Vol. 9, No. 1
(In)Justice and the Struggle for Accountability
About East Timor and ETAN
About East Timor and ETAN
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 during the Indonesian occupation.
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 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. Thousands were killed. More than three-fourths of the people were displaced from their homes; a quarter-million were forced to Indonesia. Most towns and houses in East Timor were leveled.
East Timor is now the world’s newest independent country. Yet some 30,000 people have still not returned, 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 with thousands of supporters, key contacts, and chapters across the United 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 independent, ETAN is working with East Timorese organizations on issues of human rights still affected by the U.S. and multilateral powers, including justice and U.S.-Indonesia military ties.
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 worked to keep restrrictions in place 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, those responsible for crimes in East Timor from 1975 to 1999 have been held accountable, and the East Timorese people have genuine self-determination.
ETAN is made up of people just like you who contact their representatives in Washington, protest, and educate others in the community about the situation in East Timor and Indonesia. We survive on your generous donations of time, talent and money. Please join us. And thank you.