Vol. 7, No. 1
About East Timor and ETAN
About East Timor and the East Timor Action Network
Estafeta is the Portuguese word for messenger. In East Timor, it identifies people who, with great courage and ingenuity, carried messages throughout the resistance and civilian underground.
East Timor is a half-island the size of Massachusetts, 400 miles northwest of Australia. It was a Portuguese colony for four centuries, and its 600,000 people tasted independence following the anti-fascist Portuguese revolution in 1974. But nationhood was short-lived.
On December 7, 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor after getting the "green light" from President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger. Indonesian armed forces occupied East Timor until October 1999, with essential military and diplomatic support provided by the United States.
Between 1975 and mid-1999, more than 200,000 East Timorese people (one-third of the pre-invasion population) were killed by massacre, forced starvation and disease. Systematic campaigns of rape, murder, torture and arbitrary arrest terrorized the population. Natural resources (including oil, coffee and marble) were pillaged by Indonesian dictator Suharto's military-business complex.
Suharto ruled Indonesia brutally for 32 years (and oversaw genocide in East Timor for 23). But the Indonesian people forced him to resign in 1998, and the Habibie government at last allowed the East Timorese to vote. On August 30, 1999, after a quarter century of brutal Indonesian rule, 78.5% of the East Timorese people chose independence.
Following the vote, the Indonesian military and their militias carried out their threats of retaliation. Untold thousands were killed. More than three-fourths of the people were displaced from their homes, a quarter-million taken forcibly to Indonesia. Most towns and houses in East Timor were leveled.
East Timor is now under a UN-administered transition to nationhood. But over 100,000 people have still not been able to return, and those who have face a mammoth task of reconstructing their country from scratch. Not only must they design their political system, they have to find their families, build their homes, salvage their society, and travel the difficult road from occupation through aid-dependency to self-sufficiency.
International awareness of the horror of East Timor increased after November 12, 1991, when Indonesian soldiers acting under high-level orders killed more than 270 nonviolent demonstrators at Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili. Unlike many previous massacres, this one was witnessed by foreign journalists, who documented the incredible courage of the demonstrators - and the horrific inhumanity of the Indonesian army.
The East Timor Action Network was created in response to the Dili massacre. ETAN is a grassroots movement of more than 10,000 members, with local chapters in 27 cities and states. We have worked for human and political rights for the people of East Timor and for Indonesians who are struggling for democracy in their country.
Since East Timor is now under UN administration on the way to inevitable self-government, ETAN is supporting the transition and working to hasten empowerment, democracy, and development in East Timor, as well as supporting efforts to advance democracy in Indonesia.
Grassroots and Congressional pressure led to changes in U.S. government policy which were key to ending Indonesia's occupation. We in the U.S. are able to engage in peaceful protest with much less risk than East Timorese and Indonesians; it's a privilege we shouldn't take for granted.
ETAN embraces tactics from public education to protest, lobbying to local organizing, diplomacy to development, resource production to media work. We helped stop U.S. military training aid to Indonesia in 1992, and have maintained limitations on such aid ever since. Our grassroots pressure over the years blocked numerous weapons sales to Indonesia, and President Clinton's belated cutoff of all U.S. military support in September 1999 opened the way for international troops to replace the Indonesian army. We will continue to pressure Indonesia until all East Timorese people have been allowed to return home, the Indonesian army has allowed democracy in areas remaining under its influence, and those responsible for crimes in East Timor from 1975 to 1999 have been held accountable.
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