Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Alistair Reith on East Timor

During a debate on recent events in East Timor at indymedia, Dunedin socialist Alistair Reith has put forward an interpretation of Timorese history which will not, I think it's safe to say, meet with the approval of this blog's new friend-cum-corrections service in Dili. Contrary to what that fat old sod (it's his pseudonym, not my insult) might say, though, there are a few Timorese who would agree with the southern man. Here's Reith:

If you live in Dunedin, you should have come along to the film screening Solidarity did the other day, a John Pilger doco on East Timor [called Death of a Nation?]. The Australian, NZ, US, British, and just about every other govt in the world gave Suharto financial, diplomatic and even military support during his reign, at the very same time as he was oppressing ET and in the full knowledge that any weapons they sold him would be used to murder the Timorese people.

FRETILIN guerrillas, without any outside help or support, fought against the Indonesian occupation for the entire time, using captured weapons and ammunition, and propped up only by the support of the Timorese people and the knowledge that they were fighting for a just cause.

Eventually, in the late 90s, Suharto was overthrown, and in the ensuing disorder FRETILIN forces turned the tide and began to push back the occupying forces.

Australia was alarmed by this. It had done well from Suharto's occupation of East Timor, for example the signing of a treaty with Suharto's government that gave it the right to exploit the massive oil and natural gas reserves off the coast of East Timor. Needless to say, the Timorese people were not consulted over the theft of their natural resources.

It obviously didn't like the idea of a leftist, militant national liberation group which had condemned it for supporting the occupation and stealing the Timorese people's resources taking power.

So, by this time it's obvious that independence is coming, whether Australia and it's fellow imperialist buddies like it or not. So now they have the choice between independence on the Timorese people's terms, with a transitional revolutionary FRETILIN government in charge, and in all likelihood nationalisation of the Timorese people's resources, or they have the choice of independence on THEIR terms. Take a guess which option they chose...

An Australian led and UN backed military force then invaded East Timor. It was obvious that FRETILIN had the Indonesian army and the pro-Indonesia paramilitaries on the back foot by now, but hey, obviously the rich white man knows what's best. Their first actions were to DISARM FRETILIN FORCES, and intern them unarmed in concentration camps. They did NOT disarm the pro-Indonesia paramilitaries, they didn't even TRY to do so, and the paras were left free to go on a murderous rampage throughout East Timor for the next wee while.

It's very similar, actually, to what the US did to Cuba in the Spanish-American War, where the Cuban people had been fighting Spain for about 20 years and had almost won, when the US suddenly invaded and made sure that Cuban independence was on THEIR terms.

This was no "liberation". The Timorese people could have and would have won that for themselves, and if we really wanted to help them do so we would have supported them in it. Instead, imperialism invaded and made sure that the newly independent state would not get too uppity, and that all their business investments would be kept secure. Who cares about the needs of the Timorese people so long as Australian and New ZEaland capitalists are kept happy? Today East Timor is one of the poorest nations in the world, despite it's huge natural wealth, which is instead ruthlessly exploited by foreign capitalists.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantasist tosh. Have you checked your perception of the situation in ET just before the arrival of the Australian-led force in '99 with anyone involved in the resistance. If you have, it would be nice to see your sources identified. Is there a single authoritative ET reference for your views, or is it just how you see the world in general applied to a specific circumstance without substance?

No wonder ET is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet has great resources - it was left underdeveloped by the Portuguese, trashed by the Indonesians and the oil resources have only just started to flow to the ET government.

Did you think it was all going to come good overnight? Building a nation's economy isn't like winning the lottery - one day you're poor, the next day you're rich.

There are decades of struggle ahead for ET. What purpose does your article serve in their struggle - or does that even matter if you can score a debating point?

7:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That post was in response to someone who claimed on Indymedia that ET was liberated by the Australian led invasion force, and that as they're obviously just a bunch of ungrateful bastards, what with the spontaneous and unprovoked rioting and all, we should just pull out and hand the country back over to Indonesia.

I then pointed out that this was a colonialist load of crap. Have you actually watched Death of A Nation? If not, you should.

I know full well that change can't come immediately. But as long as ET's economy is based on capitalist exploitation, with the profits from oil and natural gas flowing OUT of the country into the pockets of Shell, real change won't come AT ALL. It will remain poor, exploited and oppressed.

My article was just intended to rebut that guys claims, and imo I succeeded in that.

Alastair Reith.

10:29 am  
Blogger maps said...

Just wrote a long response to anon's comments which for some reason didn't show up. Dammit. Shorter version:
follow the link, which I already gave in my post!

The organisation described on the other side of the link was a split from Fretilin made by resistance fighters who held the analysis Alistair Reith has out forward. Mutineers who broke out of cantonment in 1999 engaged the pro-Indonesia militia in several places and prevailed.

Apart from 'all the Timorese wanted it', the other main plank of the pro-intervention argument is the claim that only Anzac troops could have stopped the militia rampages. But deaths from militia violence had almost ended by the time Anzac troops were deployed - in fact, John Howard the Liberator waited for the massacres to run their course. I'll post properly on this when I have the time. It isn't only of historical importance because, as Alistair points out, the narrow parameters of East Timor's independence were set by the 1999 intervention. There's also the fact that East Timor has been used as a template for further interventions in the Pacific region, and now in the Oz outback too, and invoked by supporters of the 'humanitarian' wars Bush. Blair and Howard started in the Middle East. Jose Ramos-Horta used the New York Times to argue that East Timor proved that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea.

12:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


From your post, I take it that the answer to my question is no: you have no indigenous ET sources for your perception of the situation in 99.

Death of a Nation may be a good documentary, but it hardly warrants being cited as the whole story in respect of ET history.

If you wanted to rebut some nutter saying that Oz liberated ET, you should simply have referred to 24 years of constant struggle as a more important factor than a few grunts strolling up the beach at Howard's command. Next time stick to the facts of an event and use the broad historical narrative in its rightful place.

11:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have any for yours? I doubt very many actual resistance fighters (which doesn't include Horta and co who spent most of the time in exile) have BEEN interviewed, the only people who have would be the sell outs that the media like to play up as the only people worth listening to.

To be honest, I don't see what point you're trying to get across. Are you claiming that FRETELIN couldn't have liberated ET on it's own, and that the Australian led invasion force WAS necessary? Could you actually specify what you're trying to get across. Rather than making vague criticisms of my position, actually put forward a clear one of your own.

Alastair Reith.

PS - It's be nice if people bothered to sign their posts, too.

11:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you don't believe me, then what about this from 'The left and UN military intervention in East Timor' By Terry Townsend

"Certainly, it was the unanimous view of the Timorese liberation movement within East Timor and outside the country that there was no other realistic alternative. It was also the view of the main left organisations in Indonesia, Australia and Portugal that supported the Timorese movement's call."

And of course the leaders of the resistance have been interviewed - just look up Taur Matan Ruak and L7 to name but two. If any of them have ever supported your analysis I would be interested to see you identify a source. And of course the Carrascalaos (take your pick which one). The problem appears to be that they don't agree with your political philosophy and their views can therefore be discarded.

For the rest of the world, the fact that it was their families that were killed and their homes destroyed gives them a credence that your remote analysis lacks.

As to whether I sign my posts or not, why should you care who I am? In terms of the struggle for ET, I am of no consequence. You however appear to claim a legitimacy for your views that is out of all proportion to your knowledge of the reality facing the Timorese people.

12:42 pm  
Blogger fat old sod said...

Quite right too.
And whats all this crap about an Australian led invasion force? The ISF were invited in by the then legitimate government to "stabilise the country" which, as a resident of fairly long standing, I think they did. If the ISF were not here now,like it or not, there would be a full-scale civil war going on. I for one could not give a toss which 'invasion force' was here, so long as there is one. Whan the f-FDTL and the PNTL can get their acts together and police the country in a civilised manner, no problem, then the Diggers and Kiwi's can go home. Until that day, just give me the relative stability these forces have brought. I remember the day last year when the first Aussie navy boat appeared around the headland at the Jesus statue. Nearly every Timorese in Dili was on the beach, cheering, crying, laughing and seeing an end to the violence. The only people not cheering were the yobs and killers perpetuating all the violence. I see the f-FDTL around Dili now, with loaded M16's, and it makes me very nervous. Just to reiterate, while the f-FDTL, a defence force mind you and not a police force, are performing police duties I say "Bring on the occupiers".

12:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon: didn't you read my post?

fat old sod: isn't this old white man's burden thing wearing a little thin? The chappy who 'invited' the 'stabilisation' forces in was pretty was coerced into doing so, by his own admission. The Howard government had a lot to do with creating the need for stabilisation in mid-2006. You should train your journalistic eye on PNG, where a similar process may be taking place right now. The beahviour of the Howard government's representatives there is outrageous and extremely provocative. Are we going to be hearing the old Kiplingesque cliches from the likes of you when Anzacs go in to save that country from itself in six months' time?

12:51 pm  
Blogger fat old sod said...

Actually Maps, the only thing I know about Kiplin is that he makes exceedingly small cakes.
Coerced eh? By his own admission eh? Well, he would say that wouldn't he. At the moment he is hardly likely to turn around and say it was all his idea. And I think you have the wrong impression of me. I am not anti Alkatiri, far from it. I think a major part of last years troubles were due to the then President not, as head of the armed forces, telling the 'partioners' to get back to work. Instead we had the spectacle, once again, of a head of state actually crying in front of his troops. Great example. I think Alkatiri could (and he already has) make a major contribution to the development of this country. He has probably the best political and negotiating mind in Partliament right now.
In my heart I am profoundly anti the Howard government, even though, the same as you, it is NOT my government. As for the 'white man's burden'. I live here, you dont. It is very easy to sit and castigate any and everyone you do not politically agree with from the comfort of a relatively easy-going Western country. Try sitting here day after day when people are killing each other around you. As I said, I dont give a shit which country's army is here, so long as there is one. Because like it or not Maps, the Timorese WOULD kill each other if there was nobody to stop them.
I think the reference to Kipling and the 'white mans burden' is beneath you. Not to mention patronising and insulting to me. Good time out at the pub the other night was it? Able to walk home safely were you? Well, so can we now, thanks to the jack-booted imprialist ANZAC army of occupation. Oh, and lets not forget the Malaysians and Portuguese who are here. Or the Thais. Or the Phillipinas. Or the Kenyans. Or the Gambians. Or the El Salvardorans. Or the Sierra Leone's. Or the Bangladeshis. Or the Pakistanis etc. etc. Get a grip Maps. This aint PNG. And unlike yourself I wont be commenting on PNG because I'm not there and have no first-hand knowledge of the situation. Therefore I will keep my mouth shut about it.
I also notice you didn't actually address anything I said. Instead, once again, letting your readers know what a well-read chappy you are. Nice one.

8:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you live in East Timor eh? Interesting. Could you please clarify that a bit more for us? For example, are you actually Timorese? If not, where did you originally come from, and what is your current business in East Timor?

2:14 pm  
Blogger fat old sod said...

I don't know how I can clarify it. I live in East Timor. British, in the travel industry.

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