Indonesia: December 23, 2001

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It's becoming apparent that the current chaos in the country is nothing new, and that the three decades of the Suharto dictatorship just kept the corruption and local autonomy out of sight. With the local media now free to report whatever they want, and no secret police chasing after foreign journalists (or keeping them out of the country), many long standing corrupt practices are coming to light. Illegal mining and logging, smuggling and piracy are rampant. The piracy is something new, Suharto's pervasive police were able to keep the buccaneering spirit of Indonesians under control. But economic recession and fewer cops has led to a sharp increase in piracy. Local politicians have so far caused so much trouble that the central government is, so far, unable to deal with all the local unrest at once. Moreover, the local strongmen and politicians are getting rich off the illegal enterprises and have no incentive to listen to the central government. Not exactly a problem with warlords; the local hotshots can be brought to heel if the government files in a few infantry battalions. But there are not enough infantry battalions to go around. The United States has offered to restore military aid, although this makes some Indonesians fear that a stronger army will be tempted to reinstate the military dictatorship. The government needs a strong army, but has to be careful that the armed forces are not too strong.

 

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