You never know what you are going to find around a corner in this rugged island country, as we recently rediscovered. This year, Timor-Leste will celebrate its tenth birthday and hold presidential and parliamentary elections. If the political and security situation remains stable, the transition to the next government is smooth, and space for a democratic opposition remains open, then the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste, including the UN police contingents, and the Australia/New Zealand-led International Stabilization Force will depart by the end of the year.
Braving rainy season landslides and wash-outs that make even more perilous than usual the hazardous roads that thread through the mountains and hug the narrow coast, U.S. Mission Dili members have criss-crossed the country in pre-election swings. The results have been reassuring -- and picturesque, with something unexpected around every bend, from sunrays breaking through the clouds swirling through steep-sided valleys to a traditional 'uma lulik' spirit house.
"Parseria permanente" -- a permanent partnership. That's our relationship with Timor-Leste. Even before the 1999 popular consultation that led to independence from Indonesia, the United States supported the Timorese people with scholarships and support to coffee farmers -- millions of Americans have sipped a Starbucks brew made from organic Arabica coffee grown in the cool hills of Ermera. With enthusiastic support from Congress and the administration, the partnership has expanded greatly with activity since the UN restored sovereignty to Asia's youngest democracy in 2002. The U.S. mission includes the Departments of State, Defense, and Justice and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Timor-Leste also hosts an enduring deployment of a detachment of U.S. Navy Seabees. PACOM, NCIS, the Coast Guard, the FBI, DEA, and a host of other agencies join us in building the Timorese institutions and forging the habits of cooperation that allow us to work together across the span of bilateral and multilateral interests. Our two countries frequently collaborate on initiatives to promote human rights around the world, and Timor-Leste has proven its appreciation for international support by dispatching its police and military personnel to peacekeeping missions around the world.
Timor-Leste considers 2012 a defining year in its history -- we will keep readers posted as events unfold.