor farmers organisations etc in proportion to their support in each area – no confidence in capitalist aid agencies or imperialist forces or local military
* Australia should accept a large number of refugees from affected areas
* Australian workers’ movement should create direct links with similar organisations in affected areas to provide financial and material support so they can rebuild

By Stephen Jolly