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DEVELOPMENT: Brazil to Help East Timor, from Health to Football

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 30 2002 (IPS) - Brazil will provide assistance in a wide range of areas to help rebuild East Timor, the world’s newest nation and one of its poorest, whose first president, José Alexandre Xanana Gusmao, is visiting Latin America’s largest country this week.

Brazil’s aid to East Timor began even prior to May 20, when the South Pacific island nation won independence from Indonesia 27 years after that country’s bloody invasion. But cooperation will be stepped up through a new bilateral commission, Gusmao announced after meeting with Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso Monday.

At this point in time, Brazil lacks financial resources, but it is eager to provide technical cooperation in all areas, said Cardoso.

That decision confirms the Brazilian government’s interest in helping rebuild the world’s youngest country, a former Portuguese colony that lost one-third of its population during the 1975 invasion by Indonesia.

Brazil is the first country to which President Gusmao has made an official visit. Gusmao, a former guerrilla leader who headed his country’s independence struggle, triumphed in the April presidential elections with 82.7 percent of the vote.

In April 2000, Gusmao visited several cities in Brazil, as president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT).

This week he will also take part in the Fourth Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Community of Portuguese- Speaking Countries (CPLP), to take place in Brasilia Wednesday and Thursday.

The summit will formalise the admission of the new country, which is located on the eastern half of the island of Timor, as the eighth member of the CPLP, which is made up of Portugal and its former colonies in Africa and the Americas: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tomé and Príncipe.

The language linking the CPLP members is spoken by just 10 to 15 percent of the people of East Timor, said Gusmao, who explained that a full 60 percent of the population is under 25, and has had no contact with the Portuguese language, which was banned during the Indonesian occupation.

The country’s 800,000 people speak at least 22 different languages and dialects, which makes communication extremely difficult in East Timor, said Regina Dominguez, with the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Research (IBASE).

But in the next 10 years, the expansion of Portuguese will make a “leap”, as it is the second official language, along with Tetum, the most widely-spoken native tongue, and Brazil will play a major role in that process, said Gusmao.

Besides Brazil’s cooperation in formal education and literacy drives, the soap operas that this country exports around the world are a key factor in helping the Timorese learn Portuguese, said Deputy Minister of Foreign Business Affairs and Cooperation, José Luiz Guerres.

The government of East Timor has obtained pledges of only 340 million dollars in donations from several countries for the first three years of independent life of that nation, which has been torn apart by war.

It is not very much, but “now it is up to the Timorese” to show donors that we will administer the funds in a clean, transparent manner, and that we can create a political and legal setting that is capable of drawing investors, said Gusmao.

On the economic front, negotiations to foment Brazilian investment in the oil, fishing and tourism industries are underway, as well as support in reforestation and agricultural production, especially coffee.

Brazil’s assistance will also be important in creating an independent judiciary, through the contribution of several Brazilian jurists who are already helping the East Timorese draw up laws and set up local institutions.

This South American nation of 162 million will also help East Timor in a wide range of areas like health, international policy, military training, vocational-technical education, radio and television broadcasting, and even football.

In addition, Brazilian non-governmental organisations are taking part in campaigns to help address East Timor’s most pressing problems.

Last year, IBASE, in conjunction with local organisations, developed a project for “citizen education”, aimed at orienting popular participation in the election of a Constituent Assembly that will write the new constitution, through the use of community radio stations.

“It was an intense and exciting task,” despite difficulties like a total lack of resources and training, said Domingues, who coordinated the project. One of the biggest obstacles was the number of dialects spoken in East Timor.

For its part, the Children’s Pastoral, a Catholic Church group in Brazil, carried to East Timor its own successful techniques for fighting malnutrition and infant mortality, which are enormous problems in the island nation.

In Brazil, the Pastoral has brought infant mortality down from 29 per 1,000 live births – the national average – to 13 per 1,000 in the poor communities where it is active.

The National Service of Industry, a business organisation dedicated to technical training, will also set up skills training workshops in East Timor, said Domingues.

The welcome that Brazilians have received in East Timor could not be warmer, thanks to the good image left by the military personnel that Brasilia sent to the United Nations peacekeeping mission and the operation that helped oversee the independence process.

Brazil’s armed forces cultivated excellent relations with the East Timorese, unlike other contingents, like the Portuguese or Australians, said Domingues.

Brazil will even be helping East Timor in the area of football. Brazilian physical education expert Ricardo Whitaker Pacheco is the coach of the East Timor national team.

Many of the Timorese footballers play for just “a hot meal,” due to the magnitude of the poverty in East Timor, Pacheco said in an interview that was published Sunday by the daily O Estado de Sao Paulo.

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