Subject: Tempo on E.Timor: The Birth of Timor Loro Sa'e

Tempo Magazine October 30-November 5, 2001


The Birth of Timor Loro Sa' e

The news came from New York last Monday morning: the United Nations has officially set 20 May 2002 as the independence day of Timor Loro Sa'e, formerly known as East Timor. This will provide the East Timorese with a more complete identity as an independent nation. Torn by a military invasion and civil war that raged for years, Timor Loro Sa'e was officially freed from Indonesia in 1999. These days the people of Timor Loro Sa'e are up against a host of new enemies--poverty, crime and social inequalities.

So, whether it wants to or not, this nation on the eastern edge of Timor island has begun to study "land measurement" long before it becomes an independent nation in its own right.

Several TEMPO journalists visited Timor Loro Sa'e last August with the purpose of recording some of these symptoms up close. Following is the report they compiled.

In front of a house that juts out prominently in an alley-way, about 15 youths are gathered together. A number of them sit and others stand, all of them keeping a cautious eye over their surroundings. They do not wear uniforms, nor do they have any medals indicating rank. The only thing suggesting that they are currently carrying out a "duty" is the black ribbons adorning their left breasts. These youths are not loose cannons looking to start trouble in the back alleyways. They are guarding the house of their country's leader, Jose Alexander "Kay Rala" Xanana Gusmao.

Xanana's house in the Audian district of Dili is not much different to the houses of other residents. An alley 150 meters long provides the entrance to this and neighboring houses. Cars wanting to enter and leave have to queue up. Furthermore, along this alley there stretches a trench measuring about 1 meter wide and 1.5 meters deep. According to some of these youths, this is a type of defense moat for the Xanana fortress--a way of regulating the to-ing and fro-ing of uninvited guests.

TEMPO visited Xanana's house one afternoon last August. The 55-year-old leader of Timor Loro Sa'e was wearing a white T-shirt and tight, faded blue jeans. He takes a drink from a glass of water that has been poured by Caroline O'Brien, an Australian woman who is employed as his secretary. In front of him runs little Alexandro Gusmao, 12 months old, his son by Kirsty Sword, his Australian second wife. Today Xanana really does appear more like a father than a leader of a country that has just gained independence. "I'm an ordinary person and I always will be an ordinary person," he says.

An ordinary person' heads a newly independent nation. On Monday last week the United Nations strengthened the identity of the nation: the world body confirmed 20 May 2002 as the birthday of Timor Loro Sa'e. The UN had made this decision on the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly--an institution formed on the basis of the election results for Timor Loro Sa'e last August.

During more than 20 years of Indonesian rule there were very few people who thought this small nation in the east of the archipelago would actually gain its independence. The Indonesian military invasion in 1975 and the civil war that raged in the wake of the abandonment of Portuguese rule meant that Timor Loro Sa'e was like a nation without a master and was torn by political feuds and war. Four political parties agreed to integrate with Indonesia on 28 November 1975. The emergence of the Balibo Declaration gave substance to their intentions of becoming one with Indonesia.

But integration with Indonesia was not fully satisfactory, and it even brought with it more suffering for the people of Timor. After two years of military invasion, the Indonesian government acknowledged that they had killed 80,000 people. Lopez da Cruz, a pro-integration Loro Sa'e figure, said the figure was more like 200,000.

When the Suharto regime fell, the door of freedom was opened. The Habibie Administration proposed a referendum for settling the problems of East Timor. Under the supervision of the United Nations, the referendum resulted in the victory of the pro-independence faction who gained 78.5 percent of the vote. The Indonesian military engaged in a scorched earth campaign in a bitter reaction to their loss. It is estimated that 2,000 people were killed in this chaos. But these dark stories are becoming a thing of the past.

If all goes smoothly with the Constituent Assembly, on 20 May next year Timor Loro Sa'e will begin a new life: it is hoped that a new leader, fresh winds of freedom and a number of social and economic transformations will lever the people out of poverty. But so far these good intentions look fine written upon official documents, but the realities of life in Timor Loro Sa'e do not appear to support this thesis.

Seven months before its birth, the former Portuguese colony is facing a number of crises. One of the most prominent is a political crisis--not to mention the poverty and social inequalities that have taken root. The Constituent Assembly, which has been in operation since last August, is firmly resolved to appoint Xanana as president and Mari Alkatiri as Prime Minister. Mari was once the Secretary General of Fretilin (Frente Revolucionária do Timor Leste Independente), the party that won the election and which holds a majority in the Constituent Assembly.

If competing interests begin to hamper proceedings, the Constituent Assembly has a mandate from UNTAET (United Nations Transitional Administration for Timor Loro Sa'e) to call for elections with a direct election of the president. But, considering that practically all parties support Xanana, it seems there will be no need for such an election. The problem is, however, Xanana does not have a party. He was once responsible for establishing Fretilin in 1975. When the struggle of the parties grew bitter in the 1980s, Xanana established and was appointed President of CNRM (Conselho Nacionale Resistencia Maubere), a body that recently became CNRT (Conselho Nacionale Resistencia Timorenses).

The aims of this organization were noble: to unify the social elements struggling for the independence of Timor Loro Sa'e. But the more militant Fretilin faction considered Xanana's moves an abandonment of their party.

The anger of this more militant faction does not seem significant enough to pose a serious threat to Xanana's popularity. Last August, old photos of his guerilla days were displayed on the streets, carried from one campaign platform to another to service his nomination for the presidency--even Fretilin made use of them. In the people's eyes he is an ideal figure. TEMPO journalists circled the city of Dili and asked about the nominations for the president of Timor Loro Sa'e, only to receive the same answer everywhere they went: Bapa Xanana.

Despite the adoration of the masses, the enemies Xanana has within the ranks of Fretilin have made his position very difficult indeed. Under the direction of Alkatiri, Fretilin have devised a formulation for "dividing power"--but this could be a time bomb for Xanana. If this model is followed he would become a president with limited powers--nly possessing authority to regulate defense and security as well as foreign affairs. Matters of economics, internal governance and other strategic matters would be the domain of the prime minister--and the strongest candidate for this job is Mari Alkatiri.

But Alkatiri denies he is trying to "sideline" Xanana. "We still respect him. It is not true that we are rejecting him," he says. Fretilin's formulation is not expected to bring about serious problems in the short term because the people would be satisfied just knowing that Xanana is their president. "But eventually the people's eyes will be opened. In the next election, Fretilin will lose," said Mario Viegas Carascalao, former governor of East Timor who is now leading PSD (Partido Social Democrata), which came third in the recent elections.

Apart from the political crisis, another big problem facing Timor Loro Sa'e is the state of the economy. At the moment the greatest income the country has is from foreign loans. In December 1999, a conference of donor countries for Timor Loro Sa'e in Japan agreed to provide up to US$520 million (Rp5.2 trillion at an exchange rate of Rp10,000) for the two year transitional period. UNTAET has been entrusted with the task of governing the use of this money. It is not surprising that the piggy bank of Timor Loro Sa'e has been in the hands of UNTAET for the past few years. It is hoped that in 2002, this former number 27 province of Indonesia will be off the UNTAET support system.

But facilitating such a transition for a country torn apart by a military invasion and decades long civil war is clearly no simple task. Timor's real income is mostly limited to the export of coffee, and this is valued at only US$200,000-US$400,000 or the equivalent of Rp2 billion-Rp4 billion per month. In fact, to import food, clothing and other daily necessities from neighboring countries requires more than US$4 million (Rp40 billion) per month. At the moment the five biggest exporters of goods to Timor Loro Sa'e are Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand.

Because of the high costs involved these goods quickly use up the available funds. Apart from food, construction materials are also popular imports. Bear in mind, of course, that the post-referendum period in 1999 was marked by violence and destruction so that many wrecked buildings have had to undergo reparations.

Take the example of standard plywood supplies imported from Surabaya. The cost of this material can reach US$25 (Rp250,000), whilst in Jakarta it only costs about Rp75,000. One sack of cement valued at Rp25,000 in Bandung can cost about US$6 (Rp60,000) in Dili. Or, 5 kilograms of paint that might cost only Rp50,000 in Jakarta can be twice as much in Dili.

The hike in prices not only creates a situation of limited supplies. The uncertainty surrounding the rates and currency used in Timor Loro Sa'e also contributes to this problem. Officially, the UNTAET government has prohibited all currencies except the American dollar. In practice? Well, in the markets and on the streets other currencies, such as Indonesian rupiah, Portuguese escudo and Australian dollars circulate freely. Besides, the smallest currency available in American dollars is US$1. Coins of smaller value are simply not in circulation.

As a result, the community is struggling to make transactions that do not reach US$1. "If you want to buy some Pepsodent toothpaste with a dollar, the price will be set at one dollar," said Fernando Araujo, a youth from Dili. Thus, there are still many residents, especially those who live in kampung, who use rupiah for daily transactions. The rupiah is a flexible denomination, and most people are familiar with this currency.

Yet, because there is no longer any supply of rupiah from Bank Indonesia, the physical condition of the rupiah notes currently in circulation is very disappointing: dirty, tattered and very unattractive. The pictures on the rupiah notes are now hard to distinguish. Not infrequently the matter of currency produces social clashes. In one store at a Dili market, TEMPO witnessed a vendor and a buyer engaged in a war of words. The customer wanted to pay with rupiah and the trader, who also happened to be an Indonesian, had a problem with this. "This is the money from your country isn't it?" shrieked the customer as he prepared made his first moves from the scene.

The potential for conflict has increased due to the high degree of unemployment. Xanana estimates that there are now about 80,000 people without work. UNTAET itself is only employing 2,000 locals. The remaining work available is hard to locate. Farms are only worked by a limited number in the villages. People are flocking to the city to gain extra money as fill-ins. A number of former Falintil soldiers no longer possess any work now that peace has settled over the country.

Those who have work do not make impressive takings. House servants for UNTAET staff are paid about US$200 or about Rp2 million per month. This might be a large amount by Indonesian standards but in Dili the cost of a simple rice dish from a warung Padang can reach US$7-US$10. So, this wage is by no means impressive. The wage of the average policeman is even more pitiful: a meager US$100 per month. Of course, this is only true for the local police. The UN soldiers are making thousands of dollars per month.

Clearly, nationality is a major determinant of how much one earns in Timor Loro Sa'e. Those who possess foreign passports and become international staff for UNTAET make an average of US$7,800 per month. There is an example of two brothers doing the exact same work at UNTAET but their wages are separated by about Rp36 million because the two of them possess different passports: Indonesian and Portuguese (see Dollars Flowing from Passports).

These social and economic gaps often gives rise to violence targeting the rich. The windscreens of UNTAET cars are often smashed during attacks from random individuals or groups. "A number of international staff have also experienced muggings," says Sergio Vieira de Mello, Head of UNTAET. Dili is no longer a safe place to live. Taxis only operate during the daytime. The drivers are scared of muggings if they operate after 10pm. An attack upon Xanana's wife a few months ago is also suspected to have been an attempted mugging.

All of these social problems are making life difficult for this newest nation on the block, Timor Loro Sa'e. "This is serious stuff. We are used to receiving financial aid from outsiders. Under Portuguese rule, our patrons were from Portugal. Under Indonesian rule it was Jakarta. Now we are gaining financial support from the international community," says Mario Viegas Carascalao. "At present Timor Loro Sa'e needs help. But, once UNTAET leaves, there will be a big question," says the Bishop of Timor Loro Sa'e, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo.

These matters need to be responded to by the Xanana-Mari Alkatiri duet and the numerous politicians who sit on the Constituent Assembly. If the political crisis can be solved, this pile of problems might be sorted out relatively quickly. But, considering just how serious the conflict was within Fretilin after Xanana's resignation, political conflicts do not look like resolving themselves within the two-year transitional period. But Xanana, the presidential candidate, is typically reticent when invited to speak about his resignation from Fretilin, and this was also the case when TEMPO met with him at his house recently.

In the guest room, Xanana drinks water from a large glass. His child, Alexandro Gusmao, runs around happily. His secretary, Caroline O'Brien, is busy making arrangements for the guests that will soon be arriving. "At first, the people were hopeful that their newly found freedom would change their lives overnight. This was not the case. We still have to work very hard. Extremely hard," she says.

Arif Zulkifli, Setiyardi (Timor Loro Sa'e)

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