Konformist: Greed At Core Of Indonesia's Timor Problem
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Editor, The Konformist
Released September 22, 1999
The Wisdom Fund, P. O. Box 2723, Arlington, VA 22202
Website: http://www.twf.org --
Press Contact: Enver Masud
Greed At Core Of Indonesia's Timor Problem
by Enver Masud
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At its core the problem of East
Timor, and indeed much of Indonesia, has a lot to do
with greed rather than the Muslim-Christian divide
portrayed in the media.
From ancient times until the 7th century AD Indonesia
was ruled by various Hindu kingdoms among which the
Majapahit Empire became the most powerful. Sumatra was
then known as the "island of gold, and Java as the
Muslim traders began arriving in the 13th century, and
Islam spread peacefully through the islands. The
descendants of the Hindu kingdoms retreated to the
islands of Bali and Lombok where they flourish to this
With the fall of Muslim Spain in 1492 (as in the
Americas, Africa, and South Asia), came 350 years of
brutal colonial rule and exploitation. First to arrive
were the Portuguese in 1511 AD. The Portuguese were
followed by the Dutch (1602 to 1799 AD), the British
(1811 to 1815 AD), and again the Dutch (1816 to 1908
The colonial masters took slaves, forced the natives
to grow crops for export which resulted in famines,
and destroyed the thriving inter-island trade.
By 1908 nationalist movements began seeking
self-government, and Indonesia declared independence
on August 17, 1947. Sukarno, a leader of the
independence movement, became president. He was
overthrown in 1965 by Suharto in a U.S. backed
military coup in which it is reported that one million
people, mainly Chinese, were killed.
When the Dutch and Portuguese formally partitioned
East Timor between them in the 19th century, East
Timor remained a part of the Portuguese colony. The
governor of Portuguese Timor, in 1974, granted
permission for political parties, and five emerged.
Said to be lacking popular support Fretilin, the party
seeking independence, resorted to terror, civil war
broke out, and on August 27, 1975 the governor and
Portuguese officials abandoned the capital Dili. The
U.S. armed, trained Indonesian military entered East
Timor to stop a civil war.
Fretilin, supplied with arms from the Portuguese army
arsenal, declared East Timor independent. The four
other parties in East Timor declared their
independence and integration with Indonesia. East
Timor became the 27th province of Indonesia, but this
claim was not recognized by the UN.
Rich in natural resources, Indonesia's primary problem
is the equitable sharing of these resources. Foreign
interests, and internal corruption, add to the
inherent difficulty that while Java is Indonesia's
most heavily populated island, many of the resources
are located in less populated islands.
According to former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia,
Edward Masters, Indonesia did more in 35 years to
develop barren, infertile East Timor than Portugal did
in four centuries.
Indonesia allocated development funds to East Timor at
a rate six times the national average. In 1975, less
than 10% of Timorese were literate, there were only 50
schools, and no colleges. By 1994 East Timor had 600
elementary schools, 90 middle schools and three
colleges. Under the Portuguese East Timor had only two
hospitals and 14 health clinics. By 1994 there were 10
hospitals and nearly 200 village health centers. In
1975 it had 20 km hard surfaced roads, by 1994 there
were 500 km. The number of Catholic Churches in
predominantly Catholic East Timor quadrupled under
But Fretilin continued to resist Indonesian rule, and
offshore oil discoveries made matters worse.
A treaty was signed in 1989 by Australia and
Indonesia. This Timor Gap Treaty came into force in
1991 and is due for review in 2031. Australia
desperately needs this oil, and massive revenues are
said to flow to both governments. Independence for
East Timor would likely give it a larger share of
The division of natural resources is also at the core
of secessionist movements in Aceh, Irian Jaya, and in
the neighboring Philippines.
On Aceh in 1971 Mobil Oil discovered one of the
world's richest onshore reserves of natural gas,
estimated at 40 billion cubic metres. Aceh provides an
estimated 11% of Indonesia's total exports, but less
than 10% of this wealth is reinvested in the province.
Mobil Oil, is reported to have caused massive
environmental damage, and is said to be linked to the
Indonesian military's land seizures, bombings, and
On Irian Jaya military repression, and massive
environmental damage has been linked to Freeport
McMoRan, a Louisiana corporation.
In April 1967 Freeport McMoRan became the first
foreign company granted an operating permit following
the 1965-66 U.S.-backed coup that installed General
Suharto. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger is credited with having introduced company
officials to President Suharto. It is reported that
Mr. Kissinger sits on Freeport's board, earning
$500,000 a year, and Freeport also retains his law
firm, Kissinger and Associates, for a reputed $200,000
In 1999 Freeport McMoRan received approval to almost
double production, which will increase land seizures
and environmental damage.
With reserves valued at $40 billion, the Freeport
project is the largest single gold deposit in the
world and the third largest open-cut copper mine.
In the neighboring Philippines, National Steel
Company, writes Fred Hill author of Teasing the Tiger:
A Third World Study of Muslim Mindanao, the
Philippines' largest steel mill, is destroying Lake
Lanao, the river's source. Located in the Muslim
countryside, it is the major employer in the area. But
except for 5 or 10 Muslims its 4000 employees are
Christian Visayans, many of whom were brought there in
the 1970s. The media publish reports about "Muslim"
violence in Mindanao, but not the reasons for their
And similarly in East Timor the violence has little if
anything to do with Muslim-Christian enmity.
Christians live in peace with Muslims in West Timor,
and elsewhere in Indonesia. Greed, the greed of
corporations, government officials, individuals is at
at the core of problems. The religion card is used to
divide, rule, and expolit the people and the land --
just like colonial rulers did in earlier times.
[Enver Masud visited Indonesia in the early 1950's
when his father was the UNESCO Mission Chief, and
several times in the mid-1990's as an engineering
management consultant for The World Bank. He is
founder of The Wisdom Fund.]
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