Last night, Timor-Leste's outgoing president, Jose Ramos-Horta, gave a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand in Bangkok, reflecting on 10 years of the country's independence. It was a mostly older crowd, although it was by no means a packed house. Journo Simon Roughneen, who has previously reported from Timor-Leste, introduced the guest. Also in the crowd I saw Lindsay Murdoch, who used to cover Timor-Leste for the Aussie papers.
The speech itself was rather underwhelming and typical Ramos-Horta, taking potshots at the UN, the World Bank, the US and pretty much the entire international aid community. Ramos-Horta also did a good job of talking himself up and it all felt a little self-indulgent.
Here are a few quotes of note from the night:
[On the Petroleum Fund and investments] "We were advised by the Norwegians… well when the financial crisis happened in 2008, 2009. The Norwegians who claim to know everything about petroleum fund lost tens of billions of dollars, so I laugh. So now when they lecture us I say, Excuse me, tell me how much did you lose on your financial investment.' We didn't lose a cent. One of the few petroleum countries that didn't lose a cent in the financial crisis."
Talks for a while about writing a book about the tragic power of the US and then adds: "So I might do that or I might join the next government in Timor-Leste."
[On vetoing laws] "What I have done in the last five years is my own approach. I very diplomatically, rather than veto, if it's a decree law… I call the prime minister, I say, 'Listen, instead of we veto, why don't we just take it back, we don't say to anyone, no-one has to know, can you just change this?' And he appreciates that, so they improve on the law. In the case of the parliament, I have done that."
[On justice for war crimes and the lack of an international tribunal] "Does it mean we don't want justice done? Yes we want, but it will be done in due time in due course by the Indonesians, Indonesian society, as they evolve and the democracy consolidates. In Indonesia… they are beginning to talk about the '65, "66 events in Indonesia. They will do it, but in their own time when the society feels confident about it. For us we have to take care of our victims… even if we want it today, to push for an international tribunal, I guarantee it would not happen, out of the 15 members of the [UN] Security Council, , five perm, 10 non-permanent, we might get one or two non-permanent supporting a resolution, so that's the reality."
During the Q&A, Ramos-Horta had to field some pretty fierce questioning from Shawn Crispin from Asia Times Online. Crispin was clearly agitated from the start, even more so when Ramos-Horta tried to mock him. There were some cold, hard truths in there and Crispin definitely touched a nerve, but I think the tone of it all really surprised everyone. Here's the audio so you can listen for yourself:
Ramos-Horta really took a hit in the presidential election. Had he been more on side for the past couple of years he would probably still have had Xanana's backing, but as we know, there has been tension between Xanana and Ramos-Horta.
Was Ramos-Horta really not in it to win it? Maybe. But that isn't to say that all of this hasn't been a great blow for him. Looking back over the past two or three years, this could all have ended up very differently.
Has Ramos-Horta really lost touch with people on the ground? To an extent, I think so, yes. He is still respected, revered even, but a lot has happened in the last five years and without a real party base, Ramos-Horta has just seemed to become more and more isolated and disconnected. Remember when he threatened to resign when his travel plans were messed with? It's things like that that have stuck in my mind.