marxism-digest V1 #1312

João Paulo Monteiro jpmonteiro at
Sun Sep 12 13:31:57 MDT 1999

R.J.G.Alves wrote:

>  Let me add that, in my view, the portuguese left has not been exploring
> this
> contradictions fully. It makes me wonder what is happening when I hear
> our
> nationalist right (Portas and his crew) suggesting that portuguese
> troops should
> withdrawn from Kosovo, and questioning the status of Portugal within
> NATO (the
> Lajes military base in the Azores has been important in the past for
> many USA
> interventions in the Middle East, including Iraq), while our supposedly
> "radical"
> left maintains its anti-NATO stance very mild. I know both the PCP and
> the BE are
> in favour of our withdrawal from NATO, but they don't seem presently to
> be droping
> enough salt in the wound of the contradictions.

The nationalist noises by Portas (of the populist right) are, of course,
absurd demagoguery. The base of Lajes in Azores was occupied manu militari by
the americans during WWII. Though they nominally recognize portuguese
sovereignty, the fact is that they would never leave it. Never. Some years
they pay something for it (money for the Luso-Americam Foundation, the
regional government of Azores, or some second rate military material for the
portuguese army). Some years they say they're sorry but there are budget
constraints. They are there. That's the hard fact. If Portugal was to ask them
to leave, they wouldn't worry too much with it. If, by any chance, Portugal
was to have a radical nationalist government in the future they would still be
there, like in Guantanamo (Cuba).

As for Portugal withdrawing its troops from Bosnia and Kosovo, that would be a
purely european matter. The US wouldn't worry with it a little bit. Our
(insignificant) commitment of troops in the ex-Yugoslavia is not a bilateral
subject in US-Portugal relations. It is a little parcel of an european effort
in conjunction with the US. For such a move we would have to respond in
Brussels. The americans would just "deplore it."

I have no news of any position, either from the PCP or the BE, favorable to a
withdrawal from NATO. For our non-portuguese readers: the PCP is the old
communist party with a stalinist tradition and now very moderate; the BE
(Bloco de Esquerda - Left Bloc) is the novelty - an alliance of former
trotskyists, former m-l's, a little group of po-mo leftists and many

> Perhaps something like 10.000 soldiers would be necessary.
> I don't see why Portugal should not send troops, as you seem to
> suggest.
> It is not my understanding either that Indonesia's sovereignty over the
> territory has been recognised. Indonesia has been charged with the
> policing
> during the process (and that was predicted to be a mistake). Legally,
> the
> territory is probably still portuguese, even if that means next to
> zero in practice.

Quite frankly, I don't think the portuguese armed forces have anything useful
to do in this part of the world anymore (if they ever did). Its presence
wouldn't be decisive, on the ground or logistically. It would be "symbolic".
And this symbol would only serve to reopen old wounds, arousing nostalgic
neo-colonialist sentiments in part of the population and thus constituting a
further cause of discord among the timorese (who already have far too many).
As for the portuguese formal sovereignty on the territory, lets just forget

Back in 1975, in East Timor, there was a pro-portuguese party - UDT - a
pro-indonesian party - APODETI - and a radical nationalist movement -
FRETILIN. UDT and FRETILIN fought a bloody civil war, with the portuguese army
watching and then withdrawing, with the remains of the colonial
administration, bringing little glory with them. FRETILIN won the war, but UDT
and APODETI asked for the intervention of Indonesia, who was only too willing.
The portuguese revolutionary militaries from Lisboa had had exploratory
contacts with the Suharto administration. The indonesians didn't mind Portugal
staying in East Timor. Absolutely no problems, they've said. What they
couldn't admit was revolutionary nationalism.

The National Council of Timorese Resistence (CNRT) has absorbed the remains of
UDT and the neo-colonial option is now dead and buried (though some
politicians here are still trying to revive it). The two options left are
Indonesia or independence. Though FRETILIN has toned down its radical posture
(in accordance with the times) and reconciled itself with Portugal, I bet it
is not ready to accept portuguese patronage forever. They have other options.
Of course, they can't refuse a portuguese offer of military presence, but I
don't think they are too happy with it.

Portugal is now trying to play the part of good fairy of the timorese people
(out of bad conscience and in search of some sort of historical redemption).
But it left in Timor nothing but problems and I don't see it has much to offer
now except, of course, the sympathy of its people.

> Timor is more of a
> nuisance than anything else for the indonesian army right now. By
> burning
> and looting the towns of Timor Loro Sae and by killing pro-independence
> militants, the army is probably trying to give some sort of warning to
> the other independentist movements elsewhere in the indonesian
> archipelago
> (West Papua, Aceh).
>  I agree with you that the indonesian army will eventually leave Timor
> Loro Sae. My fear is that they will leave nothing but ruins behind them.

It is still very hard to know exactly what happened on the indonesian ruling
This idea of giving up East Timor (through a referendum) only surfaced in
Jakarta about a year ago. Its most vocal supporter is a very influential
woman, the young and charming Deri Anwar Fortuna, spokes-person and counselor
to president Habibie. She is the pivot of the renewal, pro-western forces.
It's almost unbelievable the way she made the whole political establishment in
Jakarta (that is, the military and the old Golkar apparatchiks) swallow this
most unpalatable of moves, something even the "democratic" opposition is only
now slowly getting used to.

Of course, there was resistance. All the appearances are that the military
hard liners (including Wiranto), while vocally supporting the referendum and
the agreements, tried to set up a trap. They armed and organized the militias.
They prepared a sort of "final solution" to the timorese question, an
operation designed to uproot the independence movement once and for all. That
would lead to a coup in Jakarta. But they've made a fatal mistake. They
allowed the referendum to take place and the results to be announced. That
gave the independentists an undeniable democratic legitimacy that could not be
ignored by the "international community".  So at the time they had the knife
under the timorese's throat, the whole world (IMF, the Paris club, Washington,
Canberra, the UN Security Council, etc.) came upon them. They didn't have a
chance. Habibie (who just two days ago was a lame duck) and his reformist
counselors are on top again.

But this isn't the end of the story. Lets hope that the political earthquake
approaching will open a breach for the revolutionary popular movement.

João Paulo Monteiro

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