|What is ETAN?
The East Timor Action Network was born of a grassroots
response to the Santa Cruz
massacre. When the first reports came through over radio and wire that
Indonesian troops had opened fire on a crowd of peaceful East Timorese
demonstrators on November 12, 1991, people who had been following the
tragedy of East Timor reacted with a mixture of incredulity, helplessness,
and outrage. In light of the
near total media blackout on the Indonesian annexation of East Timor, it
was easy to assume one was alone in the knowledge of U.S. complicity in
the genocide that took place there from 1975 to 1999.
Whether as students or veteran activists, many of us were drawn to East
Timor precisely because it had been so overlooked, particularly in the
very country that has most consistently supplied its occupier with
weapons. As it became clear that several hundred East Timorese had been
shot dead in cold blood with U.S. supplied M-16s that day, the outrage
grew. But so did the urgency to act.
At first working independently, people from New York to Providence to
San Francisco to Los Angeles began to organize in their communities to get
the word out about this most recent and most blatant massacre in East
Timor. If you blinked, you would have missed the press coverage. When we
held our first demonstration on Human Rights Day (December 10, 1991) at
the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations in New York City, we had no
intention of starting an ongoing movement. But when we found each other
through the internet and existing networks, and began to pressure our
representatives in Congress, we realized that we were not alone.
Several dozen of us formed the East Timor Action Network at
the end of 1991 in order to co-ordinate what in the first few weeks after
the Santa Cruz massacre had been only scattered local efforts. We had
separately been pressuring our government to end its complicity with the
Indonesian annexation of East Timor and to press for genuine
self-determination for the East Timorese. The momentum built, and in the
years since, ETAN has grown into a
grassroots movement of thousands of people in every state with
chapters and contacts in many cities.
ETAN initially worked for human rights and political self-determination
for the people of East Timor, with a special emphasis on changing U.S.
government policy as the key to ending Indonesia's occupation. Early
on we decided to be non-partisan (working with people and politicians with
a wide-range of views on other subjects) and tactically diverse.
The internet greatly facilitated our ability both to learn what was
going on in East Timor and to get the word out quickly, and enabled us to
inexpensively mobilize people on short notice. ETAN compiled news
documents and other information from a range of international sources,
filling in for the scarce coverage in U.S. media. ETAN issued its
own media releases and held press conferences. We also published a
newsletter, which came to be called the Estafeta. ETAN’s
made available hard to obtain documentaries and books, many from overseas.
Against the Odds
East Timor was not essential to Indonesia. Former Indonesian
Foreign Minister Ali Alatas once called it "a pebble in our
shoe." ETAN worked to make that pebble an irritation serious enough
that Indonesia would remove it.
For the first few years, ETAN focused on reducing U.S. military support
for the Indonesian occupation. We succeeded in cutting off U.S. military
training aid to Indonesia in 1992, and have maintained limitations on such
aid ever since. Through the years, either the administration (always under
Congressional pressure) or Congress would end specific weapons sales or
suspend the transfer of categories of military weapons. Indonesian
dictator Suharto twice refused training or weapons in a fit of pique over
criticism of repression in East Timor. In September 1999, as the
Indonesian military ransacked East Timor after its pro-independence vote,
President Clinton finally cut all military ties (and other assistance) to
Indonesia. This action had the effect we had always predicted. Indonesia
quickly agreed to withdraw and allowed in a peacekeeping force. East Timor
won its freedom, but the damage had been done.
Ten years ago we set a seemingly impossible goal: freedom for an
obscure nation occupied by the fourth largest country in the world with
backing from the world’s only superpower. “Against All Odds: Victory
for a Lost Cause” was the Estafeta headline. Having helped the East
Timorese achieve that goal, we are now set to support them on their
perilous path of independence.
Meeting in late 1999, ETAN’s steering committee decided to remain
focused on East Timor. We agreed on a program of support for the new
nation: justice for East Timor through an international tribunal and
accountability for the U.S. role; return of all refugees who want to go
home; support for human rights and sustainable development. We committed
to maintain the suspension of military ties with Indonesia, both to
pressure Indonesia on East Timor and to support those still on the
receiving end of Indonesian military brutality. We also helped launch the
Indonesia Human Rights Network to expand that work.
As East Timor celebrates its hard-won independence, we can be justly
proud of our role in supporting this wonderful victory. ETAN is made up of
people like you who contact their representatives in Washington, protest,
and educate their neighbors and colleagues about the situation in East
Timor. Having made a real difference for ten years, ETAN remains committed
to making a difference for East Timor’s future.
We survive on your generous donations of time, talent and money, and we
encourage your continued support.
For more on ETAN's history see our Annual Reports:
2001; 2000; 1999; 1998;
1997; 1996; 1995;
And back issues of the Estafeta