Vol. 8, No. 1
East Timor Achieves Hard-won Nationhood
Ten Years for Justice and Self-Determination
10 Years for Justice and Self-Determination
A Decade of ETAN
by John M. Miller
Information, education and action. For a decade these watchwords have guided ETAN in our pursuit of self-determination and justice for the people of East Timor. With the former achieved, ETAN continues to work for justice.
Through the first 15 years of the Indonesian military occupation, few
in the U.S. heard about, much less acted to stop, this outrage. The
November 12, 1991 Santa Cruz massacre changed that. Filmed and
photographed, the attack on peaceful demonstrators by Indonesian troops
wielding U.S.-supplied weapons sparked the formation of organizing efforts
in cities throughout the U.S. These local groups soon found each other,
creating the national East Timor Action Network.
Early on we decided to be non-partisan (working with people and politicians with a wide-range of views on other subjects), tactically diverse and focused on gaining self-determination for East Timor. These three principles have served us well.
Through the years, we engaged in a wide range of tactics. We built public awareness through educational events, personalizing the issue through annual tours of East Timorese, and highlighting the plight of the East Timorese in both mainstream and alternative media. We leafleted outside showings of the documentary “Manufacturing Consent,” which includes a substantial section on East Timor. We spoke inside (and outside) the UN and organized countless demonstrations at the Indonesian Embassy and its various consulates around the U.S. Several hundred were arrested in civil disobedience sit-ins.
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.We compiled news reports, documents and other information from a range of international sources, filling in for the scarce coverage in U.S. media. We also published a newsletter, first called Network News, then renamed Estafeta. Our resource list made available hard to obtain documentaries and books, many from overseas.
We issued dozens of action alerts via internet, fax, phone and mail. We reached out to other organizations and constituencies who helped amplify these calls to action directed at the UN, the Indonesian government and, most often, the U.S. Congress and administration.
Our political strategy was both ambitious and simple. Viewing the Indonesian military as key to the occupation and the U.S. as the military’s chief benefactor, we set out to sever that relationship. We believed that Indonesia would value its ties to the U.S. more than its continued occupation of East Timor. Events would bear out this analysis.
Though the U.S. had rarely cut off military training or aid because of human rights violations, we pushed Congress to pass legislation stopping military assistance and other aid for Indonesia. Mobilizing existing concern and building new support, we found early success when Congress quickly banned IMET military training for Indonesia in 1992. Versions of that ban have been annually renewed 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. 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.
As East Timor celebrates its independence, all of us in ETAN can be justly proud of our role in supporting this wonderful victory. Having made a real difference for ten years, ETAN remains committed to making a difference for East Timor’s future. You can too.
For more on ETAN’s history see http://www.etan.org/etan/default.htm.