Multinational Monitor

APR 1997
Vol. 18 No. 4


The Campaign to Eliminate the Separation Between Banking and Commerce
by Jake Lewis

The Case for Preserving the Separation Between Banking and Commerce
by Jonathan Brown

Conquering Peru: Newmont's Yanacocha Mine
by Pratap Chatterjee

Taiwan Dumps on North Korea: State-Owned Taipower Schemes to Ship Nuclear Waste
by Jonathan Dushoff


The Political Economy of the Occupation of East Timor
an interview with
Jose Ramos-Horta



Behind the Lines

Don't Let This Merger Take Off

The Front
Slow Motion Bhopal - Indecent Proposal

Their Masters' Voice

Names In the News

Trade Watch

Book Notes


The Political Economy of the Occupation of East Timor

An interview with Jose Ramos-Horta

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA is the co-recipient, along with Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. Ramos-Horta is special representative of the National Council of Maubere Resistance, the underground umbrella organization representing East Timorese groups opposing Indonesian occupation. On behalf of the National Council of Maubere Resistance, he has called for a phase out of Indonesian occupation, to be followed by a UN-sponsored referendum on self-determination for East Timor.

Multinational Monitor: What are some of the key resources in East Timor that multinationals or the Indonesian government are eager to extract?

Ramos-Horta: We have oil, natural gas, marble, manganese. With the exception of manganese, all of these have been exploited by multinationals, namely Chevron, Phillips Petroleum, BHP from Australia. All of these companies are working in the Timor Sea area. The prospects there are very good.

Marble has been exploited by corporations linked with the Suharto family.

Sandalwood is almost depleted. It has been there for hundreds of years, and is now almost depleted.

Inland, in East Timor itself, there are no international corporations. They are all linked to the Timor Sea area.

MM: What is the status of development of the oil in the Timor Gap?

Ramos-Horta: There are excellent prospects for finding oil, according to most of the reports of the oil companies. East Timor has huge oil resources in the disputed area.

Australia has a dispute with Indonesia and with Portugal over the economic zone. For Australia, the economic zone should follow its continental shelf. For Portugal, and for ourselves, the East Timor economic zone must follow the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, which establishes a medium line for the economic zone when coastal areas overlap in terms of economic zone.

MM: What does that mean in terms of the legality of the oil companies operating there?

Ramos-Horta: Obviously, the companies that are working within the East Timor economic zone are there illegally. They are breaching their obligations under international law. They are there, with Australia, looting off the wealth of East Timor. They are strengthening the occupation of East Timor.

MM: What would you like to see the companies do?

Ramos-Horta: Two things. Either pull out completely and wait until a time when they can work with an independent East Timor. Alternatively, we offer a compromise. They should set up an international trust fund where they would invest money that would then be used for rural development in East Timor, helping East Timor NGOs, providing scholarships for East Timorese to study abroad. That is the minimum they could do.

MM: What would you like to see the United States do regarding East Timor?

Ramos-Horta: Our ultimate goal is for the United States to support the right of the people of East Timor to self-determination, to support the holding of a referendum in East Timor under UN supervision. That seems to be the most logical course of action at this late stage.

After 21 years of failed policy by the United States, it is high time it changes. But even if it doesn't change, if the United States continues with the same policy as it has in the past, the East Timorese are not going to die away, to melt.

Whether the United States is going to change or not, I believe that within four or five years, Indonesia will have changed beyond recognition and East Timor will be independent. The United States can help today by accelerating the peace process, if it intervenes in a forceful manner diplomatically. But if it does not, it does not mean we are going to surrender.

We have survived five American presidents so far, American presidents who have provided Indonesia with all the weapons to prosecute the war in East Timor.

But we are winning the battle in spite of that. We are not going to continue to be happy or content with lip service, with mere expressions of support on human rights violations in East Timor, or with token gestures by the Congress or the administration. Don't expect us to be thankful for that, because U.S. responsibility is far greater than that. The United States is part of the genocide that has been perpetrated against the people of East Timor.

MM: How would you like to see the United States pressure Indonesia?

Ramos-Horta: It could simply say there has to be a referendum in East Timor. It could appoint a special representative for the problem of East Timor, the way it has in the case of the problem of Northern Ireland, or Bosnia. That alone would create momentum, putting pressure on Indonesia without any cost to the United States.

MM: What is holding the United States back from exerting this sort of pressure?

Ramos-Horta: The bureaucrats in the State Department East Asia bureau are still under the illusion that the people in East Timor are somehow going to be intimidated by the United States policies and by Indonesia and will surrender. This has not happened in 21 years, and they better start believing that the problem of East Timor can be a major domestic problem in the United States, in the Congress. If they don't force Indonesia to change, U.S. economic interests in Indonesia could go up in flames in the next two, three or five years.

MM: What sort of corporate opposition has there been to the call for sanctions in the U.S. Congress?

Ramos-Horta: I have not called for comprehensive economic sanctions. I believe that selective sanctions would be enough to exert pressure. Most importantly, the military sales should stop, particularly weapons that are used against civilians in Indonesia or East Timor.

But the big American corporations, like General Electric and the others, have been lobbying against any change at all in U.S. policy. They lobbied against efforts to require the United States to oppose loans by the International Monetary Fund to Indonesia. They fear repercussions on their economic interests if the United States were to take a more critical position on the situation in East Timor.

Recently retired Senator Bennett Johnson of Louisiana has been one of the most vociferous supporters of the regime. Louisiana is the home to Freeport McMoRan, which is one of the worst multinationals that has been working in Indonesia, destroying the environment, the land, the life of the people of West Papua.

MM: So companies that have business operations in Indonesia, but not in East Timor, have been involved in lobbying to prevent the United States from pressuring Indonesia on East Timor?

Ramos-Horta: Yes.

MM: What about countries outside of the United States; have you found the same sort of corporate opposition there?

Ramos-Horta: No. In fact, there is a survey among business executives conducted by the Far Eastern Economic Review, published on 21 November 1996, where they asked business executives from the East Asia region, from Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan, whether Indonesia should get out of East Timor. The overwhelming majority said, yes, Indonesia should get out of East Timor. In Hong Kong, 100 percent said yes.

So in the Asia-Pacific region, in East Asia, the overwhelming number of business executives now hold the pragmatic view that it is in the interests of business that Indonesia get out of East Timor.

MM: Is transmigration -- the Indonesian program of moving people from Java to outlying Indonesian islands, and to East Timor -- ongoing? How has it affected the Timorese people?

Ramos-Horta: There are 100,000 to 150,000 Indonesian migrants in East Timor who have overtaken the best and most fertile land. They have taken over the best jobs. The effect of the transmigration has been that the East Timorese are marginalized in their own country.

MM: What is the rationale for the transmigration program?

Ramos-Horta: I know what the rationale was when they first started -- it was to alleviate the population pressures in Java by spreading out the Javanese to other islands.

In the case of East Timor, it was mostly security. The army alone cannot occupy the country, so they had to have civilians help in the occupation.

It is disastrous what is happening in West Papua, Kalimantan, Sumatra. Transmigration has been disastrous, for the people in the recipient islands and for the Javanese who were sent there.

MM: Why do you think Indonesia refuses to let go of East Timor?

Ramos-Horta: President Suharto is the only obstacle or impediment to democracy in Indonesia and to changes with regard to East Timor, to self-determination for East Timor. It is his own credibility and prestige that is at stake at the moment. There is no other rationale. It has been too costly for Indonesia.

MM: So when he fades away, or is otherwise removed from power ...

Ramos-Horta: I believe the post-Suharto regime, freed from the invasion, the responsibilities of the last 21 years, will be in a much better position to engage in dialogue with the East Timorese.

MM: What are current conditions in East Timor? Is there any truth to Indonesia propaganda that its investments in East Timor have improved living conditions for East Timorese?

Ramos-Horta: I would direct you to see the State Department annual report on human rights, reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the report by Patrick Kennedy following his visit to the territory in December. The situation has got worse. It is a military occupation; it is not annexation, it is not integration. You can summarize the situation in those words.

MM: How do you respond to Indonesian claims that Indonesia has helped develop the island and improve the well-being of East Timorese?

Ramos-Horta: Is killing off 250,000 people improving their well-being? Is taking over the land from East Timorese, drowning them with transmigrants, improving their position?

There is one thing the Indonesians don't know, or maybe the West does not know, and that is that the East Timorese have dignity, and that you cannot buy. You cannot just tell tell the people we are giving you roads, we are giving you bridges, and with that we buy off your dignity, your right to freedom.

I find it extraordinarily arrogant when I watch the politicians make the argument, "The Indonesians are building roads." What if Japan and Germany had succeeded in crushing Europe during World War II? They were far more developed industrially, technologically, and built roads and bridges all over Europe. Would they praise Hitler's Germany because of that? What if Japan had succeeded in invading and annexing Australia, and built roads and bridges?

I find it totally unacceptable to waste time engaging in this kind of debate. The people of East Timor have their right to self-determination. No amount of roads or bridges or buildings diminishes that right. No one asked Indonesia to come with roads and bridges.



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