In this Saturday, April 14, 2018, photo, Nobel peace prize laureate and former East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta talks to journalists in Dili, East Timor. Ramos-Horta waded back into the young country's politics ahead of parliamentary elections next month, calling the government a total failure in the past decade in crucial areas such as reducing child malnutrition and providing clean water. (AP Photo/Kandhi Barnez)

People with very little understanding on East Timor and Papuan history will often, mistakenly, identify West Papua as “the new East Timor”. It is important to realize that Indonesian government are very much present in Papua nowadays, and Indonesian society as a whole cares the most about Papuan environment, culture and well-being in this digital era.

West Papua: Not a New East Timor

Whenever people talk about the issue of West Papua, there is a degree of authority needed for someone to be believable among many people, and the authority comes from two sources: power, and expertise.

A former prime minister of East Timor himself, Jose Ramos-Horta had both power and expertise. He is also a Nobel peace prize laureate of 1996, rewarded for his peaceful struggle in advocating the rights of East Timorese people.

In April 2018 (14/4), Ramos-Horta took time to talk to Miami Herald regarding his view on West Papua issues. He explained that East Timor was actually a very different case.

Knowing The Difference

The country was a 400-year Portuguese colony, while West Papuans already speak Indonesian language when the Dutch invaded in 1960s. East Timor was under continuous influence of Portuguese colonial government after Japan surrendered to the alliance in the end of World War II, the very same moment when Indonesia declared its independence along with Papua as an integral part of the world-famous archipelago.

East Timor gained independence through a referendum on August 30th 1998, by a majority vote where 78% of the people demanded independence from Republic of Indonesia. West Papua, on the other hand, remained a part of the republic as the result of Act of Free Choice referendum earlier in 1969.

The history of West Papua can be traced back to battles against the Dutch colonizers, when troops from Java and other parts of Indonesia took action to help Papuans defend themselves. East Timor was facing a completely different situation when the Portuguese colonial government clawed back to retain power over East Timor territory.

Economy is also a big difference between East Timor and West Papua. By the time East Timor held the referendum, the region was under strong Portuguese colonial influence and most people were living below poverty line. Even now, East Timor is still placed 133th out of 189 countries in Human Development index. About 20% of its population is still unemployed in 2019, and half of the population lives with less than US$1.25 per day.

As someone who undergone 1960’s era of East Timor regime, Ramos-Horta founded the leftist political party of East Timor, before leaving the party in 1988, after being the spokesperson for 13 years. He Ramos-Horta said the situation in Papua is not comparable to East Timor’s independence struggle and there’s no role for the U.N. in the conflict.

The United Nations via UNTEA was in charge of West Papuan administration for 7 months between 1962-1963. The 7 months was enough of a neutral ground for West Papuans to deliberate on the decision: to side with the Dutch or the Indonesian. Referendum was held 6 years after that period.

The Importance of Economic Approach

Ramos-Horta believes that the current administration will be able to resolve remaining conflict and violence without separation. He said that the West Papuan need to feel that the rest of Indonesia really care for their presence, and Indonesian president Joko Widodo is so far on the right track. The president is proven more popular, and also practical with his economic policies.

In comparison, Papuan government 50 years ago was more about the establishment of Freeport copper and gold mines. The situation has drastically changed today.

Joko Widodo has visited Papua 10 times in 5 years, while the regime way back in 1960s, in the time of Ramos-Horta’s political campaign, paid 5 visits in 30 years time. Rather than expanding the production capacity of industries in Papua, Jokowi focused his policies on developing the human resource and living condition of Papuan people first.

Taking Good Care of Papua

In 2018, the Government of President Joko Widodo allocated budget for the Special Autonomy Fund for Papua and West Papua, and it was even bigger than ever: US$ 4.7 billion (assuming exchange rate per December 12, 2018). That number in West Papua equals to Rp14,7 million of subsidy per person per year, roughly equals the minimum wage.

Special Autonomy Funds are given to reduce inequality, alleviate poverty, equate education. In 2002-2016, the special autonomy fund granted by Indonesia to Papua was as high as US$ 32,572,000,000 with major allocation in healthcare of 15% (USD 4,882,400,000).

Meanwhile, there has never been a separatist group and sympathizers of Free West Papua supporters who discussed how they would develop Papua. They do play some roles in pushing progression on human rights cases, but never actually provided solutions to either human rights issues or economic ones. In short, they ‘strive’ for independence without a clear development plan basis.

The Indonesian government has succeeded in decreasing the poverty rate in Papua province from 46.35% (2000) to 28.54% (2016) and in West Papua province from 39.31% (2007) to 25.73% (2015). Human Development Index in West Papua also improved by 1.79 points in 2017, now higher than Vanuatu, and almost as developed as India.

Now What?

Indonesia has to be there when the Papua needs them. The more that we care about Papuan economy, people, and culture, the more we will see that we are all on the same side.

The priority of the government should be carrying on the development of humans and economy of Papuans in general. While doing so, West Papua will followingly become a safer place not only for Papuans to live in, but also all of us.