loneliness of the long-distance activist


Jan Slakov

Dear RN list,

It is with tears in my eyes that I send you this piece. Tears partly
because, although I wrote letters in the past about East Timor, I didn't do
enough, tears because I wasn't the only one not doing enough. We have let
the "long distance activists" down, yes, and of course, the people of EAst

Let us find ways to honour them all!

all the best, Jan
------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
From:          "Janet M Eaton" <•••@••.•••>
Date:          Wed, 22 Sep 1999 23:28:40 +0000
Subject:       [GSN] (Fwd) I REMEMBER... East Timor ....

From: "Janet M Eaton" <•••@••.•••>

Dear All:

During the NATO War in the Balkans we had insights into Canada's 
duplicity and hypocrisy in foreign policy as regards the Balkans and 
East Timor  in CBC interviews with both Noam Chomsky and Jose 
Ramos-Horta as shown in their words immediately below. 

Noam Chomsky interviewed on CBC Radio April 16th, 1999  on the Balkan 
War said Canada doesn't care at all about the Universal Declaration 
which guarantees, theoretically,  the rights of people against 
oppressive states - nothing. Canada has a horrible record in that 
respect. For example, take Suharto's  Indonesia, which is a brutal, 
murderous state. I think Canada was supporting it all the way 
through, because it was making money out of it.

José Ramos-Horta speaking in a CBC Radio Interview April 26th said 
"but I am really amazed, appalled at the statement issued by the
Canadian Foreign Minister, who took a strong stand on Kosovo,
[while ] in the case of East Timor, where a genocide has been going on
for 23 years,  the foreign minister has only the following to say: "I
am deeply concerned about recent events in Dili and in Liquica."
............. Doesn't he have any shame to pretend to be so vocal on
Kosovo and to make this disgraceful statement on East Timor when
children, women are slaughtered in a churchyard, in the capital, right
under the nose, the eyes of everyone. What an audacity, what an
hypocrisy.           -- José Ramos-Horta 

Now we have an account from Derek Rasmussan reflecting back on his 
experience as a  young 22 yr old activist working with his friend 
Julia in 1983  against Canada's and the world's  violation of 
human rights in East timor. It is interesting to learn that Noam 
Chomsky was so quick to travel to Canada to assist him in the 
struggle even back then and that he had also spoken to Jose Ramos- 
Horta away back then . Rasmussan says:
"Jose Ramos Horta ........ once told me that he was glad that Canada 
didn't have the power of the United States, because our position on 
East Timor is even more atrocious than the US one".

Such a glaring juxtaposition with the  fabrication we hear of  
Canada - that  great country where the quality of life is like none 
other in the world and the people pride themselves on their caring 
and concerned multicultural nature - maybe true on one level but the 
naivity and apathy around global issues is appalling. A professor 
told me today that less than 20% of her students in her class had 
heard of East timor. A Canadian MP told me a year or so ago that it 
was a widely accepted fact  in Ottawa that Canadians knew little 
or cared little about foreign affairs and international trade issues 
-  implying that the government  could therefore do pretty well what 
they liked and get away with it in this regard..

But can we hope that there has been any change  over the past year 
in  this struggle in cyberspace and elsewhere for some semblance of 
global democracy? Can we hope that a small but growing number of 
citizens and NGO's are making any kind of difference??  The last few 
months and even days have brought some glimmers  of hope -  I think 
-even amidst unspeakable horrors of the many devastating  and 
catastrophic violations of humanity, human rights, sustainaiblity , 
peace,  and democracy.    

all the best,

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date:          Wed, 22 Sep 1999 17:51:02 -0400
From:          Eric Fawcett <•••@••.•••>
To:            sfp lists <•••@••.•••>,
               •••@••.•••, •••@••.•••
Subject:       sfp-62: I REMEMBER... East Timor ....

A Memorandum, a Poem and a Dialogue on... East Timor .... 

a Memorandum by Derek Rasmussen, who with Julia Milton founded the
Indonesia-East Timor Project in 1983.  Today Derek works in Iqaluit; Julia
in Victoria.  East Timor activism in Canada has been carried on and
energized in recent years by the efforts of Maggie Helwig, Ross Shotton,
Elaine Briere, and David Webster--to name but a few.

A shortened version of this Memorandum was published in the Globe and
Mail, p. D6, Saturday, September 18, 1999, with the title: "The loneliness
of the long-distance activist"

PREFACE: This week, another external affairs minister from the Liberal
Party of Canada is asking Canadians once again to "go slow" and wait and
see if Indonesian military murderers stop murdering.  No Canadian
government has ever helped East Timor.  The people who work 'for us', our
government representatives at the UN, have consistently abstained or voted
against half a dozen UN resolutions which simply recognized East Timor's
right to self-determination and humanitarian assistance.  Every liberal
and conservative Canadian government since 1975 has aquiesced to
Indonesia's invasion and occupation of the Portuguese colony--even though
the UN has never recognized it as "legal". Jose Ramos Horta, who went on
to share a Nobel prize with the Bishop of East Timor, once told me that he
was glad that Canada didn't have the power of the United States, because
our position on East Timor is even more atrocious than the US one.

I REMEMBER the staffer in the international aid office at the United
Church; the one who said there were "dozens" of East Timors,  forgotten
little places that no one had ever heard of where thousands of people had
been killed: she was wrong.  "How to choose, how to choose."   Heavy
sigh.  Which "lost cause" should the church focus on?  She turned down our
request for donated office space.  So did the Canada Asia Working Group.
And a few others.  Nor would any of them add Timor to their busy
agendas--it was 1983: the Phillipines was boiling over, Vietnamese boat
people were pouring into Canada--Indonesia and East Timor were not

I REMEMBER trying to start an East Timor group in Toronto.  Julia and I
had been working on the issue for two years out of our homes in Ottawa.  
We were twenty-two year-old non-professional activists.  It was a lonely
fight.  Maybe if we moved to Toronto more would happen?  It was summer,
1983.  Discouraged, we went back to Ottawa.

Yesterday morning I found a copy of a letter that I wrote to my brother
that year.  The letter describes a carrot cake we made for Julia's birthday
party;  I tell him that we splurged and bought crushed pineapple and
walnuts for the recipe even though we couldn't afford it.  The letter also
mentions getting death threats over the phone and a brick through the
window.  I had forgotten about those things.

Like many activists holding down a couple of jobs, Julia and I spent any
extra funds we had on printing pamphlets, long distance calls and so on
until the money ran out.  Sometimes the food would run out too; but then
the Lebanese-Canadian brothers who owned the health food store on the
corner  would give us bags of groceries, for free.

Our first break came when we picked up the phone and called Noam Chomsky in
Boston.  Chomsky actually talked to us on the phone.  Like grown-ups.  He
didn't talk down to us like we were babies.  He agreed to come to Ontario
and do a speaking tour about East Timor.  With more bravado than sense we
said we'd cover the costs: honoraria, travel, whatever.  "Don't worry about
honoraria," he said "just see if you can find someone to pitch in for the
airfare."  Dev-ed groups and PIRGS at Carleton, U of O, and U of T agreed
to cover the costs.  Once the U of T heard Chomsky was coming, one of the
colleges offered to host a lunch in his honour.  When a couple of us
twenty-year old scruffy types showed up at the door with him we were turned
back.  "Is there a problem?" Chomsky asked reaching for his wallet as if to
pay for us to get in. The doormen looked embarassed. We were let in.

[EF: I am proud to have been reminded by Derek that at this time joined
Noam Chomsky and Frances Moore Lappe as the first three members the Board
of Advisors of the Indonesia-East Timor Project]

I REMEMBER an anarchist printing house in Montreal that was going out of
business--they printed the first East Timor activist pamphlets in Canada: 
a thousand for $20.

I REMEMBER the first cheque we ever got; it seemed like a fortune. It was
for $15, and it came from Dan Heap, NDP MP for Spadina.

That summer I REMEMBER reading Ralph McGehee's heavily censored book on
the CIA, including an account of the US operation in Indonesia.  It
described how an entire tier of army officers under the previous communist
leader of Indonesia had been flown to Panama for American military
training.  In 1965, one of these junior officers, a thug named Suharto,
overthrew the president, and with his American-trained forces (1200
military officers, 62000 police) killed close to a million people.  These
officers then put in place a pillaging-style government; one that would
allow them to divvy up sectors of the economy into their own personal
fiefdoms. This government had been designed for them by Litton
Corporation--the company's first foray in this field.  Later the company
would build guidance systems for Cruise missiles.  And microwave ovens.

I REMEMBER getting a phone call that fall from East Timor activists in the
US and Australia asking if we could organize a visit to Canada in late
November, 1983 by the recently (forcibly) retired Apostolic Administrator
for East Timor, Monsignor Martinho da Costa Lopes.  A couple of weeks
later we got a call from a pretty important organiser and PR guy with the
Canadian Catholic Organization for Devlopment and Peace (CCODP).  They had
never been very interested in Timor before, but now they wanted to get
involved.  It was September 23, 1983.  I asked if we could work together
to set up some public appearances for Msgr. Lopes in Ottawa and Toronto.  
"Oh no", came the reply from the PR guy, "Two months is not enough time to
organize public meetings."  We were new, we were naive; we listened to the
CCODP expert.  (When he arrived, Msgr. Lopes asked why we hadn't organized
any public meetings.  Much later we would read about the history of
Indonesian pressure on the Vatican to remove Lopes from office.  And when
Lopes arrived in Canada he told us that from 1975 until 1983 he had only
ever received one letter from concerned Catholics outside of Timor.  One
letter in eight years; it had come from the Catholic Justice and Peace
Commission in Paris.  "It was written in French, but it gave us comfort in
our suffering", he said. )

All that was left for Msgr. Lopes in Ottawa was a meeting with someone
from External Affairs, a press conference, and a lunch with some
parliamentarians organized by Warren Almand.  November 24.  We had sent
out 100 invitations to the press conference. We had phoned the various
media and been assured "oh yeah we'll have someone there".  At the
appointed time, two reporters showed up.  One filed a story.  It got two
column inches in the back of the Ottawa Citizen.

Later that day we met with Mr. Gardiner Wilson, "head of the South and
Southeast Asia political affairs bureau" of External Affairs Canada.  
Only Monsignor Lopes , the PR guy from the CCODP, and I were going to this
meeting.  I put on my (only) suit.  Lopes wore a simple black robe, white
collar.  He semed small, sitting in a dark office in the L.B. Pearson
building.  He sat to the left of the desk, the PR guy and I sat to the
right.  Msgr. Lopes's English wasn't very good, he struggled to describe
what had happened to his parish.  On Dec 7, 1975, he had been a priest in
Dili, he told Wilson, the Indonesians landed troops on the beach and
paratroops by air.  There was a lot of shooting.  Bodies everywhere.
Lopes's superior, overwhelmed by events, had some kind of breakdown and
collapsed in the corner of his office.  Monsignor Lopes took the Church
jeep, put a white flag on it, and went out into the streets to rescue the
wounded.  A row of Indonesian soldiers blocked his route.  He talked his
way through.  He collected bodies, alive and dead, and brought them back
to the church.  Meanwhile, the Indonesian soldiers burned a person alive
on the beach behind his church.

Gardiner Wilson said: "Well. That's very interesting. But according to our
data there is no substantiation for these claims. And our research into the
matter has lead us to believe that, while far from perfect, the Indonesians
are devoting much of their time and resources to increasing the stability
and welfare of East Timor and meeting the legitimate needs of the Timorese
Lopes said nothing.
Then he asked, "Have you ever been to East Timor Mr. Wilson?"
Long pause.
Then Wilson said: "Let's be frank with each other.  Indonesia is the third
largest recipient of Canadian aid, we have important programs down there,
and we have a good relationship with the Indonesian government.  East Timor
is a fait accompli, why pursue it?"
As he spoke I turned my head to look at Msgr. Lopes.  His eyes were filling
with tears.

Out in the hallway, the guy from CCODP pulled me aside.  He whispered, "You
can't tell anyone about this meeting, OK?"

A light bulb went on for me.  I had read about CIDA and Dalhousie
University and the dozens of Canadian "aid" projects going on in
Indonesia; now I realized how naive Julia and I must look to the seasoned,
"professional" aid types.  First World activists aren't supposed to try to
stop wrongs from being committed "over there" somewhere; they're supposed
to focus on "aiding" the "disadvantaged"--building hospitals, schools,
environmental programs (Dalhousie), or sending bandages (Red Cross).  In
our $20 pamphlet we had focused on bullets, military engines, aircraft,
and armoured personnel carriers being supplied to the Indonesian military
from places like Valcartier, Quebec and London, Ontario.  We had argued
that maybe it was better to work at home to stop holes getting put into
people in Timor, rather than rushing over there to patch folks up
afterward. (This is still a relatively unpopular view today.  It is much
less glamorous to blockade a small weapons factory in Ontario than to fly
to the jungles of Asia to help the "lesser-developed".  Things are murkier
on home field.)

I REMEMBER the now-famous producer at CBC TV's "The Journal": I phoned him
up when recent photographs from East Timor were smuggled out of the
territory at great risk.  Copies had been sent to us in Canada; they were
horrific "souvenir" snapshots taken by Indonesian soldiers of their
grinning buddies holding "trophies"--decapitated heads.  Other pictures
showed soldiers proudly posed over rows of dismembered Timorese bodies.
The TV producer asked if we had any recent video footage: No, I answered,
the last TV footage from Timor was filmed by Greg Shackleton's Australian
crew in December of 1975, shortly before they were all killed by
Indonesian invaders.  The CBC man was curt: "No video, no story."  He hung
up.  A few years later, Elaine Briere proved him wrong.  She combined
still photos with interviews with heads of Canadian corporations awkwardly
trying to defend their financial ties with the Suharto regime.  Her
documentary won awards all over the world; it still runs on the
educational channels in BC and Ontario.  The CBC never aired it.

Today, the important man who turned down the Timor story is even more
important.  The men who sold Canadian Pratt and Whitney military engines
and GM armoured personnel carriers to the Indonesian miitary are probably
retired.  Probably relaxing at their cottages in Haliburton or
Memphramagog.  Maybe Mr. Wilson from the government is relaxing too.  He
was wrong about East Timor being a fait accompli, but no one will ever
hold him accountable.

Today, unfortunately, East Timor has made it to the front page.  Today
there is video, so CBC TV has a story.  Today, finally, Canadians know
where Dili is, because Dili is in flames.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT TIMOR                          by Derek Rasmussen
This is not about Timor
this is not about Jakarta
this is not about Suharto
and it's not about militias

This is not about Asia and their "lack of western values"

This is about Longueil Quebec
this is about London Ontario, this is about Ottawa
this is about planes and tanks and bullets
this is about miners and oil companies and CIDA and bankers
This is about Toronto and Tokyo and Texas

This is about the president of Inco asking: Can you guarantee us a "stable
labour climate", a "secure source of materials"?

No one ever says: can you guarantee no unions, no environmental laws, no
local control over resources

No one ever says: can you guarantee no witnesses, no evidence, no bodies

This is about Just making a sale, Just shipping a crate, Just pulling a
trigger Just paying a mortgage

This is not about Jakarta
This is not about Timor
It is about
Twenty-four years of Toronto and Tokyo and Texas


Eric Fawcett:
Your article expresses better than anything I've seen the sad fact that the
mainstream media don't report events the elite doesn't like the public to
hear about until long after it can do any good. Of course this was
thoroughly documented by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their great
book, "Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media"
(Pantheon 1988).
The imminent collapse of the biosphere as a life-support system for 
humans is an "event" the media ignore that will impact ALL of us - as does 
of course the genocide in East Timor, a prelude to the likely loss of the
peoples of whole continents

Derek Rasmussen:
Yes I agree with you that the media is willfully ignoring ecocide.  
A professor in Oregon, Chet Bowers wrote a great book 2 years ago called
"Culture of Denial: Why the environmental movement needs a strategy for
reforming Universities and Public Schools"

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