An open letter to Jose Ramos Horta

Ozleft ozleft at
Fri Feb 28 05:39:57 MST 2003

An open letter to Jose Ramos Horta

By Bob Gould

I write this letter to you as an old agitator against imperialism and its
various wars. I've never met you, although I've heard you speak on a number
of occasions at public meetings during your long and frequently lonely
campaign for self-determination for your oppressed homeland, East Timor.

At different points I attended demonstrations and meetings over the years in
support of the cause of East Timor, which for a very long time appeared a
rather forlorn hope, and I marched along with many tens of thousands of
other Australians during the final upheaval in support of East Timorese
independence, which had, the unusual slogan, for many of us, of Send
Australian Troops to East Timor.

I'm glad and proud that we did this, and the subsequent develop of a small,
independent state of East Timor is a considerable achievement for our common
humanity. I respect your long personal struggle for East Timor's

I was also one of the million or so Australians who marched a couple of
weeks ago against George Bush's impending imperialist assault on the peoples
of Iraq, and it's in this framework I wish to take sharp issue against you
adding your prestige to this vengeful, unjustified, imperialist war project
of the US, Australian and British ruling classes.

It's worth saying that at the core of the very large demonstrations against
Bush's war plans were the many thousands of people, almost all of them in
fact, who marched in Australia in support of East Timorese independence,
whom you accuse by implication, of naivete, in your well-publicised New York
Times article supporting Bush's war.

You insult us even further by asserting that you didn't see any slogans
attacking Saddam Hussein. Well, I saw plenty and I don't know anybody
opposed to the war against Iraq who isn't also extremely hostile to the
regime of Saddam Hussein. It's sad to be subjected to this kind of demagogy
by someone in whose support many of us have campaigned quite vigorously.

In passing you absolve the ruling classes of the US, Britain and Australia
for their 25 years of total neglect of the rights of the East Timorese
people, and say they redeemed themselves by the intervention in 1998.

You seem to be able to be magnanimous in this respect, but it is a great
deal more useful to examine the Realpolitik behind the behaviour of these
ruling classes, rather than suddenly absolve them of guilt.

Well, your repetition of the Bush administration's story is altogether too
simple, and I urge you to carefully consider the sequence of events as you
lived through it. Quite clearly, the decisive turning point in the fortunes
of East Timor independence was the mass upheaval inside Indonesia against
the ruthless and brutal Suharto regime, which suppressed both the East
Timorese and Indonesian peoples for so many years with the active support of
the US and Australian ruling classes.

The primary factor that ultimately led to East Timorese independence was the
courageous and explosive mass mobilisation of the Indonesian people that
toppled the Suharto regime. This produced a political crisis in Indonesia
that led to the interim government of Amin Rais authorising the referendum
on East Timorese independence.

In this referendum, despite enormous pressure and brutality from the
Indonesian military, and at great peril and blood cost to themselves, the
East Timorese people grasped the opportunity and voted for independence.
This produced a political crisis for the policies of the US and Australian
ruling classes. It was at that moment that, metaphorically speaking, the
Pentagon helicopter gunships hovering over Jakarta relayed from Washington
the brutal message: "We've done as much as we can for you, the game is up,
get out of East Timor."

Faced with this clear but implicit change in US and Australian government
Realpolitik the Indonesian military were forced to recognise the inevitable
and depart from East Timor.

I put it to you, brother Horta, that the decisive element in these events
was the mass upheaval in Indonesia and the heroic resistance of the Timorese
people, which were the factors that caused the reversal in policy of the
Australian and US governments.

Many thousands of progressive Australians who marched and campaigned for
East Timor's independence were relieved and moved by the subsequent
developments, as your small, poor former colony constructed the elements of
a state.

>From where I sit, and I'm sure I share this view with most of those who had
any concern for Timorese independence, despite its contradictions,
weaknesses and limitations, the new independent state of East Timor beats
the hell out the circumstances that prevailed under the brutal Indonesian

As a socialist, labour movement activist and democrat, the fact that the
East Timorese people have the right to form trade unions, engage in public
political agitation, publish newspapers, etc, is a very important
improvement over their previous situation, and in fact over the situation of
the masses in many other countries in Asia and the ex-colonial world.

Returning to the question of Australian demonstrators, just about everybody
of my acquaintance who marched for East Timorese independence, including the
necessary demand for Australian peacekeepers in East Timor, which was
appropriate in the circumstances, also marched on February 16 against Bush's
impending war on Iraq. How can this be if your condescending attitude to the
peace demonstrators is correct?

In your superior way, you accuse the advocates of peace in Iraq of naivete,
and more significantly you take up the Bush-Blair-Howard demagogy, accusing
them of insensitivity to the plight of the Iraqi masses oppressed by the
dictator Saddam Hussein.

How dare you! The demonstrators I know are few of them naïve, and they are
all opposed to the brutal practices of Saddam Hussein. None of them,
however, believe the mealy-mouthed rhetoric about the US world hegemon being
a guarantor of human rights. If the core question in the Iraq war was human
rights, why doesn't the Bush administration take immediate steps against the
brutal Turkish oppression of the Kurds, or the nuclear-armed military
dictatorship of Pakistan, or the 40-year military dictatorship in Myanmar,
or the feudal dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Kuwait? If
the immediate issue in Iraq is democracy and human rights, why does the CIA
and the US administration put such immense effort into trying to overthrow
an elected government in Venezuela?

Most of the millions of marchers you accuse of naivete can see the brutal
core fact that you avoid: the thing that brings together Bush's democratic
rhetoric about Iraq and anti-democratic actions in opposition to the elected
government of Venezuela is the struggle over the world's declining oil

The marchers whom you call naïve, can see what you can't see, apparently,
that the military assault on Iraq will result in many, many thousands of
civilian casualties. In addition to this, if from the point of view of US
imperialism, the Iraq issue is really one of democracy and
self-determination, as they say, what about the right of the oppressed Kurds
to their own national state? The 30 million Kurds live in a contiguous area
with only small minorities of other peoples in that area. They have as
strong a claim to an independent national state as do the people of East
Timor, and yet any consideration of their claim to independent statehood is
deliberately excluded from any of the Bush-Blair-Howard rhetoric about Iraq.

To make mattes worse, the arrangements for the invasion of Iraq are made
with the most brutal opponent of Kurdish independence, the Turkish state.
What the ten million marchers against this war around the world can see, is
what you can't see: that this war, like most wars, is an extension of
politics, as Clausewitz said, and the politics in this instance is about the
control of the biggest oil reserves in the world.

This is also something that can be clearly seen by other imperialist and
bureaucratic states, such as Germany, France, Russia and China, which have
global interests different and in opposition to those of British, US and
Australian imperialism.

Those states are very reluctant to give control of the oil to the US,
British and Australia, which is why this war now seems likely to proceed
without the support of the United Nations.

In 1915, in opposing the imperialist war of both sides in the First World
War, Lenin made the point that if that war was really being fought for the
self-determination of Belgium there might be reason to support it, but since
that was not the case, the interests of the working class lay in opposing
both the imperialist blocs in that conflict.

In politics as in life, there is often not much automatic reciprocity. The
fact that I point out to you that the overwhelming majority of progressive
people around the world who supported East Timor now oppose this war, may
not impress you much, because, like the representatives at the UN of many
small states that are subjected to the enormous diplomatic and economic
pressure of the US - the carrot and the stick - you clearly feel obliged by
those circumstance to repeat the story of the US ruling class almost word
for word.

I might at this point introduce another element of Realpolitik that you
might need to consider in your role as East Timor's senior global diplomat.
In your own country, East Timor, there is a conflict between parts of your
government and many youth over the language question. A section of the
government, educated a long time ago (of which I understand you are one)
want to revive Portuguese as the national language. A large part of the
youth want Tetum supplemented by English and Bahasa Indonesia (in which they
were educated) as the major second languages.

The youth recognise that fluency in Bahasa Indonesia is of value to East
Timor because it has to live in the midst of the overwhelmingly Malay and
Muslim state of Indonesia. Even in Australia, many of those marching against
Bush's war make the point that our major neighbour is Indonesia, a mainly
Muslim country, and that joining in an imperialist venture that is viewed
clearly by Muslims worldwide as an assault on Island is to unnecessarily
sharpen conflicts with Muslim neighbours, with incalculable consequences.
There is a large element of geopolitical truth in these considerations. As
East Timor's senior diplomat, you should weigh those considerations against
the pressure on you to look after the interests of your great and powerful
US and Australian allies.

You do the infant state of East Timor no favours by emerging personally as
an ideological policeman for the US ruling class in the South-East Asian

(This is an article I'm hopefully submitting to the op-ed pages of the
bourgeois press and other  places. I am working on a serious response
refuting the views of Tom O'Lincoln, Gary McLennan, Phil Ferguson and others
on the Timor question, and I will post it in a couple of days.)

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