Subject: GLW: Australia should match Cuban aid to East Timor


Australia should match Cuban aid to East Timor

Tony Iltis

26 January 2008

A group of Australian writers, academics, NGO workers and activists have written an open letter to incoming Prime Minister Kevin Rudd calling for Australia to increase its development assistance to East Timor (see above).

The letter points out that Cuba, which unlike Australia is neither a rich country nor a neighbour of East Timor, gives much greater aid in terms of human capacity building, and calls on Australia to match Cuba's generosity.

Initiating signatory Tim Anderson, senior lecturer in political economy at Sydney University, told Green Left Weekly that "ordinary Australians are interested in aid getting through". He explained that the letter was to "try [to] engender a healthy competition" in generosity between the two countries as opposed to the "unhealthy competitiveness" he has observed from the Australian aid industry.

He accused some Australian aid agencies, as well as journalists, of trying to ignore the Cuban program and sniping at it. He also pointed to the lobbying by former foreign minister Alexander Downer who tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Pacific countries to reject Cuban health and literacy workers on the grounds that they would destabilise the region. The letter is a response to the "risk of continuity" in policy towards Australia's island neighbours from the incoming federal Labor government.

Cuba currently has 300 health workers in East Timor, including 230 doctors. There are also 800 Timorese medical students in Cuba, with 1000 scholarships being offered.

Anderson told GLW that the "the next cab off the rank is the Solomon Islands", which will be getting 40 Cuban doctors and 50 scholarships to Cuba. Talks are underway with Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Cuban medical aid throughout the world is accompanied by literacy programs and the training of local health workers, making it "capacity building" rather than creating ongoing dependence.

By contrast, "in relation to health and education, Australian aid is patchy, Canberra-driven and [focused on] iconic projects."

He noted that while Australia was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a military intervention that was increasingly unpopular in East Timor, the number of tertiary scholarships offered to Timorese students was a mere eight.

"Even by AusAID's accounting methods, which value the scholarships at $90,000 each, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the military intervention."

Using the Cuban example, Anderson said it was important to "get away from the idea of measuring aid by dollars. This masks the costing and the recycling of aid money into Australian pockets. [PM Kevin] Rudd's increase of overseas aid by $500 million could be a good thing or a waste of money." Instead, he said, aid should be measured in terms of human capacity building.

From: Comment & Analysis, Gre 


Below is a public letter relating to Cuba, Australia and East Timor. Below I have also attached an earlier East Timor government statement on Cuban mediacal aid to East Timor.

Kevin Rudd, MHR Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 25 January 2008

Dear Prime Minister

We the following academics, writers, organisations and NGO workers observe these developments, on education assistance to Timor Leste:

? over 2002-2007 the number of University scholarships offered by the Australian Government to students from Timor Leste declined from 20 per year to 8 per year

? over 2003-2006 the number of medical training scholarships offered by the Government of Cuba to students from Timor Leste increased from 50 to 1,000

There are currently 800 students from Timor Leste studying medicine with the Cubans. This makes it probably the biggest aid program in medical training, per capita, in the world. Adult literacy training in Timor Leste is now also dominated by the Cubans.

So far there have been two Australian reactions (government, media, NGO) to Cuban programs in 'our' region. One was to ignore, snipe at or seek to undermine the Cubans, as perceived 'competitors'. The other is to respond with a generosity that matches them. We urge your government to strengthen this latter path and *match *the Cuban scholarship offer.

Cuban health and education programs are recognised and commended by the World Health Organisation and U.N.E.S.C.O.. But Australia also has great capacity to share through its schools, universities and teachers. There is a great deal of goodwill in our country towards the East Timorese, despite the damage done by the oil and gas dispute and the recent crisis.

We urge your government to begin a large scale public education program for the East Timorese, matching the Cuban offer of 1,000 scholarships, in areas in which we have great capacity, such as teacher training. We emphasise that the measure of support should be through the extent of human capacity building, not through a dollar sum.

The ordinary people of East Timor deserve nothing less from a rich and powerful neighbour that has so often let them down.

Yours sincerely

Dr Tim Anderson, Political Economy, University of Sydney John Pilger, filmmaker and author Professor Frank Stilwell, Political Economy, University of Sydney Pat Anderson, Board Chairperson, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health Dr Ben Bartlett, Leader PHC Program, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health Dr Meredith Burgmann, Former President of the NSW Legislative Council Lee Rhiannon MLC, Greens member of NSW Legislative Council Professor Stewart Firth, Head of the Pacific Centre, Australian National University Shirley Shackleton, East Timor activist AID/Watch Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA Max Lane, Indonesian Studies, University of Sydney Dr George Morgan, University of Western Sydney Dr Bob Boughton, University of New England Dr Duncan McDuie-Ra, Development Studies, University of New South Wales Peter Weitzel, teacher and union activist Stephanie Lusby, Policy and Advocacy Director, Jubilee Australia Jessica Bommer, Jubilee Australia Dr. Danielle Celermajer, Director of Global Studies, University of Sydney Dr. Robert Austin, Honorary Fellow, History, University of Melbourne Peter Boyle, Democratic Socialist Perspective National Secretary Emma Murphy and Stuart Munckton, Green Left Weekly Editors Pip Hinman, Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific Dr James Arvanitakis, Humanities and Languages, University of Western Sydney Eko Waluyo, Indonesian Solidarity, Sydney Giovanni Ebono, Ebono Institute Kerry Lawrence, Australia Cuba Friendship Society Anna McCormack, Southside Peace Group, Brisbane Associate Professor Peter Sainsbury, Public Health, University of Sydney Assoc Prof. Winton Higgins, Institute for International Studies, University of Technology Sydney Ross Johnston, Principal Consultant, Bushwork Consultants Stephen Langford and Jefferson Lee, Australia East Timor Association Janette McLeod, Brisbane Alan Roberts, Climate Change Action Network

Contact: Dr Tim Anderson Email: Tel: 0418-604-488 Postal: PO Box 109, Glebe, NSW 2037

cc: Mr Stephen Smith MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Bob McMullan MP, Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance Mr Duncan Kerr SC MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs 

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