Subject: Reply:East Timor as Portugal's Post-Colonial Trophy

CNRT/National Congress Presidency


Media Unit

Comments on the article by Janet Gunter, published by The Providence Journal-Bulletin [US] March 12, 2001 posted in East Timor email conference on March 14 2001

The article referred to above contains numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements and wrong impressions. The following are comments pertaining to the article mentioned above:

1. The Becora prison holds Timorese who are judged by the Courts of East Timor as persons who have violated the existing laws to the point where jail is justified in accordance with the law. The Becora prison does not jail Timorese merely for being "the most desperate and poorest of Timorese society" nor would it jail them for being unable to speak the Portuguese language.

2. There are many Portuguese citizens now in East Timor, many working within institutions to provide concrete help for the Timorese, focusing on capacity building. Facing the language issue is one of the most pressing needs at this moment. The Portuguese citizens are contributing greatly to overcome this language problem and this contribution is greatly appreciated by the Timorese.

3. The official language - Portuguese - was not "decided" by the "dynamic duo of guerrilla/political prisoner Xanana Gusmão and Nobel Peace Prize-winning statesman Josi (sic) Ramos-Horta". The Portuguese language, although spoken by a small percentage of Timorese, played a role in the resistance years, against the Indonesian occupation. Portuguese was the official language used by the leadership during the 24 years of resistance. It was the official language decided by Fretilin and UDT since 1974 and CNRM/CNRT reiterated this in the first National Convention of CNRT in April 1998, in Peniche. The language will be official once it becomes enshrined in the Constitution. To be fair and objective, Portuguese language was not an "imposition" by Portugal on the Timorese, as suggested by Ms Gunter.

The author, Janet Gunter, also wrote that the President of CNRT/CN, Xanana Gusmão, "made a deal with Lisbon while still in prison in the late 1990s: Portuguese as the official language in exchange for millions of dollars of financial support for the resistance". This is an insult to the Timorese People. The resistance never "sold" itself for money.

4. There are currently three banks operating in Dili, East Timor. Two from Australia - Westpac and ANZ - and one from Portugal, Banco Nacional Ultramarino (BNU). Westpac started to function in late 1999 and operated only as a payment agency, especially for UNTAET and the Australian soldiers. Its function has since been upgraded. ANZ opened more recently and operates as a normal bank. Both are in the process of upgrading their functions towards a fully-fledged bank to benefit East Timor. Both Westpac and ANZ employ Timorese staff, some in senior positions. BNU is the overseas bank of Portugal. It used to operate in all of the former colonies, including East Timor. BNU pays the pensions to the Timorese who are entitled to pensions for their previous assignments within the Public Administration of "Portuguese Timor". These pensions have been paid since 1975, not only now because of BNU establishing itself in East Timor. BNU also employs Timorese staff, some in senior positions.

5. It is true that the Portuguese language is difficult to learn but it is the Timorese who choose to take this path, conscious of the potential difficulties ahead. There is much to be done in our country with all the support we can manage from the international community. Portugal has done a lot to help, so has Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Being a former colony should not be a factor to criticize Portugal's support. By showing the support over the past two decades and now in this crucial time, the people of Portugal are showing clear recognition of the difficult times ahead. The people of Portugal also built their nation and democratic institutions after 50 years of fascism and oppression. They are well positioned to understand the plight of the people of East Timor, who suffered 24 years of fascism and oppression caused by the Indonesian occupation. Although obviously, there shall be mistakes made along the way to building democratic institutions, one must not allow the negatives to override or ignore the positive spirit of the people of East Timor and all the friends in the international community.

6. In building the new nation of East Timor, we welcome constructive criticism, but only if it is accurate, balanced and demonstrates and understanding of the Timorese people and history. We appeal to writers, and those who claim to be experts in the social-political issues, and writers, to be more sensitive to this process of nation building after a tragedy of the magnitude we all know too well.


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