Friday, August 28, 2015


Or East Timor, as most of us know it. An island in the Indonesian archipelago, its western half is part of Indonesia, but the East stands alone. Not that standing alone has ever been easy. Around 100,000 Timorese died, according to a UN report, during the twenty-five years before independence in 2002, when the Indonesians seized and occupied the whole island; but this was nothing compared to the numbers in the past centuries, starting with the Portuguese conquest in the 16th century; the Dutch at the same time took the western half of the island, and established thereby the historical separation that cypruses it to this day. 

Growth and development in the Portuguese half was pretty well zero for three hundred years, for the Portuguese treated it, like many of their colonies, in the way that most of us treat houses and hotels in a game of Monopoly – you own the set of streets, and you have the cash, so you put a house or a hotel on it, though of course actually living there is not a realistic option. 

Three days after the Portuguese left, the Indonesians invaded, and in such force that what was anyway tame resistance collapsed beneath the weight of brutality and repression. Gradually a guerrilla army formed, known as the Falintil, though the rest of the world couldn’t care less about a tiny island inhabited by Polynesians and devoid, as far as anyone knew, of plunderable, I mean developable natural resources, and so the Falantil didn't even get a mention on the news, let alone access to arms or aid, until the Indonesians massacred two hundred and fifty people at a memorial procession in Dili in 1991; there is nothing western journalists like better than a good ambulance that they can chase for copy; unless, perhaps, a hearse.

In 1999, bowing to international pressure, the Indonesians gave permission for a referendum on independence, and then sent their militia around the villages to provide well-meaning advice to the Timorese on how to vote, and which was the box marked “no”. Clearly these militia were not well-enough trained, for they failed in their consultative assignment; no matter, they still knew how to use their guns, and so they simply went back to the same villages, rounded up all the yes-voters, murdered them, and erased the town from future voting registers. This prompted the UN to care a little bit more, and suddenly East Timor was being trumpeted by the UN as one of its greatest triumphs, our peacekeeping force ended the violence, our advisors and consultants helped rebuild the place, our Unmiset heroes brought East Timor to the verge of independence.

The UN left in 2005. Gang violence, led by ambitious warlords who hoped to become the despotic kleptocrats of a new and independent state, broke out the following morning; though the UN peacekeeping force that came back shortly afterwards, its name changed now to Unmit, insisted that the unrest was purely an outbreak of poverty and unemployment – the way that measles and smallpox leave scars on the skin.

And then, because this is what really counts, then it was discovered that East Timor does indeed have resources, vast resources at that, of oil and gas, off-shore, and suddenly the Europeans were vying with the Russians who were vying with the Chinese who were vying with the Americans, we are the noble altruistic philanthropists of the world who will be the ones to make East Timor great, and suddenly the Indonesians were gone, East Timor was a stand-alone, independent state, and the poor and unemployed now all have state-provided television sets on which they can watch the kleptocrats who run the country telling how they are going to spend nearly $11bn of oil wealth on transforming the half-island into paradise, while building themselves villas, mostly on the Cayman Islands or in Liechtenstein.

Marks for: zero

Marks against: 11bn

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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