Producer Profile: East Timor

Written by Cafe Campesino on Dec 1, 2002 in NEWSLETTER, Producer Profile |

Last month we introduced our latest fairly traded, organic coffee — East Timor Dark. Several readers wanted to know more about the history of and the challenges facing the Timorese.

On May 20, 2002, East Timor became the world’s newest country, following the landslide victory of independence hero Xanana Gusmao in the long-awaited presidential elections held in April. The country’s road to independence, however, was long and exceptionally hard.

Though Chinese and Japanese traders had visited the island in the 13th century the Portuguese were the first to establish a settlement, in 1509. Portuguese Timor was ruled by a traditional system of local chiefs acting as agents for the colonizers, but in the 20th century, Portugal assumed more direct control over the island. In the mid-seventies, however, instability in the Portuguese government gave Indonesia the opportunity to invade East Timor.

The Indonesian invasion and occupation is considered one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. One-third of the original population, or more than 200,000 Timorese people, were killed. Indonesian control continued for more than twenty years in defiance of eight U.N. General Assembly resolutions. It took an Asian economic crisis and student-led demonstrations in May 1998 to force Indonesian dictator Suharto from power, but the violence continued even as the East Timorese people went to the polls to vote on their independence. After the U.N. announced the election results in September 1999 (78.5% voted in favor of independence), the Indonesian military stepped up its campaign of terror, systematically destroying buildings, threatening journalists and killing church workers and political leaders. When the U.S. government (which had previously backed the Indonesian invasion) announced the suspension of pending World Bank and IMF funds to Indonesia, Indonesia’s national assembly ratified the independence vote and renounced its claims to the territory. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was formed in October 1999 to oversee the administration of East Timor during its transition to independence. Though sporadic violence continued between 1999 and the 2002 elections, the East Timorese people, with the help of U.N. personnel and thousands of aid workers, began the massive job of rebuilding the region’s infrastructure and the recreating its civil service, police, judiciary, education and health systems.

On September 27, 2002, East Timor gained membership in the United Nations. Now, the East Timor Action Network and like-minded organizations call for the U.N. and its member states to work for justice for the victims of the country’s 24-year-long invasion. For more information:

East Timor Action Network

PDF Flyer from EATN

ETAN Newsletter

East Timor hopes for a Coffee break – CNN

No Thongs – Helen on the loose in East Timor – Royal Coffee

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