Vol. 7, No. 3
East Timor Elects Assembly
A Letter from Dili
A Letter from Dili
Dili, Timor Lorosa’e
Dear ETAN Friends and Supporters,
A month ago, Jill Sternberg and I arrived in East Timor, our home for the next two years. Much has happened since our arrival: East Timor has held its first democratic election, sworn in its first elected legislature, and chosen its first all-Timorese cabinet. Many people ETAN has worked closely with are in office: José Ramos-Horta, Mari Alkatiri, Aziza Magno, Fernando Araujo, Aderito Soares, Rev. Arlindo Marcal, Emilia Pires, Vicente Faria, Prof. Armindo Maia and João Carrascalão, among others. People are thrilled to have their own government after five centuries of foreign occupation. And daunting tasks remain.
Before I left New York, I resigned as National Coordinator of the East Timor Action Network. For me, the next phase of the struggle is here in Dili.
When we started ETAN/U.S. after the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, East Timor was one of the most horrific examples of U.S.-supported oppression, but many thought it marginal and hopeless. Together with the people of East Timor and activists from around the world, we increased public awareness in the U.S. and internationally. With the support of brave organizers in Indonesia, we were able to push the Jakarta government and the United Nations to agree to the 1999 referendum. Despite the terror, the people of East Timor chose to separate from Indonesia, and they paid a tremendous price. But two years later, independence is inevitable and imminent … and no one regrets the decision. Although there is still a long way to go, we mustn’t forget how far we’ve come.
I want to thank the East Timorese people for giving me the chance to be part of this historic, successful movement. But I have been even more privileged to know and work with ETAN’s outstanding people, together to have waged a struggle and built an organization and a community. Kristin Sundell’s and Brad Simpson’s marriage is the most obvious example of the love and friendship that enabled ETAN to work through difficult times, but it is not an exception. I treasure the many friends and colleagues I have come to know over the past decade.
Before we left New York, some friends organized a farewell party. I told them I was leaving the U.S. with a certain amount of guilt – while I would be sharing the elation of East Timor’s new independence, they would be struggling with the havoc wrought by the Junior Bush Administration. The horrific events of September 11 have compounded those feelings. Ironically, this land, which has absorbed so much military-spilled blood, is one of the most distant places from current violent rhetoric and events. People here have been incredibly empathetic to us displaced New Yorkers, understanding of the suffering of people at home. At the same time, the East Timorese reject violent retaliation, just as they did when they were victims over the past quarter-century. Every day, the people of this country teach me another lesson in humanity.
Although I have left ETAN’s leadership, I will continue to be
involved, even as I develop my work with the International
Federation for East Timor (IFET) and with La’o
Hamutuk, Yayasan HAK and other East Timorese NGOs. In this internet
age, peace and justice activists are more globalized than the WTO. The
international East Timor movement was among the pioneers of organizing
across long distances, and our common efforts for justice and true
independence for all East Timorese people will continue. I look forward to
hearing of and joining in another decade of U.S. and East Timorese
campaigns to achieve genuine and complete self-determination for this
distant island which has become so close to so many of us.
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