Speaking to a rapt audience April 20 in Laxson Auditorium, the former journalist and television correspondent implicated the West, especially the United States, in the killing, and appealed to those present for help in saving his homeland from further assault.
The United States, he said, used the Cold War to justify the conquest of East Timor in spite of the fact that it produces no nuclear weapons. In December 1975, Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford traveled to Jakarta and gave the "green light" to President Suharto's plans to take over the Portuguese colony. The bloodbath that commenced a few days later was bolstered by American war planes dropping bombs and napalm. Altogether, said Ramos-Horta, the United States supplied "90 percent of the weapons" used by the Indonesian government in its terrorist campaign. Ramos-Horta reported that jailed resistance leader Xanana Gusmao has claimed that the military intelligence faction Kopassus was trained by the American military and has been involved for over twenty years in "capturing, torturing, killing, jailing" the people of East Timor.
Ramos-Horta delivered his message with soft-spoken humility, charming the audience with gentle humor and prefacing some of his more damning comments about U.S. policy with statements such as "I say this not out of resentment but out of profound sorrow." In 1996 he and his countryman Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo earned the Nobel Peace Prize for their "sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of a small people."
The award has greatly assisted Ramos-Horta in drawing public attention to the tragedy in East Timor.
Stating that the West, mainly the U.S., has a "sordid record of supporting dictators, one after another," such as Chile's Pinochet and the Shah of Iran, Ramos-Horta asked the audience to consider the plight of East Timor as part of a pattern of botched foreign policy in which puppet leaders usually claim to have been "invited" to help "liberate" those they in fact subjugate.
"Dictators need to know they can't get away with ethnic cleansing," he added. "The war crimes tribunals are an important development in human rights."
East Timor was colonized 450 years ago by Portugal, whereas West Timor fell under the control of the Dutch East Indies, which in 1949 became Indonesia. When the "Carnation Revolution" in Portugal in 1974 finally ended the nearly fifty years of rule by dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, Indonesia decided the time was right to take possession of the entire island.
But the Timorese, who had resisted the Salazar regime, resisted control by Indonesia as well. The island's vertiginous geography helped them evade their would-be conquerors for a while, but British and American aircraft proved effective where the Indonesian infantry had failed.
Ramos-Horta, exiled by Portugal to Mozambique in 1970 for his part in the Timorese struggle for self-determination, was selected by his countrymen to represent their interests abroad. He left East Timor just days before Indonesia invaded. The war has taken four of his siblings.
In his speech here, he characterized the current conflict in East Timor as a "black and white issue a foreign army occupying a sovereign nation." As such, the war lacks the "complexity of the Balkans, the complexity of the Middle East."
One thing it has in common with wars elsewhere, however, is its great reliance on Western-made weapons. "If Western countries really want to rid the world of dictators, of ethnic cleansing," he said, "I propose a military strategy: it requires only that the U.S. and other weapons producers stop exporting weapons. It is not costly. It will not lead the Congress to appropriate another six billion for the war effort."
Meanwhile, just two weeks ago, a pro-Indonesian militia group massacred several civilians at a church near Dili. The last gasp of a regime that is now under international scrutiny? Perhaps. Indonesia has offered a limited "autonomy proposal," but the UN may wind up overseeing a referendum instead, which would give the Timorese a choice for real independence. Ramos-Horta could be home as early as July. Nevertheless, he suggested that concerned citizens could e-mail President Clinton and request that he
urge the IMF and World Bank to suspend loans to the Indonesian government for a few months,
authorize no further shipments of weapons to the Indonesian military, and
support the right of East Timor to self-determination.
Ramos-Horta believes poverty is the greatest threat to world peace. With the Asian financial market in disarray, despotic governments in the region may, he hopes, be forced to enact democratic reforms in order to attract capital.
If so, one of the least known but most horrific wars in modern history might finally come to an end.