I came to ETAN in 1994, while an undergraduate
at the University of Washington. I had read a little about East
Timor in works by Noam Chomsky, among others, and was astounded and
saddened about this terrible tragedy. I had done some work with
Amnesty International and other human rights groups, but after
seeing ETAN Seattle at showings of the film “Manufacturing Consent”
and elsewhere, I decided to sign up and help out.
At this same time, I began to study human
rights through politics courses at the UW. I took a course from Dan
Lev, and he quickly became a mentor. Dan, who passed away in 2006,
was the foremost scholar on Indonesian law, and a tireless
campaigner for rights in Indonesia. He encouraged me to study the
Indonesian language, and directed my work toward Indonesia and East
Timor after getting me into the honors program in political science.
My activism with ETAN and my academic study of Indonesia and East
Timor developed in unison.
ETAN allowed me to express and channel what
I consider my responsibility as an American
citizen to pressure the U.S. government to
change its policy toward Indonesia. ETAN
never spoke for the East Timorese people,
but rather argued that the East Timorese
people should be allowed to speak for
themselves. Considering these two goals,
ETAN was remarkably successful.
ETAN Seattle was a dynamic and
active group, led by folks such as Frank Zucker, Mariza
Cabral, Loren Ryter, and Joe Szwaya. We organized demos
and reached out to the community to spread awareness of
the injustice of East Timor at a time when Indonesia’s
occupation was considered a fait accompli. Just prior to
graduating from the UW, I received a fellowship that
allowed me to travel to Indonesia and East Timor, and it
cemented my commitment to studying the region. In early
1997, prior to the East Asian economic crisis and
Suharto’s ouster, East Timor was a terribly oppressive
place, and my week there strengthened my will to
continue to press for self-determination.
I began grad school at Arizona State University
that year, drawn by their Program for Southeast Asian Studies. With
Andrew de Sousa, I cofounded an ETAN chapter here. Although our core
was small, we were active, and we sponsored several speaking tours,
one national meeting, and we held actions – including confronting
Henry Kissinger during an appearance at ASU. When Andrew moved on –
he’s now working at an orangutan rehabilitation center in
Kalimantan, Indonesia – Elizabeth Venable took over. Elizabeth
currently serves on ETAN’s executive committee.
I’ve travelled to East Timor eight times since
my first trip in 1997. Through ETAN, I served as an accredited
observer for the August 1999 referendum. I’ve seen ETAN members
Charlie Scheiner, Pam Sexton, and Joe Nevins found La’o Hamutuk, a
human rights and monitoring NGO based in Dili that is made up of
East Timorese activists and foreigners. I’ve helped them when I can,
along with other groups, as well as conducted research on these
trips. When I speak to East Timorese studying in the US or
elsewhere, I mention my association with ETAN – to a person, their
response is always “thank you.” My response is always that I felt it
was my obligation, and anyway my effort was miniscule compared to
what the East Timorese did themselves.
ETAN helped change the direction of my life, at
the right time and place. ETAN allowed me to express and channel
what I consider my responsibility as an American citizen to pressure
the U.S. government to change its policy toward Indonesia. ETAN
never spoke for the East Timorese people, but rather argued that the
East Timorese people should be allowed to speak for themselves.
Considering these two goals, ETAN was remarkably successful. Someone
needs to write the history of ETAN at some point; if I could now, I
Although I am not in frequent contact with most of
the friends I made in ETAN, they remain friends nonetheless.
Elizabeth is back in Phoenix now, and she’s helping to direct some
of the energy of Occupy Phoenix toward Freeport McMoran, whose
headquarters are now here. I’m in touch with John M. Miller here and
there, and I write to Charlie in Dili occasionally (after some
friendly back and forth with Charlie, and despite what I’ve written
in this letter, Charlie’s got me calling the place Timor Leste). My
Timorese “family,” the Mesquitas of Aileu, where I observed the
referendum, remain in my thoughts, and I see them every time I go
back; another of my observer team just visited them last month.
Constancio Pinto, an activist who slept on my couches in Seattle and
Phoenix, is now the Timorese ambassador to the US, and he agreed to
an interview for one of my undergraduate’s honors thesis on East
Timor this semester.
ETAN accomplished a tremendous amount of work
with scarce resources and a small cadre of core volunteers. Although
it shrank after attention turned away from East Timor following the
referendum, its work remains important.
Obrigado, ETAN – a luta continua.
Assistant Research Professor
Arizona State University
And former executive committee member