Subject: All is not well in East Timor -American doctor

The Progressive [US] September 1, 2000

East Timor in Trouble

On August 30, a huge crowd in Dili, East Timor, gathered to celebrate the first anniversary of the independence vote for this tiny nation.

But all is not well in East Timor.

The leadership is lacking in vision, the Indonesian military lurks, the United Nations' interim government is short on funds, and the World Bank and U.S. corporations are sinking their claws into the economy.

That, anyway, is the perspective of Dan Murphy, a fifty-five-year-old Iowa doctor who has been busy running a clinic in Dili over the last two years.

"It's peaceful. That's good. We're not being shot at," says Murphy, who visited The Progressive's office on August 30. "But it's going to be just downhill from here. People don't see much that looks good in the country."

Murphy says that independence leader Xanana Gusmao "is not Nelson Mandela by any means. Many people have been discouraged by the way he's been acting."

Gusmao, says Murphy, is inconsistent, he is not showing people respect, he is compromising too much, and he is not offering people a vision of what a free East Timor should be like, other than saying that everyone should reconcile with the militias.

"And it's way too early for that," Murphy says.

"The militias were shooting and killing people I was trying to save. Little kids were shot by machine guns. Little kids were hacked by machetes. If I never see another machine gun wound, that would be fine by me."

East Timor may not be free from the clutches of the Indonesian military and its affiliated militias yet.

For one thing, the militias are still crossing into East Timor for raids, "but you don't hear anything about it, even though it could be considered an act of war," he says.

For another, "Indonesia seems, day by day, to be less stable, and the military benefits from that."

Murphy doesn't discount the possibility that the military may even want to take East Timor back.

"They have many, many options," he says. "If they can cause chaos or corruption, they can have a playground in East Timor."

The U.N. peacekeepers are timid, Murphy says, and the U.N. administration of the interim government is scaling back. "The U.N. has no money," he says, and it's constantly saying there need to be more cuts in spending.

This frustrates Murphy, who sees the urgency of establishing a village-based community health system to fight tuberculosis, malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, and malnutrition. But the money is just not there.

Nor is the United States helpful, he says. USAID is concentrating its efforts on the coffee industry; it is not lending money for health care.

Murphy worries about the direction the economy is going in.

"Timor has to come up with a law for foreign investment," he says. But at the moment, "the World Bank is saying the free market economy should be in every paragraph."

Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta has been looking at the economic question. "Jose Ramos-Horta should know better," says Murphy, "but he's jumping right in with the World Bank. And the East Timorese oil official gets most of his information from Phillips Petroleum."

The key to East Timor's future is "empowering village women," Murphy says. "Women are standing up for the first time."

He singled out a couple of Maryknoll sisters who have dedicated their lives to this cause, and these women inspire him to carry on.

He has faith in the Timorese. "The people are so great," he says.

But the problems they face are steep, he warns: "The Timorese people are not through suffering yet."

--Matthew Rothschild

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