The two that thought so differently

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The Eureka rebellion is the greatest symbol of democracy in Australia. It now reminds people about the struggle the poor miners had against the harsh rule of the Government.

The 150th Anniversary of the Eureka rebellion was celebrated right across Australia in 2004. I was 15 years of age then. I received an invitation from the Eureka celebration committee set up by the Government of Victoria to be a Youth Ambassador. After saying no initially, I accepted the invitation.

I am very happy I accepted that invitation. Even though I had no clue about what was going on then, I met many world leaders. Two of them were: Hon Gough Whitlam, a former Prime Minister of Australia, and Dr Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel Laureate and the Foreign Minister of East Timor.

Dr Ramos Horta was particularly respectful to our little group. He had many encouraging words to us. He told us to pursue our dreams no matter what. And he said that he would host us if anytime we wanted to visit his wonderful little country, East Timor! After returning to East Timor, he even wrote letters to us!

Much after the conference, when I started reading about these two leaders, I was very amazed at how the two had affected the lives of the people of East Timor.

Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam, who was born in Kew, and of the Australian Labor Party, was the Australian Opposition Leader in 1972. As the Opposition Leader he strongly favoured pulling Australian forces out of Vietnam. He also promised to abolish compulsory military service to young people.

Cheryl with Hon Gough Whitlam

The Australian Labor Party won the Federal elections in December 1972. Whitlam became the 21st Prime Minister of Australia.

Whitlam changed many policies. But, within three years, his government was dismissed by the Governor-General, this being the only time when an elected Federal Government has been dismissed in Australia.

According to some secret official papers made public in 2000, when Portugal started withdrawing forces from East Timor in July 1974, the Whitlam Goverment suggested secretly to the Indonesian Government to work towards ensuring that East Timor be incorporated into Indonesia. Also that "the Whitlam Labor government actively encouraged the Suharto regime in Indonesia to invade East Timor in 1975, a policy that led to the deaths of an estimated 200,000 Timorese people" (

But officially, the Whitlam government claimed to support self-determination to the East Timorese.

Jose Ramos Horta

Jose Ramos Horta was born in East Timor to a Timorese mother and a Portuguese father in 1949.

By the time he was 21, he had fully involved himself in the struggle for independence from the colonial ruler, Portugal. He founded a political party called the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin).

The Portuguese Government promptly arrested him and exiled him for two years in Mozambique, Africa.

Cheryl with Jose Ramos Horta, photo signed by Ramos Horta

He returned in 1971 from his exile, and became active again in Fretilin.

In the meantime a change of Government was taking place in Portugal. The new Government decided to withdraw forces from East Timor. It was July 1974.

Fretilin started planning for independence, and appointed Ramos Horta the Foreign Minister. He was 25 at the time.

Ramos Horta left East Timor for the United Nations to present the Timorese case before the UN General Assembly.

A day later, Gerald Ford, the President of the United States met Suharto, the Indonesian President, in Jakarta. It was revealed later that the two had been discussing Timor. Particularly Fretilin. Indonesia believed that the Fretilin party in East Timor was Communist. United States was at the last stage of the Vietnam war, and had no desire to get directly involved in Timor. But United States and Australia did not want to see another Communist front.

As per the reports available now, the Whitlam Government also had been having similar discussions with Indonesia.

Two days after the meeting of Ford and Suharto, the Indonesian military invaded East Timor.

So, at the United Nations, instead of talking about the freedom from the Portuguese, Ramos Horta spoke about the invasion by the Indonesian military!

But the United Nations did not provide any useful help.

According to various sources, over 200,000 East Timorese died in East Timor as a direct result of the Indonesian occupation. Ramos Horta lost four of his own siblings. But the United States continued supplying arms to Indonesia.
Ramos Horta who had planned to become the Foreign Minister of East Timor became its international spokesperson and remained outside the country. He went on to study law in Europe. He then started living in Australia.

His efforts to highlight the problems of East Timor started paying results. In 1993, the Clinton Government notified the United Nations that it was not happy about the situation in East Timor. It took some time for the Clinton Administration to stop supplying arms to Indonesia.

In 1996 Ramos Horta and Bishop Belo of East Timor were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their effort in providing support to the East Timorese people.

Around the same time, Indonesian people started fighting against the rule of Suharto.

A part of the card sent by Ramos Horta to Cheryl, dated 27/4/2006, when his name was suggested to be the next UN Secretary General

United Nations then asked the East Timorese to decide its own future through a referendum. The new Indonesian Government under Habibie showed great flexibility in supporting the referendum. 

East Timor became independent in 2002. Ramos Horta was finally appointed as the country’s first Foreign Minister. After 27 years of waiting!

Foreign Minister to Prime Minister to President

Riots started in Dili, the capital of East Timor, in April 2006. The Government forces had battles with the deserting soldiers. Several people died. Many thousands became homeless. According to reports there was total anarchy in the capital. The Prime Minister invited international forces to help the country.

In June 2006, President Xanana Gusmao demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. But the Prime Minister did not resign. Ramos Horta, who found that he could not continue working with the Prime Minister, resigned from his ministerial position. Following that other ministers decided to resign as well. When it was clear that the Prime Minister had no support from anyone, the Prime Minister resigned.

During the time of the months of the riots, the news went around the world that Ramos Horta would be the most suitable candidate to become the next Secretary General of the United Nations. Many countries openly supported his candidature for the position.

But the resignation of the Prime Minister meant that East Timor needed another person for the job. Ramos Horta became the Prime Minister. He has said that he might run for the UN Secretary General?s job sometime in the future.

There were further problems in the country, as the East Timorese went to elect their President in April 2007. After a second attempt at casting their votes, it was found that on the 10th of May, 2007, 73% of the voters (out of 90% counted) have chosen Ramos Horta to be their President.

I think Ramos Horta will make a great President. I am sure there will be finally some peace in East Timor.

And some years from now, he will be a Secretary General of the United Nations too!

Author: Cheryl Naik- Australia

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