|Subject: Peace Prize Winner Talks to Santa
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Peace Prize Winner Talks to SF Youth
By Martin Salazar Journal Staff Writer
Standing over his sister's grave in a remote mountaintop village in East Timor 19 months ago, Nobel Peace laureate José Ramos-Horta reflected on how not even that village— with its panoramic views— was out of reach of the long arm of the United States.
"I saw the destructive power of the U.S.," the leading spokesman for East Timor's cause told several hundred young people gathered at the annual PeaceJam Saturday morning at St. John's College.
Ramos-Horta's sister— Mariazinha Ortencia Ramos-Horta— had fled to the remote village in hopes of escaping the horrors that were befalling many people in their country at the hands of an invading Indonesia. But on Dec. 18, 1978, shrapnel tore through the back of the 21-year-old's skull; it came from a fragmentation bomb dropped by Indonesia forces. At the time, Ramos-Horta said, Indonesia was supported by the world's mightiest country, the United States.
Ramos-Horta said his sister was one of the lucky ones because villagers recognized her and buried her. He said they kept vigil over her grave until he and other family members were able to retrieve her body in September 2003.
Ramos-Horta lost three other siblings during the occupation, which began in 1975 when Indonesia invaded. In the first three years of the occupation, he said, 250,000 people out of a population of less than 800,000 people died.
"Freedom was an impossible dream because the odds were too great," Ramos-Horta said.
Yet, he and the people of his country continued to dream, and they worked toward that goal without resorting to violence, he said, calling it a quest for justice.
When the Indonesia military pulled out in 1999, Ramos-Horta said, his people did not seek revenge, and their hearts weren't filled with hate.
He said the two countries now have a good relationship. Earlier this month, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono went to East Timor on a reconciliation visit. Ramos-Horta said that as East Timor's senior minister for foreign affairs and cooperation, he was one of the architects of the visit.
Ramos-Horta won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in voicing his people's plight to the world community. He shared that year's peace prize with Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, bishop of East Timor.
Ramos-Horta said he often feels embarrassed at the attention he gets. While he may have been the voice for his people following the invasion, it's the people in his country who are the real heroes for enduring years of brutal occupation and standing alone against seemingly insurmountable forces, he said.
While Ramos-Horta may not be comfortable with the attention, he hasn't let that keep him from advocating for the world's poor.
Among the messages he delivered to his audience were that the United States, as the world's only remaining superpower, has a responsibility to bring good to the world and that we all have to do our part to stamp out world poverty and hunger.
"Millions around the world go hungry every night," he said, adding that they don't even have access to clean water or a glass of milk.
He said wealthy nations must do more to ensure that everyone has clean water, at least one meal a day, school and electricity. He said it's in their own best interest to help out those struggling in other countries because it would lead to greater stability in the world. Besides giving money, he said, wealthy countries should open their markets to those in third-world countries.
Ramos-Horta also pushed the virtue of being humble, calling it a great tool.
"If the U.S. cannot be genuinely humble," he said. "Well then, (it) should pretend to be humble."
The crowd gave Ramos-Horta a standing ovation. During a question-and-answer session, 16-year-old United World College student Eva Kolker of Sweden asked if violence is ever justified.
Ramos-Horta said he considers himself a realist on that question and that when it comes to dealing with people like Hitler, he feels it is.
"Sometimes, the use of force against evil is inevitable," he said.
Ramón Taylor, another United World College student from Santa Fe, said he was impressed with Ramos-Horta.
"His own struggle is what inspired me the most," he said.
Ramos-Horta said he didn't set out to win the peace prize.
"Before 1975, I was a practicing journalist," he said. "My plan was, hopefully (to) become a prominent international journalist."
He said he thinks he might have achieved that goal if history hadn't pushed him in a different direction. But the 55-year-old said he has no regrets.
"It was an obligation, a sacred mission," Ramos-Horta said. "A sacred mission was bestowed on me..."
PeaceJam, an international education program, brings young people together with Nobel Peace winners in hopes of inspiring a new generation of peacemakers.