WASHINGTON DC, February 24, 2011 - "The pages of our history are filled massacres," said His Excellency Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (or East Timor), in a speech here at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
Gusmão served as East Timor's first President from 2002 to 2007 and has been Prime Minister since then. In a speech that emphasized the enduring challenges his nation has dealt with in winning its independence from both Portugal and then Indonesia, the onetime freedom fighter and political prisoner said the people of Timor-Leste had survived into the 21st century only through "perseverance." Gusmão said that after years of violence at the hands of the Indonesian military and its surrogates, the security that came with the arrival of the UN peacekeeping force in 1999 finally allowed the country to develop.
The Prime Minister told the audience that Timor-Leste has made significant progress in the short period of time since independence despite a lack of infrastructure, human capital, and financial resources. He outlined several issues he hopes to tackle: the status of 150,000 internally displaced persons; increasing government transparency; reforming the military and security sector; boosting foreign investment; and developing natural resources like oil and gas.
Gusmão also said that the country has been able to move forward through an understanding of forgiveness. During a question and answer session, he spoke about how important it is to recognize that the Indonesian people are not responsible for crimes of the Indonesian military. He also said that, "democracy is not an end," but rather a process that every country must go through for itself.
Professor Karl D. Jackson, Director of the Asian Studies Program and the Southeast Asia Studies Program at SAIS, moderated the event.
Reported by Adrian Stover, Asia Society Washington Center