Arguing about Alkatiri
A reader sent sent me this article by Maryanne Keady, which argues that East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri is an anti-imperialist, and that the current crisis in East Timor has been created by Australia in an attempt to reverse his progressive policies. Here's some critical comments I made on Keady's article:
Keady's is the message of a number of groups of the old-style 'anti-revisionist' left like the Communist Party of Australia - they see Alkatiri as an heir to the Third World nationalist governments they used to support as stepping stones to socialism. And Alkatiri does have ties to Lusophone left nationalist governments (or formerly left nationalist governments - they're all neo-libs today) like Mozambique and Angola, as well as to Portugal itself.
But the progressive content of Alkatiri's politics is so attenuated - refusing World Bank loans, inviting Cuban doctors in, driving a slightly harder bargain with Australia over the oil in Timor Strait - that the claim that he is some sort of anti-imperialist is hard to make. And saying that all of the current crisis has been orchestrated by the Aussies denies the legitimate complaints of the soldiers who went on strike in February. It also ignores the brutality that Alkatiri has shown in repressing opposition to his rule - the most obvious example of this brutality is the massacre of protesters on April the 28th. You insult the rank and file soldiers who went on strike in February and the unemployed youth of Dili who joined the protest of April the 28th if you characterise them as mere tools of Australian foreign policy.
It is true that Australia prefers Gusmao and his faction to Alkatiri, and that Howard et al have been keen to scapegoat Alkatiri for the crisis in East Timor and force him from office. But Howard's *primary* motivation in intervening is to protect Australian commercial interests and maintain his role as Bush's deputy sheriff in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia is not losing out enough from Alkatiri's policies to have an interest in creating complete chaos in East Timor - to believe that it does is to vastly overstate Alkatiri's radicalism and to forget about countervailing Australian interests, like its interest in retaining good ties with Indonesia. Australia's commercial interests in Indonesia dwarf her interests in East Timor, and relations between the two countries have been under severe strain over Australia's decision to give asylum to some West Papuan independence activists. A military intervention in East Timor threatens to put relations under further strain. There's also the issue of Aussie troop deployments in the Middle East, and the overstretch her military is suffering from.
What Howard is doing now is making the best of a bad situation - if he has to intervene in East Timor to protect the status quo of Aussie domination, then he is at least going to make sure he reinforces that domination by removing Alkatiri and installing an even more compliant leadership.