Pacific Partnership 2011 (PP11) has again returned to Timor-Leste, where the USS Cleveland is moored in Dili harbor, under the outstretched arms of Cristo Rei (Christ the King), an 88-foot statue standing high on a majestic cliff overlooking the city. The leaders of this small island nation of just over a million people have worked closely and productively with us since 2006, reflected in this fourth visit by Pacific Partnership (and during each of the past two years.)
In 2010, Timor-Leste initiated the first "Marathon for Peace," which was an enormous success and includes runs and walks for the entire family. On June 18, nearly 150 PP11 personnel joined President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, including U.S. Ambassador Judith Fergin and PP11 Commodore Jesse Wilson, in the half-marathon or the seven-kilometer fun-run/walk. The country, an independent democracy only since 2002, suffered through long years of violence and oppression, which current leaders are moving to put well behind them. The concepts of forgiveness, accompanied by perseverance, were emphasized by Prime Minister Gusmao during a speech and a meeting with Secretary Clinton in Washington, D.C., in February of this year.
I noted during last year's mission in Dili that the sprawling compound of the Nu Laran school was a major Pacific Partnership challenge, requiring more time and effort than most other projects. So I was delighted to return to Nu Laran several times this week to hold two conferences in the spacious multi-purpose building, and to see the many classrooms filled with children in their bright red-and-white school uniforms. One of our emphases this year is to evaluate current and former Pacific Partnership programs; returning to a vibrant school like Nu Laran, now with renovated buildings, running water in the bathrooms and freshly-painted surfaces, was an encouraging and rewarding experience.
But Pacific Partnership has not been confined to Dili. We are doing medical, dental, veterinarian, and engineering work in eight of Timor-Leste's 13 districts, including the enclave of Oecussi, which is physically located within the Indonesian province of West Timor. Many of these projects are carried out using the workhorses of Pacific Partnership: the rugged Australian Landing Craft-Heavy (LCH) ships that carry our teams to outlying coastal areas and serve as lodging far from USS Cleveland. In addition, Cleveland's two helicopters have been flying from dawn to dusk, ferrying teams to remote locations, and carrying local and PP11-associated officials to visit the remote projects. When Cleveland departs from Dili on June 25, all the planned projects will be completed. And we will be leaving many additional friends, with whom we have worked and played and shared meals, until the next Pacific Partnership pays a call.