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Estafeta: E Timor hits potholes on the road to independence  ETAN
 Mar 06, 2007 06:17 PST 

from Winter 2007 Estafeta - newsletter of ETAN

see full newsletter at http://etan.org/estafeta/07/winter/default.htm

East Timor hits potholes on the road to independence

By Charles Scheiner

Four centuries of colonial domination, capped by
24 years of brutal military occupation, leave
deep scars. Indonesian troops have been out of
Timor-Leste (East Timor’s official name) for
seven years, and the new country has been
self-governing for more than four, but legacies
of poverty, trauma, patterns of violence and
criminality, injustice and isolation will take
decades to overcome. Over the last year,
Timor-Leste’s people have painfully learned just
how difficult this process can be. National
visions, shared struggles and promises of
prosperity no longer suffice to unify the one
million citizens of one of the world’s least developed countries.

Beginning last April, the country’s capital
unraveled – regional schisms and political
machinations, manipulated by ruthless individuals
and mishandled by government officials, led to
fighting among and between Timor-Leste’s army and
police. On May 25, soldiers massacred nine
unarmed police officers, the most deadly day of a
week of killings. Most police went into hiding,
and gangs of jobless young men, alienated by
exclusion from the benefits of independence,
filled the security vacuum with street fighting.

Defense Minister Roque Rodriques and Interior
Minister Rogerio Lobato resigned on June 1, but
this failed to stem the violence. President
Xanana Gusmão, with Australian backing, escalated
pressure on Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who had
just been re-elected as head of the FRETILIN
party. Alkatiri resigned on June 26, to be
replaced two weeks later by Foreign Minister José
Ramos-Horta. FRETILIN, with a large parliamentary
majority since the 2001 election, is reluctantly
working with Horta’s government until the
elections slated for later this year­but many
resent the "coup" that ousted their Prime Minister.

The leadership shakeup did not end the disaster,
which had taken 37 lives and displaced more than
150,000 people before Alkatiri resigned. Since
then, dozens more Timorese have been killed,
hundreds injured, and thousands of houses have
been destroyed. In December, the rain began,
worsening public health in refugee camps –
interim shelters for about half of the 100,000
displaced East Timorese. Street fighting and
house burnings by youth gangs recur almost every
day, with murders about once a week.

In late May, Timor-Leste’s government invited
international soldiers and police, mostly from
Australia, to restore order. Three months later
the UN enlarged its presence in Timor-Leste (it
had been downsizing since 2002), and the country
now hosts 1,600 international police and about
one thousand foreign soldiers. These peacekeepers
are poorly organized, don’t know much about
Timorese society or politics, and are reluctant
to take risks. Their limitations are compounded
by the judicial system’s near impotence: many
arrestees are released because no judge is available to arraign them.

In October, a United Nations Commission of
Inquiry issued a report recommending criminal
prosecution or investigation of dozens of police,
soldiers, government officials and others. Crimes
ranged from murder to illegal distribution of
government weapons. Culpability is widespread,
but one key figure is army major Alfredo Reinado,
who deserted in early May, and two weeks later
ambushed soldiers, sparking a firefight which
took five lives. On July 24, Reinado was arrested
for illegal weapons possession. On August 30, he
and 56 others escaped from Becora Prison. Reinado
frequently meets with journalists and government
officials, but has not been rearrested, and
additional charges have not been brought against him.

Ongoing violence is perpetrated by a small
minority of the population, but their identities
and leaders are rarely known. Although casualties
are less than one-tenth of Indonesian-driven
“black September” 1999 (which was itself far less
devastating than the cumulative toll of the
U.S.-backed Indonesian military occupation), the
concealed identities of the masterminds and the
intractability of restoring peace have shaken the
Timorese people to the core. Many worry that the
2007 national elections­the first since
Timor-Leste’s independence­ may be perverted or
prevented by the situation, or that the campaign will become violent.

The causes of this crisis are many and disputed,
but one consequence is clear – many Timorese have
lost faith in their ability to
govern themselves. Without experience or good
models in democratic self-governance, and unaware
of the setbacks that plague nearly every country
post-independence, it is difficult to understand
what is happening. Analyses are permeated with
conspiracy theories, partisan power struggles,
hidden agendas and ad hominem accusations,
magnified by the unlikelihood of achieving
justice for past or current crimes. The UN
Commission of Inquiry and others have described
power struggles and personal conflicts, focusing
on individual acts while downplaying more
fundamental, instructive and challenging
contextual, societal and institutional causes.

In this globalized era, it takes more than a
referendum to achieve independence. Timor-Leste
has been governed by the United Nations; its
National Development Plan was largely written and
enforced by the World Bank and Asian Development
Bank; the IMF designs fiscal and monetary policy;
“development partners” decide what projects to
implement. Police and military structures were
mostly created and trained by international
“advisors.” Ninety percent of the economy depends
on foreign oil companies. The new nation has had
to surrender petroleum reserves to Australia and
abandon justice in deference to Indonesia, where
military officers from the President on down
built their careers on the illegal, brutal occupation of Timor-Leste.

International Responsibilities

Nearly every new nation in history took many
years to establish peace, national unity, stable
constitutional government and rule of law. The
United States, for example, endured local
insurrections and intermittent repression from
the colonists’ victory in 1783 until the War of
1812. Nation-building requires patience, time and
trial-and-error. The political priorities of UN
Member States began to shift from Timor-Leste as
soon as the last Indonesian soldiers had
departed, but the need for international support had only begun.

The 30-month UN transitional government was less
than fully successful at moving Timor-Leste
toward self-reliance, peace and democracy. This
failure was due to systemic flaws characteristic
of UN missions: an emergency/crisis orientation;
personnel responsible to the UN bureaucracy
rather than to local situations and needs; few
women in decision-making roles; short-term
mandates, planning and hiring; under-qualified
international staff; failure to use local
capacity; unwillingness to displease powerful
states; and excessive focus on milestones (e.g. elections).

Capacity-building, mentoring and transfer of
authority to Timorese staff was rushed,
half-hearted or poorly executed. Many
international advisors were hired on six-month
contracts, so they spent most of their time
getting oriented and looking for their next
posting. They had little teaching experience, and
were ineffective in transferring their skills to
Timorese counterparts. Given Timor-Leste’s
history, many Timorese had limited education and
work experience, but rapidly assumed
responsibilities that usually require years of
classroom and on-the-job training.

Indonesian intransigence and limited
international political will have blocked
accountability for the architects of the most
serious crimes committed during the 24-year
Indonesian occupation. Timor-Leste’s government
is unable to overcome prevailing impunity, and
perpetrators of crimes against humanity hold
powerful positions in Indonesia. This lack of
justice, felt deeply by victims (the majority of
Timor-Leste’s people), set the precedent for
today’s lawlessness. Timor-Leste’s judicial
system is crippled by lack of experienced
personnel, arbitrary language restrictions, a
hodgepodge of legal codes, scarce material
resources and few citizens who have lived in a
society ruled by law. In the current crisis,
violence has filled the justice gap. Perpetrators
anticipate impunity, and victims, lacking
confidence in the courts, take matters into their own hands.

Consent of the Governed

One of the most challenging tasks of a victorious
anti-colonial struggle is transforming people’s
relationship with government from resistance to
ownership, and neither international civic
educators nor Timorese political leaders have
been effective in this area. Politicians and
political parties attack their adversaries’
integrity, rather than propose alternative
policies or look for compromises. Dissatisfied
voters insult or give up on their elected
representatives, rather than lobby them. Elected
officials are beholden to their party or patron,
rather than to their constituents, as exemplified
by the exceedingly generous pensions Parliament
awarded itself last fall. Media coverage
amplifies charges and counter-charges, without
analysis or facts to help the people decide what is true.

National unity, relatively easy to maintain while
fighting a common enemy, becomes more difficult
after the occupier is gone. Mistrust remains
between actual or suspected collaborators and
those who fought for freedom. Regional and tribal
differences are magnified. Skills of returning
exiles, who often had more educational
opportunities, need to be utilized without
generating resentment from those who stayed and
struggled. Unrealistic expectations that life
would improve quickly after independence are not
met, resulting in social jealousy when some
inevitably prosper more than others.

Decades of trauma and displacement create lasting
psychological effects, which need to be addressed
through public health measures. Effective,
responsible, reliable media and communications
systems are also essential: when people do not
trust information from official or public
sources, they depend on rumor, imagination and disinformation.

Men and Women with Guns

Timor-Leste’s resistance leaders had hoped to
create a nation without an army. But after the
1999 terror campaign, they decided that they
needed a defense force. FALINTIL-FDTL,
Timor-Leste’s military, was designed by
international consultants with limited
understanding of Timor-Leste’s needs, history and
society. Although the new defense force honored
and provided employment for some veterans of the
guerilla resistance, it has been used for
internal security several times, in violation of Timor-Leste’s Constitution.

In addition to the unclear roles and
misinterpreted mandate of the armed forces,
international and Timorese leaders gave little
thought to the difficulties of transforming an
underground liberation army into a national
defense force. During the Indonesian occupation,
FALINTIL guerillas had to work secretly and
independently in a decentralized structure.
Distinctions between soldiers and civilians were
blurred, as people moved between the armed
resistance and the civilian underground, often
taking clandestine roles in Indonesian civil or
military structures. Although these tactics are
necessary for a successful guerilla resistance,
they can be disastrous in a peacetime defense
force answerable to a civilian government under the rule of law.

During a quarter-century of resistance, thousands
of Timorese men and women served in the guerilla
forces. Although these sometimes numbered only a
few hundred soldiers, and although they have had
infrequent combat since the 1980s, there are too
many FALINTIL veterans to include in today’s
defense force. The inevitable exclusion of many
former combatants, some of whom sacrificed
decades to the struggle, left a pool of resentful
fighters available for manipulation.

Another complexity is the makeup and role of the
police, tasked with internal security. Upon
independence, the only experienced Timorese
police had served in the Indonesian occupation
police force. Some of these had demonstrated
their commitment to Timor-Leste’s people, but the
loyalties of others were questioned. With many
new recruits, extensive but often ineffective
training, numerous weapons including automatic
and assault rifles, and militarized border patrol
and rapid reaction units of debatable necessity,
the police are perceived by some past and current
soldiers as usurpers or worse.

Timor-Leste needs broad, public discussion about
the future role and structure of its military,
and to unlearn bad models and habits. Indonesia’s
dwi fungsi (dual function) system uses the
military to drive national development, which
allowed Suharto’s military regime to control the
economy through monopolies, extortion and graft.
UNTAET, with 8,200 soldiers, 1,350 police, and
2,000 civilian staff was one of the most
military-heavy governments in history, yet it had
almost no skirmishes after 2000. Peacekeepers
built roads, repaired bridges and did other jobs
normally done better by civilians. Timor-Leste’s
new government, emulating these bad examples, has
proposed to enact universal military service
regardless of the country’s security needs.

Ending Poverty

At the start of 2006, Timor-Leste’s per capita
yearly income was $370. Fertility is the highest
in the world; mothers and babies die faster than
anywhere else in Asia. The average Timorese
mother will have eight children (one will die
before age five), and the population will double
in seventeen years. Urban unemployment was around
40%, and the country’s Human Development Index
ranks 142nd of 177 countries in the world.

Since 2000, transitional economic development has
been led by the World Bank, Asian Development
Bank, IMF and UNDP, who have emphasized
“Washington consensus” policies. This includes
fees for school and other public services,
minimal public sector employment, few
restrictions on foreign investment, public
services contracted out to private (often
foreign) companies, and plans to privatize public
infrastructure. Components of this “free trade”
agenda are now being modified in response to
popular demand and the unemployment disaster, but
local rice continues to be crowded out by cheaper
imports, and electricity, telephone service and
potable water remain unavailable or unaffordable
to most people. Local industry remains
negligible, and food imports have increased due
to this year’s crisis disrupting domestic market
channels and making displaced people dependent on
foreign-supplied humanitarian assistance.

Highly paid international consultants and
advisors decry corruption, but Timor-Leste’s most
experienced civil servants learned these habits
in Indonesian times, when it was patriotic to
steal from the occupation government. Add a
remnant of Portuguese inefficiency and
overzealous new safeguards for accountability,
and the result is paralysis – most government
departments cannot spend their budget
allocations, resulting in public services even
more limited than poverty requires. The new
government is beginning to address economic
issues, even as they simplify the bureaucracy for foreign investors.

From 2000 to 2005, UN missions made up most of
Timor-Leste’s economic activity, expending nearly
two billion dollars, with another billion spent
in foreign aid to Timor-Leste. Unfortunately,
only a small fraction of this entered the local
economy; the bulk of it paid for foreign
consultants, soldiers or imported goods and
services. Money that could have built a potable
water system and electric power grid for Dili
residents was spent on imported bottled water and
generators for UN buildings. Self-serving UN
policies like these sacrificed opportunities to
rebuild destroyed infrastructure, which could
have jump-started Timorese small businesses and
provided employment, income and training for
Timorese workers and managers. Timor-Leste might
have avoided its current astronomical levels of
joblessness and alienation, at the root of today’s gang violence.

When Timor-Leste achieved independence, many
resistance activists became government officials.
Although ETAN and other solidarity activists
still count many of these officials as friends,
our international movement has developed new
relationships with Timorese civil society, trying
to hold all of our governments accountable.
Self-determination and independence means that
the people of Timor-Leste are responsible for
their own destiny. However, solidarity activists,
giving personal reparations for our governments’
complicity in their past oppression, continue to
stand with the Timorese people. We can offer
perspectives and information, advice and support,
and work with them in challenging violations of human and political rights.

Timor-Leste’s people will overcome the current
crisis, but it will take hard work and time. As
we have for fifteen years, ETAN will continue to
accompany them during the next phase of their journey.

Charles Scheiner is a co-founder of ETAN and also
works with La’o Hamutuk. an East Timorese
non-governmental organization that monitors the
principal international institutions present in Timor-Leste.


ETAN welcomes your financial support. For more
info: http://etan.org/etan/donate.htm

John M. Miller         Internet: fb-@igc.org
National Coordinator
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
PO Box 21873, Brooklyn, NY 11202-1873 USA
Phone: (718)596-7668      Fax: (718)222-4097
Mobile phone: (917)690-4391 Skype: john.m.miller
Web site: http://www.etan.org

Send a blank e-mail message to in-@etan.org to find out
how to learn more about East Timor on the Internet

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