201 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 29 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref O.CH26[0]710 1

I expressed your disappointment and concern to Cruz this morning about the Portuguese request for the withdrawal of the Monginsidi, and rehearsed the arguments in your telegram under reference.

  1. To my surprise, Cruz replied that the Portuguese Government had not (repeat not) asked for the Monginsidi to withdraw. When on 22 August the Indonesian Defence Ministry had sought permission for the Monginsidi to proceed to Dili for evacuation purposes, they had been told that the Portuguese Government had no objection in principle, but that, as the situation in Dili was confused, the ship should contact the Governor on arrival who would be in a position to judge whether in the circumstances an evacuation was practicable. Those instructions still stood. (But see O.JA1490.)2
  2. I replied that in that case there had been a serious misrepresentation of the Portuguese Government's position, because the news media had unequivocally put the blame for the withdrawal on the Portuguese Government. Cruz said (with some bitterness) that it was just another example of 'oriental deviousness' on the part of the Indonesians. It no doubt suited them to misrepresent the Portuguese position in this way. The truth was that the Indonesians were determined to take over Timor by one means or another and (Cruz said) 'the best thing we can do now is let them have it'.
  3. I suggested that the cynicism implicit in his last remark did less than justice to Portugal's decolonisation policy which, from the outset, had recognised the need to give effect to the principle of self-determination so far as circumstances permitted. This touched Cruz on a raw nerve and provoked a highly emotional outburst which is best reported verbatim: 'Portugal is sick and tired of the whole question of decolonisation. For twenty years the international community criticized Portugal for not giving up its colonies.If only Portugal would decolonise, they were told, the international community would provide Portugal with all the help they needed. And what has happened since Portugal's decision to decolonise? Not a cent has been forthcoming from the international community-only some much appreciated help from Australia. When the going gets rough-as in Angola and Timor-Portugal is told by the international community that they are Portuguese responsibilities and that any problems that arise in the decolonisation process must be solved by Portugal. This was the sort of hypocrisy with which Portugal had had to live in recent times. The international community did not give a damn about self-determination. The mistake Portugal made was in thinking that the international community could be counted upon to assist in these matters. Now they knew better. So far as Timor was concerned, they should have handed it over to Indonesia in the first place. As it was, the internation[al] community expected Portugal to carry on in Timor for another three or so years at a cost of some twenty million dollars a year which they could illafford, simply to prepare the ground for its incorporation into Indonesia, which the Indonesians had already decided upon anyway.It was mere sophistry to talk about self-determination in Timor-it was going to become part of Indonesia no matter what the Timorese or anyone else wanted'.
  4. At the end of this outburst, Cruz recovered his composure somewhat and said that he was of course expressing only personal views, 'although what I have said was a fair reflection of the general Portuguese view'.
  5. Having unburdened his soul in this Way, I saw no point in further debate with Cruz on the future of Timor. I therefore sought to bring the discussion back to the specific question of the Monginsidi and suggested that, if the position were as Cruz had described it, he may wish to consider the need for a public statement by the Portuguese Government to set the record straight. Cruz agreed they may have to consider something along those lines.
  6. In conclusion, I mentioned that it now appeared that Santos planned to go to Canberra after Jakarta. We would be glad to see him. As a parting observation, Cruz agreed that the irony of the Timor situation was that the events of 10 August and thereafter in Timor had been largely dictated by events in Portugal itself.


  7. Although I am far from convinced that Cruz's version of events in relation to the Monginsidi is the correct one, (he claimed they had heard nothing from their Charged'Affaires in Jakarta on the subject which is hard to believe) his highly emotional outburst provides a revealing insight into Portuguese thinking and attitudes. Moreover, I believe Cruz when he said his views were generally held by his colleagues. It suggests that a Portuguese request to Indonesia to intervene may be forthcoming, if only because the cynicism of the Portuguese towards Indonesian intentions and the international community is such that they no longer care what happens in Timor (or Angola). They simply want out.


[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/1, xii]