Subject: IndyMedia: East Timor Activists Reflect on 10th Anniversary of Santa Cruz Mass

East Timor Activists Reflect on 10th Anniversary of Santa Cruz Massacre

by John Tarleton 2:31am Mon Nov 19 '01

An East Timorese resistance leader-turned-diplomat joins New York supporters in looking back on a tragic protest that turned the tide in his country's long struggle for freedom.

NEW YORK CITY--Constancio Pinto was one of the most wanted men in East Timor during the early '90s, moving from safehouse to safehouse to evade Indonesian security forces that had laid waste to his homeland.

Now, the 37-year old resistance leader-turned-diplomat is East Timor's representative to the United States as it prepares to become the world's newest nation. Last Monday night he joined journalist Amy Goodman, lawyer Michael Ratner and John Miller of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) at a public forum to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Santa Cruz Massacre, the turning point in East Timor's independence struggle. Thirty people were on hand.

"That was the beginning of the end of Indonesian occupation," Pinto said of the November 12, 1991 massacre in which over 270 people were killed when Indonesian soldiers trapped thousands of protesters in a cemetary and opened fire on the crowd.

Unlike previous massacres that occurred during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, this one was recorded by foreign journalists. Max Stahl of Britian buried his film in a fresh dug grave and later retrieved it. Goodman was also on hand with fellow American journalist Allan Nairn.

"We watched little kids blown apart by U.S. M16s," said Goodman, who was repeatedly kicked and punched by the soldiers. "...We believe that they spared us because we were from the same country that their weapons came from."

Located at the southeasern tip of the Indonesian archipeligo, East Timor was a Portugese colony until 1975. On December 7, 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor by land, air and sea. The U.S. was closely aligned with the Indonesian dictator Suhuarto. Over the next quarter century the U.S. funneled $1 billion in military aid to Indonesia, according to Miller, whose organization hosted the forum at School of the Blessed Sacrament (147 W. 70th).

The Pentagon provided planes, helicopters, electronics, rifles and bullets. It also tutored Indonesian military officers, many of whom would later be implicated in human rights abuses, at its IMET (International Military Education Training) program. It is estimated 200,000 East Timorese (out of a population of 600,000) were killed by Indonesia.

"We went there in 1990 and found this hell on Earth," Goodman said of her first visit to East Timor.

She and Nairn returned a year later when a Portugese-led U.N. delegation was scheduled to investigate reports of human rights abuses. However, the U.N. backed down (under pressure from Indonesia) and a year's worth of organizing appeared to be in vain. Pinto, who had learned English from listening to Voice of America and BBC shortwave broadcasts, alerted Goodman at a brief rendevous on November 11, 1991 that he was organizing a large protest for the next day.

"He risked his life every single day so that his people would know freedom and independence," Goodman said of Pinto. "Every moment of his life was a calculation of how much risk to take."

With foreign journalists present, Pinto sensed his people's best chance lay in mass non-violent direct action. "We felt the only way to tell the world about our suffering was to hold protests in the streets," he said, "even though we knew it would be very dangerous."

Images of the Santa Cruz Massacre circulated around the world. In December 1991, Miller and other activists started ETAN. The grassroots campaign for East Timor gained additional credibility when Bishop Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos Horta won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. Suhuarto's regime crumbled in 1998. The U.S. Congress cut off military assistance to Indonesia in 1999 and the IMF/World Bank attatched human rights conditions (for the first time ever) to their aid packages to Indonesia. East Timor had become a pebble in Indonesia's shoe. And, the new Indonesian government agreed to allow the Timorese a U.N.-sponosred referendum on their future.

"East Timor got in the way of business as usual with Indonesia," Miller said.

The Indonesian military and paramilitaries went on a rampage in September 1999 after the Timorese voted 78% in favor of independence. Hundreds were killed and 70% of East Timor's infrastructure was razed to the ground. 60,000 East Timorese remain captive in Indonesian-controlled refugee camps in West Timor.

East Timor (or Timor Lorosae) is scheduled to finish drafting a Constitution on December 30. Elections will be in April and East Timor will gain its full independence on May 20, 2002.

"These struggles can be won," said Ratner, who has pressed several lawsuits against Indonesian military officers. "It's a lesson we can all take away from this."

The World Bank is providing aid to East Timor, though Pinto said the Timorese will not accept "attatchments" to such assistance. East Timor is also trying to bring more international pressure on Indonesia to try high-ranking military officers for crimes against humanity. However, Pinto diplomatically defers when asked if high ranking U.S. officials including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (who met with Suhuarto the day before Indonesia launched its invasion) and former president Gerald Ford should be indicted for crimes against humanity.

"For Kissinger and other U.S. officials, I'll leave that to Americans to take care of," Pinto said.

ETAN can be reached at 718-596-7668, or

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