Saturday, July 15, 2006

A glimmer on a dark night

It is the newest, one of the smallest and definitely the poorest country on Earth; yes East Timor, rising out of its recent civil troubles still shines a beacon of light.

What good it will do when the rest of the world seems intent on destructive madness, I don’t know. I just know that without at least a glimpse of something positive and worthwhile, some of us might simply fall into to despair.

Let me tell you about a man who has captured my imagination and admiration over the years. In fact, gone further in the recent past to becoming an example of what nobility and sainthood should be about.

Hose Ramos-Horta is the newly appointed Prime Minister of East Timor. (The links are wiki, I don’t vouch for them. Ramos-Horta has a CV online dating back to 1996.) Note appointed, as a result of recent political and civil strife.

He was a founding member of the East Timorese Freedom movement (from Indonesian rule), Fretilin. In 1975, at the time of a crackdown by Indonesian forces, Ramos-Horta and others fled the horror and spent time exiled overseas. In his case that meant Lisbon and Sydney.

His CV says he was: Minister of External Relations and Information, first provisional government of East Timor, prior to Indonesian invasion in 1975.

Permanent Representative to the United Nations for the East Timorese independence movement from 1975 onwards for over a decade.

He first came to my attention as a dogged champion of East Timor freedom when living in Sydney. It has to be said, when others would simply crumble from the weight of the task of freeing this tiny country from Indonesia’s iron grip, Ramos-Horta never seemed to lose site of his goal.

So in 1999, back home in a country being born anew, Ramos-Horta joins the new government as foreign minister. He is revered, but he is not at the centre of power – he resigned from the dominating Fretilin Party years before his return.

So back in East Timor Ramos-Horta and the acknowledged and revered hero of the country, President Xanana Gusmao, held vital posts, but limited influence over government.

Each were the worlds face for this struggling new country, and each held on to optimism and hope that this fledgling government would develop and mature.

Bear in mind, this is a government born out of intense and often violent struggle. It contained people who stayed and fought in the jungles as well as some, like former PM Mari Aktiari, who was schooled for his future role in Marxist Mozambique.

It was a melting pot of strong ideals and leanings, tempered with jungle fighting spirit. No doubt that long struggle prepared some of them well for the negotiations with their ‘saviour’, Australia, over oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea.

The ‘saviour’ would have been quite happy to diddle the new country out of the lot, but a reasonable deal was struck in the end.

To Australia’s shame, it was a vital negotiation which was to deflect away from concentration on developing a sound social and civic infrastructure for this new country, a deflection which inevidbly led to chaos and violence.

Ironically, it was a deal sitting, waiting for ratification in parliament when the crisis broke.

Through all this chaos Ramos-Horta, essentially powerless in the government, used every personal talent he had to find compromise, to urge all parties to act for the best of their people. It must have been a frustrating process, talking sense to those captured by ego and passions which didn’t see sense.

In the end, after the ‘saviours’ Australia again intervened to force a respite, Gusmao and Ramos-Horta prevailed.

For now they are effectively running the country, and in Ramos-Horta’s view, have nine months to establish a base for good government. In nine months the country will face fresh elections.

It is how Ramos-Horta intends to go about this, to deal with the allegations and bad feeling so recently stirred up, which is the key to understanding the man.

His new cabinet includes many of the former ministers, as well as his main challenger for PM and East Timor's ambassador to the United Nations, Jose Luis Guterres.

The 15-strong cabinet includes nine members who served under the previous government, including Ramos Horta’s ex wife, Ana Pessoa.

"It reflects the depth of talent already available within the ministerial ranks," Ramos-Horta said, adding "nine months is a short time to implement my government's plan of action and the less changes the better".

He is a consensus builder, a healer! He will talk glowingly about the task ahead, but when asked about punishing those responsible for the trouble he says briefly; “that reconciliation required justice over recent wrongdoing.”

My guess is that Ramos-Horta will prefer to win the hearts and minds of those responsible, rather than meet out punishment. He knows that punishment risks prolonging and deepening divisions in a country which can ill afford division.

I know East Timor is of little consequence to the rest of the world, but while I have a potential hero to look to, someone to provide a glimmer of hope, I will take it.

Viva Ramos-Horta! Viva Xanana Gusmao! May your tiny country show the world how it must be done.


Anonymous said...

I remember, in a docu about the Iraq war I, they interviewed citizens on streets of NYC, while their army was marching back home from "victory", what do they think of the situation in E. Timor. None of the people they've shown, as far as I remember, could say that the country even existed.

Cartledge said...

I have no illusions on that score. Call it my personal indiosynchosy, but I find Timor Leste a wonderful analogy and heroic tale.
Not one person inyterviewed even knew heroic tales existed.