I’d like to share some great news. In the recent presidential elections in Timor-Leste, over 62% of voters cast their vote for Antioch University alumnus, José Ramos-Horta. President Horta is one of Antioch’s two amazing Nobel Laureates. (Peace, 1996). If his face looks familiar, it’s because he was the cover story in our last edition of Antioch Alumni Magazine. He is set to be sworn in today, May 20. On behalf of Antioch, I wish to send our congratulations and our best wishes for his and his nation’s success in the years to come.
Jose Ramos-Horta had previously served as President of East Timor (now known as Timor-Leste) from 2007-2012. After leaving office as President in 2012, Ramos-Horta was appointed as the United Nations’ Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau.
In resuming the presidency ten years after his last term ended, Ramos-Horta is continuing over fifty years of service to Timor-Leste, the small island nation between Australia and Indonesia. This career spent devoted to his people has been exceptional.
The profile of Ramos-Horta published in our latest Antioch Alumni Magazine explores his 24 years of political exile after Timor-Leste, then known as East Timor, was occupied by Indonesia. It was during his time living in the US that Ramos-Horta attended Antioch University, graduating from our Individualized Master of Arts program, where he created his own MA in Peace Studies. That work, especially his master’s thesis, contributed to his thinking about how to bring peace and freedom to his home country—work he put into action as a key contributor to the creation of the independent state of Timor-Leste. This independent, democratic country came into existence in 2002, and Ramos-Horta served a full term as its second president beginning in 2007.
Today, Ramos-Horta resumes the presidency amidst a number of crises for his small country. Timor-Leste is still dealing with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, which only deepened the nation’s long struggle with poverty. According to the World Bank, 42% of the population of Timor-Leste lives below the poverty line. Now, as the nation faces inflation, the costs of essentials such as cooking oil and rice are increasing. Additionally, as Timor-Leste navigates a global struggle for economic control in Asia between the US and China, the country also faces grinding internal conflict between its two main political parties—a deadlock Ramos-Horta has said he will work to resolve.
We at Antioch wish Ramos-Horta the best as he works to better the lot of the people of Timor-Leste. Running once more for Timor-Leste’s presidency seems to me to be a continuation of Ramos-Horta’s long service to his nation’s independence and democratic values. As we know, when a democracy faces many crises simultaneously, it can imperil this precious form of government. But in the face of all these crises, I was heartened to hear that more than 75% of eligible voters turned out to vote in the presidential runoff. This mass participation puts the United States’ democratic participation to shame, and it is a reminder that we in the US could and should do more to get every eligible voter to the polls.
I hope that Ramos-Horta’s continued devotion and service to his country reminds and inspires all of us across the Antioch community that even though our work may never be finally complete, we must keep pushing forward to live out our values and serve each other.