Tuesday, June 27, 2006

No tears for Alkatiri

The slow-motion coup launched last month by East Timor President Xanana Gusmao and his mates in the Australian government has finally forced Mari Alkatiri from office. The smart money is on Gusmao's close ally Jose Ramos-Horta taking the plum job of Prime Minister, and on Australia becoming even more dominant in East Timor, at the expense of its rival Portugal.

In a statement circulated on the Green Left Weekly discussion list, Michael Berrel has characterised Alkatiri's departure as 'another significant defeat for the left':

Ultimately Alkatiri was forced to resign because Fretilin either couldn't or wouldn't organise a demonstration of popular support for the embattled Prime Minister. If they wouldn't then it was tantamount to an action of deliberate political suicide...

It is becoming apparent from reports in today's media that the strategy of Gusmao and Horta and the powers that stand behind them is to promote the 'reformist' wing within Fretilin and effectively split the Fretilin movement. For 'reformist' read that part of Fretilin which wants to ditch any last remaining links with its revolutionary
or socialist past and seeks an accommodation with the western powers and the Neo-Liberal policies they promote. Just weeks ago, this wing of Fretilin was only able to muster some 71 votes out of 586 in its attempt to remove Alkatiri at the Fretilin congress now it is set to take over the country...

At the start of the crisis I compared the situation to that of the Congo in 1960 when Patrice Lumumba was removed because he was an obstacle to western interests, I stand by that but I think the more accurate analogy is what happened to Aristide in Haiti last year...

Until as late as this morning the Sydney Morning Herald was considering the possibility of as many as twenty thousand
of Alkatiri's supporters coming to Dili...

Just a few final reports. It was reported that over the weekend Gusmao consulted with among others the former Indonesian governor of East Timor. Say what! What on earth was the romantic hero of the resistance doing conspiring with the former Indonesian governor of East Timor???!


I believe that Berrel is correct in seeing the victory of the Gusmao-Horta faction in Fretilin as a victory for Australian foreign policy rather than the East Timorese people, but I don't think that means we have to entertain illusions about the man Ramos-Horta will replace. Berrel ought to ask himself why Gusmao and Ramos-Horta have been able to put many thousands of supporters onto the streets of Dili in recent days, and why Alkatiri has been unable to mobilise an effective response. And before he cited the vote for Alkatiri at the recent Fretilin conference as a sign of the man's grassroots appeal, Berrel ought to have remembered that Alkatiri's supporters won that vote by abandonding the secret ballot in favour of a show of hands and intimidating many of their opponents by threatening them with the loss of precious public sector jobs.

The truth is that Gusmao and Ramos-Horta have been able to hijack a wave of genuine and justified hostility that Alkatiri's authoritarian and ineffective rule has generated amongst ordinary East Timorese, especially those from the west of the country:

Carrying a shackled monkey bearing the sign "Alkatiri", Cabut said what many people felt about East Timor's Prime Minister as thousands took to the streets to celebrate his backing down.

"He had no interest in the people's suffering," said 25-year-old Cabut, who would not give his last name. He was leading about 20 people daubed in whitewash to pay tribute to the "martyrs" from weeks of civil disturbances that left at least 21 people dead.

The real tragedy is not Alkatiri's departure but the fact that Gusmao and Ramos-Horta, with their close ties to governments with an interest in exploiting East Timor, have nothing better to offer their country.

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