Youtube. Rice.

With the shocking turn of events in East Timor, I feel compelled to make a couple of comments.

Firstly, around Alfredo Reinado’s significance on the internet. A number of Australian journalist interviews and even an Indonesian talkshow interview are available on the web. But a couple of weeks back, a video was posted on Youtube of Reinado speaking in (rather incoherent) English. His purpose was to turn the blame on Xanana. To expose his anger and sense of betrayal, and assert his continuing importance. He says menacingly, “There is no guarantee after this New Year.” He warns foreign investors against coming to Timor. This video was filmed with professional-type attention to sound, with a conspicuous microphone. This video is significant because it appears to be his initiative. This is what the poster, Tatolivideo, wrote:

Alfredo Reinado is a former army major of Timor-Leste’s defence force, the F-FDTL. In mid 2006 he mutinied and began a campaign of terror against Timor-Leste and its democratically elected government. Evidence has been mounting eversince that Reinado’s actions araised from a conspiracy by the then president, Mr. Jose Alexandre Gusmao “Xanana” and his allies to topple the FRETILIN government. In this video Reinado reveals that the author of the violence was none other than Mr. Gusmao himself, who was recently appointed prime minister despite his own political party coming second at the national elections. This video has been shot by an annonymous film maker and is widely available Timor-Leste. The TVTL, the only television service and is run by the state and by Gusmao loyalists, has refused to air this video.

The internet appears to be important in relation to the image and “reality” of Alfredo to a certain group. On this site, hits peaked over the last couple of days, the majority surfed their way here with search engines, looking for “Alfredo Reinado.” Many of the search phrases indicate people wanted to see a photo of Alfredo Reinado’s dead body on the pavement in front of Ramos Horta’s house. (Which was shown to reporters in Timor and featured prominently and with no warning on Portuguese news broadcasts, and is available via Lusa news agency.)

Secondly, I would like to remind that an article written a year ago about the connection between IDPs, rice rations, and Reinado is very relevant to the current situation. Kammen and Hayati suggest a connection between the rice crisis of February 2007 and Reinado:

In late February, individuals reported to be in regular contact with Reinado organized a demonstration about the shortage of rice and called for people from the western districts to come into Dili for a major rally.

They suggest that rice plays a major role in the continuation of the crize.

What is clear is that the rice shortage is neither a conspiracy intended to discredit the government nor a plan by the government to win the upcoming 2007 election. Instead, all indications are that the Ministry of Development’s food security program has involved a lack of transparency (if not outright corruption), that the state lacks the capacity to channel rice to the population in an equitable and efficient manner, and that by taking rice off the market government purchases may in fact be the primary cause of the crisis.

It seems in looking at rice, there is a greater issue of import and marketing of rice on the markets, and there is the issue of the rice rations provided to IDPs by WFP and the government. The two are clearly connected, but I have yet to see a model explaining how massive feeding programmes affect urban food markets in Timor. I started by reading up on WFP’s change of heart about feeding the entire IDP population.

WFP’s findings from recent studies (see links on the right) indicate that when looking at the two groups as a whole, IDPs are not any more vulnerable to food insecurity than those residing in their homes in Dili. This provided the justification it needed to decide to cut food rations in half for Dili IDPs, which officially occurred on February 4. (Within the IDP group, there are vulnerable subsets, and it appears that the government and WFP have plans to provide targeted assistance.)

On the issue of importation/marketing and government emergency supplies of rice, I have to find out more. I will be reading much more on the issue of urban food security and the interplay with the petitioners and Reinado. But clearly the two remained linked, but most likely not directly.

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