In the face of hostile questioning from an engaged audience, Jose Ramos-Horta, whose peace efforts in East Timor brought him the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, eventually won the hearts of most of his listeners in a speech last night at the ARCO Forum.
Ramos-Horta addressed the topic, "Pragmatism and Morality: The Case of East Timor" before an audience of over 200 people.
A former Portuguese colony located 400 miles northwest of Australia, East Timor--after a time of brief independence--was invaded on Dec. 7, 1975 by the former Dutch colony of Indonesia.
According to a pamphlet distributed at the speech by representatives of the East Timor Action Network of Boston, more than 200,000 East Timorese have lost their lives in the civil war and genocide that ensued.
Ramos-Horta took little credit his Nobel Prize.
"Those who earned the right to this award are, in fact, the people of East Timor," he said.
Ramos-Horta also credited the Catholic Church in East Timor for the humanitarian role it played in assisting victims.
The speaker criticized nations--including the U.S.--for assistance to Indonesia, and for "turning a blind eye" to the plight of the East Timorese.
"We understand that the United States is not a philanthropic institution," he said. "But it could pursue a more positive neutrality".
He called upon the Clinton administration to appoint a special representative to East Timor, but acknowledged that "[The Clinton] administration has done more than any other previous administration or any other country" for the East Timorese.
While admitting that "there is no comparison" between the East Timor genocide and the Holocaust, Ramos-Horta stressed that some lessons learned from the killing of European Jewry in the 1940s are applicable today.
The speaker also received his own does of criticism from several members of the audience during the question-and-answer period following the speech.
Domingos Policarpo accused Ramos-Horta of starting the civil war in East Timor and then leaving his suffering country for a life of ease elsewhere.
"The people in the United States deserve a more complete version" of the situation in East Timor, he said.
"He's having a good life abroad talking in the name of the people of East Timor.... He doesn't really know what is going on in East Timor", Policarpo said.