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Hope and Achievement Seen in
East Timorís Independence

When East Timor was becoming the first new country of the twenty-first century the Washington Post was given a small problem: What to say about it? They were not about to report that this colossal achievement came after enormous popular, international struggle. They also werenít going to mention some of the key figures involved in the transformation. So, they simply pretended that East Timorís history began in 1999:

DILI, East Timor, May 18 -- When the first wave of U.N. peacekeepers descended on this smoldering seaside city in September 1999, they encountered what one commander called "unimaginable apocalyptic ruin (the Washington Post
The only mention of the United States in this typically execrable article comes at the bottom:

The U.S. government also runs a $25 million annual aid program, making East Timor among the largest per capita recipients of American development assistance. (Washington Post, 5/19/02).


This commentary is similar to what the Washington Post has been publishing for decades. While all sorts of crimes are being committed by other nations that the Washington Post objects to, East Timorís independence was an excellent opportunity for the issue to enter our public policy discourse.

Fortunately, it isnít all-quiet in the mainstream media. For example, in a recent news analysis the Baltimore Sun (May 20, 2002) broke its usual silence by mentioning that Indonesiaís 1975 invasion of East Timor was US-backed all the way. This invasion cost the lives of 200,000 East Timorese, a third of the original population. Per capita, Indonesiaís 1975 invasion of East Timor makes it the greatest genocide of the twentieth century.

If commentary like the Sunís (5/20/2002) article had been conspicuously presented by the Washington Post or New York Times decades earlier countless lives could have been saved. Meanwhile, the people of East Timor are still vulnerable to invasion by Indonesia and from interference in general by the US. This is a reality that isnít going away for the distant future.

Not only are the East Timorese not safe, but so too is any population in the world that stands between the Empire and what it wants.

Making the Impossible Possible

Since East Timorís independence is a time for celebration letís pause to remember the contributions of some of the people involved in their solidarity campaign. We can draw inspiration from their stories for the struggles that remain.

From the very beginning of Indonesiaís invasion, East Timorís President, Xanana Gusmao, was someone that many of his countrymen turned to for inspiration and strength. Despite Indonesiaís overwhelming advantages in power, Gusmao led the guerilla resistance group called Falantil from East Timorís mountains. He was later captured by Indonesia and incarcerated for 7 years. International support spared his life.

Jose Ramos-Horta, who accepted an overseas post just before the invasion began, was a tireless advocate of East Timorís independence. He was the permanent representative of FRETILIN at the UN from 1976 until 1989. Ramos-Horta spoke passionately about his people to governments, the media and to the UN Security Council, the General Assembly Decolonization Committeee and the Commission on Human Rights of the European Parliament.

When Noam Chomsky first began working on behalf of the East Timorese after the invasion commenced he was one of a very small number of US citizens doing so. He was the one who first informed many of the people who later joined East Timorís solidarity movement. Eventually, he reached millions of people around the world. If any one person outside of the East Timorese enabled their freedom it is Noam Chomsky, hero to the democratic world.

Democracy Nowís Amy Goodman and journalist Alan Nairn were reporting on a spontaneous demonstration by East Timorese that took place in 1991 in a Santa Cruz, East Timor graveyard when the Indonesian military marched in. The people were trapped from the cemetary walls. Goodman and Nairn moved to stand between the military and the Indonesians who held US-manufactured M-16s. The Indonesians then marched past Goodman and Nairn and began killing all of the East Timorese. This event is called the Santa Cruz massacre. Goodman and Nairn were both beaten; Nairnís skull was crushed from a rifle butt. Several Indonesian soldiers brought their guns to the heads of Nairn and Goodman and somehow they were encouraged not to execute them. (Nairn returned to the area in 1999 and was then incarcerated by the Indonesian military.)

The story of the Santa Cruz massacre managed to penetrate the wall of silence that the US mainstream media was maintaining regarding East Timor. With the help of people like Edward Herman, John Pilger and the East Timor Action Network, it became a lightning rod for the international solidarity movement and was a turning point in their struggle.

These are all extraordinary people who each did extraordinary things on behalf of East Timorís solidarity campaign. For the rest of us, every small effort at opposing the mainstream mediaís lock on our public policy discourse is heroic as well.

Scott Loughrey

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