An Indonesian Garuda Airlines Airbus crashed near Medan, Sumatra, on Sept. 26, killing over 200 people. Twenty-eight sailors were lost the same day when two cargo ships collided in the Straits of Malacca.
The suspected cause of these accidents? A smoky haze that drastically cut visibility.
The criminals behind the smoke? A military regime created in Washington that allows wild capitalism to squeeze workers and ravage rain forests.
These two crashes highlight a less dramatic but more persistent danger to millions of people in that Southeast Asian region: smoke from fires in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra.
These fires are caused not by lightning strikes or a sloppily discarded cigarette. They are deliberately set by giant plantation-owning firms aiming at the quickest, cheapest way to clear wide tracts of land for exploitation. For these super-profits, they destroy the environment, kill wild animals, and have already killed hundreds of people with smoke from Malaysia and Thailand to the Philippines. According to environmental activists collecting information on the fires, the greatest harm is taking place on the large islands of Sumatra and Borneo. In some places schools and kindergartens are being closed.
People are wearing face masks. Medical facilities are treating cases of breathing problems and eye irritation.
The environmental group IPPL learned that 193 square miles of the Batang Hari Hutan Lindung forest area in east Sumatra is to be clear-felled to make way for palm-oil plantations. These forests protect the watershed of one of the two biggest rivers in Sumatra.
Such rampant environmental destruction recalls the ravaging of the Mississippi River's watershed forests by wild capitalist exploitation in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which led to disastrous flooding in the Mississippi Valley.
According to the Sept. 25 New York Times, the worst danger to humans arises where the persistent smoke mingles with industrial pollution in urban areas. In some regions of Sarawak--a Malaysian state in northern New Guinea--the pollution is almost as great as that produced by the "killer fogs" that plagued industrial London until the mid-1950s. One such fog killed 4,000 people there in 1952.
While setting these fires is illegal under Indonesian law, the firms' connections with the Indonesian military government have allowed them to clear-burn areas without even a slap on the wrist.
This same government calls out the army to put down workers' strikes. Firms like Nike and Reebok can then subcontract sneaker production in Indonesia, taking advantage of dirt-cheap labor in the world's fourth most populous country.
On Sept. 19 the regime broke into the second congress of the non-government trade union SBSI and arrested 10 unionists.
It released them a day later, after an international outcry. But on Sept. 23 it arrested eight more unionists for encouraging workers in the area surrounding parliament to join in a march to the Department of Labor in Djakarta, Indonesia's capital.
This anti-worker, environment-destroying regime, it should be recalled, was put into office by a CIA-inspired coup in 1965-66. Washington's policy was aimed at destroying the influence of the mass-based Indonesian Communist Party, which U.S. strategists feared could bring workers' rule to the archipelago.
With Gen. Suharto at their head, the U.S.-backed coup makers murdered up to a million Indonesians in the six months after October 1965. Not a word of criticism came from Washington or from the big-business U.S. media. Ever since, the U.S. government has been a staunch backer of the Suharto military regime, despite its cronyism, corruption and repression.
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