Communication breakdown

To catch my readers up on the recent events in Dili, which I’m sure have been misreported, manipulated and distorted by a pathetic and frequently vacationing western media, there have been a number of incidents in the past couple of days. This is not really seen as any kind of escalation, it’s merely a continuation of the status quo after a bit of a lull last week.

Following an incident of rock throwing at a wedding in Lorumatan, near the old Comoro market, on Saturday, there was violence on Sunday, which I saw on my return from Maubara.

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After that there was rocking throwing in Jardim (Kolmera), in front of the port area, literally in front of the five star hotel where all the VIPs stay.

There maybe have been incidents in Caicoli, but they were not serious.

In Comoro, two days ago, things began heating up with something like 7 more houses burned, and one person injured. Then two nights ago, two Molotov cocktails thrown into the Jardim camp (Kolmera), it’s unclear about injuries. That same night, early in the morning, a group of up to 200 hundred youths (unconfirmed, as is everything) attacked the Airport Camp at around 5am. I think there were injuries, and the GNR came in with great force. Rubber bullets quite likely were used.

Docogirl reports that yesterday, after some rather routine rock-throwing into Jardim, Australian peacekeepers and Portuguese GNR arrived. The Australians basically assembled shoulder to shoulder and blasted into the camp, in a line. (When it was people outside the camp who apparently started the whole thing, and they were long gone.) Then the GNR apparently started throwing teargas in there like water balloons, and the whole thing got very ugly.

The Timor Post says they arrested 29 young men at the camp. The paper “confirms” (or repeats) word on the street that the kids arrested were not the trouble makers.

Taxi drivers don’t seem to like GNR. Very few people are supporting their heavy-handed tactics, which I find surprising. Because in the riots of 2002, people were calling for harder measures, more bullets. Real bullets.

What has struck me most in talking with Timorese people about the current situation is the way in which different groups distribute the blame. I can make a couple of basic generalizations.

The Timorese diaspora, or educated class with good jobs here in Dili, tend to blame the ema beik, the stupid people who have come from the districts and live in these shitty peripheral neighborhoods in Dili. Why do they resort to violence? They are ignorant. Beik. I have to say this reeks of condescension to me.

Then the average person, lucky to be making $80/month, the taxi driver, the maid or the security guard (those are basically the only jobs of that kind) thinks that the politicians and the political class is almost entirely to blame. The ema boot, many of whom spent decades abroad, and have now come to scramble for personal influence, disregarding the needs of the suffering Timorese people.

The lefty NGO community in Farol tends to side with the government, assigning limited blame for certain miscalculations it has made. The government has done a good job protecting Timor from the predatory World Bank, its Health and Education work has been pretty good, and in the end these guys want to see the “revolution” prevail, and they see Fretilin as the only way. I do detect the blame being shifted to Western imperialism, the fight for the Timor Gap. While not all people there blame Australia for attempting to bring down Alkatiri, there seems to be consensus that the Market forces, capitalism, and certain hegemonic foreign “interests” are behind the unrest.

It is rare when you find somebody to admit that all sides are screwing things up. The politicians are to blame, the ruling party, the opposition, the President all have shown a dire lack of maturity. But the “little people” too have fallen very easily into the absurd eye for an eye mentality. And it’s probably true that Australia (and Portugal) to some extent have used the Petitioners crisis to reassert their influence on the place and promote their national interests above the interests of the Timorese. And of course, there is consensus that instead of a UN posterchild, Timor was a quiet flop, a failure, that is now a real squeaking wheel. So now they are going to throw another $300 million at the situation.

Very few people can admit that Alkatiri had some merit, but really created too many enemies with his personal style and intransigence. Few are willing to rationally doubt the actions of all politicians, but support the current government because it is obviously the only way out.

Yesterday I met up with Pedro Lebre, who has been a longtime friend of solidarity activists from all over the world. He has been hosting journalists, activists and now solidarity tourists for over a decade in his Vila Harmonia in Becora. Part of it was burned, when he left briefly in June because, as he said “I didn’t want to be killed by idiots.” He confided to me that this whole situation, more than anything makes him ashamed. He blames the politicians, fair and square. He had told me years ago that he knew Timorese politics was poisonous. Back in 1975, and he knew it after 1999 too.

He will dedicate the rest of his life to promoting Timorese culture and tourism, which he believes go hand in hand.

He is talking about moving back up to his mountain village, where he grew up in the shadow of Mount Matebian. He is writing his memoir in Tetun, a gargantuan task, and he says that when he thinks back to the 1950s and 1960s, he was still living like “a primitive” which seems unbelievable but true. I said, but “a happy primitive”? He just kind of looked off, saying “yeah” softly but already mentally transported to his childhood, which was a tough but perhaps a less bitter, more hopeful place.

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