East Timor reported by the Lusophone Blogosphere

As I was writing this report about unrest and possible civil war in East Timor, I found myself in a war with the spell-checker in my word processor which insists that the word LUSOPHONE does not exist. Read on to see what might be embedded in a single word.

Kids in Timor 2Seven years after the end of Indonesian rule — becoming the newest world nation in May 2002 — and having gone through what was viewed as a successful nation building and independence process led by the UN, East Timor is once again facing deep unrest. The last weeks since the reported clashes of April 28th have shown escalating violence and by now the Lusophone blogosphere is starting to speculate about the real forces behind the recent events.

“It was almost one o’clock. I turned on the radio, increased the volume and prepared myself for the bad news of the day. I was listening to the last music before the news and I stopped the car in front of the beach… I was prepared… Here they come! Timor, clashes between police and army, dead people, cries for help… Australia was already arriving (thanks to the oil exploration contracts)… Portugal is on the way … ENI is also there, entering through GALP. I can’t help thinking that the oil is the real trouble maker, even if this is not the exact case here. That’s what I think.”
NewsA day after…

GALP is the Portuguese oil company which last week lost the oil-gas contract with the government of East Timor. The contract was awarded instead to the Italian ENI as Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri announced the country’s first move to explore the oil-and-gas rich off-shore reserves in the Timor Sea. Strange as it is, ENI and GALP are partners, the former owning the majority share of the later, which makes the Portuguese complain about their country being ‘gamed as usual’ on the bid. It was also last week that José Ramos Horta, the foreign affairs minister, requested help from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia to quell the violence.

“Timor is going through a delicate moment while signing big and important oil exploration international contracts. There are neglected groups and GALP between them. Are we sure those groups are not influencing the present unrest? Australia, who took years to recognize Timor ‘s oil extraction rights, spent just a few hours to land its troops at Dili airport: “Candid selfless help”!
Civil War in Timor?The time that will come

“The curious thing of this entire Timorese situation is that as soon as they saw themselves in trouble they called for help from Portugal. When it is time to ask for help paid for with Portuguese funds — yes, because a hundred National Guards -GNRs and a bunch of GOEs placed in Timor is no free lunch — we are the ones they look for. But when it comes to the opportunity to sell oil and raise money, they go find someone else. Is the Portuguese government buying this story? Why don’t the Timorese ask for ‘Canabineri’ help? Why don’t they ask the Italians to send some free troops to help them? Is it possible that in the end they will pay with oil profits? Or is it just added to the debt?”
GNR to Timor
daily rants

As we dig deeper into the links on East Timor situation the tense atmosphere between the Prime Minister Alkatiri and President Xanana Gusmão becomes evident. The head of the government, who has managed to maintain the majority party’s support, is being pushed to resign by the Catholic Church — the religion of 90% of the Timorese– and by renegade leaders of the military under the main leadership of Alfredo Reinaldo, a former army lieutenant trained in Australia. They point to the lack of popular support for Alkatiri as the real cause for the outburst of violence. But the blogs are reporting a more complex situation, sometimes indicating how weirdly the mainstream media are dealing with the issue.

“It looks like positions of Mari Alkatiri, with FRTILIN and Timor’s legitimate government on his side, and of Xanana Gusmão, always backed by the Church, are not exactly the same. Who is asking for the Portuguese troops? Both did? Both still do? What role will play the Portuguese in case things go sour between the many sides in the conflict? Knowing that the Australians don’t like Mari Alkatiri, what will be the role of its numerous troops, given its special economic interests in the territory? Will Portugal support possible Australian moves to diminish the Prime Minister’s political and institutional sphere of influence? And what if we don’t support such moves?”
Just some doubtsArrastao

“Ultimately, one of the common issues in Dili is ‘the situation’ — the mysterious being which flows in rumors and gossip, sowing discomfort and mistrust in relation to East Timor’s future. Well, the April 28th events were bad, and it is clear that the recovery won’t be quick, but the times that followed were flooded with sensationalist news about the security issue. Some facts were based in mere rumors, and it was something that brought much confusion to everyone around. So I am leaving a link to a new address that will follow ‘the situation’ and the facts in East Timor in a special way!”
The situationBetween Dreams

“One source that will not be surprised by Gusmao’s power bid is the World Socialist Website. The WSWS, which has established a reputation on the left as an authority on East Timorese affairs, produced an article yesterday which claimed that Australia was backing a bid by Gusmao and Ramos-Horta to depose Alkatiri. Observing that Alfredo Reinaldo, a leader of some of the rebellious soldiers, was trained in Australia and favors the intervention of foreign troops in East Timor , the WSWS argues that the instability of recent weeks has been orchestrated by Canberra in an attempt to bring Alkatiri to his knees. The WSWS argues that Australia wants to get rid of Alkatiri because he has attempted to lessen East Timor’s dependence on Canberra, confront John Howard over his country’s exploitation of Timor Strait gas and oil reserves, and establish closer economic ties with Europe and China.”
Is Xanana Gusmão staging a coup?Reading the Maps

“Today, the international networks, BBC, CNN, Euronews, continue to show the ‘same old’ scenes of youths destroying and torching the ‘same old’ houses already shown yesterday, in a poorly rehearsed portrait, forcing the kids to declare they are doing all this as vengeance. And the BBC news anchor who pushed for those answers is the ‘same old’ one who interviewed Alkatiri yesterday and insisted that he had ‘failed’, that he had to resign. Suddenly I recalled having seen this movie repeatedly — in Bósnia, in Kosovo, in Checheny and wherever else ‘they’ have interests to preserve with a non-aligned government. ‘Regime change’ again…. Is it now in the Portuguese social-democracy fashion in order to take the water to the Australian mill? Shame on you, Mr. Gusmão, and all who get aligned with this coup!” Afternoon commentTimor Online – Live from Timor

It is true that Mari Alkatiri has done good job on the dealings about the Timor Gap, putting the Australian government on the defensive in the issue. But being the country leading the military intervention in East Timor has put the Australian blogs in step with Prime Minister John Howard and his government’s politically colored approaches.

“Just wait for the Left’s reaction to Australia’s latest East Timor mission. Perhaps some may contend that it is a subtext for Australian neo-colonialism in the region, acting on Washington’s orders to secure petroleum assets for Big Oil (and Halliburton, of course).” Trouble in Timor Leste (again)Niner Charlie “More on East Timor’s ‘sudden rebellion’: According to Australian sources, East Timor’s long sought independence is in severe jeopardy as a result of collusion between the United States, Australia, Indonesia , and the World Bank under its pro-Indonesian president Paul Wolfowitz. More astounding are reports that Indonesian intelligence has thoroughly penetrated the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) by using blackmail techniques involving pedophilia and bribes. These techniques have also been used to target former Australian and U.S. ambassadors and other diplomats and military personnel assigned to Indonesia. Wolfowitz is a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia.”
Australian neo-colonialists (operating on behalf of Bush neo-cons) target East Timor’s oil, launch a rebellion against East Timor’s governmentRebelle Nation

The following piece was written by the son of Ramos Horta as a report to the Asia Times and it may be a good indicator of what is going on right now.

“More significantly, perhaps, Alkatiri has implemented a foreign policy overtly confrontational to the West. His recent decision to hire nearly 500 Cuban doctors after visiting that country, despite strong objections from the US ambassador, was highly controversial and oddly aligned East Timor with the resurgent leftist movement gaining ground in Latin America. Likewise, Alkatiri’s bizarre attempt to declare a national day of mourning for Yasser Arafat’s death did not endear him to the US or other Western countries. There was also widespread speculation that Alkatiri planned to award a multibillion-dollar gas-pipeline project to PetroChina, an invitation that would have won both the United States’ and Australia’s ire.”
As East Timor Burns, by Loro Horta – Asia Times

It seems, going against Australian interests has put Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in a difficult situation. Even the decision making Portuguese the official language is now being challenged by the Australian commentators.

“Mari Alkatiri has been a disastrous Prime Minister. He leads the so-called Mozambique clique of Fretilin ideologues. The catastrophic decision to make Portuguese the national language of East Timor perfectly illustrates the dogmatism and unreality of Alkatiri’s approach. This decision disfranchised young East Timorese who speak Tetun, Indonesian or English. It entrenched the clique of ageing, dogmatic Marxist-Leninists within Fretilin and exacerbated every division within East Timorese society. And it does nothing to help East Timor earn a living in the international economy.”
Dig in to save Timor

In doing the research for this report about the unrest in this tiny nation of the southwest Pacific I discovered the importance of language in shaping narratives and activating the conversations about what is going on. The Lusophone world of Portuguese-speaking bloggers gives a very caring attention about East Timor’s future and not just the violence of the present difficult time.

In the Lusophone blogoshere the conversations seem to go deeper into the crisis motivations and offer more access to East Timor’s day-to-day political dynamic by being closer to the popular, rather than the institutional, culture. Could it be a sign of the relatedness of the language with the locals, plus the possibility of the same code being understood by a culture on the other side of the globe?

The local efforts to respect and enliven the native Tétum language are also interesting, and already there is a wikipedia section on it. Looking at the language structure for the first time I was amazed. Many of spellings of the words were unbelievably similar to the slang and dialect the Brazilian kids are creating in their instant messenger quick typing, mixing phonetic contractions with common spelling errors. This is not the language of separations and defending interests. It is the language of cordiality, conversation and connection.

“”I’ve seen on the TV news that the Timorese government succeeded in the renegotiating the oil quotas rates for Timor Sea. Who was the loser in this? Precisely: Australia — the one country that has already arrived and is planning a long stay, unless the Timorese are able to show them the contrary. What about Portugal, can we help? I can’t tell if it is a good idea to send Portuguese troops, but there are many reasons why Portugal could have a positive role in Timor, if there is good will there and, also, because attacks to the Timorese government reaches us, the lusophones.”

“Politicians utilize culture and language to lubricate private and public interests; academic intellectuals fix on nationalist issues which enhance the visibility of cultural power; and the corporate crowd sticks to politicians in order to protect interests that should be more liberally shared. But these are the kinds of protagonists whose inabilities are not capable of stopping the Lusophone expansion, yet. The community of Lusophony is growing in freedom, beyond the all manipulations. It is, afterall, a community of affections and gestures. It was born in the first globalization wave when the Portuguese traveled the unknown seas. One of the consequences was the emergence of a plural and polycentric space of different people, cultures, states, churches and communities, a network of lusophone communities.”
The Lusophony, or its absence
Kilumba’s Bazonga

As we continue to cover the unrest in East Timor, we will give special attention to the feeds that bring the latest Lusophone perspectives.