When East Timor won its independence from Indonesia in 1999, the country's medical infrastructure in rural areas was almost non-existent. When then-Cuban President Fidel Castro heard about the problem at a regional summit, he offered to send Cuban doctors free of charge — as many as were needed. So began the largest Cuban medical assistance program outside Latin America. In 2010, after a six year program of study in Cuba, the first of nearly 500 East Timorese medical students graduated and took up their posts in East Timorese villages and towns.
Secrecy: The Key to Independence Laura S. Abrantes & Beba Sequeira Asia Pacific Support Collective Timor-Leste, Dili 2012, 102 pp. This is a book you should turn to whenever you think activism is too hard. Twelve women from the remote areas of Timor-Leste (East Timor) tell how they fought for their nation's independence. In the 24-year war from 1975 to 1999, official estimates are that 18,600 people were killed by conflict and 84,200 died of hunger and disease.
Eighty four protesters were arrested at a May Day protest in Dili. The 84 were placed in a detention centre. More than 100 protesters had marched to the Hotel Timor, a four star hotel in Dili, on May 1 to demand a pay rise and to stop sackings of local staff. Four staff of the hotel had recently been dismissed after being accused of stealing. The demonstrators chose May 1, the International Workers' Day, to express their concerns and demand their rights.
Czech writer Milan Kundera's truism, "the struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting", described East Timor. The day before I set out to film clandestinely there in 1993, I went to Stanfords map shop in London's Covent Garden. "Timor?" said a hesitant sales assistant. We stood staring at shelves marked "South-East Asia". "Forgive me, where exactly is it?" After a search he came up with an old aeronautical map with blank areas stamped, "Relief Data Incomplete". He had never been asked for East Timor, which is just north of Australia.
In October, the Sydney branch of the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society (ACFS) toured Dr Merita Armindo Monteiro, an East Timorese doctor trained for free in Cuba. Armindo Monterio is also an activist in the Timor Leste-Cuba Friendship Association. Since 2004, Cuba has undertaken a large-scale medical training program for East Timor and sent hundreds of Cuban medical personnel to work on the island. Cuban medical collaboration in the region has since been extended to Kiribati, Nauru, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands. Papua New Guinea may soon benefit from Cuba’s generosity as well.
On October 11, the general secretary and national organiser of General Workers’ Union (GWU), as well as 17 workers, were arrested by police while preparing for a peaceful protest in the office of East Timor's justice ministry. The protest was being staged to support the demands of 19 workers sacked unfairly by the ministry. The arrested workers preparing to protest were dismissed from the Turismo Hotel because of the unfair decision of the justice ministry towards their management in closing the business.
Finding Santana By Jill Jolliffe Wakefield Press, 2010 177 pages, $24.95 (pb) Jill Jolliffe's encounter with the Komodo Dragon, a carnivorous, aggressive, pre-historic lizard, was "hair-raising". But even more threatening were the murderous agents from the Indonesian secret police, with their de facto uniform of "cropped hair, trim moustache, Rolex watch and Ray-Ban sunglasses".
Substantial changes proposed for East Timor’s Petroleum Fund law will expose the nation’s finances to high risk and open the door to corruption. Just a few years ago the fund was widely praised as a model of prudential and sustainable management, and a means of possibly escaping the “resource curse” of waste and corruption. That is all about to change. East Timor's AMP government, led by Xanana Gusmao, has a bill before parliament that removes most of the prudential controls on the fund.
Australian refugee advocates have announced they will send a delegation to Dili in the second week of May to lobby against a proposal by Australian PM Julia Gillard to build a regional processing centre for refugees in East Timor. The announcement follows recent comments by East Timorese president Ramos Horta that such a centre “remains a possibility". The delegation was invited by the Timor Leste Forum of NGOs and the Student Front of Timor Leste and will meet with community groups, NGOs, unions and political parties to lobby against the Australian government's proposal.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard used a series of meetings with Asian leaders at the UN Regional Summit on October 30 to lobby for her government’s proposal to build a “regional” detention centre for refugees in East Timor. She met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh of Laos and President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, the October 30 Australian reported. She also met with United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, who “noted” her proposal — the only outcome reported.
Aboriginal academic and activist Sharon Firebrace is the Victorian Socialist Alliance Senate candidate in the federal election. Firebrace founded the Aboriginal Genocide Centre. Repealing the NT intervention and standing up for refugee rights are key parts of her election policy. Below, she responds to Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement on refugees. ***
Luta Hamutuk, a Dili-based non government organisation, released the following statement on July 7. It was translated from Tetum by Tomas Freitas. * * * The July 7 Java Post said: “Prime Minister Julia Gillard has tightened Australia immigration law. Not wanting to be bothered by the economic and social problems caused by asylum seekers, the Australian leader plans to build a detention center for asylum seekers in Timor-Leste.” The above statement shows how Australian foreign policy contains “racist characteristics” toward Timor-Leste and the region.
Step by Step: Women of East Timor, Stories of Resistance and Survival Edited by Jude Conway Charles Darwin University Press, 2010 241 pages, $44 Review by Niko Leka The title of Step by Step refers to how the Timorese gained their independence. The steps are told through the firsthand narratives of 13 women who grew up in East Timor. When they were born it was a Portuguese colony, which in 1975 was invaded and occupied by Indonesia. It achieved victory in the quarter century-long struggle for independence in 1999.
In a July 7, press conference in Dili, Luta Hamutuk a prominent civil society activist group in Timor Leste condemned the new Australian policy on refugees as "racist". The group also criticised Timor Leste Jose Ramos Horta for giving the proposal by Australian PM Julia Gillard for an offshore processing centre in Dili for asylum seekers coming to Australia.
East Timor’s defacto government last week stepped up its assault on the judiciary by blocking the reappointment of a senior judge who ruled against key budget measures last month.
The East Timor and Indonesian Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF), created by the Timorese and Indonesian governments, submitted its final report on July 14. The report concluded that Indonesian military and civilian officials organised, funded and directed the violence, including torture, rape and murder, that surrounded the 1999 independence ballot in Timor.