Friday, June 02, 2006

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.


Blogger brit said...

>refusing World Bank loans, >inviting Cuban doctors in, >driving a ""slightly"" harder bargain >with Australia over the oil in >Timor Strait.

How do you know that this is not a cause? What evidence? Why has Keady's and Pliger's point of view been censored? (It is at least a valid point of view that should be discussed in the media. It is censored.)

Plus you add the necessary bit of old fashioned red baiting to smear Keady with a n implication that hers "is the message of a number of groups of the old-style 'anti-revisionist' left like the Communist Party of Australia"!? Please give me a break. It looks like OIL not "progressive policy" may be the main goal.

Finally you mention Alkatiri's "massacre of protesters" – ONLY according to the rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado who was partially responsible for the "coup" against Alkatiri and supported, or at least tolerated by the Australians . The actual numbers killed (was it 2?) is far less than Reinado’s killings. This was/is de facto civil war.

Another article:

The Coup The World Missed June 23, 2006 By John Pilger

In my 1994 film Death of a Nation there is a scene on board an aircraft flying between northern Australia and the island of Timor. A party is in progress; two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne. "This is an historically unique moment," effuses Gareth Evans, Australia's foreign affairs minister, "that is truly uniquely historical." He and his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, were celebrating the signing of the Timor Gap Treaty, which would allow Australia to exploit the oil and gas reserves in the seabed off East Timor. The ultimate prize, as Evans put it, was "zillions" of dollars.

Australia's collusion, wrote Professor Roger Clark, a world authority on the law of the sea, "is like acquiring stuff from a thief . . . the fact is that they have neither historical, nor legal, nor moral claim to East Timor and its resources". Beneath them lay a tiny nation then suffering one of the most brutal occupations of the 20th century.
Enforced starvation and murder had extinguished a quarter of the population:
180,000 people. Proportionally, this was a carnage greater than that in Cambodia under Pol Pot. The United Nations Truth Commission, which has examined more than 1,000 official documents, reported in January that western governments shared responsibility for the genocide; for its part, Australia trained Indonesia's Gestapo, known as Kopassus, and its politicians and leading journalists disported themselves before the dictator Su-harto, described by the CIA as a mass murderer.

These days Australia likes to present itself as a helpful, generous neighbour of East Timor, after public opinion forced the government of John Howard to lead a UN peacekeeping force six years ago. East Timor is now an independent state, thanks to the courage of its people and a tenacious resistance led by the liberation movement Fretilin, which in 2001 swept to political power in the first democratic elections. In regional elections last year, 80 per cent of votes went to Fretilin, led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, a convinced "economic nationalist", who opposes privatisation and interference by the World Bank. A secular Muslim in a largely Roman Catholic country, he is, above all, an anti-imperialist who has stood up to the bullying demands of the Howard government for an undue share of the oil and gas spoils of the Timor Gap.

On 28 April last, a section of the East Timorese army mutinied, ostensibly over pay. An eyewitness, Australian radio reporter Maryann Keady, disclosed that American and Australian officials were involved. On 7 May, Alkatiri described the riots as an attempted coup and said that "foreigners and outsiders" were trying to divide the nation.
A leaked Australian Defence Force document has since revealed that Australia's "first objective" in East Timor is to "seek access" for the Australian military so that it can exercise "influence over East Timor's decision-making". A Bushite "neo-con" could not have put it better.

The opportunity for "influence" arose on 31 May, when the Howard government accepted an "invitation" by the East Timorese president, Xanana Gusmão, and foreign minister, José Ramos Horta - who oppose Alkatiri's nationalism - to send troops to Dili, the capital. This was accompanied by "our boys to the rescue" reporting in the Australian press, together with a smear campaign against Alkatiri as a "corrupt dictator". Paul Kelly, a former editor-in-chief of Rupert Murdoch's Australian, wrote: "This is a highly political intervention . . . Australia is operating as a regional power or a political hegemon that shapes security and political outcomes." Translation:
Australia, like its mentor in Washington, has a divine right to change another country's government. Don Watson, a speechwriter for the former prime minister Paul Keating, the most notorious Suharto apologist, wrote,
incredibly: "Life under a murderous occupation might be better than life in a failed state . . ."

Arriving with a force of 2,000, an Australian brigadier flew by helicopter straight to the headquarters of the rebel leader, Major Alfredo Reinado - not to arrest him for attempting to overthrow a democratically elected prime minister but to greet him warmly. Like other rebels, Reinado had been trained in Canberra. John Howard is said to be pleased with his title of George W Bush's "deputy sheriff"
in the South Pacific. He recently sent troops to a rebellion in the Solomon Islands, and imperial opportunities beckon in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and other small island nations.
The sheriff will approve.

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