When the Freedom Socialist Party established a branch in Melbourne in 1983, one of our first affiliations was with the Australia-East Timor Association. Nineteen years later, we were overjoyed to join with the tenacious people of East Timor, their allies in the Indonesian democracy movement which booted out the dictator Suharto, and hundreds of thousands of other solidarity activists to celebrate East Timorese independence on May 20.
In 1983 this historic achievement looked almost impossible. The Hawke ALP Government had just betrayed the people of East Timor by reversing Labor Party support for independence. For 24 shameful years, Australian governments — Liberal and Labor — blocked the struggle of East Timor for independence and provided military aid to Indonesia. The cost was terrible, with more than a third of the population of East Timor killed.
East Timor gained independence from Portugal in 1974. Prior to Indonesia’s invasion in December 1975, Fretilin (The Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor) came briefly to power and instituted social and agrarian reforms and mass education. This socialist inspired anti-colonial agenda was viewed with alarm in Canberra, Jakarta and Washington. But this is the political direction needed in East Timor today.
East Timor is a poor country with low literacy rates and life expectancy. Now that the celebrations are over, the economic reality is starting to hit. During the three years of UN administration, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have been allowed to dictate economic policy — something the people of East Timor had no say in. East Timor has achieved its independence in a world dominated by capitalist globalisation. The same allies which helped it win independence — working people in Indonesia, Australia and throughout the world — are the allies who will help the people of East Timor win genuine freedom.