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Issue #1521      5 October 2011

FRETILIN Here to Stay

The Third National FRETILIN Congress

Thomas Mayor, Maritime Union of Australian Darwin, gave his solidarity greeting to more 700 men and women delegates in bright red, yellow and black shirts.

FRETILIN has used its time since the 2007 elections in opposition well, to reorganise its base from Dili and 13 districts and build a contemporary professional political party. It has 167,000 members.

On elections to the Central Committee, after vigorous debate, the leadership list was decided. We had to wait as the voting was conducted individually in booths in the hall.

The popular Party President Francisco Guterres Lu’Olo and Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri were both re-elected pre-Congress by direct ballot by all members. Total number of votes 165,570: in favour 147,064 valid votes 95.87%; against 4.13%; invalid votes: 4.21%; votes with no tick: 3.13%. FRETILIN is one of the few political parties to hold a national secret and direct vote by all members for top leadership positions.

Party leaders talked of a transition era to 2017, when the new generation of leaders will be voted in.

The Congress was live on TV so that supporters and the public could follow proceedings.

This Congress debated their program exhaustively. They move amendments so there is much debate publicly. Privately they debate into the early hours of every morning. This Congress worked hard for democratic processes. Any repeat of the 2006 Congress divisions was not apparent.

As an observer, I have many memories of years of Australian party and union conferences. Inspiring political addresses, singing of national songs, aiming for unified outcomes, being media savvy using social media, questions to settle over credentials, exhaustive voting and counting processes, arguing to the early hours resolving factional disputes, and celebrations at the end with a cake and international guests joining in the toasts.

International parties giving solidarity greetings included Australia, Indonesia, Portugal, Mozambique, Angola, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, China, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba and Japan. Mari Alkatiri said that international support was crucial to winning and now in defending their independence.

Lu’Olo invited all who wore FRETILIN colours before to rejoin the party.

“Come together now because our beloved country needs us all. FRETILIN has an idea that where there is peace, there will also be stability and vis-à-vis.”

Lu’Olo recounted the success of the Alkatiri government and its responsible budget with proceeds from the oil/gas negotiations with the corporates and Australia.

I cite one vigorous political exchange against the government, a release during the Congress:

DILI (AFP) from Jose Teixeira MP and FRETILIN spokesperson.

East Timor’s opposition called for Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to step down as his cabinet faces scrutiny over corruption claims.

The anti-corruption commission said Monday it had handed six dossiers to the Attorney-General’s Office, which has since called on two cabinet members for questioning.

“Because of his mistakes, I ask Xanana to step down so that we can eradicate corruption in the government. If we can’t, then we are stealing our people’s money,” FRETILIN Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri told party members at a congress meeting.

Alkatiri accused Gusmao of weak leadership and said corruption was making the poor in East Timor poorer.

“In my era, any mistake by FRETILIN or any minister was my fault. Now it is never the fault of the prime minister – the ministers themselves are blamed.”

Australian Resistance radios cheered

Introduced in a speech by Mari Alkatiri, two historic radios used in the 1970s radio link between Fretilin and Darwin and the world were handed over by Rob Durbridge, Bob Boughton and myself to a standing ovation. The party is an astute user of social media, so images were on You Tube shortly after. (youtube.com/watch?v=x4pYivWkYew)

Congress delegates applauded the role of Darwin co-ordinator Brian Manning from the Communist Party of Australia and Waterside Workers Federation and those who staffed the radio under difficult conditions, including Estanislau da Silva, who joined us on stage. The CPA established and maintained the radio link for which Alkatiri thanked all concerned.

Some of Brian Manning’s story on the clandestine radio broadcasts can be found in “Rough Reds” (roughreds.com/rrone/manning.html).

Rob Durbridge from SEARCH expressed solidarity, as did Deborah Durnan and the ALP’s Assistant Secretary Nick Martin.

Fretilin survives after 35 years

As political and military forces have been trying to destroy FRETILIN, “FRETILIN here to stay” resonates. FRETILIN’s survival over 37 years is historically critical. Their leadership presented to the delegates a document signalling important FRETILIN events, dates and those in the leadership and this was vigorously debated by delegates.

Here is my account of FRETILIN’s survival.

The East Timorese suffered under East Timor’s Portuguese colonial masters ruling for 400 years and in WW2 from the Japanese fascists. They lived in dire poverty into the 1970s. FRETILIN began as a resistance movement fighting for independence from Portugal’s fascist regime until in 1975 with de-colonisation and then against Indonesian military occupation. This unique guerrilla war linked to their international solidarity strategy led by FRETILIN’s Diplomatic Front based in Maputo. For 24 years the resistance survived the Suharto fascist regime’s brutal occupation and army’s genocide.

In 1978 Nicolau dos Reis Lobato, then the FRETILIN leader, was killed. The armed military wing of FRETILIN, FALANTIL, changes. Xanana Gusmao becomes the commander in 1979 but leaves FRETILIN to lead the broad National Front CNRT. Jose Ramos Horta, overseas, leaves FRETILIN. Lu’Olo continues FRETILIN leadership in the mountains, as does Mari Alkatiri from Mozambique.

FRETILIN survives to the 1999 independence YES vote. The planned Indonesian State-sponsored terrorism has the TNI massacre thousands, move over 250,000 to West Timor and destroy over 80 percent of infrastructure and houses in an attempt to destroy the democratic outcome.

The then Australian Prime Minister John Howard and his Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had only prepared the Australian army to airlift Australians from Dili. Eventually they are forced by mass Australian protest action, union bans and international outcry pushing US President Clinton to move against the Indonesians. Howard and Downer reversed to be in the UN military intervention. Clinton Fernandes has a detailed account in “The Independence of East Timor Multi-dimensional Perspectives – Occupation, Resistance and International Political Activism” 2011 (Sussex Press).

After UN stability, the 2002 Independence celebrations come with all the political leaders and people and international guests united in this new nation. All parties and political leaders agreed on their Constitution.

In their new democracy in the first Parliamentary elections in 2001, Fretilin polls 57.4 percent of the vote with 55 seats in the 88-seat Assembly and forms the first government with Mari Alkatiri as PM. Ramos-Horta is appointed Foreign Minister. Xanana Gusmao wins the votes as the popular President. The FRETILIN government begins the enormous challenge of economic and social development of this, one of the poorest nations, and with struggles over their oil/gas in the Timor Sea.

In 2006, the violent “crisis” erupts and culminates with powerful anti-FRETILIN forces pressuring Alkatiri to resign as PM. President Xanana Gusmao appoints Ramos-Horta PM.

Readers may be aware of Peter Symonds arguing “How Australia orchestrated ‘regime change’ in East Timor” in Australian Options Spring 2006 (australian-options.org.au/issues/options_46/
article_symonds.php).

Tim Anderson similarly in “Timor-Leste: The second Australian Intervention” in the Journal of Australian Political Economy No 58 page 62 begins with a FRETILIN press release, June 26, 2006.

“We did not expect that the elected leader of a party with an overwhelming mandate could be forced to stand down in this way in a democracy.”

He said there are two stories over the second Australian intervention in Timor-Leste. The first has it that the small, newly independent country, beset with leadership and ethnic divisions, and led by an arrogant and even despotic Prime Minister, out of touch with the people, called once again on Australian assistance to avoid collapse into a “failed state”.

The second maintains that the losing leadership faction, in a struggle for control of the senior ranks of the army, initiated a coup, then drew on the support an Australian oligarchy that had distanced itself from Timor Leste’s ruling party and the then Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri.

Paul Cleary in Shakedown: Australia’s grab for Timor oil (2007, Allen Unwin) shows Howard and Downer despising PM Mari Alkatiri due to his successful stance on oil negotiations. Howard was the only government leader urging Alkatiri resign.

On September 9, 2011, this new Sydney Morning Herald report was circulated to us at the Congress from Jose Teixeira.

Four Corners accused over story that hastened the fall of Alkatiri”.

“A new documentary about East Timor has raised questions about a Gold Walkley-winning ABC TV program that led to the resignation of Mari Alkatiri as prime minister in 2006.

Breaking the News, directed by Nicholas Hansen, examines the relationship between local and foreign journalists in East Timor and examines the Four Corners program ‘‘Stoking the Fires’’. Hansen, who spent four years researching and filming the documentary, says Four Corners painted a potentially misleading picture of the government’s alleged involvement in arming civilian militia – an issue that remained clouded in uncertainty. He told the Herald the willingness of Four Corners to accept the testimony of unreliable characters and its failure to investigate possible links between the militia and the then president Xanana Gusmao put its report ‘‘on a very shaky trajectory’.”

Patrick O’Connor reported that WikiLeaks’ cables revealed Gusmao’s statements to US officials that support claims that the Australian media and spooks promoted stories to destabilise the FRETILIN government. “Portugal’s intelligence chief accused Australia of ‘fomenting unrest’ in East Timor” (wsws.org/articles/2011/apr2011/timo-a25.shtml)

In the June 2007 elections FRETILIN gets a reduced vote and the highest percentage with 29 percent. But Xanana Gusmao with his new CNRT party (National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction) wins government with the majority alliance of other smaller parties in Parliament the Alliance Majority. Ramos Horta is elected President.

No political institution or leader from the national liberation struggle won a clear majority based on program, ideas or leadership.

FRETILIN MPs go into opposition and are acknowledged as a quality opposition needed in a democracy.

Union launch

During a lengthy count, we left the Convention Centre to meet the Timor-Leste unions and launch their KSTL Konfederasaun Sindikatu Timor-Leste information newsletter. President Zito da Costa and General Secretary Rigo Monterio outlined their workplace issues. One major union demand is job creation given the 43 percent unemployment.

For the two rounds of elections next year probably April and June/July FRETILIN welcomes solidarity activists nominating to the Electoral Commission as observers.

See also my APHEDA 2011 study tour report. (chriswhiteonline.org/2011/09/apheda-timor-leste-2011-study-tour/)

Chris White, former secretary of the United Trades and Labor Council of SA, now lives in Darwin. A longer version is posted on his blog (chriswhiteonline.org)  

Next article – Culture & Life – Gorby and others of his ilk

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