BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor home

"It is hard for us to believe that foreigners who come to East Timor to work do not have some knowledge of Timorese political reality. Foreigners should bear in mind that the essential condition for their operational success is to be aware that they do not come to save East Timor but rather to fulfil a mission of support; therefore, if they are not aware of this reality they will face the ungrateful mission of earning money for 6 months and returning to their homes, as so many have done, often revealing themselves to be less skilled than the East Timorese who can not find a job." Xanana Gusmão

CNRT/Congresso Nacional





Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, President of the CNRT/CN

Dili, 31 December 2000

Compatriots! Timorese!

This is not intended to be an exclusive message; the time for exclusive leaders playing the ungrateful role of addressing the people who fought and struggled is long past. A year after achieving the great victory of liberating our Homeland we have not lacked, nor will we lack, speakers on behalf of the people, from politicians to members of the civil society and from intellectuals to NGOs. This only means times are changing .... towards democracy!

The emerging awareness that we are all participants of a process is a social and political phenomenon inherent to processes similar to our own; there must never be a monopoly in the interpretation of the process and, consequently, one must allow the emergence of different opinions so that the process may gain a greater dynamic, a broader participation and be more democratic.

In every post-liberation war process, we have observed the mounting need of politicians to know which place he/she will occupy because, in general, politicians’ aspirations for power are considered to be natural and legitimate. This is how politicians fulfil themselves. Political parties reflect this nature without which they would be yet another NGO alongside so many others established in East Timor attempting to cover every sector of development in the country, from education to agriculture, from health to fisheries and from sanitation to entrepreneurial projects.

Today, in East Timor, we are witnessing a move by politicians to affirm, or re-affirm, their position in society. Some try to defend points of view that are almost contrary to common sense just to recruit some followers because they claim to be the defenders of the ‘underprivileged’. Others, resort to past memories, become untouchable and, because of this, become insensitive to the (real) facts of history. They live in and revisit the past as an alternative to confronting common sense and reality. They claim historic impunity, they surround themselves by angels of peace and heroes of a revolution ... that brought grief and left scars in our souls.

Others, living thousands of kilometres away from Dili, spout forth points of view as if they own a knowledge of their own, in a remote-control-style very much in line with the globalisation that turned each country into a larger or smaller village in this world.

We are witnessing another phenomenon in East Timor; that of an obsessive acculturation to standards that hundreds of international experts try to convey to the East Timorese, who are hungry for values:

It might sound as though I am speaking against these noble values of democratic participation. I do not mind if it happens in the democratic minds of people. What seems to be absurd is that we absorb standards just to pretend we look like a democratic society and please our masters of independence.

What concerns me is the non-critical absorption of (universal) standards given the current stage of the historic process we are building. Old democracies are no longer like a smooth pavement or a linear social process where such standards slide along without the slightest friction. What concerns me is that the Timorese may become detached from their reality and, above all, try to copy something which is not yet clearly understood by them.

It is necessary that we are sincere and humble so that we do not lose track of the highest interests of our People. Democracy is not built overnight and it is by experiencing the system that democracy can be shaped. Some think that mere political party membership is a synonym of democracy and, therefore, it does not need to be cared for. School-aged youths think democracy empowers them with the right to protest, criticise and insult the teachers, to skip or disturb classes. Some adults share the opinion that democracy demands that everyone must decide on everything.

This process of preparation for independence is not an easy one when we discuss issues such as democracy, human rights and freedom.

There is some anxiety for self-affirmation which the international staff currently in East Timor try to enhance; they forget how unaware they are of the whole process of our people´s struggle and, therefore, encourage the expression of various forms of difference as if this was the only way of ensuring democracy.

This natural need for self-affirmation, of parties and individuals, whether politicians or not, leads to a strong ill-feeling against the CNRT as if the CNRT was the main enemy of political parties and civil society. To a certain extent, this situation is encouraged by the perception shared by many international organisations that the CNRT is a political party. It is hard for us to believe that foreigners who come to East Timor to work do not have some knowledge of Timorese political reality. Foreigners should bear in mind that the essential condition for their operational success is to be aware that they do not come to save East Timor but rather to fulfil a mission of support; therefore, if they are not aware of this reality they will face the ungrateful mission of earning money for 6 months and returning to their homes, as so many have done, often revealing themselves to be less skilled than the East Timorese who can not find a job.

CNRT is looked at as an obstacle to the development of political parties. Those who fiercely attack the CNRT forget something. The CNRT is paving the way so that, in the near future, the parties may run for political power. They also forget that CNRT is not a political party. We all know that if, one day, the CNRT were to turn into a political party, there would be no party capable of competing with CNRT. The CNRT is quite certain of this although it will not do it. The CNRT would like to say to the political parties and politicians that because the CNRT is more mature and better prepared than the parties, it will not exploit the current emotional
condition of our People.

The CNRT is concerned with political stability during the post-independence period; the CNRT is concerned with the environment of peace and harmony that must be created amidst the population. Our People have that right: THE RIGHT TO LIVE IN PEACE AND HARMONY!

Our political experience over the past 25 years alerts us to the possibility of violence amidst the people; we are observing manoeuvres by certain groups which are showing no respect whatsoever for our People’s right to live in peace and the right to never again face a situation where Timorese kill other Timorese. The CNRT is extremely concerned with the feelings some groups may begin having when there is violence amidst the population; a feeling of euphoria of a victory over ‘the others who got what they asked for’ or because ‘they even have more supporters than we do’.

CNRT is following the movement and the desire for affirmation or re-affirmation of leaders and politicians. In fact, what out people need now is leaders, new leaders who are wise, thoughtful and with a broad vision of the process. The CNRT only hopes that maturity resulting from 25 years of struggle may lead political parties to act with greater realism and objectiveness in their analysis on the complexity of the independence process.

Dear compatriots

January 1, 2001 will be the first day of the millennium. We are celebrating the most important New Year in modern history for we are about to enter a new millennium. In a few hours we will open a new chapter in the history of Mankind.

This unique event for Mankind will have a very special meaning for the Maubere People  Timor Lorosa’e will be engraved in the journals of history as the first independent country of this new millennium.

During the year 2000 many people celebrated the New Year as the beginning of the new millennium when it was actually merely the end of the old millennium. Similarly, many people tried to imagine which kind of an imprint would 2000 leave in the transition process. The year 2000 must be mostly considered as one of learning the numerous aspects of and the relationship with UNTAET, with the international institutions and with the International Community. If we do not understand this we will think of ourselves as able enough to rehabilitate everything overnight and to immediately do all that is necessary. This is being unrealistic. Budgetary constraints are not UNTAET’s; budgetary constraints are part and parcel of this transition and in its relationship with the donor community.

Of course there are many unfortunate things happening, many perceptions which are not in tune with Timorese reality, there is a lot more money available to pay the hundreds and hundreds of foreigners rather than for reconstruction. There is bad management or inclusion of structures and a heavy bureaucratic apparatus that, in some cases, resorts to corruption.

International staff are of the opinion that the East Timorese simply lack capacity and this opinion is seconded by some sectors of our society. We do not call for a hasty transition period, an inadequate one “à la Cambodia” where the international staff left a vacuum behind after leaving. For this reason, we defend a clearly phased strategy for the political process. Rather than considering the success it may be for the UN we are concentrated on a process that may bring success to the suffering people of East Timor. And, eventually, the International Community will have assuaged its conscience for having assisted a martyred people.


We are about to commence a decisive year for East Timor and its People!

This year will be filled with political activity and, above all, activities that will involve the participation of the people. The two foundations that sustain the transition towards independence are, as we have often stated, timorisation and the political process.

We must speak in one voice so that UNTAET will begin the timorisation process in a serious way. To appoint ministers is not to timorise. To recruit Director-Generals or Heads of Departments and their staff will be our priority for the first quarter of 2001. If this is not to happen we will be convinced that the extension of UNTAET’s mandate only aims at benefiting the international staff who are handsomely paid in East Timor.

But if we are to undertake an appropriate and genuine timorisation, UNTAET’s mandate will be looked at as an extension of the East Timorese capacity-building process.

Some people expressed their opposition to the political calendar. We do not wish to discuss their reasons for differences of opinion are part of the democracy that all seem to so wisely put into practise. The timorisation process must evolve side by side with the development of the political process.

There will be a great number of political events during 2001. Civil Registration, as a database to be prepared for the Electoral Registration, will soon begin. The electoral system must be determined. In January, the Regulation on Political Parties must also be prepared and adopted by the National Council. This will enable the registration of political parties and give them a legitimate status to address the people; thus, we will hamper the activity by uncontrollable groups showing up as parties merely to create confusion amidst our people. We urge New York to understand the East Timorese political reality; it is profoundly different from that in the United States which has just experienced moments during the recent presidential elections that countries undergoing democratisation processes called “the greatest democracy scandal”.

There will be civic education programmes throughout the territory to enable people to know the system to be set up in East Timor and to make people aware of the dimension of freedom, democracy, justice and peace, as basic conditions for progress and the well-being of every citizen.

A draft of a simple Constitution must also be drafted by the East Timorese whereby the fundamental universal principles, citizen’s rights and the system of government will be clearly enshrined. The debate of this draft with the population throughout the territory will enable the people to know the foundations of the Timorese Nation.

The National Council will also debate the Electoral Law; and once it is adopted there will be an electoral education campaign so that our People may have a genuine awareness of the democratic values by the time the first elections are held in the free Timor Lorosa’e. The East Timorese People must feel by then total freedom to vote, i.e., they will not feel any kind of fear of intimidation or threat of reprisals.

Having said this, we truly believe that the electoral campaigns will be held in an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect. Consequently, elections for the Constituent Assembly will also be held in a peaceful atmosphere. Those who do not believe that our people will achieve this ought to recall August 30, 1999. Those who feel sceptical about this process are those who were not in East Timor during the difficult and dramatic period experienced by our people.

If it is accepted that the Constitution should not be of a programmatic or ideological nature and that it should be simple and universal, the Constituent Assembly will not need a lengthy period of time to debate the first Constitution of Timor. It will only require enough time to fine tune the draft that will then be adopted as the Constitution and which will come into effect on the first day of Independence.

We do not want a chaotic transition whereby for purposes of ‘revenge’ the East Timorese will re-initiate the whole process again. Once again, and to make it very clear, we wish to state that we defend a phased and orderly transition! Independence is not forged by simply choosing the colour of the national flag or the choice of the day it will be proclaimed. We understand independence as the system to be implemented and the capacity of the East Timorese to carry out their responsibilities even before independence is proclaimed.

The outcome of the elections will dictate the composition of the Constituent Assembly and may even be a reference for the setting up of the government. Consequently, political parties may (or may not) be called to debate this and to appoint members of the government. This is the way the East Timorese are preparing themselves to gradually receive the transfer of responsibility until independence, including at ministerial level.

Similarly, the Legislative Assembly, as an elected body emerging from the Constituent Assembly, will gain greater experience and will also initiate its legislative activity in the run up to independence.

This is our perspective for the preparation of the East Timorese for independence, at all levels of governance. There may be other and better ways. We perceive the elections, as the focal point of this political process for it will confer legitimacy to political acts. The reviewing of ETTA’s legal status may be easier to achieve with the existence of elected bodies. This process will meet the demands put forth in Security Council Resolution nr. 1272.

Dear compatriots

I repeat that this is CNRT’s opinion and might not be accepted by the Timorese democratic society. These thoughts are not being elaborated to serve CNRT’s interests but rather the interests of the People which CNRT organised and mobilised to decide on their future and which the People has responded to with courage and determination.

As from January, the Timorese, political parties, politicians and intellectuals should initiate in-depth debates on the ideal Government structure (i.e, the minimum necessary one) to ensure that we do not inherit extremely heavy structures which are non-efficient and, above all, not sustainable. These debates should also include the issues of centralisation and decentralisation.

This will enable that, as from March, we will begin working on the budget for the next fiscal year  from July 2001 to June 2002  because, in June 2001 the Donors’ Conference will be held in Canberra to decide on it.

There are political parties, politicians and intellectuals who claim rights but forget their duty to think carefully about this process so that the contribution of each individual may contribute to a better perception of the complexity of this problem.

CNRT is, therefore, convinced that the elections will be the engine for change, above all, for a change of still distorted mentalities that exist both in foreigners working in East Timor and in the East Timorese who seek self-affirmation in our society.

Dear CNRT Cadres

My last words are addressed to you.

Today we are being looked at as agitators of instability. August 30, 1999 would not have happened if it had not been for your commitment and dedication. A year later, you are still committed to serving our People, without any salary. Many of the East Timorese who criticise you are well placed now. The foreigners who look askance at you think you are about to take half of their salaries to provide for your families, build your homes or send your children to school.

They all forget that the fingers of one hand are too many to count the number of CNRT cadres who suffered in East Timor and are now working in the civil service. They also forget that none of the CNRT cadres are working as UNTAET local staff. I will give you just one example, not to mention those which apply to NGOs and International Agencies. In Oecussi, the local UNTAET staff were all pro-autonomy. And no one protests. However, any minor mistake by a CNRT cadre, where ever it may happen, is magnified to melodramatic proportions.

We were together during the extremely hard times of the struggle, when many of those who now arrive in East Timor, had no knowledge of our problem. I am aware of the difficulties each one of you is facing in your private lives. Your and my experience is solely one of resistance. We do not have the skills to hope for a job, and we acknowledge this with modesty. We have the CNRT imprint labelled on us and when others mention CNRT cadres, they are led to thinking of nepotism, corruption and lack of transparency.

We have often mentioned amongst us that CNRT cadres are today like an old shirt that is thrown away when it is worn out.

This year will be very demanding of you and in your work with the population. Do not give up working to educate our people, to serve our people. I will be with you in undertaking this noble task, as you have already done in the past, as you have worked during the difficult years of resistance  TO SERVE THE PEOPLE!

I will do my utmost and will bring down every obstacle so as to enable the establishment of a Credit Bank in East Timor. A private Bank detached from meaningless political assumptions often referred to when it comes to CNRT cadres; a Bank that may give new perspective to your lives.

I will struggle for you as you have struggled for our People! Let us not think about rewards, where ever they may come from! The best reward was the victory achieved by our People on 30 August 1999 and there is no one in East Timor who can take from you the success of your work!

We still have work ahead, namely to lead our people to defend their right to live in peace and in harmony and avoid a repetition of the past experience of political violence. In the meantime, we will organise ourselves in groups and learn the skills of management so that each one of you may be prepared to reconstruct your lives.

We will face new difficulties in this process but I know that you are always prepared to serve our People.

May 2001 bring success to your efforts in moving towards a genuine transition to independence and may it also bring you new prospects for the future.

Dili, 31 December 2000

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão
President of the CNRT/CN

See Also:
Dec 25 CNRT: Mary Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Dec 5-6 CNRT/CNP: Brussels donor's meeting - opening speech by the CNRT's rep
Dec 5 XG: President Xanana Gusmao open letter to East Timorese
Dec 2 CNRT/NC: Xanana's Resignation Denied
Nov 11 2000 & Oct 1990 RN: Xanana Gusmao interviews
National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT)

The CNRT was established as the peak body of the East Timorese people's resistance to the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Its members are drawn from all walks of life and political viewpoints, including the major political parties. Now that Indonesia has left and the administration of East Timor is being taken over by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), CNRT is restructuring itself to play a new role. This involves moving from opposition to proposition and the facilitation of transition to self-government and independence. See: Nov 1999 The CNRT in Transition & Aug 2000 CNRT National Congress: Draft resolution on human rights
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