National Sections of the L5I:

East Timor: working class unity – not military intervention

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This Saturday a planned meeting initiated by prime minister Mari Alkatiri, that was suppose to solve the current political turmoil in East Timor through the election of new political leaders, could not be held due to mass protests on the streets outside the Fretilin party headquarter. Tanks from the “international forces”, that is the imperialist UN army installed in East Timor, were finally used to block the entrance as furious masses of protesters tried to get in. In the end, only 20 of the expected 81 members of the party showed up for the meeting, and Mari Alkatari wasn´t one of them.

The current conflict in East Timor started in late April after hundreds of soldiers in the western part of the country signed a petition against discrimination in the army. A demonstration by the signers on the 28th of April turned violent with 25 people killed and 150 000 people having to escape. A rebel army leader, Major Alfredo Reinado, and his group of soldiers went up in the mountains proclaiming his resistance to Mari Alkatiri and his loyalty to president Xanana Gusmao.

Prime Minister Alkatiri and his faction in Fretilin, despite their nationalistic rhetoric, represents the interests of Portuguese capital trying to get its share of the profits deriving from neoliberal super-exploitation of the country’s wealth. Under his reign corruption has increased severely to the hatred and disgust of the masses, living in deep poverty in South East Asia’s poorest country. Now the party is divided with Alkatiri on the one side and the former leader of the liberation movement, president Xanana Gusmao on the other.

Gusmao on his part is the partner favoured by the Australian imperialist government. Gusmao’s willingness to compromise with imperialism was testified to when he accepted a peace where independence from Indonesia was traded for economic (and now military) dependence upon imperialist powers such as Australia. He also has no real alternative solution to the current crises. Even though he has repeatedly demanded that Alkatiri must take responsibility for the killings in May and the eruption of the conflict, and also that he should resign, he has this weekend expressed his hopes that the planned meeting would mean some kind of solution to the crises…

The eruption of the conflict within Fretilin and in the army— on which imperialism, Australian or Portuguese, to give the lion’s share of East Timor and its surrounding seas’ natural wealth to, shattered the fragile unity created by the independence struggle. It has led to the country’s being divided into two halves to tensions erupting between different tribes and even families. It has lead to something like ethnic cleansing in the suburbs of Dili, the capital of East Timor.

These tensions are in its final analysis the result of the terrible economic and social situations for the masses in East Timor. This situation is the result of the sell-out of the Fretilin party to imperialist capital and it’s bowing to neoliberal economic reform introduced after the county’s independence from Indonesia in 1999. In addition the generous but vague offers of the “western” imperialist powers to develop East Timor, made around independence, have like most such promises, funnily enough totally failed to materialise.

Today the situation for the masses of East Timor is appalling. The last 7 years the Fretilin government has had almost no resources to invest in the needs of the masses. Only 50 percent of the youth has no access to schoolbooks and illiteracy among youth is as high as 25 percent. Unemployment is in the current situation at a level of 50 percent offering little hope for the future of younger generations. Half of the population lacks access to clean water and 3 out of 5 East Timorese lacks sanitary facilities.

The eruption of open violence was the just the excuse the Australian government was looking for to intervene, with some 2200 soldiers. In the end Australia’s troop presence has nothing to do with bringing the current crises to a progressive solution. These will not build schools or create new jobs. The presence of the troops is rather a question of strengthening Australian imperialism’s control over the country and forcing a reactionary form of stability upon it.

Australian MNCs’ exploitation of East Timor’s natural resources, topped with it’s stealing of oil and gas resources in the Timor lake to a value of one million Australian dollars a day, is a valuable resource for the Australian capitalist class. This means 365 million dollars a year, to compare with the Australian governments aid to East Timor, only 43 million dollars for 2006 and 2007. It is in the interests of this class interests that the military intervention was launched.

The most alarming issue in the current situation is the absence of an independent working class party and trade unions that can protect and fight for workers interests. Forming a working class alternative is the only progressive way forward now. Such an alternative could unite the different the working people independently of their tribe loyalties around a programme to end the crises.

Such a programme would necessarily need to be a revolutionary action programme. It would have to set for itself the tasks of throwing out the imperialist forces, nationalising without compensation the oil, gas and other resources, placing them under workers control and protected by a workers militia. Without this there will be no end to the social and economic crises.

It is high time to re-launch the struggle for real independence of the East Timorese people. This means a break from the both of the bourgeois nationalist factions of Fretilin, both the pro-Portuguese and the pro-Australian imperialists. Such independence could only be the result of the revolutionary struggle of the working class and must culminate in the creation of a workers and poor peasants’ government.

But an isolated socialist Timor would be impossibility. Revolutionary communists in East Timor must link up with their sisters and brothers in Australia, Indonesia, across the region and the world. Only a Socialist United States of South East Asia could overcome the economic, social and ethnic divisions of the region fostered by imperialism and the so-called nationalist bourgeois regimes.

United the workers and peasants of the region can mount a victorious resistance to all the imperialist powers seeking to plunder the regions incredible natural wealth. Workers all over the world have a heavy responsibility to aid and support the struggle of the workers and peasants of East Timor and the entire region, both materially and politically.