East Timor’s Prime Minister, José Ramos Horta, is drawing ever closer to communist China and Cuba.
Next month’s Presidential election in East Timor will define the future of this small nation: whether the overwhelmingly Christian country of a million people continues to be ruled by a Marxist clique who want to establish a one-party state, or whether the people put their trust in the main opposition parties who have formed an alliance for democracy.
The major opposition parties in East Timor are the Democratic Party led by Fernando de Araujo, the Social Democrats led by Mario Carrascalao, and ASDT led by Xavier do Amaral.
The other major contender is the former Foreign Minister, José Ramos Horta, who does not have a political party and whose term as Prime Minister since June 2006 has been characterised by increasing polarisation and poverty.
Despite Ramos Horta’s friendship with Australia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, East Timor’s Prime Minister has developed even closer relations with the governments of China and Cuba.
As Lindsay Murdoch reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (March 3, 2007), the Chinese Government is building a palatial new foreign ministry building on the esplanade along the Dili waterfront, adjacent to luxurious foreign embassies.
Murdoch wrote: “Dili-based diplomats are watching curiously how the country with the world’s biggest population is spending many millions of dollars to establish an economic, diplomatic and strategic foothold in one of the smallest nations on Australia’s doorstep.
“They say China is looking to East Timor for a source of raw materials and energy supplies and wants to develop close ties with Dili as part of a strategy to expand Beijing’s influence in South-East Asia.
“China has wooed East Timor’s leaders with all-expenses-paid trips to China, established tentative relations with East Timor’s army, including donating equipment such as tents and uniforms, and has paid for at least six army officers to be trained in China.”
All this has been done with Ramos Horta’s knowledge and approval.
A further cause of concern is East Timor’s developing relationship with Cuba which has been strongly criticised by opposition parties.
Horta recently wrote a letter to the Timorese newspaper, Suara Timor Lorosae, defending his Government’s ties, saying:
“I’m writing this letter to respond to the campaign against our nation’s policies towards Cuba, in particular in relation to our students who are studying medicine in Cuba and also in relation to the Cuban doctors who are now serving in East Timor.”
Horta praised Cuba’s dictator, Fidel Castro, for sending “thousands of Cuban doctors to countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia”.
He added that “Fidel Castro also sent forces to fight the anti-colonial wars in Africa to liberate Africans from Western colonialism. Thousands and thousands of Cuban forces were sent to fight in Angola in 1975 when Angola was invaded by the strong apartheid forces from South Africa”.
He said approvingly: “Today, 700 Timorese students are studying medicine in Cuba, and 105 are studying medicine in East Timor with the help of Cuban doctors. There are 230 Cuban doctors working in our country …. They don’t stop, accepting difficult conditions with such dedication that can only be compared to the dedication of our priests and nuns.”
Ramos Horta estimated that, within 10 years, the number of East Timorese medical students in Cuba, or studying under Cuban doctors in East Timor, would rise to 1,000.
He said, “East Timor is truly grateful to Cuba for its generosity”, and added, “Let’s open our minds, liberate ourselves from the idiotic and provincial mentality due to our geographic isolation and outdated Cold War propaganda.”
Countries such as Australia have been too slow to offer similar assistance to East Timor; but Ramos Horta’s support for close relations with Cuba and China has excluded Australia, and consolidated the influence of the ruling Fretilin party, headed by former Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, who has been feted in Beijing.
While Ramos Horta has been building relations with communist states such as Cuba and China, the promises he made on being appointed Prime Minister last year remain unfulfilled.
At the time, he promised to provide security for people forced from their homes by violence which followed the sacking of 500 soldiers after they protested to the President, Xanana Gusmao, about discrimination.
In fact, there has been no improvement in security: if anything, the situation has worsened in recent weeks, following the military operation to arrest Major Alfredo Reinado who supported the sacked soldiers in 2006.
About 20,000 people are still living in tents in the capital Dili, following the violence last year. Horta also promised to rebuild homes destroyed in gang attacks, but so far, little has been done.
There is a crisis of confidence in East Timor which only an election can solve.
– Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.