terça-feira, 15 de janeiro de 2013

Hercules — Protest Organizer for Hire in Jakarta

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JakartaGlobe - Zubaidah Nazeer - Straits Times

 Jakarta. If you need an organized demonstration in the streets of Jakarta, call Hercules.

At the protest that turned violent just last month in front of Indonesia's Parliament, he was seen in the thick of action — shepherding the crowds, yelling instructions and eventually dispersing them once police fired tear gas and water cannon.

Hercules Rozario Marshal, a former "preman" or gang leader, now organizes demonstrations for a fee. He also leads a movement that some fear has the makings of a paramilitary outfit.

Though he appeared like a true commander at the rally, up close, the man — who was named after the Greek mythological warrior by his Timorese parents and by which he is popularly known in Indonesia - seems a misnomer.

A fake eyeball rests in the right eye socket of this lanky man, while his right hand and lower arm are covered in a glove stretching past his elbow and tucked underneath his short shirtsleeve, crippled in an incident.

These physical shortcomings have not stopped him. Hercules pulled off a massive, crippling demonstration by regional officials clamoring for better benefits last month. He leads a movement aimed at mobilizing support for presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto.

The name linked with the underworld resurfaced after Hercules, who had repented his crimes several years before, threw his support in last September's Jakarta governor election behind the now-elected team of Joko Widodo and his deputy Basuki Tjahaja Purnama that Prabowo and his Gerindra party backed.

Indeed, men like Hercules are proving useful for some demonstrators who hire him or others to whip up support and rally crowds for mass demonstrations. Interestingly, police also use him to help manage crowds or gather information from notorious areas.

In the recent demonstration, he was hired by protesters pushing for a bill to upgrade the status of village officials to civil servants and obtain better pay. His civil society organization, Gerakan Rakyat Indonesia Baru (GRIB), or New Indonesia People's Movement, rallied 40,000 protesters, of whom 5,000 managed to force their way into Parliament. But he was also instrumental in dispersing the crowds.

He arrived in Jakarta from Timor Leste in the 1980s and quickly found his niche running a lucrative debt-collection trade and commanding a gang that raided illegal gambling dens to claim "security fees," clashing with rival gangs in turf wars in the process.

"Clashes are frequent and bloody. The next morning, it's common to see dead bodies lying on the road or in the canals," the 50-year-old tells The Straits Times.


"Police don't interfere with us because they know we are not targeting them," says the Timorese who was recruited into the Indonesian army's special forces (Kopassus) to fight with the Indonesians in the civil war in his native Timor Leste while it was ongoing there.

Though Jakartans know him as a gang leader of Tanah Abang in the heart of the city, Hercules says he is now focused on training GRIB members to help provide welfare to the needy. GRIB was officially launched in May last year.

"I formed GRIB to fight for the poor who are not treated justly. The rich can get away because of political connections or by paying themselves out. No one is helping the underdogs," he claims.

Members wear army fatigues and red berets. They claim to number six million nationwide with 17,000 in Jakarta.

Some observers are concerned about his links to Prabowo, a former general accused of human rights violations during the Timor Leste civil war.
"The connection between Prabowo and Hercules that began when Prabowo was on duty in Timor Leste as Kopassus special commander looks like it will be revived and will conquer Jakarta if Jokowi is chosen," wrote news portal kompas.com columnist Arafat Rahman before the capital's governor election last September which was won by Joko, also known as Jokowi.

Hercules' civil society organization is among many in the city whose activities blur the line between activism and thuggery.

They control certain areas and collect "security fees" from vendors or businesses there in return for protection.

Gangs are still rife in Jakarta. Police statistics recorded 210 cases involving thugs between January and September last year, including extortions, trespassing, land annexation and murder.

But Hercules, a father of four, insists he has abandoned his dark past. He built a Catholic primary school and is distributing rice to 11 orphanages monthly. He also runs a fishery and vessel-leasing business which hires 200 people.

"Figures like Hercules and his GRIB can be beneficial for police as they have wide connections, including with the elite. Police do work with them, but they have to make sure they are in control," says Neta S. Pane of Indonesia Police Watch.

However, he does not think that groups with well-known political links will be emboldened to provoke aggression now.

"Everyone knows they are supporting Prabowo, a presidential aspirant, so it is in their interest to be on good behavior. Police should use the time now to rein them in."

Reprinted courtesy of The Straits Times
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