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February 26 2014

Draft Media Law Could Bring Censorship to East Timor

East Timorese youth undergoing a journalism training sponsored by the Independent Centre for Journalism. Photo from Flickr page of DFAT photo library (CC License)

East Timorese youth undergoing a journalism training sponsored by the Independent Centre for Journalism. Photo from Flickr page of DFAT photo library (CC BY 2.0)

East Timor journalists and human rights groups are opposing a government-proposed media law which they believe would lead to possible media censorship and repression in the country. The draft legislation was approved by the Council of Ministers last August, but was introduced in the Parliament just two weeks ago.

The Council of Ministers claims that the law is necessary since it seeks to guarantee the rights of media practitioners as well as encourage the media to do its job “objectively and impartially”:

The Press Law aims to ensure the freedom of the press while at the same time promoting the necessary balance between the exercise of that freedom and other fundamental rights and values contained in the Constitution. Its purpose is primarily to regulate the activity of professionals adequately prepared and ethically responsible, so that they can inform the public objectively and impartially and encourage active and enlightened citizenship by the population, thus contributing to a democratic society.

But several media groups have pointed out that the proposed law contains several provisions that directly undermine free speech. They highlighted Article 7 of the measure which mandates the registration of journalists to be supervised by a Press Council. Activist group La'o Hamutuk argued that the creation of a press council is unnecessary:

As freedom of expression is already guaranteed by the Constitution, no Press Council is needed to regulate it. A Council of commercial media organizations and paid journalists can self-regulate their business, including with their Code of Ethics, but their processes cannot be imposed on everyone and should not involve the state, either through financial support or legal enforcement. Furthermore, no journalist should be required to join an organization in order to practice his or her Constitutional rights.

The group also questioned a provision which would narrow the definition of journalists to those working for corporate media. It insisted that the media landscape has changed and that citizen journalists must also be recognized by the government:

This law should respect every person’s right to free expression, including students, bloggers, web-posters, civil society organizations, free-lancers, part-time reporters, discussion groups, churches, political parties, columnists, researchers, community groups and ordinary people. It should not be monopolized or controlled by for-profit media.

La'o Hamutuk concluded by asserting that the proposed law is not crucial in promoting the right to information, and worse, that it violates the constitution:

Timor-Leste has already gone for more than a decade without a Media Law, and we have not had problems with media and information. During this time, Timorese people enjoyed their right to information and freedom of expression through various media, after nearly five hundred years of repression and censorship.

Therefore, we conclude that this Media Law violates Timor-Leste Constitution Articles 40 and 41 about people’s rights and freedom to seek, collect, choose, analyze and disseminate information, as words and/or images, to everyone.

Meanwhile, the Journalists Association of Timor-Leste thinks that the bill, if passed into law, would mean more regulation and not protection of the media:

We want the law to reflect the realities of the modern media and to obey international standards. What we see in these laws is gives an impression that they intend to regulate the press rather than protect the rights of East Timorese journalists.

Blogger David Robie concerns about transparency around the act, asking why the content of the document was only made public a few weeks ago:

The proposed Timor-Leste media law is a draconian mixed bag. And it is ironical that such a document with lofty claims of protecting the freedom of the press should be shrouded in secrecy for the past six months.

Alarming is the attempt to lock in the status and definition of journalists, effectively barring independent and freelance journalism and leaving the registration of journalists entirely to the whim of commercial media organisations.

It would not have worked in any kind of democracy in the days of low-tech newspapers and media publishing. But in these days of digital media, citizen journalism and diversity of critical information online it is tantamount to censorship – the very thing the draft law states opposition to.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) supports East Timor journalists in calling for the review and even overhaul of the proposed legislation:

Any legislation that would limit the capacity of local and international journalists reporting on East Timor, also limits the public’s right to know and is of great concern to the IFJ. We urge the government to ensure those reservations and perspectives are taken seriously and incorporated into the draft media law.

In response, the government vowed to consider all comments of media organizations before further deliberating on the draft proposal.

February 24 2014

Praise for Southeast Asia’s Winter Olympians

Yohan Goncalves Goutt representing East Timor in the Men's Slalom event.

Yohan Goncalves Goutt representing East Timor in the Men's Slalom event.

It does not snow in the Philippines and East Timor but the two Southeast Asian countries were represented in the recently concluded 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Yohan Goncalves Goutt, who qualified for the men’s Slalom event, became the first Timorese athlete to compete at the Winter Olympic Games. Meanwhile, Michael Martinez of the Philippines became Southeast Asia's first figure-skater in the Games.

Yohan founded East Timor's ski federation and raised $75,000 to fulfill his Olympic dream. He competed in the games, completed the race, and finished 43rd out of 117 players. There were 72 other racers who did not finish or were disqualified during the competition.

Yohan shared what he felt after finishing the race:

WOW what an Experience for Me !!!! This race will always stay in my memory and i hope Timor Leste History. It was hard starting last in one of the hardest course of my life but I finish !!! 43 out of 117 !!!
You are Great thanks for all your support !!!!

After this Olympic Games I felt that i have learned a lot and that i come out of this Games as a grown up man !!!

Before the game, he received a letter of commendation from East Timor’s Prime Minister. Naturally, the Timorese are proud of Yohan’s achievements. Below are some of the messages left by Yohan’s fans on his Facebook account:

Popo Lay: So proud of you Yohan!! Congratulations on being the first person to represent our nation in the winter Olympics and making history. You are a true Timorese hero and a role model for the next generation!

José Antonio G. Casimiro: A top 50 finish is a great achievement. I watched so many before you fall and not complete the race. I was praying that you would get a clean run, and you did. Thank you for putting our tiny little nation on the map.

Many were touched that Yohan wore a Timor clothing during the opening ceremonies:

Jacinta Barreto: You just showed us how to wear Timor tais in winter time…cool and fashionable. Best of luck Yohan..

Carla Araujo Machado: Congratulations! What an emotional moment when u were holding Timor-Leste flag! We are all very proud!

The country’s Minister of State Agio Pereira issued this statement of support for Yohan:

We commend Yohan for his commitment and his pride in Timor-Leste. His efforts, along with those of other athletes that represent Timor-Leste on the international stage, raise the profile of our country and increase interest and engagement.

Yohan Goncalves Goutt at the Sochi Games

Yohan Goncalves Goutt at the Sochi Games

Meanwhile, Filipino skater Michael Martinez was the Philippines’ sole representative in the Sochi games. He qualified in the finals and finished 19th.

Many Filipinos were inspired by Michael who learned to skate only in a shopping mall and he succeeded in becoming an Olympian despite being an asthmatic.

But while Filipinos cheered his triumphant participation in the Winter Games, many people criticized the government for the little assistance it gave to the young skater. It was also reported that Michael’s family had to mortgage their house in order to raise funds for Michael's Olympic preparation. Apparently, the president didn't receive the letter sent by Michael's mother asking for financial support because it was tagged as spam.

Writer Jessica Zafra praised Michael’s mother for guiding the talented teenager to achieve his dreams:

I know nothing about Michael's mother, but I know that she urged her son to fulfill his dream, no matter how borderline bizarre it seemed. Parenting is tough, and parenting a genuine talent is especially hard. You have to be honest about your child's abilities, you can’t let him harbor false illusions. You have to calculate his chances of success and make the necessary sacrifice. Congratulations, Mrs. Martinez, you are the coolest kind of mom.

Michael is back in the Philippines and was welcomed as a hero by his fellow Filipinos:

January 26 2014

East Timor's Rising Budget for ‘Public Transfers’

The La’o Hamutuk NGO is concerned that the East Timor government is alloting more funds for so-called ‘public transfers’ which lacks transparent mechanisms:

In recent years, Timor-Leste has spent about 20% of its state budget on “Public Transfers” – payments of money to individuals or institutions which are not controlled by contracts, tenders or other procurement processes and which often leave no paper trail.

January 23 2014

East Timor: ‘Australia Spied on Us for Oil Secrets’

[The original version of this post in Portuguese was published on December 28, 2013]

Battle began this week in a case at the International Court of Justice at The Hague pitting East Timor against Australia, with the former accusing the latter of spying and interfering with Timorese natural resources and sovereignty.

Graffiti Stencil by Alfe Tutuala shared on Wikimedia (public domain)

Graffiti stencil by Alfe Tutuala shared on Wikimedia (public domain)

At stake is the accusation of Australia's illicit access to confidential information about oil and gas in the Timor Sea, which may have hampered the Timorese during their negotiations of the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) with Australia in 2004.

On December 17, 2013, East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, filed an international lawsuit against Australia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the highest court of the United Nations. East Timor requested the return of documents seized in a raid earlier in December of the office of an attorney who represents Timor-Leste in the dispute over the treaty and accused Australia of violating the country's sovereignty.

“A luta kontinua”

In the month of December 2013, a wave of protests set the agenda in the streets of capital city Dili and on Timorese social networks.

The Movimentu Kontra Okupasaun Tasi Timor (Movement against the occupation of the Timor Sea) and NGO La’o Hamutuk, a well-known advocate of the rights of East Timor, have mobilized dozens of Timorese, mostly young people, to protest for the sovereignty rights of the country.

The motto “a luta kontinua” (the struggle continues), which was widely used during the 24 years of Indonesian occupation until the independence of the country after the referendum of 1999, was also the closing remark of a press release [PDF] that circulated in early December calling the government of Australia to:

1. Stop stealing and occupying the Timor Sea, but show your good will as a large nation which
follows democratic prniciples to accept a maritime boundary which follows international law
principles.
2. Australia should set an example as a sovereign nation which respects and recognizes the
rights of Timor-Leste’s people.
3. Australia should not promote or continue neocolonialism against Timor-Leste’s people, who
have suffered this for centuries. We will no longer be your slaves.
4. The Abbott government should apologize to the Maubere people, who have been hugely
discriminated against by Australia from the past to the present. If not, we will continue to
demonstrate at the Australian Embassy for the indefinite future.

Photo from a demonstration in front of Australia's embassy in Dili, December 20, 2013. By Veronica Fernandes on Facebook (used with permission)

Photo from a demonstration in front of Australia's embassy in Dili on December 20, 2013. By Veronica Fernandes on Facebook (used with permission)

On December 20, 2013, one more demonstration took place in front of the Australian embassy in Dili, in which several members of East Timor's national parliament participated [pt] in solidarity with the Timorese people. 

The first demonstrations in the beginning of December followed news reports from the Australian media claiming that spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) raided the office of the lawyer that defends the Timorese government in the international arbitration proceedings in The Hague.

During the raid, documentary and electronic evidence that the lawyer would have presented at the first hearing were seized.

On the same day, ASIO seized the passport of an alleged Australian whistleblower, a former employee of the ASIS (Australian Secret Service) involved in intelligence activities in East Timor, who would be willing to testify in court about the installation of recording devices in the offices of the Timorese prime minister during treaty negotiations. This former spy for the Australian government, whose identity was not revealed, was the key witness for East Timor in court. The Australian action aimed to prevent his travel to the Netherlands in order to be present in court.

Certain maritime arrangements

In April 2013, the Timorese government notified Australia that it would initiate a process of international arbitration, arguing that the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS), signed in 2006, should be made invalid because it was not negotiated in good faith.

According to the Timorese government, the issue at stake is the spying that was carried out by the Australian government with commercial interests, which calls into question the prerogative of good faith of both parties in the negotiation and makes the CMATS treaty invalid under the clauses of the treaty itself as well as the prevailing international law, namely the Vienna Convention.

Ratified in 2007, CMATS regulates the way the exploitation of natural resources in the Timor Sea should be shared between the two countries, namely the “Greater Sunrise” oil and gas field, whose assets are estimated to be worth about 40 billion US dollars. The oil treaty between the two countries requires East Timor to drop its requests for permanent maritime boundaries for 50 years, a stiplulation that works very much in Australia's favor: all of Greater Sunrise would fall within Timorese territory if boundaries were drawn in accordance with international law.

These issues are illustrated in a documentary produced by ABC Australia, Taxing times in Timor, which investigates the dispute between the Timorese government and the giants of the oil and gas industry:

The news from December lead the current Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Xanana Gusmão, to react with indignation against Australia's conduct in local media. According to an article [tet, en] published by Tempo Semanal newspaper on December 11, Xanana accused the Australian government of interfering with justice and having a lack of ethics in the relations between neighboring countries. He also stressed that Australia spying on Timor was a matter of national security. 

On the Australian side, Attorney General George Brandis, who authorized ASIO's operation, defended the legality of the raid, invoking reasons of national interest. This, because according to Brandis, the revelation of the identity of former spies who served in the Australian Secret Services may jeopardize national security. 

On the other hand, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, who negotiated CMATS with the government of East Timor in 2004, accused the current Timorese executive of opportunism for putting the treaty at stake. Right after his mandate in parliament came to an end, Alexander Downer became a consultant for Woodside Petroleum, a company that belongs to the consortium that exploits the fields of Greater Sunrise in the Timor Sea. This is one of the reasons why the former collaborator of the Australian Secret Services wanted to testify in favor of East Timor.

Protest in Timor-Leste against the 'return of colonialism'. Facebook page of Mario Amaral

Protest in East Timor against the “return of colonialism”. Facebook page of Mario Amaral

On the Timorese side, the diplomatic incident has been interpreted as an injustice comparable to others from throughout the history of the country. For instance, when Australia opted to illegally explore East Timor's mineral resources in 1989, by recognizing the de facto Indonesian integration of the territory and turning a blind eye towards the atrocities and human rights violations committed during the Indonesian occupation from 1975-1999. 

Demonstrators and politicians have stressed the unequal rights between rich and poor countries that this case represents, arguing that Australia's political and economic power is being used to perpetuate this kind of asymmetric relationship. 

Read also: Australia Spied on Timor Leste to Gain Commercial Advantage (December 13, 2013)

December 13 2013

‘Australia Spied on Timor Leste to Gain Commercial Advantage’

Protest at Australian embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste. Photo from website of etan.org

Protest at Australian embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste. Photo from website of etan.org

Australia is accused of spying on East Timor leaders in 2004 when the two countries were negotiating a gas treaty. After learning about the spying, the East Timor government wanted to revoke the deal it signed with Australia.

Tensions rose last week when the Australia Security Intelligence Office raided the Canberra office of the lawyer who is representing East Timor in the spying case. East Timor is now demanding the return of the documents seized by government agents from the lawyer’s office.

Former East Timor president Jose Ramos-Horta criticized Australia over the spying allegations:

When you try to listen in to phone conversations of the president of Indonesia, a friendly country, or his own wife, or when you spy on a friendly neighbour like Timor-Leste which Australia helped to free in 1999 and which Australia claimed to be a friend, well it really undermines 10 years of our relationship…

Australia likes to lecture Timor-Leste and other countries about transparency and integrity in public life. Well, this has not been a very good example of transparency and honesty.

Horta was referring to the news report about Australia’s spying activities in Indonesia which created a diplomatic conflict between the two countries.

East Timor citizens held a protest outside the Austalia Embassy in Dili in relation to the spying case. One of the protesters identified Australia Aid as a cover for the Australian government’s spying operations:

The problem is they steal our oil then sell it in other places to buy some kind of equipment bring to East Timor trough AusAid Funding. Because of all this reason this afternoon I would like to bring to the attention of the Timorese community and International community to be careful dealing with people from AusAid. AusAid is an espionage agent.

Meanwhile, the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea urged Australia to ‘stop stealing and occupying the Timor Sea’:

For many years, Australia has been stealing the oil and gas from the Timor Sea, in an area which belongs to Timor-Leste under international legal principles. Sadly, Australia has shown its manner and its greed to make our small and poor country in this region lose our resources and sovereignty.

Stop stealing and occupying the Timor Sea, but show your good will as a large nation which follows democratic principles to accept a maritime boundary which follows international law principles.

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign provides a background to the uneven gas negotiation between Australia and East Timor

As a sovereign nation East Timor wants maritime boundaries and is legally entitled to have them. Unfortunately, the Australian Government has persistently refused to establish permanent maritime boundaries with East Timor in accordance with current international law.

The uneven negotiating positions have resulted in a series of temporary resource sharing agreements that short-change East Timor of billions of dollars worth of government royalties generated by oil and gas resources located in the Timor Sea.

The Dili protests were documented on Twitter:

La’o Hamutuk calculated the amount which Australia ‘stole’ from East Timor:

How much money has Australia taken from Timor-Leste? Our very conservative calculations show that Australia received more than two billion U.S. dollars in government revenues from Laminaria-Corallina through the end of 2012, and the actual figure is significantly higher.

December 10 2013

Mandela: Friend of Timor Leste and Indonesian Batik Fashion Icon

Southeast Asian nations joined the world in mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero and first black president. Mandela is also remembered in the region as a leader who supported the independence struggle of Timor Leste and the most popular endorser of batik, a traditional Indonesian shirt.

Following his release from jail in 1990, Mandela visited Jakarta and received a souvenir batik shirt from then President Suharto. He eventually made the batik shirt his trademark suit in international gatherings which impressed Indonesian leaders including former Vice President Jusuf Kalla:

He had the courage to wear batik during a United Nations’ session. Even I might have had doubts wearing a batik shirt and speaking before the audience at a UN meeting.

Some of Mandela’s batik shirts were designed by Indonesian batik maestro Iwan Tirta. In South Africa, the batik came to be known as the Madiba shirt. Iwan believes that the batik has enhanced Mandela’s charisma as a fighter:

Mandela is a strong prominent figure who suits my batik collection. He does not only look appealing, but his fighter’s charisma is enhanced even more when he wears batik.

Jakarta Globe’s editorial urges Indonesian leaders to emulate the leadership of Mandela:

His passing is a moment for all of us to reflect on our own lives. Too many politicians today, including those in Indonesia, are too self-centered and concerned with immediate gain rather than working for a long-term goal.

On Twitter, Indonesians praised Mandela for wearing the batik:

Meanwhile, journalist Aboeprijadi Santoso recognized Mandela’s role in raising the prestige of the liberation movement in East Timor. When Mandela met Suharto in November 1997, he insisted to have a talk with Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao who was imprisoned for leading the independence struggle against Indonesia. Aboeprijadi Santoso wrote:

Mandela’s intervention and encounter with Xanana became public relation’s greatest victory for the Timorese. The 1997 momentum had, therefore contributed to the changing circumstances and awareness among both the Timorese resistance and in the international community.

Xanana Gusmão recalled the circumstances of that historic meeting:

He had told Suharto that it wasn’t possible for him to avoid bringing up the problem of East Timor since prior to his departure from Africa various human rights organisations had demanded that he do just this. And he had requested a meeting with me. At first, Suharto didn’t accept the request. However, Mandela explained to the dictator that when he himself was in prison he had received visits from various foreign entities (he named them all one by one, but I don’t remember now who they were) and also South African government officials. And apparently this had the effect of changing Suharto’s mind. He told me that his intervention was in the context of achieving peace, and he spoke of the need for peace …. and we began our meal.

October 25 2013

VIDEO: “Myths and Murals” of East Timor

East Timorese and Australian artists have come together to reflect and create around Myths and Murals, ”promoting a common sense of national identity through art and story and collaborative strategies for engagement”.

The cross-cultural public art and literacy project, between artists from Melbourne and the East Timorese free art school Arte Moris, takes on the well-known legend of the creation of East Timor, The Boy and the Crocodile, to create a series of murals throughout the territory, as the synopsis of the project explains:

13 murals will be painted in public locations in each of the 13 districts of East Timor. The murals will leave unique cultural heritage for cultural tourism and serve as a symbolic reminder of East Timor's shared identity and the spirit of collaboration. Using The Boy and the Crocodile in a workshop environment, artists from East Timor's free art school, Arte Moris, lead students through the visualisation of their region’s myths. Students and teachers then collaborate on painting these stories.

October 11 2013

Re-Imagining Lusophony and Decolonizing the Mind

The Fourth International Congress in Cultural Studies – Colonialisms, Post-colonialisms and Lusophonies has a call for paper submissions open until October 15, 2013:

To demystify, to dehierarchize, to establish a policy of difference, to allow a multiplicity of voices, to constitute so many projects of possible modernities/rationalities within post-modernity, to mobilize, to re-politicize, to imagine other political, social and economical models, this is the task (utopian, of course) that is, for us, essential in the re-imagining of Lusophony.

(…)

A postcolonial reflection in a Lusophone context cannot avoid the exercise of criticism to the old dichotomies of periphery/center, cosmopolitanism/rurality, civilized/savage, black/white, north/south, in a context of cultural globalization, transformed by new and revolutionary communication phenomena, which have also globalized marginality.

The congress will take place from April 28 to 30, 2014, in the city of Aveiro, Portugal.

September 17 2013

Film Screening of East Timor's First Feature in Dili

Co-Director Bety Reis. A Guerra Da Beatriz is co-written by Irim Tolentino, an award winning Timorese author, and Luigi Acquisto.  Stella Zammataro is the producer and Jose Da Costa from Dili Film Works is co-producing. The crew is made up of over thirty Timorese across all departments. Four Australian crew, with a long connection to East Timor, also worked on the film.

Co-Director Bety Reis and the crew of A Guerra Da Beatriz, made up of over 30 Timorese accross all departments.

The Díli premiere of East Timor’s first locally produced feature film, A Guerra da Beatriz (Beatriz’s War), takes place today, September 17, 2013. The love story spans the years of Indonesian occupation and beyond (1975 – 2009):

[confronting] the issues at the heart of modern East Timor: forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice.

The producers, FairTrade Film and Dili Film Works, relied on fundraising to make this film possible. A crowdfunding campaign was launched on indiegogo in early 2011 and a series of weekly film screenings (announced on the Facebook page of A Guerra da Beatriz) also helped to raise funds.

September 09 2013

East Timor: “Literacy Often Falls by the Way Side”

“East Timor waiting for school to start”, Same (06/09/2010). Photo by john.hession on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Marking the International Literacy Day, September 8, The Asia Foundation's blog, In Asia presents striking numbers on the quality of educational outcomes in Timor-Leste, a country where “education, and literacy in particular, too often falls by the wayside”:

World Bank research found that 70 percent of first grade students in Timor-Leste were unable to read a single word of a simple text passage randomly selected in either of the country’s official languages, Portuguese or Tetun.

The Silent Crisis in Timor-Leste’s Development Trajectory‘ by The Asia Foundation's Country Representative in Timor-Leste, Susan Marx, and Mário F. Costa Pinhero, stresses the ongoing debate on the language policy of Asia’s youngest nation. As Global Voices reported back in 2011, the number of national languages is up to 16 and dozens of other dialects are used on a daily basis by Timorese citizens. The article addresses progress and hindrance to government's strategies, and states that “a more fundamental challenge lies in the overwhelming lack of a reading culture“.

 

 

August 21 2013

VIDEO: “Mermaids of Timor-Leste”

“The making of WAWATA TOPU #35 -
Walking the sea.” Photo by Nuno Da Silva.

A film about four generations of fisherwomen striving to make a living in the coastal village of Adara, in the small island of Ataúro, Timor-Leste is soon to be released - but you can already have a glimpse on what is coming at the Facebook page Wawata topu (Women Divers):

Their daily lives, their economic practices and their vital concerns, as well as the contradicting discourses and social barriers they face, are shown in this ethnographic portrait that makes visible their critical contribution to the household economies and the fishing community at large. Their underwater dancing takes place in a context of rapid social change, where the generalization of the formal education, the progressive consolidation of western moral values and the potential openness of more attractive livelihoods not linked to the sea, seem to be forging a social negotiation of the household economic strategies initiated by the oldest generation during the 50´s.

Have a look at the trailer of Wawata Topu, by David Palazón and Enrique Alonso:

The Facebook page gathers several photos and videos of the making of, including the screening of the work in progress at the Adara village on June 1, 2013.

August 12 2013

Whistleblower Protection Urged to Fight Corruption in East Timor

Jose Antonio Belo, editor of Tempo Semanal, discussed the anti-corruption crusade of the paper in East Timor. He also urged the passage of a Whistleblower Protection legislation to fight corruption.

We must find ways to support and protect people who blow the whistle on corruption. They must not be allowed to feel powerless and alone – afraid of speaking out.

May 09 2013

Drug Trafficking on the Rise in Timor Leste

The East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin features the worsening drug trafficking problem in Timor Leste. It quoted a government report which recognized that the country is being used as a “transit zone for criminals smuggling drugs into both Indonesia and Australia.”

Timor Leste's Bid to Join ASEAN

Julio Gil da Silva Guterres writes about Timor Leste's application to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN. He warns that “ASEAN without Timor Leste is the same as a state without sovereignty.”

April 02 2013

Foreign Investment Sidelines East Timorese

Olavio Quintas, from the eastern tip of Timor, expresses his frustration with “development” in his country to Radio Liberdade Dili. He says “Timorese people have become observers to foreigners’ investments” lamenting the lack of employment for young people, as investors and government do not trust Timorese to do the smallest tasks.

March 18 2013

East Timor a “failed state-in-waiting”?

The La'o Hamutuk NGO links to an editorial of the influential Petroleum Economist which discusses the problems faced by East Timor's economy:

Timor-Leste was once seen as the poster child for developing nations. It had natural resources, a comprehensive legal framework covering their extraction and an oil fund. Now, almost 11 years after attaining independence, the country better resembles a problem child.

January 11 2013

Nobel Peacemaker Ramos Horta's Mission to Guinea Bissau

The political chaos in which Guinea Bissau finds itself embroiled - still more so since the April 2012 coup d'etat - may be a little closer to finding a resolution with the recent appointment of Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, to lead the United Nations Integrated Peace-Building Office (UNIOGBIS) in the country from February.

Political and military instability has been a constant feature of life in Guinea Bissau, a country which, since its independence from colonial Portugal in 1974, has never seen an elected president reach the end of their mandate. In April 2012, a few days after the second round of the presidential elections, the country was plunged into a new crisis with a military coup d'etat which placed the current “transition government” in power.

Ramos Horta has now been appointed to “consolidate peace”, succeeding the Rwandan Joseph Mutaboba, whose mandate ended at the end of January. His appointment has been praised by international diplomats [pt] and Guinean civil society organisations alike. An article [pt] published in Deutsche Welle (DW) explains why:

Ramos Horta on a state visit to the Maldives, as President of East Timor. Photo by Mauroof Khaleel on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ramos Horta on a state visit to the Maldives, as President of East Timor. Photo by Mauroof Khaleel on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Presidente de Timor-Leste entre 2007 e 2012 e anteriormente ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros, Ramos-Horta dispõe de experiência diplomática e de influência internacional, algo que poderá ser relevante para voltar a colocar a Guiné-Bissau na agenda política mundial. Foi condenado ao exílio forçado nos Estados Unidos na sequência da invasão indonésia do seu país e durante 24 anos defendeu a causa timorense na Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) e nas capitais mundiais. Em 1996, o seu esforço valeu-lhe o Prémio Nobel da Paz, que partilhou com o bispo de Díli D. Ximenes Belo.

President of East Timor between 2007 and 2012 and former minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramos-Horta has both diplomatic experience and international influence, something which will be important in order to put Guinea Bissau back on the global political agenda. He was condemned to forced exile in the United States following the Indonesian invasion of his country, and for 24 years he defended the Timorese cause at the United Nations (UN) and in the global capitals. In 1996, his efforts were rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with the bishop of Dili, Ximenes Belo.

While many people consider the appointment of Ramos Horta to be a “good omen”, Nádia Issufo, a Mozambican journalist, suggests that it could represent a “poisoned gift” for the transition government. On her personal blog, Acalmar as Almas [Calming Souls], she points to various organisations representing the international community which have tried to intervene in the current political situation in Guinea Bissau, of which she highlights the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), which does not recognise the current transition government, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which does recognise it:

Está assumido pelo governo de transição guineense que a CPLP não é exatamente bem vinda na negociação da sua crise. A CEDEAO é o parceiro confiado de Bissau. Por exemplo, recentemente o governo de Serifo Nhamadjo disse estar satisfeito com a presença das forças desta organização no país, apesar da Liga dos Direitos Humanos Guineense afirmar que a tal força assiste impávida as violações dos direitos humanos no país.

(…)

A nomeação de um representante da ONU proveniente de um país membro da CPLP, pode parecer inocente, mas em termo práticos isola e sufoca a CEDEAO e obviamente a Guiné-Bissau. Quer queira quer não, de alguma maneira o governo de transição é obrigado a engolir a CPLP, se não desliza com mel, então…

Enquanto a guerra entre a CEDEAO e a CPLP não terminar as chances para uma saída pacífica são mínimas. Sabemos que no fundo a disputa é dominada por Angola, que se quer impor no continente africano ao nível diplomático, e a Nigéria que quer também o posto. Portanto, está um país a afundar-se também em nome de ambições alheias.

It is assumed by the Guinean transition government that the CPLP is not exactly welcome in the negotiation of its crisis. ECOWAS is Bissau's trusted partner. For example, Serifo Nhamadjo's government recently said that it was satisfied with the presence of ECOWAS forces in the country, in spite of claims by the Guinean Human Rights League that these forces were passively observing human rights violations in the country.

(…)

The appointment of a UN representative originating from a member state of the CPLP may appear to be innocent, but in practical terms it isolates and suffocates ECOWAS and of course, Guinea Bissau. Like it or not, in some way the transition government is obliged to swallow the CPLP, if it doesn't slip down easily, then…

As long as the war between ECOWAS and the CPLP continues, the likelihood of a peaceful exit is minimal. We know deep down that the dispute is dominated by Angola, which wants to impose itself on the African continent on a diplomatic level, and Nigeria which also wants that position. Therefore, it is a country which is sinking also under the weight of foreign ambitions.

Guinea Wants Peace. Photo by Sofia da Palma Rodrigues on the blog Brancon'pelele (used with permission)

“Guinea Wants Peace. Photo by Sofia da Palma Rodrigues on the blog Brancon'pelele

The “foreign ambitions” to which Nádia refers are also mentioned by Portuguese political marketing consultant José Paulo Fafe, who comments [pt] on his blog:

Recorde-se que, em 2004, Ramos Horta chefiou a missão da CPLP que “fiscalizou” (sem grande sucesso, diga-se de passagem…) as eleições naquele país, quando sob o olhar cúmplice da comunidade internacional e do governo então chefiado por Durão Barroso, se sucederam as fraudes e as “chapeladas” por todo o território. Esperemos agora que o antigo mandatário timorense “emende a mão” e, pelo menos, não seja à semelhança do chefe da diplomacia portuguesa [Paulo Portas], um porta-voz dos interesses angolanos naquele país. É que para mandarete, já basta o que temos…

It must be remembered that in 2004, Ramos Horta led the CPLP mission to “oversee” (without great success, by the way…) this country's elections, when under the complicit gaze of the international community and the government then led by Durão Barroso, fraud and “ballot-box stuffing” took place all over the country. Let us hope now that the former leader of East Timor “corrects his hand” and, at least, does not resemble the head of Portuguese diplomacy [Paulo Portas], a spokesman for Angolan interests in the country. We've got enough errand boys as it is…

Journalist Helena Ferro de Gouveia, on the blog Domadora de Camaleões [Tamer of Chamaeleons], says that Ramos Horta, “the man who declared that ‘Timor ida deit'” (Timor is a single country), calling for the union of the Timorese people, could be “the right man to prevent the future from deserting Guinea and to help the country to find a way home”, but she points out some of the difficulties which he may encounter:

- A ossatura de um Estado faz-se de dois pilares: o da segurança e o da justiça; na Guiné-Bissau, o pilar da segurança ruiu há muito e o sistema de justiça é inexistente.

- O uso da força pelos militares [substituiu] as instituições do Estado. Sem ajuda externa para acabar com o envolvimento das Forças Armadas na política, é impossível acabar com a chantagem dos militares sobre os políticos, a sua manipulação do poder legislativo e do poder judicial e o deslizar  do país para o tráfico de drogas entre a América Latina e a Europa.

- The frame of a state comprises of two pillars: security and justice; in Guinea Bissau, the security pillar collapsed a long time ago and the justice system is inexistent.

- The use of force by soldiers [has replaced] state institutions. Without external help to put an end to the involvement of the Armed Forces in politics, it will be impossible to stop blackmail by soldiers over politicians, their manipulation of legislative and judicial power and the slide of the country into becoming a point on the drug-trafficking route between Latin America and Europe.

Remaining on the subject of drug trafficking, an editorial on the blog Página Global [Global Page] [pt], dedicated to Lusophone countries, says that this is a “burden which weighs excessively on the Guinean people (…) who are struggling with a crisis caused by corrupt officials and coupists linked to drug cartels”:

A determinação de fazer da Guiné-Bissau um território sobre a posse do narcotráfico é por demais evidente e não será Ramos Horta que conseguirá mudar o curso desses objetivos se a comunidade internacional, a ONU, não der um “murro na mesa” e usar os argumentos e provas que possui para criminalizar em Tribunal Internacional os criminosos e cúmplices que detêm os poderes e a sistemática subjugação do país aos ditames do narcotráfico, dos golpismos e de prepotência. Basta de impunidades.

The determination to make Guinea Bissau into a territory in the possession of drug traffickers is quite evident and Ramos Horta will not manage to change the course of these objectives if the international community, the UN, doesn't put its foot down and use the arguments and evidence which it possesses to prosecute in an International Tribunal the criminals and their accomplices who are holding onto power and systematically subjecting the country to the dictates of the drug trafficking industry, of the coupists and of arrogance. Enough impunity.

December 31 2012

From Indigenous Protests to Online Preaching, Portuguese Language Countries in 2012

Every year, as the last days of the calendar approach, we select a few glimpses of citizen media from the action and imagination of the Portuguese-speaking online world.

Mainstream media often fails to provide broader and deeper coverage of social, cultural, political and environmental issues occurring in any of the eight lusophone countries. But citizen media from this vast linguistic region that spreads across the globe, has been there to fill some of the gaps and to fuel public awareness.

Such has been the case of the coverage of development policies adopted by the Brazilian government, and the consequences that directly affected river-dwellers, ‘caboclos' and indigenous communities across the country, and particularly in the Amazon. The construction of the Belo Monte Dam in the Xingu river, has perhaps become one of the strongest causes at the national level and beyond borders. In October, Sany Kalapalo, a young indigenous and a Xingu activist, told us how she makes use of the Internet as a tool to disclose indigenous culture and to mobilize people towards her campaign to protect the Volta Grande do Xingu region in the state of Pará.

In November, the Cry of Resistance of the Guarani Kaiowá quickly spread from the village of Pyelito Key/Mbarakay, in the town of Iguatemi, State of Mato Grosso do Sul, to a worldwide wave of protests in solidarity with the indigenous rights for their lands.

In November, the Cry of Resistance of the Guarani Kaiowá triggered a worldwide wave of protests in solidarity with the Indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá and their cause.

Photo of 5,000 crosses planted in Brasilia. Image from the Facebook page of Itiban Comic Shop

Throughout the year, a series of articles on Brazilian migration has taken us in journeys we don't embark upon through mainstream media.

From a “Dekasegibridge-blogger in Japan for the Brazilian community after the earthquake, to the 93 year-old Syrian migrant living in the state of São Paulo, passing through the history of the “Brazilebanese“, or Brazilians from Lebanon, and other stories. Brazilian immigration policy itself faces new challenges. In December, immigrant associations in Sao Paulo organized a rally demanding more rights with regard to the law of the country. Brazilian emigration too has been under debate, particularly through the lens of how Brazilian women are seen abroad, after highly criticized statements from the President of the Portuguese Bar Association at the end of the year, who said that what Brazil exports the most to Portugal is prostitutes.

To calm down the waters surrounding that debate, and bringing a bit of music to the mix, something that Brazilians have also exported this year was Michel Telo's hit ‘Oh if I Catch You' song, whose official video on YouTube has already reached an impressive 470 million visits. Although Telo's major worldwide success didn't reach the numbers of Gangnam style, it did indeed spark a global phenomenon of “Telobalization” at the beginning of the year, with the appropriation of the song for new versions in dozens of different languages. It also attracted some critics due to the arguable quality of Telo's work, and whether or not it should represent Brazilian culture abroad.

On culture and literacy, we highlight the Bicicloteca, a bicycle that carries a small library and free solar-powered internet access to the homeless of the city of São Paulo, and a creative writing competition promoted by the young Cape Verdean journalist Odair Varela on his blog over the course of seven weeks.

Platforms for civic participation

Interesting initiatives for civic participation that bridge the offline and the online worlds arose in Mozambique in 2012.

Up North, in Cabo Delgado, an "open terrace" hosts monthly public debates - which are transcribed live to Facebook - allowing for the discussion and dissemination of important issues such as the missing transparency in the extractive mega projects in the country.

In the Northern region of Mozambique, in Cabo Delgado, an “open terrace” hosts monthly public debates - which are transcribed live to Facebook - allowing for the discussion and dissemination of important issues such as the missing transparency in the extractive mega projects in the country. Photo by Terraço Aberto (Public Debate in Cabo Delgado) on Facebook

The People's Wall of Maputo, an authentic ”offline Facebook wall” in the extensive outer wall of @Verdade newspaper's building, allows for any citizen to express his or her complaints in a public and open way. Messages are later transcribed to @Verdade's media outlets, such as their print newspaper but also Facebook page and website.

A local diving school in Tofo, Bitonga Divers, has been raising awareness on the need to defend marine life against overfishing at one of Mozambique's most important tourist beaches.

Whereas in Guinea Bissau, where there is a huge Internet accessibility gap, a digital inclusion project called CENATIC - a computer center featured by Rising Voices in April - unfortunately had to shut down at the end of the year due to the high costs to support it. CENATIC was launched by a local NGO and aimed at providing more affordable access and support to individuals and organizations interested in exploring how a better connection can benefit their work.

From Sao Tome and Principe, STP Radio (Somos Todos Primos / We Are All Cousins)

In December Global Voices interviewed STP Radio (Somos Todos Primos / We Are All Cousins), from Sao Tome and Principe, an online community radio that plays an important role uniting the diaspora.

The future awaits

In the political arenas, 2012 was a year of presidential and parliamentary elections in East Timor, municipal elections in Brazil and local elections in Cape Verde. In Angola, Eduardo dos Santos was re-elected after 33 years in power. The country's complex path of development through the lens of citizen media is summarized in a separate post, Year of Change in Angola, But Everything Stays the Same.

By the end of November, São Tomé and Principe plunged into a political crisis, and in Guinea Bissau another military coup d'etat toppled the government in April 2012. A post from October reads:

While the international institutions express “concern” and conduct meetings, the people of Guinea-Bissau have little outlet for their fears and frustrations.

In Portugal, there were plenty of protests and two general strikes against the austerity measures in the European economic crisis scenario which develops into harder life conditions for the general population. The most participated demonstration took place in September under the motto “Screw Troika! We Want Our Lives”.

Among the multiplicity of conventional uses of digital platforms for activism, one of the most curious characters that caught our attention early in the year is in fact a 75 year old priest and writer called Mário Pais de Oliveira. He religiously uses social networks to share his very particular - and disruptive - thoughts on current events, and has hundreds of videos on Youtube and thousands of friends on Facebook. We finish this roundup of the year with a simple quote from one of his subversive homilies. Whatever 2013 brings:

We must come up with new ways to transform society

December 27 2012

Witchcraft and Dispute Resolution in East Timor

Following the report of the murder of an alleged witch in Maubisse, Timor Leste, on December 21, 2012, Australian anthropologist Matthew Libbis writes a comment on witchcraft and dispute resolution on the blog East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin.

December 12 2012

Reflections on Teaching in Portuguese in East Timor

Valdir Lamim-Guedes, a Brazilian biologist, who blogs at Na Raiz [pt], shared an article he published together with Carlos Junior Gontijo-Rosa on the Global Education Magazine about their experience as visiting professors at the National University of Timor-Leste in 2012, focusing on the challenges of teaching in Portuguese. Despite being one of the official languages, the majority of the population doesn't speak it.

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