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International Relations

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Deputy Prime Minister José Luís Guterres has watched his country achieve its freedom and become a beacon for other freedom-seeking peoples

Deputy Prime Minister José Luís Guterres

DILI – Midway through what would become a long day of budget hearings as part of a transparency initiative, José Luís Guterres stood at the doorway, meeting and greeting concerned citizens in this capital city. The former Ambassador to the U.S. and the United Nations and current deputy prime minister, reflected on Timor-Leste’s commitment to democracy and its own progress.

“I’m sure we are setting the right goals,” he said. “The policies that we have implemented have in reality solved many problems.”

“We have received so much, and it is time for us to give to other peoples who are suffering” José Luís Guterres Deputy Prime Minister of Timor-Leste

Guterres was a member of the National Council of Timorese Resistance and also of the Central Committee of the Fretilin Congress, which is a major political party in Timor-Leste. As former Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs he traveled widely and worked to ensure that Timor-Leste remained visible before the international community.

He became the first Ambassador of Timor-Leste to the U.S. with a concurrent accreditation as Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2002 to 2003.Perhaps his greatest achievement during his tenure was helping to lead the initiative to help the more than 150,000 internally displaced people living in Timor-Leste at the time of independence.

Colleagues at the United Nations cautioned him that it would take 10 to 15 years to solve the problem. Guterres shook his head and said Timor-Leste didn’t have the luxury of time, and ultimately solved the problem in a couple of years by engaging with government ministries and civil society organizations.

He credits the spirit of the Timorese in achieving their own independence, but he is equally quick to praise the international community. He specifically extolled President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright for their assistance to Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste turns ten in 2012,and Guterres believes it is time for Timor-Leste to give back.

Timor-Leste has signed onto major United Nations human rights conventions, establishing itself as a defender of human rights. In recent years, Timor-Leste has also provided financial support to other countries in need, including $1 million in aid to Japan during the tsunami.Timor-Leste also leads the g7+, a consortium of weak and fragile states that aims to transform the way foreign aid is distributed.

“We have received so much, and it is time for us to give to other peoples who are suffering,” he said. “We value freedom, human rights and democracy.”

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