Vol. 5, No. 3
East Timor Speaking Tour
||To Resist Is to Win: How Washington Succumbed to Public
Pressure on East Timor
by Lynn Fredriksson
In the Nov. 3 Washington Post, Keith Richburg lays out current attempts to end restrictions on U.S. military and financial aid to Indonesia. Implying that the Indonesian government is not getting a fair deal from those critical of military barbarism throughout the archipelago and in East Timor, the article quotes a businessman who warns, "[t]he United States is going to be taken out of the game completely. It's the old argument between sanctions and engagement."
Indeed, it is a very old argument. Apologists for continued U.S. support of the Indonesian military have for decades claimed that engagement is required to influence a force which routinely attacks, rapes and kills civilians and faces no real external threat.
Richburg's claim that "[Indonesia's] international lobbying campaign is almost nonexistent" is absurd. To cite only two recent examples, Lockheeed Martin and the pro-business lobby USA Engage have been working overtime in Washington on Jakarta's behalf. But he acknowledges one truth that Estafeta readers should appreciate: "East Timor advocates in the United States - human rights officials, activist-journalists, Timorese refugees - are highly effective at getting out their message."
Partly due to that work, on September 9, 1999, President Clinton announced a full cut-off of U.S. military and financial assistance to Indonesia in response to the terror in East Timor. Clinton also announced the coordinated suspension of pending World Bank and IMF funds to Indonesia, a move attributable to significant pressure on the bank by Timorese leadership and the grassroots. Within two days Indonesia agreed to the presence of an international military force in East Timor.
As Richburg writes, "Among other things, U.S. officials want assurances that the Indonesian military has severed its ties with the militias operating in western Timor and is moving to disarm them. They want the East Timorese refugees being held in western Timor to be allowed to return home. They want the Indonesian government to cooperate with human rights investigations into the East Timor chaos. And they want top Indonesian military officers linked to the East Timor abuses to be brought to justice." These conditions are critical, though Richburg does leave out a few others (like open access for humanitarian organizations).
A wide-ranging bipartisan congressional coalition, led by Senators Feingold (D-WI), Leahy (D-VT) and Harkin (D-IA), and Representatives Kennedy (D-RI), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Lowey (D-NY), and Porter (R-IL), all back these conditions. Assistant Secretaries of State Stanley Roth and Harold Koh, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright do as well.
Over the last two months, ETAN activists and coalition partners nationwide have worked with ETAN's Washington office to influence Congress to write letters, make calls and pass legislation to keep pressure on the State Department, the White House and Indonesia.
As we approach the end of the congressional session, S. 625 and H.R. 3196 contain provisions on East Timor. Senator Feingold has offered S. 1568 as an amendment to S. 625, to comprehensively codify President Clinton's current suspension of military assistance until Jakarta meets the conditions named above. Since the House has already passed S. 625, a conference committee will decide the final version of the bill.
H.R. 3196, the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, passed the House on November 5 - with measures restricting all use of U.S. weapons in East Timor. The bill also bans IMET military training to Indonesia; requires detailed reporting to Congress on all U.S. foreign military training programs by March 1, 2000; and requires 20 days prior congressional notification before the reinstatement of any U.S. financial or military assistance to Indonesia. H.R. 3196 also increases the Economic Support Funds (ESF) under USAID by $168.5 million, money that can be used for reconstruction in East Timor.
Congressional notification is not sufficient, and we're working with Senators willing to fight for tougher language in the final version of H.R. 3196 - to lock in U.S. military suspensions until the conditions we fought for are met.
After Congress recesses, keep up the calls! Until refugees are safely returned from West Timor and the rest of Indonesia, and until the Indonesian military has demonstrated that it has abandoned violence against East Timor entirely, our work is not done. Your vigilance is needed.
But the East Timor solidarity network must also claim its success in fundamentally changing U.S. foreign policy. If it wasn't for public pressure, the U.S. would not have demanded Indonesia stop the militia violence in East Timor. If the U.S. hadn't acted, Indonesia might have continued its devastation and depopulation of East Timor indefinitely. Terrible damage has occurred, but now the rebuilding can begin.
The people of East Timor are creating a new nation after winning that right in their long-elusive referendum! Many thought it could never happen.
While we mourn the great cost of these victories, we cannot fail to credit the remarkable success (after 24 years of occupation) of East Timor's resistance, nor fail to credit (after more than eight years of intense activism) our own. To fail to acknowledge our successes is to deny ourselves, and the East Timorese and Indonesians who strive for peace and justice. Such victories challenge the very structures that maintain oppression throughout the world. A luta continua!