Timor Ease

Clinton Makes Hay in Asia Mess

The weekend summit in New Zealand further elevated Clinton in his new role as world statesman, with the lame-duck president making inroads on China and pushing Indonesia's enfeebled ruler Habibie into accepting Australian-led UN "peacekeepers" in East Timor. It's a role that could bolster the bedraggled Gore campaign as well as Hillary's New York run (thrown for a loop by the FALN flap and now stunning diehards with news she'll get a face-lift before taking on Rudy mano a mano). It also means money for the Democrats in the fight against shrub Bush, whose kitty has swelled to $50 million.

Reopening trade talks with the Chinese benefits U.S. investors who are seeking to carve out new markets in China and eyeing "emerging markets" in Asia. After the abrupt break in relations following the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Clinton's success in reopening trade talks is a victory for the administration with Wall Street. As a result, business interests can be expected to pour millions into Gore's campaign war chest. As always, Clinton proves to be the best fundraiser the Democrats ever had, even when he is rubbing noses with Maori tribesmen in New Zealand.

The Auckland get-together also provided the impetus for the UN force to enter East Timor. Most important is the emergence of Australia as a major player in the Pacific— if for no other reason than to keep clear the international waterways that link the Pacific and Indian oceans and hence trade between the Mideast and Japan. In addition, as Indonesia crumbles amid the emergence of warring fiefdoms, Australia's security interests are affected.


East Timor at a Glance
Genocide Comes Home

Televised scenes of wild fighting brought the terror in East Timor home to U.S. households last week, but the forces at play remain obscure to most people. Following, in Q&A form, is a thumbnail sketch of what's at stake.

Where and what is East Timor?

East Timor is part of the island of Timor, located at the eastern tip of the Indonesian archipelago. It's slightly larger than Belgium.

Who are the East Timorese?

The ancestors of the nearly 800,000 people who currently live in East Timor came from Malaysia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. The area was colonized in the late 16th century by the Portuguese. Unlike the rest of the archipelago, which is Muslim, the East Timorese are mostly Catholic.

Who's in control?

East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1974, when the fascist regime in Portugal was overthrown. "Decolonization" plans were abruptly interrupted in 1975 when Suharto's Indonesian military invaded. One of the worst genocides of the modern era ensued, under which a third of the population was wiped out. In a UN referendum last month, a remarkable 98 percent of eligible voters— many risking their lives— went to the polls, with 78 percent voting for independence.

Who was involved in the genocide?

After the 1975 invasion, the Indonesians organized a reign of terror in which at least 200,000 people were slaughtered by the military, put in concentration camps, or died of starvation as they hid in the jungle. The U.S. supplied most of the weapons. Currently, East Timor is one of the world's most extreme police states, with one Indonesian police officer or soldier for every 10 East Timorese.

Who's fighting whom?

On one side is the Indonesian military, along with paramilitary militias. On the other side is the East Timorese Independence Movement (CNRT), which is democratic socialist in orientation, with both a political presence— now mostly underground— and an armed guerrilla wing.

What's the economy like?

Since the 16th century, when the Portuguese exported sandalwood to India and Persia, timber has been a mainstay, along with coffee (the Suharto family holds monopolies on coffee and timber). But for the latter part of this century, the most potentially valuable resource has been offshore oil deposits located in the Timor Gap, the 300-mile stretch of sea between the island and Australia. Chevron, Shell, and Mobil, as well as smaller companies allied with the Suharto family, have a stake in the drilling.

What's the best up-to-date information?

Allan Nairn, the American journalist who has covered East Timor for years and is currently in the capital, Dili, is frequently a guest on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman on WBAI in New York City. He's the best single source of information. He writes frequently for The Nation. Also see www.uc.pt/Timor, a trove of information on East Timor's history and current politics put together by the University of Coimbra in Portugal. And check out www.etan.org, the East Timor Action Network.


Mosquito Coast
Giuliani Sprays From the Hip

The spraying of the entire City of New York with malathion, along with the accompanying barrage of PR announcements regarding the supposed harmlessness of the deadly pesticide, has been a surreal experience. At least the mayor— who cavalierly declares malathion to be "perfectly safe" and says "there's no harm done in spraying even if we're overdoing it; the more dead mosquitoes the better it is, I guess"— did urge people to stay indoors during the spraying for encephalitis.

Malathion is a member of the deadly organo-phosphate class of pesticides that attack the nervous system and with which much of the population has already has been saturated because of the use of household pesticides. Adding more, no matter how prudently administered, could well cause trouble for certain people. The EPA, in its review of organo-phosphates, has indicated that preliminary data show use of malathion exceeds acceptable risk.

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