by Sasha Uzunov
De-classified Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) files, lodged with the National Archives of Australia, from the mid-1970s reveal that East Timorese independence leader Jose Manuel RAMOS HORTA debunked a number of assumptions that ASIO held about his political leanings.
1970s radical chic: Timorese independence leader Jose Manuel RAMOS HORTA of the FRETILIN Party, visiting Darwin, Australia in 1975, refused to be viewed through a Cold War prism by ASIO.
Photo source: www.naa.gov.au – The National Archives of Australia.
If the small South-East Asian half island of East Timor had gained its independence from colonial power Portugal rather than being violently taken over by neighbouring Indonesia in 1975 and had also embraced the British sport of Cricket, RAMOS HORTA would have made a champion batsman, rather than an international statesman at age 26.
The ASIO files reveal that RAMOS HORTA, grateful for left-wing support, also kept a healthy distance from his supporters. He also counted flamboyant Andrew Peacock, later to become Australia’s Foreign Minister in the conservative Fraser government, as a friend.
A July 3, 1975 ASIO assessment sent to the Joint Intelligence Organisation – HORTA: “FRETILIN WAS NEITHER MARXIST OR STALINIST BUT SOUGHT AN INDEPENDENT IDEOLOGY.
ASIO officers were instructed to: “THAT HORTA SHOULD AVAIL HIMSELF OF [THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF AUSTRALIA] CPA’S HOSPITALITY IN NO WAY REFLECTS HIS CONCURRENCE WITH THE POLITICAL AIMS OF THAT PARTY. That is why it is imperative to head reports as has been done in this case, “CPA interest in FRETILIN” or “CPA interest in Visit of RAMOS-HORTA,” not merely “FRETILIN” or “Jose Manuel HORTA.”
Simply put, the Timorese people were fighting for their very existence in the face of the expected Indonesian invasion which came on 7 December 1975 (Pearl Harbor Day).
RAMOS-HORTA went on to share the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with fellow Timorese, Catholic Bishop Belo. In the post-1999 era he has served as the new state’s Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and President.
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