Subject: ABC: Enough Rope interview with JRH

Monday, 10/05/2004

Enough Rope with Andrew Denton

Jose Ramos-Horta

To win the Nobel Peace Prize, you have to do something special, and how's this for starters - have your country taken away from you, be driven into exile and spend every day of the next 24 years fighting for justice, in that time learn nearly a third of your countrymen have been killed including three of your brothers and a sister, never give up hope, despite being abandoned by the world's community, finally see your nation liberated against all the odds and then preach forgiveness for those who tried to destroy you? Amazing. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the man whose life this is - Foreign Minister of East Timor Jose Ramos-Horta.

ANDREW DENTON: Jose, welcome.


ANDREW DENTON: Jose, it's an honour to have you here, and they say that the personal is political, so I'd like to explore your country through your story, if we may. And I want to take you back to December 1975. We have some footage here which will evoke some memories for you, I have no doubt.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA IN 1975 FOOTAGE: These have arrived in...since Monday, boat together, very close to our border. They're not there just for fun, you know? And they're preparing a massive operation.

MAN: (TRANSLATION) If they come, I'll take care of them. Even if there are 40 of them we'll keep them out.

ANDREW DENTON: Now, nine days after the Democratic Republic of East Timor was declared, you fled the country and you went into exile. When did you first learn that your worst fears had come true, that the Indonesians had invaded?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: I had landed in Lisbon on December 7, in the afternoon, when someone told me. I don't know whether I can use bad language in...


JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Quoting the person, you know, he said, "The SOBs have invaded." I was on my way to New York. I had left the country three days before the invasion.

ANDREW DENTON: This is remarkable. You were 26, and in your own words, you were the youngest, most naive foreign minister anywhere. And you addressed the Security Council. What do you remember of that day?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, before I formally addressed the Council, I met with almost all the 15 Council members. And I remember meeting with the oldest diplomat in the UN, called Jacob Malik, from the Soviet Union. He had been with the UN since the founding of the UN in San Francisco in 1945. What I remember of him was that while I was talking, he was sleeping. And, you know, I was a bit confused. I said, "Well, should I stop? If I talk, I wake him up, he might be upset."


JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: And, you know, here, my country had been invaded and I'm trying to explain the problem to the Soviet ambassador - very prominent diplomat, Jacob Malik - and he was dozing off.

ANDREW DENTON: Did he have people around him?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: There were two people around him.

ANDREW DENTON: Were they saying this is a good sign, when he falls asleep?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Yeah. And finally, well, I kept talking, and finally he woke up and said, "We will support you." So on December 22, the Council voted unanimously in demanding Indonesia's withdrawal from East Timor.

ANDREW DENTON: You must have felt fantastic.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Yes, I thought, "Well, that's it. Major success. Unanimous. Now I able to go back to East Timor in triumph."

ANDREW DENTON: And what happened?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, what happened is I learned my first lessons in organised international hypocrisy. And that is - yes, the Council voted on a resolution, but some of the countries that voted on that resolution calling on Indonesia to pull out its troops from East Timor went on selling weapons to Indonesia. And Indonesia, of course, they knew very well how the UN works, how the Security Council works. You know, there can be a resolution on paper but there is no political will to implement it. So Indonesia simply continued on with the occupation.

ANDREW DENTON: At this time, you arrived in New York with summer gear. You'd never been in a big city before. You lived in New York for many years, and you lived very rough for some of that time. How rough?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, more roughly was the psychological and emotional thing, in that I was complete alone, no family. I didn't know that many people, except one or two who was already sympathetic to East Timor. And then, for the following years, you know, knock at the door of everybody - my work was not only on the United Nations. I travelled often to Washington, meet with members of Congress. I did a lot of lobbying there, and travel around the United States. I know US probably like very few people. I have been to almost all 50 states.

ANDREW DENTON: While you were doing this, you had to support yourself - you had to give body and soul. You had a night job, didn't you?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Yes. You know, a night job. But also there are some people helped. I did some rough translations. You know, I spoke, and speak some languages.

ANDREW DENTON: And you were also a security guard, is that right?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: I did a bit like, you know, night guard, but, you know, just sit in know, did nothing.

ANDREW DENTON: Scary! And you were a security guard. Well...

(Both laugh)

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, you know, it was mainly, someone who knew me in the building, he said, "Well, do you want some extra money after work?" And I said, "What does it need? Do I have to carry a gun?" He said, "No, just sit here, see who comes in and out."

ANDREW DENTON: What were you...during these early years in New York, what were you eating?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, you know, I did enjoy Chinese cuisine, Chinese food, and because it was also the cheapest in New York. And the funny thing about, too, the Chinese waiters, you know, is, even today, you know, you meet a Chinese waiter in New York, the first thing he does is ask you, "Where are you from?" And I would say, "I'm from East Timor." Well, between my accent and their understanding of English, often, you know...I remember the reaction, "You mean you're an Eskimo?"

I say, "No, I'm not an Eskimo. I said I'm from East Timor." "Oh, you mean you're from Istanbul? Did you see 'Midnight Express'?" And I was asked couple of times whether I had seen 'Midnight Express', so I actually went and saw 'Midnight Express'.

ANDREW DENTON: That would have cheered you up no end.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Exactly, yeah! Well, this is only to illustrate how frustrating it was to educate people in the United States about East Timor. You know, most people haven't heard of...

ANDREW DENTON: For 24 years, you travelled to something like 100 countries, and you were knocking on doors, going to dinners, going on what's called the rubber chicken circuit, where you're...just these endless meals. Was this something you were comfortable with?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, let me say first, in the beginning, I wasn't even invited to dinners or receptions. You know, dinners and receptions, banquets, came much later, when I got the Nobel Peace Prize. And that became a bit like a torture, you know, because I had so many engagements. It would start, like, 9pm, and I was jet-lagged, I was tired. I was telling one of my companions accompanying me, saying, "God, I hope it doesn't last more than two hours." But it'd go on and on and I would almost fall asleep during dinner.

ANDREW DENTON: I assume, on the scale of diplomacy, unless you're a Russian ambassador, that that is an absolute no-no for a diplomat to fall asleep.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Oh, absolutely, yes.

ANDREW DENTON: Yeah. Did you have a way of keeping yourself awake, or was it just fear?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, I'll give you an example. You know, recently I was in Washington, had a meeting with an American president who is not very popular nowadays.


ANDREW DENTON: (Fakes confusion) I'll get the name eventually.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: And, left the White House. My final destination was Jakarta. Then in Jakarta, switched to Jogjakarta to meet up with a very popular Australian foreign minister. I think he's one of the most popular politicians in this country.

ANDREW DENTON: I'll get back to you on that one too.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: And with the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. My staff was telling me later they saw how I was struggling to stay awake. You know, I did everything, like, you know, hands like this. And I had to... It was really quite a struggle, you know, to stay awake.

ANDREW DENTON: I have this image of you in the middle of this conference, standing up, going, "Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!" (Andrew slaps face)

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: I should have done that, yes, actually.

ANDREW DENTON: All this time when you were on the diplomatic circuit, well, you were in exile for 24 years. Emotionally, Jose, what is it to be in exile?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: It's very lonely, you know, because, deep down, you have roots in the country you were kicked out or you had to flee for different reasons. And the people have a very strong connection with the land they were born, with the environment, with their friends, with their neighbours, you know, like any culture. If you are an economic refugee, no problem. You work hard, a few years later you have an Australian passport. You can go and visit and show off a bit. You know, even speaking English, you know, pretending having an Australian accent. But when you are political refugee, you know, like I was, and like many I know, you know, you cannot go back, and you feel terribly homesick and you always fantasise, dream about going back. "Well, next year, I go back. Next year..." Well, it happened with me. I went back - only 24 years later.

ANDREW DENTON: Was there ever a time where your resolve wavered, where you thought, "I can't pursue this"?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, there were a couple of times that, you know, I was tempted to, find a real job and settle down and so on. But every time I thought of that, I felt that if I did that, I would be betraying those back in East Timor, in the jungles, in prison, who were relying on me, who were trusting me and who gave me a mandate to speak for them. My conscience was telling me that I could not find a job and earn a living, have a family while people in Timor, you know...innocent people were being tortured, were being killed, and they still have illusions that somehow I could get the UN to help them. And I remember, when I went back, one day I went to a village in Timor - not long ago, two years ago - there were hundreds and hundreds of people there, welcoming me, and I felt embarrassed. And in my speech, I told them, "I'm embarrassed - you receive me as a national hero when YOU are the ones who are real hero, because you were here. You suffer, you endure the isolation, torture. You never gave up." And one old man, maybe in his 70s, 80s, he stood up and he said, "No, you ARE our hero because when we lost hope, we heard your voice in the radio and we had hope again." I did not realise, being outside, you know, how important my work was for them.

ANDREW DENTON: You were, as you said, outside, and there was so much bad news from your country, so many people killed, a third of your countrymen, members of your own family. It would've been natural, I think, to feel a sense of guilt as well. Did you have to deal with that?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Yes, definitely, but also, a sense of frustration that I couldn't do anything to save them, to help them. I didn't, you know, have a very great material life. But still I was far better off than all my relatives and friends who were in East Timor. You know, no matter my material difficulties in New York or in Sydney at the time, it was nothing compared with those who were in the country.

ANDREW DENTON: Speaking of Sydney, you moved to Australia in the late 1980s to live with your mum, and there you were - you'd commute on the train every morning to your office above Condom Kingdom in Kings Cross. The home of many a foreign mission in Australia, I have no doubt.

Did you ever feel at home amongst the lost souls of the Cross?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: At first, when I first came to Australia in 1991, I had an office at the University of NSW. Then, later in the mid-90s, yes, someone got me that office based in Kings Cross. I knew Kings Cross, and I was not terribly happy, impressed with that brilliant idea. But it was very cheap - $50 per week for a very nice office, uh, space there.

ANDREW DENTON: In 1991, after all those years of knocking on doors, your job improved, but in the worst possible way, with the Dili massacre. And to remind those watching tonight, here's a news report from the time.


MICHAEL MAHER, Diplomatic Correspondent: Those fleeing the gunfire of Indonesia's soldiers were mainly youths and clearly defenceless. In a chilling irony, it was a graveyard and its headstones which offered the best protection against the bullets. Yorkshire Television's Max Stahl was in the cemetery when the shooting began.

Voice of MAX STAHL, Cameraman: The people were desperately trying to get into the cemetery, and there was a wall separating the street from the cemetery, giving them some protection from the worst of the shooting.

MICHAEL MAHER: The official death toll has been put at 19, but eyewitnesses claim the number killed is over 100.

ANDREW DENTON: As indeed it was. How did that change people's perception of East Timor?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: That helped enormously in placing East Timor on the map through this tragedy and through the courage of the journalist Max Stahl. You know, Mike...Max Stahl was in the cemetery, inside the cemetery, when the Indonesians began shooting. He took pictures, film, and as the Indonesians approached him, he was incredibly...with sangfroid - you know, with enormous serenity - he pulled out the tape, buried in the sand in the cemetery, and, uh, the Indonesians took him, rough him up, but then release him. At night, with incredible courage, he came back to cemetery, jumped the wall and undug the tape, recovered it and then managed to smuggle it out.

ANDREW DENTON: In '96 you and Bishop Belo got the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, I can only imagine that was a bit of a surprise.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Yes, for me it was, it was quite a surprise, because the previous year I had been to Oslo five times, discreetly, actually lobbying for support for Bishop Belo. Well, actually, when the news came, it was not Bishop Belo. It was that...scientists, the Pugwash Group. And I felt bad for Bishop Belo, and the Indonesians were laughing, probably. So in '96, I was in my mother's little, humble apartment in Liverpool, at the time, and a friend...a week before, a friend of mine phoned me from Washington and say, "Jose, what do you think? Who is going to win this year the Nobel Peace Prize?" I told him, "Arnold, I don't care." Because I didn't want to go through the same painful experience of previous... "I don't care. They can give it to anyone," you know. (Laughs) So, it was double surprise when not only Bishop Belo won, but I had also been nominated and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

ANDREW DENTON: What do they - as a matter of curiosity - what do they give you? It's not a statuette. It's not like an Oscar, is it?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: No, it's slightly better than that, because it comes with lots of money.

ANDREW DENTON: Yes. Very important.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: They give you a gold medal. And the gold medal is worth whatever worth the dollar, the gold at the time. At the time it was worth, like, something like $40,000, $50,000, solid gold. Plus, average of about roughly US$1 million in prize and then a diploma. Because we were two winners, it was split between two. I am the only living Nobel laureate who gave away their gold medal. When I gave...I received and I made my speech in Oslo, I said, "I am not the real worthy recipient of this award, but the people of Timor, the fighters in Timor." So, true to that, August 2000, when I was back in Timor, in a ceremony in East Timor, I handed over the gold medal to the commander of the East Timor resistance fighters. And the money, part of the money, I set up a micro-credit program, similar to the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, to lend money to poor people. You know, you lend $50, $100, $500 to set up a small business - dressmaking or bicycle repair or whatever. And that's managed by a Timorese NGO. I gave part of the money. Actually, the Nobel Peace Prize money, I didn't use it at all for myself.

ANDREW DENTON: In August 1999, your diplomatic skills were put to full test. The Indonesian Government allowed the people of East Timor to have a referendum to vote on their independence. They voted overwhelmingly for independence. It looked like liberation was at hand. Within a month, militias backed by the Indonesian military were tearing the country apart. Murder, destruction, a horrible carnage, and an Australian documentary-maker called Tom Zubrycki was with you at this time. He's made a tremendous documentary on you called 'The Diplomat'. What we're about to see is Jose in Australia at that time, hearing the news from East Timor from the people on the ground in East Timor.




WOMAN IN CLIP: What other details have you got?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: That they attacked Dili, there are 50,000 to 100,000 people total, displaced. Uh...there are already some suicide cases because people who were captured...women did not want to be raped.


JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: : Committed suicide. Desperate situation - no water, no milk, no food.

ANDREW DENTON: How do you keep a lid on your anger at a time like that?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, uh, at that particular point we were... I saw everything crumbling, you know, 24 years of work crumbling. But, uh, I want to clarify something. Uh...I was just one piece of the whole chess. Those who really made a difference in turning things around were our friends in Australia, the common people, the solidarity movement, uh, in the United States, in Portugal, all over the world. The civil society, the common people. I was maybe, you know, one person who brought all the pieces together, maybe, but the real force was not me. The real force was, uh, you know, the tens of thousands of Australians who went to the streets and the hundreds of thousands in Portugal and elsewhere. They made a difference. But then, you know, there was the APEC meeting in New Zealand, Auckland, uh, Asia-Pacific Economic Conference. Bill Clinton and all the leaders of Asia Pacific were going there. When I arrive in... Up to that point I had not met Bill Clinton. When I arrive in New Zealand, I got a phone call from the White House, and I stayed in this very nice little guesthouse in New Zealand called Ponsonby. Very nice couple managing it who let me stay for free, me and two other colleagues. Anyway, uh, when I arrive at Ponsonby, I got a phone call from the White House. I don't know how they managed to get my number in that modest, discreet place.

ANDREW DENTON: They know what you were wearing that day, Jose. Before you chose it.


JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: And they said, "The President of the United States would like to meet with you. We know you're very busy, but he would be very grateful if you can come to his hotel to see you." Even with that stress, you know, sometimes I have this stupid sense of humour that I joke with everything, and sometimes people take my jokes seriously. And, uh, I almost, like, joking with him because he had, you know, "You are very busy, we understand. The President would appreciate talking with you." I almost felt like saying, "Well, I don't know. I have to check my schedule." You know, "Will I have time to see the President of the United States?" But I don't joke, because he might not understand my jokes. And I say, "Yes, OK. Any time. Whenever you want, I'll come to see Bill Clinton." That moment, I knew that things had turned around, you know. Bill Clinton wouldn't ask to see me for, you know, I say, small conversation.

ANDREW DENTON: And indeed they did, and that American support and intervention was crucial. I want to take you back, though. You said it was those many people around the world that supported you, but in the end you were the diplomat. You were at the pointy end. You had to carry a certain emotional load. We're going to see some footage now of you at the United Nations at the same time as the Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas.


JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: : I don't want to have to see his fucking face.

ALI ALATAS, INDONESIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I do not accept your accusation that we caused it. OK, we could not immediately get on top of it, and now we're asking the help of the United Nations. But that is different from accusing us that we caused the problem.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Hypocrites! Bastards... They play with people's lives. They are playing with people's lives.

ANDREW DENTON: Now, you had...

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: See, that's not very diplomatic.

ANDREW DENTON: No, it is not. Nonetheless, you had to meet with this man, you had to meet with representatives of the regime that had killed a third of your countrymen, members of your own family. You are a diplomat, but you're also a human being. How do you do that?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, yes, it's very... You know, the worst moment was in September 2002. I went to a remote village in Timor where my sister had been buried. She was killed because of a US-supplied aircraft to Indonesia. The plane was taken to Timor and bombed the village and my sister was among those killed. Fortunately, the villagers saw her being killed. They buried her, so the grave was identified. So we went there and we know, exhumed her body. And...but as I saw, you know, my... When I had seen her last, she was alive. 24 years later I saw her bones and I know, I asked myself, you know, why I don't hate the US like many others, because of what they perceive to be US sins. And so...past is past.

Hating the Indonesians? No, I never. And in 24 years of our struggle... And that's not only me - my compatriots, Xanana Gusmao and all colleagues, we never once demonised the Indonesians as a people. We never manipulated religion for this. We are Catholic - 98% Catholic. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. We never said, you know, "We poor Catholic country, being invaded by the Muslims." No, we never touch on these issues, because actually Suharto of Indonesia, the dictator, he never discriminated when it came to violence. Whether you're Catholic, whether you're Muslim, you're Hindu, he doesn't care. As long as you stay on his way, you know, you get the... So we never manipulated it, and that's why people today in East Timor, there is no resentment towards Indonesia. You know, Indonesian people are living there, many Indonesians are there. And my point is, you know, we won. You know, we won what we wanted. An injustice was corrected. Why continuing to rub the wounds of those who felt they had been defeated? In victory, when you won something, you can afford - A, to be very humble, B, to be magnanimous towards those who think they had been...they had lost. Don't rub the wounds. And so...and we have then, pragmatically, you know, we have to live with Indonesia.

ANDREW DENTON: Yours is a very small country, economically - the newest and probably smallest country in this region. Are you going to make it?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Oh, yes. We have resources, we have good people, we have a lot of friends in Australia and around the world, and I think East Timor will be a relatively prosperous country in a few years from now, as long as we are smart enough not to engage in factionalism, in divisions, infighting, and go back to violence.

ANDREW DENTON: There is one sticking point at the moment, is there not, between East Timor and Australia, which is to do with the Sunrise gas fields which lie between the two nations, and currently there is a dispute over who gets what percentage of the ownership?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Yes, on the basis of international law. The international law establishes an exclusive economic zone for each coastal state. We are entitled to 200-mile economic zone. Australia is entitled 200-mile economic zone. When it overlaps, and it does overlap, because East Timor and Australia is only 364 miles, practice establishes a median line between the two countries. So...and if we follow that practice, that principle, Greater Sunrise and all the existing already-in-production fields, like Buffalo, Laminaria, would all be inside East Timor exclusive economic zone.

ANDREW DENTON: How much income are we talking about, in rough terms?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: We are talking about, oh, probably $1 billion a year for East Timor, if we include all three fields plus Greater Sunrise.

ANDREW DENTON: And how much of this is Australia claiming?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Australia, you know, claiming 80% of Greater Sunrise and is already claiming 100% of Buffalo, and Laminaria, another field.

ANDREW DENTON: Clearly, the East Timorese Government is unhappy that this amount is being claimed by Australia. How can this be resolved between such good friends?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, yes, as you put it rightly, East Timor and Australia are neighbours and should be very close friends. East Timor's fate, destiny, is tied up with Australia and Indonesia. We cannot avoid these two large neighbours. We have to get along with both. Australian people have been very generous to East Timor, and most Australian politicians are very sympathetic. And, at the end of the day, the two sides have to find a better compromise.

ANDREW DENTON: Is Mr Downer one of those people, do you think?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: I believe so. You know, I don't blame or criticise him. After all, he's the Foreign Minister of Australia. He's not the Foreign Minister of East Timor...thank God. Sorry. (Chuckles)

I hope he is not watching your program.

ANDREW DENTON: He only watches to see what budget cuts could be made to it. It's alright.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: What I mean is that he's the Foreign Minister of Australia and his first obligation is to protect, to defend Australia's interests as he sees them, and so I cannot blame him to be very tough, to try to get the best possible deal for Australia.

ANDREW DENTON: Final question, Jose. For all that you have seen and all the behaviour you've had to experience, what do human beings fill you with more - fear or wonder?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, I'm often very... I'm ambivalent, and I have conflicting, contradictory sentiments. I tell you, you know, I care about human beings, and I'm against death penalty, but sometimes I wonder. Sometimes I believe that we should ban wars, there should be no wars whatsoever in humanity, ever again. But then I ask, if we say no wars of any sort, then what you do when a people is subjected to genocide? No force was used in Rwanda in '94. The UN was there, sitting, watching. New York wouldn't give the orders. So 700,000 to 800,000 people died in 100 days - in this day and age! And so should I be like the Dalai Lama and say no violence, no war ever? So I always struggle with these conflicting sentiments.

ANDREW DENTON: It's the great conundrum, isn't it? Jose Ramos-Horta, to your people, peace and prosperity, and to you, my thanks.


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