Repression of Venezuela discussion in Indonesia highlights hypocrisy of West over “freedom of speech”

In the midst of the hue and cry over the non-renewal of RCTV’s license in Venezuela, freedom of speech is being blatantly violated in other parts of the world. In Indonesia, an event to discuss Marta Harnecker’s book ‘Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution’ was disrupted through intimidations by the police and hooligans.

In the midst of the hue and cry over the non-renewal of RCTV's license in Venezuela, freedom of speech is being blatantly violated in other parts of the world. In Indonesia, an event to discuss Marta Harnecker's book ‘Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution' was disrupted through intimidations by the police and hooligans. As expected, we have yet to hear any hue and cry over the latter incident amongst the western media. The lackeys of the ruling class - the governments and the private media - have their own definition of what constitutes a violation of freedom of speech. When it comes to their freedom to slander and spread lies about the Chavez government, a democratically elected government, they will defend it tooth and nail. But when it comes to the right of the people to discuss about the Venezuelan Revolution, they turn a blind eye when those rights are suppressed. Once again, the hypocrisy of the ruling class is exposed.

It is not a cliché to say that what is happening in Venezuela is affecting the whole world. It affects those who fight for radical social change and also those who are desperately clinging to their power. For the former, particularly in this case for Indonesian youth, the Bolivarian revolution offers a glimpse of hope of what can be achieved by the people. And as for the latter, their knees tremble over the example the courageous Venezuelan masses have shown to their brothers and sisters throughout the world; that they can shake their old society and start to get rid of the fetters that have bound humanity for centuries - the old decrepit ruling class and its state. This fear was again shown just a week ago when the Indonesian police and the hooligans of the ruling class, through intimidations, prevented the youth from having a discussion on Hugo Chavez and Venezuelan Revolution.

The Chronology of Repression

The book discussion was a part of the ‘May Rally 2007' event that took place from May 27th to June 1st at Ultimus Book Store (Jalan Lengkong Besar No.127, Bandung). Organized by many grassroots organizations from Jakarta and Bandung, the event was filled with activities ranging from a play to a documentary screening. The event was to culminate in a book discussion of Marta Harnecker's interview with President Chavez in ‘Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution'. This book has been received with a warm welcome from Indonesian activists who are curious about Chavez's political thoughts. This book surely offers a more truthful glimpse of the nature of the Venezuelan Revolution than the rabid lies spread by the media about how the Venezuelan Revolution is a personal project of an authoritarian power-hungry Chavez. On the contrary, Chavez is but a man who is pushed forward by the course of history to lead the dissatisfied Venezuelan people. This revolution is a social project, unprecedented in the history of Latin America, with the masses as its power house. Such is the idea and the experience that the Indonesian youth want to learn from so that they can apply it accordingly to the situation in Indonesia.

But learning is a privilege in Indonesia; the organizers of the event were forced to postpone the book discussion for fear of violent repression from a fundamentalist mob that has been instrumental in dispersing many public events and rallies. Entering Day 2 of the ‘May Rally 2007' event, some unknown people were already seen ‘observing' the event. But on Day 4, the day before the book discussion event, the intimidation become more open. The police visited and called the organizers several times, asking about the book discussion. The venue, which is a book store, was visited numerous times by suspicious people who were also asking about the book discussion. And the documentary screening on Day 4 was attended by a large group of people, most were never seen before around the book store. Such intimidation is all too familiar. Last year, on December 14, 2006, a public discussion on Marxism which was organized at the same venue was violently dispersed by a group of anti-communist thugs; the main organizer and the speaker were beaten while 9 other people were arrested. A couple of days before the fateful December 14 incident, the organizers of the event were also visited and called by the police numerous times, and there were many calls and visits by unknown people. Given the similarity of the intimidations, the book discussion on Venezuelan revolution was postponed for reasons of security. It seemed certain that the same thugs with the help of the police would try to break up the book discussion.

Indonesia and Venezuela

It is not unusual that the Venezuelan revolution holds the interest of many youth in Indonesia. Many similarities exist between Indonesia and Venezuela. Both countries share the same fate under free market where their natural resources are being plundered while their poor become poorer. Much like Venezuela, Indonesia is a country with abundant natural resources: oil, gas, minerals, forestry, etc. It has fertile soil, so fertile that there is an anecdote that if you throw away mango seed anywhere on the ground, it will grow into a mango tree without being attended. However, as of 2006, according to the World Bank [1], 49% of its 220-million population still lives on less than US$ 2 per day. Now one might think that US$ 2 a day is enough for Indonesian people; the following rough buying-power conversion rate will give you an idea how much US$ 2 can get you in Indonesia. At current rates, 2 dollars will only get you 3 liters of premium gasoline in Indonesia. It will only get you 4 kg of low-grade rice. Such is the real buying power of the majority of Indonesian people. Such a blatant contradiction between abundant natural resources and the unbearable life for the majority was the reason why the Venezuelan people moved to the left as manifested in Bolivarian Revolution. And it won't be long before the Indonesian people, lead by the Venezuelan example, reach the same conclusion and undertake the same path.

Venezuela has provided many lessons. The most important lesson of Venezuelan revolution is that there is no way out under capitalism, that one cannot reform capitalism. For those in Indonesia who have an illusion that what is needed is a better reformed capitalism, Venezuela has shown that it is impossible to do so. When Chavez was elected in 1998, he was keen on reforming capitalism. He respected Tony Blair and was keen on undertaking Blair's third way (a so-called middle path between capitalism and socialism). He tried to introduce progressive reforms here and there to help the poor, but the ruling class could not even accept such reforms. They organized a huge media campaign against the Chavez government that culminated in the April 2002 coup. This was defeated by the action of the masses in the streets, but the ruling class then organized an oil industry sabotage which was again defeated by the workers. Up until early 2005, Chavez never talked about socialism nor of going beyond capitalism, he had just tried to improve the situation of the majority of the population by introducing a series of reforms and reclaiming control over natural resources. But his experience, along with the experience of the people, taught him and the people that there is no way forward under capitalism. And in early 2005, Chavez for the first time talked about socialism:

"Everyday I become more convinced, there is no doubt in my mind, and as many intellectuals have said, that it is necessary to transcend capitalism. But capitalism can't be transcended from within capitalism itself, but through socialism, true socialism, with equality and justice. But I'm also convinced that it is possible to do it under democracy, but not in the type of democracy being imposed from Washington," Hugo Chavez (Caracas, January 30th 2005)

So, this is the lesson that the Indonesian left must learn. There is no way out under capitalism. There is no way out under reformism. For those who argue that we shouldn't provoke the ruling class by talking about socialism, that we should just talk about reforms that can be accepted by the ruling class, the experience of Venezuelan revolution has shown us how far we can go with reforms. Not too far! The modest progressive reforms that Chavez once tried to implement were answered with a military coup and economic sabotage.

A socialist revolution in Venezuela could spark a movement in Indonesia. And while the Venezuelan revolution is the bastion of hope in Latin America, a revolution in Indonesia can have the same effect in Asia. Tan Malaka, an Indonesian revolutionary hero once said:

"If we can imagine capitalism as a building and all the countries in the world are its posts, then Indonesia is one of those posts. We know sooner or later that the whole building is going to collapse. But the form and the scope of its collapse and how it collapses, only experience will determine it. It is very possible that all the posts collapse simultaneously and along with it too the whole building collapses. But it is also possible that each of the posts don't collapse simultaneously, but successively, every time a post collapses it brings another part of the building to collapses" Tan Malaka (Toward the Republic of Indonesia, 1925)

It is now the task of the Indonesian youth to learn the lessons and experiences of the Venezuelan revolution. The learning task itself is not easy as the recent repression of the book discussion has shown; but a repression is a sign of fear, a fear toward an idea so great that it shakes the whole foundation of society. To learn about Venezuela is the first step toward supporting the revolution in Venezuela, because the best way to support the revolution in Venezuela is to prepare the conditions for revolution in your own country, and the lessons of the Venezuelan revolution can help the Indonesian youth in building their own revolution.

Message of Solidarity

We appeal to all of those who defend the Venezuelan Revolution to send messages of solidarity to our comrades in Indonesia.

Send messages to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Let the Indonesian youth know that they are not alone, that there are those who are also learning from the experience of the Venezuelan Revolution and trying to build similar revolutionary conditions in their home countries.

In addition to the message of solidarity, we appeal to all workers to write protest letters to the Indonesian embassy or consulate in your country, and also to the below listed institutions, expressing your grave concerns regarding the intimidations against Ultimus Book Store (Jalan Lengkong Besar No.127, Bandung). Indonesian youth deserve freedom of expression. Let us raise our voice in condemnation of the intimidations of the police and the hooligans of the ruling class toward the Indonesian youth!

Model Letter:

We are writing to express our grave concern regarding intimidations against the Ultimus Book Store, (Jalan Lengkong Besar No.127, Bandung). Intimidatory actions by the Indonesian police supporting right-wing thugs have caused the disruption of a meeting on Marta Harnecker's book ‘Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution' originally planned for June 1st 2007. We demand that this meeting be allowed to continue without disruption and we will hold the Indonesian authorities responsible for any restriction of freedom of expression.

Kepolisian Negara Republik Indonesia (The Republic of Indonesia National Police)

General Sutanto, Chief of National Police

Jl. Trunojoyo 3

Jakarta Selatan, Indonesia

Phone: +62-21-7218012, 7218144

Fax: +62-21-7207277

email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Republik Indonesia (People's Representative Council of Indonesia)

Mr. Trimedya Panjaitan

Chair of Commission III: Law, Human Rights, and Security

Jl. Gatot Subroto No. 6

Jakarta, Indonesia

Phone: +62-21-5715566, 5715569, 5715864

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Bandung (Bandung Legal Aid Institute)

Mr. Gatot Rianto, President

Jalan Pagaden No.21

Antapani - Bandung, Indonesia

Phone/Fax: +62-22-7208312

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia (National Commission of Human Rights)

Mr. Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara, Chairperson

Jln. Latuharhary No. 4B, Menteng,

Jakarta Pusat 10310, Indonesia

Telp. +62 21 3925230 ext.225/221

Fax. +62 21 3925227

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

KONTRAS (The Commission for Disappearance and Victims of Violence)

Mr. Mouvty Makaarim Al Akhlak, Secretary General

Jl. Borobudur No.14 Menteng

Jakarta Pusat 10320, Indonesia

Phone: +62-21-3926983, 3928564

Fax: +62-21-3926821

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[1] World Bank Making the New Indonesia Work for the Poor - Overview.