No Way José: Ramos-Horta On Peace and Development in a New Nation

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Bwog’s World Leaders Forum coverage continues with a lecture by the President of Timor-Leste, José Ramos-Horta. Kinno Norojono reports.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“Imagine finding yourself being the leader of a country that had been destroyed by war…” Wearing a simple black suit, the President of Timor-Leste José Ramos-Horta addressed the packed Kellogg Center at the top of IAB with his relaxed and impromptu style of speaking. Ramos-Horta shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with Bishop Ximenes Belo for his efforts to lead Timor-Leste towards freedom and returned to Columbia after over two decades to share his experiences trying to revive an emotionally distressed population and to find sustainable solutions to a budding nation’s growing economy.

The President, who lost four of his own siblings to the brutality of the Indonesian occupation from 1975-2002, began by describing the fall of the Suharto regime on May 21, 1998. That grim period in Timor-Leste’s history was a “humanitarian catastrophe” where “millions people had been displaced, 90% of schools were destroyed, and no health clinics were available.”

Another of the President’s goals is to try to lobby foreign powers to help him build a “completely democratic state.” The UN, he recounted, believed that it should take two years for this to occur. Stopping abruptly, he asked, “How long does it take to build a sustainable Chinese take-away business in New York?” Puzzled, the crowd laughed and offered him answers ranging from “twelve months” to “two years.” “Two years,” he said while surveying the room. “If it takes a business two years to run properly, how can a country turn into a completely democratic state in the same amount of time?”

This was a rhetorical question of course, as Timor-Leste has been independent since May 19, 2002, and the President is optimistic despite his doubts. With the country’s vast natural resources in oil and minerals, Ramos-Horta hopes to “fast-track achievements of the Millenium Development Goals” such as the considerably lower homicide rates of Timor-Leste to that of Washington D.C. and New York.

Ramos-Horta made it a point to end his address by believing that “everybody should feel included in this healing process,” and ensuring the audience that “we are making progress…but it would be unfair, ungrateful, to say the we did this alone.” One thing he asked from the audience was to “believe in East Timor, and the power of this small democratic state.”

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  1. Anonymous  

    Didn't know that this was such a big issue. Thanks Bwog for sharing this with us.

  2. Alum

    "...and returned to Columbia after over two decades..."

    This passage would make more sense had the article explained that Ramos-Horta studied here in the 1980s.

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