Gerry van Klinken
As the annual supreme legislative body (MPR) got underway in Jakarta early November, costing US$1.5 million, 8,000 informal workers, garbage collectors and transport drivers were evicted from their tiny shacks in a dozen locations across Jakarta. In the dark and the rain, their dwellings were burnt the ground. The following week the inter-governmental Consultative Group on Indonesia approved US$3.1 billion in new loans for Indonesia, bringing the public debt burden to a total US$74.2 billion. (Of this US$8.7 billion had to be repaid between September and December alone).
If within Indonesia the poor seemed hardly to matter, outside it the terrorist attack of 11 September gave narrow minds the excuse to narrow them more (as reflected in some of our readers' letters...). In Australia, 11 September strengthened an anti-refugee mood that eventually came to dominate the federal election. In America, it boosted conservative agendas that prioritised military strength over justice for the poor.
Yet the most basic fact about Indonesia is not whether it is harbouring terrorists, or Afghan refugees. It is - still! - that it is a very poor country. We dedicate this edition of Inside Indonesia to the poor, and to those enquiring minds (also found among our readers' letters) who want to learn about them.
Four years after the economic crisis hit, its harmful impact is still felt in millions of homes around Indonesia. Though poverty levels are notoriously difficult to determine, several estimates predict Indonesia will not recover to pre-crisis levels till 2005. The government, meanwhile, is burdened with a debt to rich creditors so mountainous it can simply never be repaid.
Until the world has solved these basic problems, that is where we should begin.
Gerry van Klinken is the editor of Inside Indonesia.