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East Timor reported by the Lusophone Blogosphere

As I was writing this report about unrest and possible civil war in East Timor, I found myself in a war with the spell-checker in my word processor which insists that the word LUSOPHONE does not exist. Read on to see what might be embedded in a single word.

Kids in Timor 2Seven years after the end of Indonesian rule — becoming the newest world nation in May 2002 — and having gone through what was viewed as a successful nation building and independence process led by the UN, East Timor is once again facing deep unrest. The last weeks since the reported clashes of April 28th have shown escalating violence and by now the Lusophone blogosphere is starting to speculate about the real forces behind the recent events.

“It was almost one o'clock. I turned on the radio, increased the volume and prepared myself for the bad news of the day. I was listening to the last music before the news and I stopped the car in front of the beach… I was prepared… Here they come! Timor, clashes between police and army, dead people, cries for help… Australia was already arriving (thanks to the oil exploration contracts)… Portugal is on the way … ENI is also there, entering through GALP. I can't help thinking that the oil is the real trouble maker, even if this is not the exact case here. That's what I think.”
NewsA day after…

GALP is the Portuguese oil company which last week lost the oil-gas contract with the government of East Timor. The contract was awarded instead to the Italian ENI as Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri announced the country's first move to explore the oil-and-gas rich off-shore reserves in the Timor Sea. Strange as it is, ENI and GALP are partners, the former owning the majority share of the later, which makes the Portuguese complain about their country being ‘gamed as usual’ on the bid. It was also last week that José Ramos Horta, the foreign affairs minister, requested help from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia to quell the violence.

“Timor is going through a delicate moment while signing big and important oil exploration international contracts. There are neglected groups and GALP between them. Are we sure those groups are not influencing the present unrest? Australia, who took years to recognize Timor ‘s oil extraction rights, spent just a few hours to land its troops at Dili airport: “Candid selfless help”!
Civil War in Timor?The time that will come

“The curious thing of this entire Timorese situation is that as soon as they saw themselves in trouble they called for help from Portugal. When it is time to ask for help paid for with Portuguese funds — yes, because a hundred National Guards -GNRs and a bunch of GOEs placed in Timor is no free lunch — we are the ones they look for. But when it comes to the opportunity to sell oil and raise money, they go find someone else. Is the Portuguese government buying this story? Why don't the Timorese ask for ‘Canabineri’ help? Why don't they ask the Italians to send some free troops to help them? Is it possible that in the end they will pay with oil profits? Or is it just added to the debt?”
GNR to Timordaily rants

As we dig deeper into the links on East Timor situation the tense atmosphere between the Prime Minister Alkatiri and President Xanana Gusmão becomes evident. The head of the government, who has managed to maintain the majority party's support, is being pushed to resign by the Catholic Church — the religion of 90% of the Timorese– and by renegade leaders of the military under the main leadership of Alfredo Reinaldo, a former army lieutenant trained in Australia. They point to the lack of popular support for Alkatiri as the real cause for the outburst of violence. But the blogs are reporting a more complex situation, sometimes indicating how weirdly the mainstream media are dealing with the issue.

“It looks like positions of Mari Alkatiri, with FRTILIN and Timor's legitimate government on his side, and of Xanana Gusmão, always backed by the Church, are not exactly the same. Who is asking for the Portuguese troops? Both did? Both still do? What role will play the Portuguese in case things go sour between the many sides in the conflict? Knowing that the Australians don't like Mari Alkatiri, what will be the role of its numerous troops, given its special economic interests in the territory? Will Portugal support possible Australian moves to diminish the Prime Minister's political and institutional sphere of influence? And what if we don't support such moves?”
Just some doubtsArrastao

“Ultimately, one of the common issues in Dili is ‘the situation’ — the mysterious being which flows in rumors and gossip, sowing discomfort and mistrust in relation to East Timor's future. Well, the April 28th events were bad, and it is clear that the recovery won't be quick, but the times that followed were flooded with sensationalist news about the security issue. Some facts were based in mere rumors, and it was something that brought much confusion to everyone around. So I am leaving a link to a new address that will follow ‘the situation’ and the facts in East Timor in a special way!”
The situation
Between Dreams

“One source that will not be surprised by Gusmao's power bid is the World Socialist Website. The WSWS, which has established a reputation on the left as an authority on East Timorese affairs, produced an article yesterday which claimed that Australia was backing a bid by Gusmao and Ramos-Horta to depose Alkatiri. Observing that Alfredo Reinaldo, a leader of some of the rebellious soldiers, was trained in Australia and favors the intervention of foreign troops in East Timor , the WSWS argues that the instability of recent weeks has been orchestrated by Canberra in an attempt to bring Alkatiri to his knees. The WSWS argues that Australia wants to get rid of Alkatiri because he has attempted to lessen East Timor's dependence on Canberra, confront John Howard over his country's exploitation of Timor Strait gas and oil reserves, and establish closer economic ties with Europe and China.”
Is Xanana Gusmão staging a coup?Reading the Maps

“Today, the international networks, BBC, CNN, Euronews, continue to show the ‘same old’ scenes of youths destroying and torching the ‘same old’ houses already shown yesterday, in a poorly rehearsed portrait, forcing the kids to declare they are doing all this as vengeance. And the BBC news anchor who pushed for those answers is the ‘same old’ one who interviewed Alkatiri yesterday and insisted that he had ‘failed’, that he had to resign. Suddenly I recalled having seen this movie repeatedly — in Bósnia, in Kosovo, in Checheny and wherever else ‘they’ have interests to preserve with a non-aligned government. ‘Regime change’ again…. Is it now in the Portuguese social-democracy fashion in order to take the water to the Australian mill? Shame on you, Mr. Gusmão, and all who get aligned with this coup!”
Afternoon commentTimor Online – Live from Timor

It is true that Mari Alkatiri has done good job on the dealings about the Timor Gap, putting the Australian government on the defensive in the issue. But being the country leading the military intervention in East Timor has put the Australian blogs in step with Prime Minister John Howard and his government's politically colored approaches.

“Just wait for the Left's reaction to Australia's latest East Timor mission. Perhaps some may contend that it is a subtext for Australian neo-colonialism in the region, acting on Washington's orders to secure petroleum assets for Big Oil (and Halliburton, of course).”
Trouble in Timor Leste (again)Niner Charlie

“More on East Timor's ‘sudden rebellion': According to Australian sources, East Timor's long sought independence is in severe jeopardy as a result of collusion between the United States, Australia, Indonesia , and the World Bank under its pro-Indonesian president Paul Wolfowitz. More astounding are reports that Indonesian intelligence has thoroughly penetrated the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) by using blackmail techniques involving pedophilia and bribes. These techniques have also been used to target former Australian and U.S. ambassadors and other diplomats and military personnel assigned to Indonesia. Wolfowitz is a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia.”
Australian neo-colonialists (operating on behalf of Bush neo-cons) target East Timor's oil, launch a rebellion against East Timor's governmentRebelle Nation

The following piece was written by the son of Ramos Horta as a report to the Asia Times and it may be a good indicator of what is going on right now.

“More significantly, perhaps, Alkatiri has implemented a foreign policy overtly confrontational to the West. His recent decision to hire nearly 500 Cuban doctors after visiting that country, despite strong objections from the US ambassador, was highly controversial and oddly aligned East Timor with the resurgent leftist movement gaining ground in Latin America. Likewise, Alkatiri's bizarre attempt to declare a national day of mourning for Yasser Arafat's death did not endear him to the US or other Western countries. There was also widespread speculation that Alkatiri planned to award a multibillion-dollar gas-pipeline project to PetroChina, an invitation that would have won both the United States’ and Australia's ire.”
As East Timor Burns, by Loro Horta – Asia Times

It seems, going against Australian interests has put Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in a difficult situation. Even the decision making Portuguese the official language is now being challenged by the Australian commentators.

“Mari Alkatiri has been a disastrous Prime Minister. He leads the so-called Mozambique clique of Fretilin ideologues. The catastrophic decision to make Portuguese the national language of East Timor perfectly illustrates the dogmatism and unreality of Alkatiri's approach. This decision disfranchised young East Timorese who speak Tetun, Indonesian or English. It entrenched the clique of ageing, dogmatic Marxist-Leninists within Fretilin and exacerbated every division within East Timorese society. And it does nothing to help East Timor earn a living in the international economy.”
Dig in to save Timortheaustralian.news.com.au

In doing the research for this report about the unrest in this tiny nation of the southwest Pacific I discovered the importance of language in shaping narratives and activating the conversations about what is going on. The Lusophone world of Portuguese-speaking bloggers gives a very caring attention about East Timor’s future and not just the violence of the present difficult time.

In the Lusophone blogoshere the conversations seem to go deeper into the crisis motivations and offer more access to East Timor’s day-to-day political dynamic by being closer to the popular, rather than the institutional, culture. Could it be a sign of the relatedness of the language with the locals, plus the possibility of the same code being understood by a culture on the other side of the globe?

The local efforts to respect and enliven the native Tétum language are also interesting, and already there is a wikipedia section on it. Looking at the language structure for the first time I was amazed. Many of spellings of the words were unbelievably similar to the slang and dialect the Brazilian kids are creating in their instant messenger quick typing, mixing phonetic contractions with common spelling errors. This is not the language of separations and defending interests. It is the language of cordiality, conversation and connection.

“”I've seen on the TV news that the Timorese government succeeded in the renegotiating the oil quotas rates for Timor Sea. Who was the loser in this? Precisely: Australia — the one country that has already arrived and is planning a long stay, unless the Timorese are able to show them the contrary. What about Portugal, can we help? I can't tell if it is a good idea to send Portuguese troops, but there are many reasons why Portugal could have a positive role in Timor, if there is good will there and, also, because attacks to the Timorese government reaches us, the lusophones.”

“Politicians utilize culture and language to lubricate private and public interests; academic intellectuals fix on nationalist issues which enhance the visibility of cultural power; and the corporate crowd sticks to politicians in order to protect interests that should be more liberally shared. But these are the kinds of protagonists whose inabilities are not capable of stopping the Lusophone expansion, yet. The community of Lusophony is growing in freedom, beyond the all manipulations. It is, afterall, a community of affections and gestures. It was born in the first globalization wave when the Portuguese traveled the unknown seas. One of the consequences was the emergence of a plural and polycentric space of different people, cultures, states, churches and communities, a network of lusophone communities.”
The Lusophony, or its absence
Kilumba's Bazonga

As we continue to cover the unrest in East Timor, we will give special attention to the feeds that bring the latest Lusophone perspectives.

7 comments

  • Hi Jose, great coverage. I did not know that there was so much attention to East Timor in Portuguese blogs.

  • Hi Preetam,
    Thanks for the nice comment. I started from your posts, and the great discovery for me was the difference between the reports depending on the language. This is something I will be digging further on my next posts.

    One great post from Australian blogosphere today:

    Smart army man trumps scare-mongering media
    “An Australian military commander has tried to ensure truth does not become a casualty of conflict in East Timor, but embarrassed a TV network in the process.” (more)

    Greetings from Brazil.

  • Ana Queiiroz

    Congratulations for your fine and detailed research and accurate vision. I’m Portuguese, Timor is almost like home. It is very painfull to watch such an young country take a punch in the stomach like this one. Let’s see if David Alakatiri can survive Golias Australia
    AQ
    Portugal

  • YunTauFoo

    May I borrow your this two very nice sentences Ana (Queiiroz).
    .
    “Congratulations for your fine and detailed research and accurate vision”
    “Let’s see if David Alakatiri can survive Golias Australia”
    .

  • The big boys have yachts. The small boys have row boats.

    Those of us who try and keep abreast of world affairs are quite often shocked not by the subtleties of what the rulers of the world do and the back room political machinations they engage in but by the sheer audacity of the acts they sometimes commit. In the last couple of weeks, the rulers who oversee this region of the world have once more shocked us in their undisguised misuse and abuse of their power.

    Like most people, I was shocked to hear that East Timor had descended into “anarchy” and “violence” again. The newspapers and TV, having just spent a week flashing the images of Wadeye in the remote coastal outback of the Northern Territory, suddenly carried images of another group of black faces carrying weapons and causing havoc. Only this time, in one sense, it had nothing to do with us as it was in another sovereign nation, albeit one supposedly close to our hearts.

    It’s often been said that the Howard regime is the most successful Australian government when it comes to manipulating their image in the minds of the “average” Aussie. Certainly it is true of them but image management and spin doctoring is fully embedded in the political processes of all developed nations and as much, if not more, effort is put into ‘finessing the message’ as is put into developing policy.

    When it comes to our foreign policy our mainstream media sold us the Iraq war as a bold and dangerous adventure for the boys and girls who don the baggy cap (oops, sorry wrong Waugh there). Our military interventions in the Solomon Islands were sold to us as necessary and brief intrusions to assist our “Pacific neighbours”. What was never discussed in the same context was the unjust rape and pillage of the Island’s natural resources by multinationals and their need for protection from the population who were rising up against them. Now or perhaps again, East Timor, the newest nation on earth, is being subjected to Howard’s gunboat diplomacy.

    The question is, why are Howard and his crew so worried about the poorest, clapped out little piece of dirt in the region? Quite simply because this little piece of poor, clapped out dirt is strategically important militarily and holds the key to the natural resources that fall within its sea borders. The Greater Sunrise oil and gas field is the main game off our northern shores, not helping out the East Timorese people. “Protecting” them is, unfortunately for our service men and women, a necessary part of the PR war to convince the Australian population that we are doing ‘good’ for this “struggling nation”.

    What is not being discussed in all the acres of print and hours of TV and talk radio is how the rulers of the wealth of Australia are positioning our nation to do to East Timor exactly the same things as the US has been doing in its “sphere of influence” for the last 100 or more years. That is, intervening with full military force in the sovereign affairs of other nations. Strange isn’t it, how most of those nations had resource wealth or other strategic military value. What is also strange is how these “humanitarian” interventions always led to the further impoverishment and oppression of the ordinary people in those countries. See if you can name one in which the wealth of the people and their basic living conditions has improved.

    Having already confirmed Alexander Downer’s comments that we could not wait for the elected government of East Timor to make up their minds as to whether external assistance was needed or not, Howard sent in the troops and police. His Defence Chief, Angus Houston, said that his troops would “use force” in a “very measured and restrained way”. Our top soldier on the ground, Brigadier Michael Slater, told the assembled media in Dili that by the time he had finished the only ones carrying guns in the capital would be his troops.

    This comes after calls that the East Timorese army and police should be disbanded, that the elected government should be thrown out and that the UN should take over all responsibility for overseeing the state. In short, what we have heard from the political and military rulers of Australia is that East Timor should become, once more, a colonial outpost ruled by outsiders. Only this time we will be the colonial rulers and not the Indonesians or Portuguese. Why has the current situation developed so quickly? Oil and gas.

    Remember how, just a few short years ago, Howard positioned himself as the saviour of the East Timorese and how “our boys and girls” from the military and police supposedly helped build this new country? Remember how we sent over troops and helicopter gunships and warships and waited until the retreating Indonesian troops and state sponsored killing gangs had done their work before moving in? Remember how we sent Farnsy to sing to the Timorese and how our politicians hugged and slapped the backs of the newly elected leadership? Remember how the UN inspectors said the elections were free and fair? Remember the discussion about the Timor Gap? I didn’t think so.

    One of Australia’s most rapacious companies, Woodside Petroleum, who we should not forget were prepared to sponsor an Australian politician’s visit to Iraq to bribe the emerging government into giving them oil concessions, is guaranteed the wealth of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields that have been determined, by international law, to belong to East Timor.

    In 2004 the Howard government, with the full support of the Labor party, pushed through the “Greater Sunrise Unitisation Agreement” that, if accepted by the East Timorese, would have seen 82% of the wealth flow to our Treasury and only 18% flow to East Timor. Of course, the East Timorese government rejected the deal but were bullied by Downer’s department into signing an interim agreement in order to maintain, at the least, a negotiating position. What they have not done is roll over like lapdogs and allow themselves to be run over, roughshod, by our government.

    The deal struck between Woodside and our government would see the Treasury in Canberra benefit to the tune of well over $40 billion over the life of the project. What Howard and Downer offered the East Timorese was deal that ensured the ongoing poverty of the nation as the Timorese leadership would have had to forego any claims on the resources they own for the next 50 years. In short, far from resolving the “Timor Gap” problem, our government wants to enshrine it. This is an act of bastardry that is unparalleled in Australian political history and would condemn the “poorest nation” on earth to a future of uncertainty and squalor.

    I would suggest, without resorting to any conspiracy theories that it has been our government, in concert with the US and Indonesia, that has fomented the current “crisis” for the sole benefit of multinational resource companies and in doing so it has shamed us all.

    I mentioned at the beginning that the big boys have yachts and the small boys have row boats. Could I suggest that both are vulnerable to shifting tides and the threat of being sunk. It is about time we spoke up and took the necessary action that would sink the rotten ship ‘HMS Howard’ and end this government’s increasing militarisation of the region and his gunboat diplomacy. To not do so will only send us on a voyage from which no one will return unscathed. Let alone our Timorese brothers and sisters.

  • […] another Portuguese speaking corner of the world, in the middle of the tense East Timorese conflicts, there are still some who reach for the games in Germany in order to stay connected with some […]

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