Timor Today - After several turbulent years following independence in 2002, Timor-Leste is now enjoying unprecedented stability and economic growth. More than a year has passed since the last significant incidence of political violence or unrest, giving hope that the pattern of instability recorded since 2002 may be broken. The government of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, in power since mid-2007, has resolved several domestic political challenges relating to the 2006 political and security crisis.
Three national elections in 2007 demonstrated the resilience of democracy in Timor-Leste despite decades of conflict. Revenues from offshore oil production enabled public sector-led economic growth of 12.5% in 2008. A UN Security Council mandate, in force since 2006, provides 1500 UN police to maintain security. Australia and New Zealand contribute 700 military personnel to an International Stabilization Force, and Portugal has sent 150 police to support Timor-Leste's security forces. Timor-Leste enjoys friendly relations with its neighbor Indonesia, and strong partnerships with the U.S., Japan, the European Union and others.
Nevertheless, Timor-Leste remains Asia’s poorest country, with high rates of infant and maternal mortality, unemployment and infectious disease. It faces enormous gaps in basic infrastructure, from roads to electric power, telecommunications, ports, schools and hospitals. Eighty-five percent of Timor-Leste’s labor force is engaged in subsistence agriculture and, with the exception of oil and coffee, the country produces very little for export. Functional illiteracy is above 70% while close to 50% of the adult population has zero educational attainment. The resulting shortage of managerial, executive, technical and organizational capacity severely weakens government institutions as well as the private sector. Poverty, brittle security institutions and political conflict pose the greatest risks to the maintenance of stability in this young democracy.
WHAT IS THE U.S. DOING?
A robust USAID program focuses on strengthening Timor- Leste’s institutions of democratic governance, fostering private sector-led economic growth and improving health. Flagship projects include supporting the country’s largest coffee farmer cooperative, with 20,000 member families, responsible for all of Timor-Leste’s high-grade coffee exports to the U.S., Japan and Europe. A land and property rights project will for the first time establish secure title to all landholdings in Timor-Leste. Through a media project, USAID is helping Timorese journalists improve the quality and expand the reach of the free press to all citizens of Timor-Leste. USAID strengthens malaria control by distributing insecticide-treated bednets to all children and pregnant women in seven priority districts, as well as by improving detection and treatment of the disease. Departments of State and Defense programs have focused on police training and assisting the logistical capabilities of the military. A senior Department of Justice attorney will soon help Timorese efforts to ensure access to justice and the rule of law. The U.S. Pacific Command has supported the development of Timor-Leste’s first national security policy, and deployed a unit of Seabees to launch an engineering apprenticeship program and rebuild Timorese schools and health clinics. During a two-week visit in July 2008, the USNS Mercy treated nearly 10,000 Timorese.
All forms of appropriated U.S. assistance to Timor-Leste since 2000 total $273 million. For 2008, the U.S. appropriated approximately $25 million in aid.
OTHER PARTNERS, OTHER SOURCES OF PROGRESS: The international community is committed to Timor-Leste’s success, with the UN, Australia, Japan, and the European Union investing considerably in the country’s economic and social development. China also has a significant presence, as do several international NGOs such as Care and Catholic Relief Services. Timor-Leste enjoys modest natural resources, including oil and gas deposits. Oil revenues are saved in a sovereign wealth fund, known as the Petroleum Fund, which is assessed internationally as exemplary in terms of its structure, transparency, management, and investment strategy. Its size ($4.2 billion at end-2008), however, is meager in contrast to the country’s enormous infrastructure needs, particularly in education, health, roads, water/sanitation and electricity.
Population: 1 million (2006)
Income per person: $460 (yr)
Religion: Roman Catholic
Land Area: 14,900 sq. kms.
Form of Government: Parliamentary democracy
Major exports: Petroleum, Coffee, Candlenut; Potential for vanilla and cattle exports.