Subject: Young Activist Tries to make Social Change

ST JOSEPH NEWSLEADER FRIDAY JUNE 29, 2001 Young Activist Tries to Make Social Change by Sharon K. Sobotta

The image of a young man with black spots on his skin as he suffered from internal bleeding was enough to motivate 10-year-old Tristan Vazquez from St. Cloud to do something about the human rights abuses in East Timor.

Nine years later, 19-year old Vazquez is still doing what he can to help people in East Timor. Vazquez, member of the East Timor Action Network, stayed in Washington D.C. between June 9-June 12 advocating for the protection of East Timor's people.

In an appeal to the senators, the East Timor Action Network asked for support for helping East Timor gain independence from the Indonesian government. ETAN said the East Timorese have experienced inhumane treatment and injustice in their struggle for freedom. After voting for independence in 1999, the Indonesian military carried out an earth-scorching campaign that killed 1,500 people, left 75 percent of the population homeless, destroyed more than 70 percent of the country's infrastructure and was responsible for the raping of thousands of women. Right now, there are more than 100,000 East Timorese refugees in Indonesian military-controlled camps in West Timor.

Along with activists from throughout the United States, Vazquez spent four days in Washington D.C. asking senators to strengthen U.S. commitment to a just resolution to the issues taking place in East Timor.

The lobbyists asked senators to co-sponsor a resolution condemning violence in East Timor and to encourage consequences for human rights abuses.

They also requested the senators sign Russ Feingold's letter addressing human rights abuses in West Timor and asking the government to hold its military accountable for its actions, as well as to provide support for provisions on FY2002 Foreign Operations Appropriations and the Foreign Relations Authorization bills limiting the amount of military aid the U.S. provides to Indonesia and provide money for reconstruction, development and educational funds allowing some East Timorese students to study in the United States.

Vazquez refutes the idea that providing countries like Indonesia with military aid is always a productive thing to do.

"We're training them to repress their own people and that allows corporations to go into Indonesia," Vazquez said. "People who try to organize to improve their conditions get killed."

That was perhaps a motivating factor for Vazquez and the other lobbyists who appeared in Washington when they asked that House Resolution 1063 be passed. The resolution forbids federal officials to recreate military units after they've been banned by congress.

Although Vazquez is saddened by the struggles of East Timor's people, and uncertain about how much progress will be made by his efforts, he remains hopeful.

"I've learned that I can make a difference and change the world," Vazquez said.

He is convinced that doing small things is far more productive than being apathetic.

"I think if you can make a small change, you can send out a ripple," he said. "In that small way you can even affect politics in East Timor."


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