A Death and an Election: Donald Weatherbee and Timor-Leste
etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes)
A Death and an Election
Donald Weatherbee and Timor-Leste
by Chris Lundry
Professor-investigador, Centro de Estudios de Asia y África, El Colegio de Mexico

Timor-Leste deserves to be congratulated for another successful election and peaceful transition of power, a keystone of democracy. José Ramos-Horta’s 24-point win is a strong mandate, hopefully he will deliver on his promises to reduce poverty and increase access to health care – which will mean delivering services to areas outside of the country’s cities. With the forecasted decline in oil revenue, and with the unwillingness that previous politicians had at facing this serious economic problem, Ramos-Horta will have to make some tough decisions to benefit the country in the long-term and not just think about the short term, frequently the only thing on the minds of elected politicians. And hopefully political divisions in the country can be overcome.

Timor-Leste remains the most democratic country in Southeast Asia according to many observers, and by most objective standards. Aside from poverty, other issues remain problematic such as gender relations, but most East Timorese live in a free and open society, at least politically. In their Southeast Asia “neighborhood,” they stand out, especially as others – including Indonesia, their brutal occupier for 24 long years and behemoth neighbor – appear to be backsliding on their commitment to democracy. We hope that Timor-Leste can remain an example of a democratic society.

Incredibly, Weatherbee’s first paragraph cites Indonesian claims that their takeover and integration was a fulfillment of the wishes of the East Timorese – again, as Indonesia was slaughtering them.

Donald Weatherbee It is also worthwhile to think about how Ramos-Horta and Timor-Leste got to where they are, and remember that there were those who were opposed to this future. Donald Weatherbee, a noted international relations scholar at the University of South Carolina, died earlier this month, and may he rest in peace. But let us not forget that he, among other individuals and institutions, was opposed to Timorese independence. His article, “The Indonesianization of East Timor,” was published in 1981, six years into the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste. At that point, tens of thousands, perhaps over one hundred thousand, of a population of around 650,000 Timorese had been massacred by Indonesia. The occupier had built concentration camps on the half-island where malnutrition, starvation and disease were killing even more. Suharto ruled Indonesia with an iron fist, no dissent was brooked, there was no pretense of democracy, human rights were stymied – but he was the USA’s anti-communist man in the region.

SuhartoIncredibly, Weatherbee’s first paragraph cites Indonesian claims that their takeover and integration was a fulfillment of the wishes of the East Timorese – again, as Indonesia was slaughtering them. He noted some of the “problematic” issues with the Indonesian occupation, but perhaps in an attempt at evenhandedness repeated the Indonesian position throughout the article: the Timorese were a threat to Indonesia, Timor-Leste was not viable, supporters of Fretilin, the most popular political party in Timor-Leste prior to the invasion, were “radical,” the region was wracked with political divisions. Indonesia’s occupation was “irreversible,” the question of its place in Indonesia “settled.” Indonesia had implemented justified “resettlement camps,” and whoever called them “concentration camps” was a “polemicist,” using “propaganda” with no significant “analytical value,” as though analyzing the terminology of oppression was important as mass killing proliferated. 

Weatherbee’s analysis echoed turn-of-the-twentieth century polemics such as Rudyard Kipling’s racist diatribe “The White Man’s Burden,” stating the difficulties Indonesia will have in developing and controlling its colony while its ungrateful inhabitants grumble. Understood as a product of its time, it implicitly bows to Cold War “realist” thinking, where Indonesia’s (then) 150-million population, its resources, its anti-communist stance clearly outweighed supporting an emerging democracy in Timor-Leste. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were in Jakarta the day before the invasion, and gave Suharto the green light. United USINDO logoNations Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan bragged in his memoirs about his ability to stymie UN action on Timor-Leste. Although activists mostly ignored academics that could be considered supporters of the Suharto regime, many were influential in diplomatic and political circles. Weatherbee was aligned with the pro-Suharto USINDO organization, which opposed self-determination in Timor-Leste. He was teaching at the U.S. Army War College when Indonesia invaded Timor-Leste. Widely cited in the press and influential in policymaking circles, he was a supporter of U.S.-Indonesia military ties despite the role of U.S.-trained officers in Timor-Leste and other human rights abuses and recommended their reinstatement after they were severed following 1999, and was quoted by Indonesian military officials. His interest in Timor-Leste dates to the mid-1960s. In an article entitled “Portuguese Timor: Indonesian Dilemma” he argued that Portugal was holding Timor-Leste as a “trust territory” for Indonesia.

Ramos-Horta and other East Timorese persisted, slowly building up international support that denied the invasion’s “irreversibility.” Weatherbee was wrong and should have known he was wrong, but the question remains as to why he and so many others tried to paint a rosier picture of Indonesian genocide, and denied the right of the East Timorese to self-determination. Beginning with Ford and Kissinger, uncountable Timorese lives could have been saved had powerful leaders stood up for human rights and self-determination, and those who informed them are partly to bame.  

Donate to ETAN!

See also ETAN Human Rights page

Follow ETAN:

Like ETAN on Facebook Follow ETAN on Twitter ETAN email listservs ETAN blog ETAN on LinkedIn ETAN on Pinterest Donate to ETAN!

WWW http://www.etan.org