AN APPEAL TO THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
FOR AN EXAMINATION OF OUR NATIONAL CONSCIENCE
ON BEHALF OF THE PEOPLE OF EAST TIMOR
from the Archbishop Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City
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In Dili, capital of East Timor, the militias march through the streets with human heads impaled
In the United States, the crucifixion of East Timor is another human tragedy unfolding in a
faraway place. We cannot bear to look upon these sights, so we are tempted to turn away our
eyes and sigh; our compassion becomes numbed and hardened, our solidarity abandoned. We
ask no inconvenient questions of our leaders concerning their culpability for the situations and
conditions that are creating the slaughters and thus by our silence we signal our approval.
Honor and justice demand that we who are citizens of the United States acknowledge our own
national responsibility in this situation. We who are rich in the Western Democracies also have
the blood of the innocent in East Timor on our hands. If we close our eyes and shut our ears and
refuse to acknowledge our own errors and do not resolve to amend our ways, we increase the
injustice and tragedy. War crime tribunals should indict not only those responsible for the
slaughter, but also those officials of Western governments and international financial agencies
who have directly supported corrupt ruling elites, and whose policies result in the economic
exploitation of the poor in developing countries. This deadly combination of policy, money, and
incitement to oppression has created fertile grounds for social chaos and the destabilization of
entire nations and regions. To stand from afar and shake our heads in dismay, as though we have
no idea how this terrible situation came to be, is hypocrisy at its worst.
It was the Dutch who created Indonesia as a product of their colonial ambitions to control the
spice trade in their "East Indies", trampling roughshod over the rights of the indigenous peoples.
Their conquest continued in that vast network of 14,000 islands into the early 20th century. When
did the United States ever protest this crusade? Were we not too busy with our own imperial
conquest of the Philippines and elsewhere (thus frustrating their lawful hopes for freedom and
liberty) to have much to say about what the Dutch were doing in Indonesia? How many
innocent lives were bartered away in the corporate boardrooms, military academies, and the halls
of legislation and governance in the rich countries, with little concern for the rights and desires of
the indigenous inhabitants?
Those areas of the Indonesian archipelago desiring independence today are regions where the
Dutch colonial yoke was applied very late, and they have in fact enjoyed hundreds of years of
independent culture that they still vividly remember. They have not forgotten their relatively
recent coerced incorporation into the colonialist empire of the Dutch East Indies. They
remember the unjust treatment they have received from the Dutch and since 1945, from the
successive corrupt military regimes of Greater Indonesia, oppressions often financed by the West,
most especially the United States -- which has faithfully supported the New Order of General
Suharto since its inception in 1965.
Who trained the military officers of Indonesia? Who made repeated demands for economic
restructuring in Indonesia? Who supported the ruling Army-backed Golkar establishment against
the poor? The United States government, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and
the nations of Western Europe, who saw in Indonesia's 200 million people a vast potential
market for Western goods and services, as well as a rich source of natural resources. Do we
really understand the poverty and misery that our cruel demands have caused for people
throughout Indonesia? It would appear the answer is no. Last year hungry and desperate people
in Indonesian cities tore up the lawns of golf courses and sports stadiums and other public places
to plant crops. What was our response? A demand that the Indonesian government enact more
of the same policies that were contributing so greatly to the internal collapse of the country! If
your neighbor treated his dog the way the World Bank and the IMF have treated Indonesia, you
would call the police and have him arrested for cruelty to animals. Too much human misery is
being created for the sake of the Almighty Dollar, so that the bankers can collect interest
compounded on loans made long ago -- this is money stolen from the rice bowls of the poorest of
the poor. Your own personal home town banker -- or a corporation in which you own stock --
may be among those responsible for this oppression.
The savage attacks on the people of East Timor are the latest evidence of the tragedies that the
economic and military policies of the United States are causing for poor, powerless, and innocent
people worldwide. The blood of many innocent victims stains the flag of these United States and
besmirches the sacrifices of our ancestors on behalf of justice, republican liberty, and virtue.
We have a moral duty to be in solidarity with the people of East Timor in this time of their
crucifixion. Our acts of commission helped to build their cross and our acts of omission pound
the nails into their hands and their feet. In our studied and cynical indifference to their plight we
stand before Pilate shouting, "Crucify them! Crucify them!", our usual chant when it comes to a
choice between our privileges and the rights of poor people in developing countries. We must
publicly question our Western willingness to play military and economic games with the lives of
hundreds of millions of people to satisfy the unjust demands of our governments, banks, and
corporations. Without a structural change in our policies towards the poor, any assistance that
we send them will not avert future tragedies, for justice is a requirement for peace, and injustice
always prepares the ground for war and tragedy.
These questions are not easy for the powerful to face. There is a certain arrogance and
triumphalism in the public conversation that breeds contempt and complacency towards the poor.
But if there is ever to be an end to the traumatic scenes we see broadcast today from East Timor,
we the rich in the West must cease from our oppressions and begin to do good, and this starts
with a quest for truth and reconciliation. The Jubilee bell is ringing, proclaiming liberty to the
captives and freedom for the oppressed: the cry of the widow and the orphan is calling the
powerful to a strict examination of conscience concerning the motivations, purposes, and
consequences of their actions.
"If the state is without justice, it is just organized crime." (Confucius)
Archbishop Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House
1524 NW 21st
Oklahoma City, OK 73106, 405-557-0436
The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 1999
The memorial of Stephen Biko of South Africa
Permission is given to freely copy and distribute this statement. If you agree with these sentiments, we suggest you print it, sign it "I agree" and mail it to President Clinton and your representatives in Congress. You could also give a copy of it to your banker.
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