The life of former Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta has changed little after being laureate in 1996 with the Nobel Peace Prize along with his compatriot Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo. Until then, he was the East Timorese resistance spokesman during the Indonesian occupation, and after that he participated not only in the democratic reconstruction of his country,but also worked to promote peace around the world denouncing human rights violations.
Born in 1949 — his mother is Timorese and his father Portuguese — , Ramos-Horta is a key part to the consolidation of democracy in East Timor, a country that experienced Portuguese military occupation and decades after independence, was brutally occupied by Indonesia. Ramos-Horta has heavily criticized the Portuguese military government and also denounced to the world the Indonesian occupation. The price of this was exile. At 18, he had to live a year in Mozambique. At 25, he left East Timor. Since then, he lived as an expatriate in the next twentyfour years.
During this period, he became the youngest person to speak at the United Nations and convinced UN representatives to approve a resolution supporting the independence of East Timor. Despite the victory, the Indonesian occupation continued and so he called on world leaders to convince Indonesia to grant freedom of East Timor, which happened in 2002. In 2006, Ramos-Horta was appointed Prime Minister and became President of his country between 2007 and 2012.
The conversation with José Ramos-Horta comes at a special moment. Former President joins the Advisory Board of the Institute Brazil Africa, responsible for ATLANTICO magazine. The advisory board has outstanding personalities from various areas and who come from many countries around the world.
“In just 12 years we have made many advances in East Timor, more and better than many countries”
His arrival strengthens the work of the institution, created in 2013 in helping to connect Brazil to African countries. Moreover, at present, Ramos-Horta chairs a panel for UN Peacekeeping Operations and integrates a Board to avoid conflicts in Asia. He also serves on the African continent, specifically in Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea. For ATLANTICO magazine, he talks about his experience in Africa, the role of the BRICs to the economies of the African continent on peace and also about the future. His and the world’s future.
ATLANTICO — From January 2013 to June 2014, you served as representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Guinea-Bissau. What were your expectations before coming to the country?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — The political and social framework in Guinea-Bissau, which persisted in February 2013, as I noticed or as was reported to me could be summarized as: large state fragility, extreme poverty — with very low social indicators, persistent political instability, many weaknesses and cracks the in Army and frequent military intervention in national political life. The penetration of drug cartels from South America in Guinea- Bissau and in many other countries in the region exacerbates the difficulties in those countries creating new crime spots, tensions and threats.
ATLANTICO — Guinea-Bissau, for a long time, lived an insurgency situation. What were the difficulties encountered in the country’s peace process?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — The major obstacles to constitutional normality, for a lasting political stability and economic development, took place thanks to a much divided political elite, a proliferation of political parties and a military leadership that revolted by poor governance and partisan quarrels, or manipulated by political interests. It was necessary to dialogue with everyone, provoke dialogue between the Guinean. Feed the culture of dialogue. The current political leadership of the two major parties, the PAIGC and the Social Renewal Party, was crucial to the constitutional standards. These two parties divided internally and among them, were able to make remarkable efforts and began to cooperate for the common good.
“You must listen, listen and listen to the marginalized , the poor, the youth and women”
ATLANTICO — What is the role of the BRICS to the emerging economies in Africa?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — African economies have grown a lot in the last thirty years. Big cities are unrecognizable when compared with 30 years ago. The movement at its ports and airports and in the streets and modern avenues, on highways is indicative of a continent finally underway. The African capital investments in African economies greatly increased. Today there are more African investment in Africa. Nigerian, Angolan and South African capital are already invested in other African countries. African industrial products are already circulating in African markets. Chinese investments, via lowinterest loans or commercial interest rates and via grants have contributed to the improvement of infrastructure, roads, bridges, ports, airports, dams, hospitals, etc. The other BRIC countries are not so expressive. India and Russia have always had a significant presence in Africa but does not compare with the current Chinese presence. Brazil’s economic weight in Africa is not significant and remains modest. It can increase as Brazil has financial resources, know-how and technology that can rival any country in the northern hemisphere or with China. The Brazilian diplomatic presence in Africa is very wide and old. Moreover, Brazil was the only country in Latin America to open embassies in many African capitals, more than 30 years before other countries such as Argentina, Chile or Turkey “discover” Africa.
ATLANTICO — In 2050, the African population should reach 2 billion people. Most of this population is young. From this data, what are now the main challenges of nations and the international community to ensure the empowerment of this young population?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — Education, education, education! Health, health, health! Africa and its partners must invest much more in these two vital sectors for the present and the future. Of course, should also invest more in rural development to ensure total food safety. This applies also to Asia, currently with 4 billion people.
ATLANTICO — What aspects do you points as positive in the African development process? What challenges are still far from overcoming?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA -The positive aspects are already mentioned in the answer to your first question. The negatives are still many: bad governance, corruption, political instability in many countries, ethnic and religious conflicts. African brothers have to take better care of their forests, rivers, lakes and seas, since all these riches are suffering wear by demographic pressure and the devastation caused by industrialization and commercialization, without proper planning and compensation to the Nature.
ATLANTICO — How the international community has looked to Africa?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA -For centuries Africa was the victim of predators, especially Europeans who enslaved, colonized, pillaged and imposed arbitrary borders as if they were dealing with their livestock or agricultural properties. Africa was at the service of Europe, their economies and their wars. Looking at the black populations of the Americas, from north to south, we can see in their faces the film’s story, the drama, the shame of European Christian civilization, who invented slavery and colonization. And the descendants of slaves in Brazil and other Latin American countries and in the US have yet to overcome social barriers. There is still much exclusion of blacks as the Indians. The UK and France continue to be the two countries with the strongest interest in Africa and in particular the UK has done much to help African countries to improve governance and their economies. The UK is the only country in the G8 group that releases 0.7% of its GDP to foreign aid. And this was done by the Conservative government of David Cameron and time of financial crisis. All other countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) drastically reduced the volume of development assistance. The European Union is also an exception, and we should point out, under the presidency of José Manuel Durão Barroso, who has always been at the forefront in supporting good governance and development of the poor countries, especially Africa.
ATLANTICO — How do you evaluate the competitiveness of enterprises and African institutions in the international market?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — Still very fragile. Africa could be the world’s granary, providing food for everyone. For example, only Brazil produces more food, agricultural production, than all of Africa. But for Africa to compete more on the international market, needs to improve its education, health, good governance, infrastructure, etc. It has to improve its democratic institutions, justice, political stability, predictability and some continuity. I believe it would need another 30 years to achieve these goals.
ATLANTICO — During the exile periods, you developed a strong campaign of denunciation of the atrocities committed by the invaders, causing more than 100,000 dead. What were the challenges to get supporters to your cause?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — Economic and strategic interests of the Cold War prevailed over human rights. At that time there was no digital media as we have today which we could use to break the silence of traditional media that were in collusion with the great powers.
ATLANTICO — You lived 24 years outside their country. What feelings came to his head during that period?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — Always believing, never giving up, all day, every day, I did something to publicize the plight of the people, gain world sympathy, always believing that one day justice would be done. And so it was in 1999. There were 24 years of hope, of faith, fight!
ATLANTICO — As a young adult, you began to fight for a cause. What lessons would you give to young people in the world who somehow claim improvements to their countries?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — Never give up on dreams, our ambitions, never discouraged. And when faced with the violence of the great and the extremists, not give in to violence and hate, because hate wears, corrodes our own values and we become like those who oppress us. The extremists, despots, are always defeated because their ideologies and practices do not have popular receptivity. Sooner or later extremist ideologies are discredited and defeated.
ATLANTICO — How do you evaluate the scenario of human rights in the world today?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — The overall human rights situation is much better than it was 30 years ago. There is a greater awareness, a greater commitment from the international community to punish human rights violators, greater intervention capacity to prevent and punish genocide. But there are still very serious situations — in Myanmar, persecution and violence against Muslim ethnic minorities. In Palestine, where millions of Palestinians are still oppressed, sanctioned, denied the right to a nation. There is still a lot of violence and discrimination against women, especially in Africa and Asia. But globally, the world is better and women increasingly assert themselves, hold leadership positions in the private, public and academic.
ATLANTICO — What aspects are taken into account in a peace process?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — You must listen, listen and listen to the marginalized, the poor, youth and women. Dialogue is necessary, and dialogue does not mean those who have the power to speak and talk to others. Dialogue means listening to those who have no voice. Also need courage from all sides for compromises and mutual concessions.
ATLANTICO — Digital networks have been widely used to expose human rights violations and consequently have been the target of governments to control them. What are your views regarding this increasingly connected world, where cyber- activism is a reality?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — There is an impossible mission for any regime trying to control the flow of information. Even North Korea cannot control 100% the information from abroad. The cyber activism leads to elect and topple governments, deprives governments the monopoly of decisions. That’s good, but it can also be very bad because it can be used and manipulated by non-clean interests who want to destabilize a democratic government when this government has economic and social policies that are not pleasing to the powerful and the rich.
ATLANTICO — What is the status of East Timor after independence? Where the country has advanced and what challenges remain to be overcome?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — In just 12 years we have made many advances, more and better than many countries that are independent for many more years. In 2002, after 24 years of Indonesian occupation, we had 16 Timorese doctors. Since 2003, the independent East Timor, with Cuba’s exemplary cooperation, produced more than 700 Timorese doctors with another 400 more to be formed. In two or three years, proportionally, East Timor will have more doctors than any country in Asia. The country’s Human Development Index has improved a lot, now located at 122 among 192 countries, better than any African country the exception of South Africa and Cape Verde. Extreme poverty and child mortality, malaria and dengue incidence dropped a lot. But there are still many problems of child under-nutrition and poor school performance. Over 90% of children are in schools, but the quality of teaching is very deficient. Our judicial system is very fragile despite the support of Portugal, Brazil and Cape Verde. But this is natural. The judicial system needs two to three generations to equip with large frames, well-trained academically and professional experience.
ATLANTICO — How is the work of improving the democratic institutions of a nation?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — The construction of the Rule of Law takes time, two to three generations, a lot of vision and commitment, patience and determination. There is no shortcuts.
ATLANTICO — What is the influence of religion in peace processes around the world?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — Thousands of innocent people have been sacri- ficed on the altar of religions and not only Islamic extremism committing atrocities. The history of Christianity is also a history of barbarity committed in the name of Christ. There have always been religious leaders who incite hatred and wars as there have also been many religious leaders who greatly contributed and continue to contribute to peace in the world. To them, I pay a tribute.
ATLANTICO — Be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 help in propagating your ideals? What is the significance of this award to you?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — The Nobel Prize gives a forum, a platform. But one must know how to use this platform wisely, with balance and moderation, to have impact.
ATLANTICO — What are your next projects?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — I have a very busy agenda. I am the president of a high-level independent panel to UN Peacekeeping Operations. It makes the evaluation and reflection on the best mechanisms for preventing and resolving conflicts, and the faster and more effective intervention to prevent genocide and wars. And I am vice-president of the Asian Council for Peace and Reconciliation, nonstate group of former heads of state and government of Asia, who helps to reduce tensions and avoid conflicts in Asia. Our agenda is, as an example, the tensions resulting from the border dispute in the South China Sea involving six Asian countries. I am also special envoy of the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries) to support the political process in Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea.
ATLANTICO — What is the first step to promote Peace?
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA — Listen to all sides and understand the roots of the tensions and conflicts, create space for dialogue, encourage parties to believe that it is possible that there are no losers, that everyone can gain from peace and that peace brings dividends for everyone.