|Subject: Max Stahl: Reinado may be the Che
Guevara of East Timor
via Melly Saldanha <email@example.com>
Reinado may be the Che Guevara of East Timor
Major Reinado, the rebel leader who led the assassination attempts in East Timor, was a poster boy for many disaffected young people, writes Max Stahl.
"Major Reinado became a Che Guevara for many young people. A poster figure on laptops, and graffiti sketches around Dili. A rebel for the excluded who had no jobs, no money, who could not see a future, who felt discriminated against by the choice of an official language which they had not learned under Indonesian occupation, or simply who were frustrated because they were teenagers. Like a poster character, the meaning of his protest shifted its ground"
With Nobel Prize winner President Ramos Horta evacuated to a hospital in Darwin following surgery on two bullet wounds to his arm and stomach, the Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao is taking pains to react according to the fledgling nation's new constitution.
"It is not Xanana or Ramos Horta who were attacked but the President and Prime Minister. The State was attacked by those who would like to see it fail," said Gusmao in a press conference in which he asked for the cooperation of the public with security forces in stabilising the nation.
Gusmao, along with the interim President, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Vicente Guteres, called meetings of the Council of National Security and the Council of State and meetings of members of parliament within hours of the double attack and requested a 48 hour State of Emergency.
The Prime Minister is a veteran of more than two decades of guerrilla struggle to form an independent state in East Timor and he has a nose for politico-military struggle.
In his first meeting with the press following his own survival of the attack on his convoy to work, he didn't even mention the news which was in the forefront of every Timorese mind - the fate of dissident army Major Alfredo Reinado, who led the attack on the President's home and seemingly made a desperate attempt to kidnap him in the midst of the gunfight.
In May 2006, following the violent suppression of a protest by striking soldiers dismissed from the army, Reinado led 18 armed soldiers out of the capital. The protest had ended in burning and smashing government offices and sectarian attacks on scores of homes.
The striking soldiers had alleged abuses in the army and were eventually sacked for refusing to obey orders from those they accused of mistreating them.
Thereafter, Reinado resisted the efforts of three prime ministers, scores of UN and bilateral advisers and a few thousand foreign soldiers to 'resolve the problem'.
The difficulty was that they had a point. But the point was difficult to nail down.
If there were abuses inside the army - discrimination by veterans against recent recruits, or by Easterners against Westerners - the evidence was hard to come by.
But the alleged abuses and sackings which followed were not just felt by the soldiers.
It provoked powerful reactions among many communities and in particular many young Timorese who felt left out of the nation they had played a key role in winning independence for. There was feeling of a lack of respect for members of the army who were not just soldiers, but also representatives of the communities in a new country.
Major Reinado became a Che Guevara for many young people. A poster figure on laptops, and graffiti sketches around Dili. A rebel for the excluded who had no jobs, no money, who could not see a future, who felt discriminated against by the choice of an official language which they had not learned under Indonesian occupation, or simply who were frustrated because they were teenagers. Like a poster character, the meaning of his protest shifted its ground.
He first attacked the leadership of the army and the veterans, mainly from the east of the country, who had 'massacred' the protestors on April 28, 2006. But the names of the 60 alleged victims proved hard to find, and Reinado proved unable to help those like myself who tried to find them.
An investigation by members of the UN concluded much as the government's own investigation had, that five probably died that day. My own investigation concluded that most of these died as a result of wild shooting by panicking police.
Then he attacked the former prime minister and Fretelin party leader Mari Alkatiri, for ordering the suppression. He attacked the then interim prime pinister Jose Ramos Horta, and finally his former idol now Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao as 'ambitious and incompetent leaders who had failed their people'.
The crisis threatened to overturn the fragile institutions of this fledgling nation.
The 2007 elections saw a new government, formed by a coalition of new parties, and a new president. The elections were widely seen as free and reasonably fair. They may not have transformed the chronic problems of development and stability. But despite the weakness of the parties and the vagueness of their platforms, the people's votes were fairly counted and they had the effect the majority wanted - removing the first government and the Fretelin party from power.
Since then Gusmao, the veteran crisis politician whose key weapon even as leader of the guerrilla struggle for so long was politics and reconciliation, has made headway in the hearts and minds of some of those whose anger exploded in 2006.
A lot of money has been spent, building roads and pavements, giving some jobs to the restless youths whose expertise was in making their country ungovernable - first to Indonesia, then to the leadership of independent Timor Leste.
Last week 77 of the 600 sacked petitioners started the process of rejoining the army, and in so doing they began to isolate the romantic figure of Reinado whom they had trusted for nearly two years to win them back the jobs, the pride and the positions they had lost.
It may be this that finally led Major Reinado - the poster figure with six counts of murder against him and a 25-year prison sentence awaiting him were he to fulfill his promise to face legal process in the courts - to the disastrous decision to stage the biggest grand stand gesture of all.
Timor Leste now waits anxiously.
The coming days will tell if his bold but desperate bid to decapitate the state Reinado believed had 'failed', will unleash the flood of frustration again.
Or whether the fragile institutions - which the Prime Minister has been so careful to respect - can channel the disappointment of some and the fears of others into careful reconciliation and development which is so desperately needed in this young nation.
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