John Pilger’s East Timor: Death of a Nation

- Alastair Reith

from The Spark October 2007

If you live in Dunedin, you should have come along to the film screening Solidarity organised recently of the John Pilger documentary East Timor: Death of a Nation.

In the film, Pilger shows how Australia, New Zealand, the US, Britain, and just about every other government in the world gave the brutal Indonesian dictator Suharto financial, diplomatic and even military support during his reign, at the very same time as he was oppressing East Timor and in the full knowledge that any weapons they sold him would be used to murder the Timorese people.

Fretilin guerrillas, without any outside help or support, fought against the Indonesian occupation for the entire time, using captured weapons and ammunition, and propped up only by the support of the Timorese people and the knowledge that they were fighting for a just cause.

Eventually, in the late 90s, Suharto was overthrown, and in the ensuing disorder Fretilin forces turned the tide and began to push back the occupying forces.

Australia was alarmed by this. It had done well from Suharto’s occupation of East Timor - for example, signing a treaty with Suharto’s government that gave it the right to exploit the massive oil and natural gas reserves off the coast of East Timor. Needless to say, the Timorese people were not consulted over the theft of their natural resources.

It obviously didn’t like the idea of a leftist, militant national liberation group which had condemned it for supporting the occupation and stealing the Timorese people’s resources taking power.

So, by this time it’s obvious that independence is coming, whether Australia and its fellow imperialist buddies like it or not. So now they have the choice between independence on the Timorese people’s terms, with a transitional revolutionary Fretilin government in charge, and in all likelihood nationalisation of the Timorese people’s resources, or they have the choice of independence on their own terms. Take a guess which option they chose…

An Australian-led and UN-backed military force then invaded East Timor. It was obvious that Fretilin had the Indonesian army and the pro-Indonesia paramilitaries on the back foot by now, but hey, obviously the rich white man knows what’s best. Their first actions were to disarm Fretilin forces, and intern them unarmed in concentration camps. They did not disarm the pro-Indonesia paramilitaries, they didn’t even try to do so, and the paras were left free to go on a murderous rampage throughout East Timor for the next wee while.

It’s very similar, actually, to what the US did to Cuba in the Spanish-American War, where the Cuban people had been fighting Spain for about 20 years and had almost won, when the US suddenly invaded and made sure that Cuban independence was on their terms.

This was no “liberation”. The Timorese people could have and would have won that for themselves, and if we really wanted to help them do so, we would have supported them in it. Instead, imperialism invaded and made sure that the newly independent state would not get too uppity, and that all their business investments would be kept secure. Who cares about the needs of the Timorese people so long as Australian and New Zealand capitalists are kept happy?

Today East Timor is one of the poorest nations in the world, despite its huge natural wealth, which is instead ruthlessly exploited by foreign capitalists.

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