Some news reports are now claiming that Jose Ramos Horta, Timor-Leste’s President, is or was in a coma. If he goes, his soul will get a good laugh from the fact that he outlasted Suharto–who killed a third of his people–and an ironic laugh from the fact that the first bullets to ever hit him were fired by an East Timorese.
The man behind those bullets, the rebel soldier Alfredo Reinado, is reportedly dead, and if that’s true the ridiculous crisis that has gripped East Timor may actually slowly dissipate.
In some counties, a two-year upheaval that kills several dozen people and features a double-assassination try (Xanana Gusmao, the prime minister, was also attacked, but not hit) might rank as the biggest thing in recent memory, but in Timor it’s not even close.
The Indonesian military occupiers–armed and green-lighted by the United States government–killed that many on many hundreds of mornings. Their winnowing of the population was so vast that it put them in Nazi-land (see posting of December 3, 2007, “Knowing Where the Bodies Are Buried. The Indonesian Generals–and Putin–Laugh“.)
Occupied Timor was the most terrifying place I’ve ever seen. There was perpetual threat of execution.
But, as sometimes happens, the oppressed people actually won.
And with gradual independence, starting in 1999, the Timorese won the right to behave as pettily as everyone else, and their leaders have been exercising it.
The rebel Reinado stood for nothing that anyone could discern and the older generation of leaders has been bickering even as there is still hunger in the countryside, side-by-side with newly won oil money.
Compared to the Indonesian Occupation holocaust, all of this is–amazingly enough–small for Timor, but that proportional comparison is, in many senses, beside the point: just one death ends the world for someone, and when it’s preventable, it’s inexcusable.
Poor people are now hungering unnecessarily in Timor-Leste, under a regime that is not bad or oppressive.
The country can do much better. It can be an example for the world, as itspolitical victory over terror was.
When Ramos Horta, hopefully, comes back, the independence leaders should sit down and reflect. Then bury their rivalries and feed the hungry, or step aside, and let younger survivors take over.