José's post on East Timor

John Edmundson JWE21 at
Sun Sep 19 14:24:14 MDT 1999

I think that there is a qualitative difference between independence
which comes about with the involvement of the UN at the level of a
referendum on one hand and the presence of armed forces on the ground
on the other. Obviously it is unrealistic to expect that the East
Timorese could have forced independence entirely on their terms, it
was all they could do to survive for 24 years, enabling the
diplomatic pressure to continue. This I do not dispute. However,
the kind of independence I envisage them getting under the barrels of
the guns of Anzac led UN forces will be a shallow victory indeed. As
I have noted already on this list, the UN force is a fait accompli,
already NZ and probably Australian SAS commandos are in Dili.They are
not there because the left called for them. They are there despite

The most important issue for the left in the participating
countries is therefore one of working out how to deal with the
longterm political implications of their forces occupying a foreign
country, under UN auspices or not. NZ's commitment is longterm, at
least 18 months is the current plan. John Howard was talking about
two years on the news today too. It has serious implications.

1) There are intense cross party calls for the upgrading of our
defence forces to better equip them for more of these sorts of
interventions. This is difficult to oppose if you have already
endorsed, or worse, demanded such a role for the army already.

2) It is expected that there will be casualties. As the UN settles in
for the long haul, these are as likely to be pro-independence people
as pro-Jakarta ones. I say this because I am convinced that the UN
will insist on the disarming of the independence movement, and will
orchestrate, from behind the scenes, the formation of a bourgeois
party to win the elections that they will no doubt arrange. They will
eagerly play up 'dissention' within the East Timorese independence
movement. Where does the left stand when it has to make an
embarrassing about face then?

In an ideal world, maybe we'd have Cubans and other internationalist
volunteers flooding into East Timor to defend the place and do the
reconstruction, but that's not going to happen. In fact it's about as
likely as José's hypothetical scenarios involving the UN authorising
Cuban troops to go into South Africa. That couldn't have happened
precicely because the UN is an institution of imperialist rule.

Given this, I think a critical  acceptance of a UN role in the
referendum is quite consistent with opposing our troops being
sent in. We might prefer things to be otherwise. I can understand the
East Timorese leadership asking the troops to go in. I can understand
the DSP thinking it's the best approach too. My mother works with a
woman whose father has probably been murdered in Dili. But we have to
retain a capacity to decide where we stand ourselves, not to
slavishly agree with everything the resistance movement agrees to.

In my view, the East Timorese independence movement is abosulutely
valid and worthy of support. I agree with José that it cannot be
subsumed by us to some kind of mythical Malay nation, which may exist
some time in the future but certainly doesn't at the moment. The
nature of that support however is the main point being discussed on
this list. And to me, that can include all kinds of support for
boycotts, protests against Indonesian companies, eg Garuda, etc, or
squeezing the oligarchs, (the Suharto clan have large land holdings
in NZ). But not enleashing our army on the place. The jingoistic mood
being whipped up here is nauseating, as I am sure the DSP are
noticing too. We're getting references to everything from the ANZAC
spirit to the NZ pilots fighting for freedom in the Battle of
Britain. A fax number to wish the troops well has been flooded with
responses. A news report they keep showing of the fighting has a
voiceover saying "In theory it's supposed to be about independence
from Indonesia. In fact they just like killing each other". This "no
respect for human life "over there"" attitude is strong enough
already without our troops going over there and reporting back
uncritical, simplistic but well intentioned accounts of the place. If
there had been a left to speak of in NZ it would have been set back

I don't think the dreaded label of ultraleft need be applied in this
case. I think that on balance the East Timor independence struggle
has been helped enormously by the persistent loyalty of the left in
NZ and Australia over the years, but not a jot by their calls for
intervention in the past weeks. On the other hand, the strategic
significance of the call to intervene is detrimental. The left has
not distinguished itelf from the Labour Party or any other bourgeois
liberal group on this issue and I believe, compromises its position
in the event that, as I suspect, the intervention turns out bad for
the East Timorese people.
John Edmundson

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