Vol. 7, No. 1
What Does the New Congress Mean for East Timor?
by John M. Miller
Turnout was greater and ballot counting went more smoothly in last year's UN organized vote in East Timor than in the recent U.S. elections. But the aftermath of our elections, while certainly more peaceful, has been far more confusing.
A fuller assessment of the likely impact of the 2000 presidential and congressional elections on East Timor and U.S.-Indonesia relations must await early 2001 when Congress resumes and more members of President-elect Bush's foreign policy team are named.
The last issue of Estafeta reported on some of the differences between the presidential candidates. While President-elect George W. Bush did mention East Timor during the debate, it was only to make a point about the U.S. role in regional "humanitarian" interventions. He said nothing about future support for East Timor, lessons to be learned from the more than two decades of U.S. support for the invasion and occupation of the country, or the future of military ties with Indonesia. Secretary of State designate Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense designate Donald Rumsfeld (who held the same position in 1975 when East Timor was invaded), and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice have so far been silent on these questions as well. However, during a March 1997 visit to Jakarta, Powell said human rights "should not be an overwhelming element in U.S. arms sales," while arguing the U.S. should go ahead with a sale of F-16 jet fighters to Indonesia. (As congressional and grassroots opposition to the sale escalated, Suharto subsequently nixed the deal.)
Even so, we must bear in mind the main lesson ETAN has learned over the past decade: given enough education or constituent pressure, both Republicans and Democrats have acted in support of East Timor. Now is the time to begin to influence the new Congress by contacting your senators and representative, whether new or returning.
In the House of Representatives, several strong supporters of East Timor and human rights in Indonesia in the House were lost to retirement (including John Porter (R-IL), co-chair of the Human Rights Caucus) or electoral defeat (Sam Gejdenson (D-CT), ranking member of the House International Affairs Committee). Gejdenson has been replaced by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), the other co-chair of the Human Rights Caucus. A new version of Gejdenson's East Timor bill will be introduced and considered this year.
Major changes in the House Committee and Subcommittee chairs took place in early January. Among those pushed out are International Relations Chair Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), Human Rights Subcommittee Chair Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Asia Subcommittee Chair Douglas Bereuter (R-NE).
Henry Hyde (R-IL) is the new chair of the International Relations Committee. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) will chair the important Foreign Operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) a stalwart supporter of East Timor, the ranking Democrat.
In the Senate, little change is expected in key committee chairs. Two supporters of East Timor, Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), are retiring. As U.S. Ambassador to the UN in 1975, Moynihan blocked serious UN action against Indonesia following the invasion of East Timor; since then he has expressed regret about that history and supported self-determination for East Timor. In Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Washington, incumbent Republicans who were less than enthusiastic supporters of human rights advocacy in foreign policy went down to defeat.
ETAN/U.S. as an organization is strictly non-partisan and does not endorse candidates. But one local ETAN activist took U.S. foreign policy and other issues to the people by running for Congress in Seattle, where Joe Szwaja garnered 20% of the vote, the highest percentage of any Green Party congressional candidate.
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