East Timor Ambassador Visits Bridgwater

East Timor Ambassador visits Bridgwater

Joao Paolo da Costa Rangel has just become the East Timorese Ambassador to the UK. His second official visit (after Peterborough) is Bridgwater where he was greeted by Mayor of the Town Cllr Mick Lerry and a civic and community delegation. But why Bridgwater? In fact our town is one of the top 5 host communities in the country for the citizens of East Timor, or Timor Leste, as it’s also known, and as the new government of this new country seek to make friends around the world, it became a priority for the new ambassador. There are some 600+ people from this small Pacific Ocean island nation in Bridgwater, living and working and bringing their unique Oceanic culture to our cosmopolitan town. Later this year King Charles will be visiting East Timor on a post Brexit survey of potential trading partners, including this oil and coffee rich state, the their President and Prime Minister (and rebel leader) Xanana Gusmao will be visiting the Uk…and maybe Bridgwater.

East Timor community leader Lisa Jeronimo with Timorese dancers in the Town Hall

East Timor is half of a small island in the Indonesian archipelago just north of Australia. It was conquered by the Portuguese Empire while the Dutch Empire occupied the western part-thereafter dividing a nation into 2 seperate cultures. The protestant Dutch dominated to the west, who went on to join Indonesia and the catholic Portuguese lands to the east which sought their independence.

Portugal Frees its Empire

In 1974 the Portuguese decided Empires were actually a bad thing and overthrew their own neo fascist Government in the ‘Carnation revolution’ and the following year set about freeing the states of the Portuguese empire. Angola and Mozambique crumbled into civil war and East Timor was immediately occupied from West Timor by the Indonesian Government. For nearly 30 years the country suffered a brutal occupation from the authoritarian Suharto Government with some 200,000 people being massacred, many fleeing and others staying to fight a desperate guerilla war in the hills and forests. Many of the Timorese sought asylum in the West and others, with Portuguese passports, moved where they could find work and safety, including the EU and the UK.

East Timor frees itself..finally

Cllr Mick Lerry, Mayor of Bridgwater, greets the Ambassador

In 1998 the Suharto regime fell in Indonesia and the new left leaning Government of  BJ Habibie who brought about widescale reform including ending the occupation of East Timor and granting them Independence.  East Timor became the first new independent state of the 21st century  on 20th May 2002.

Visiting Bridgwater Town Hall, the Ambassador, Mr Rangel, thanked the people of the town through its Mayor, for hosting the Timorese and for the friendship and hospitality  shown, while local community organiser Lisa Jeronimo, presented a performance of East Timorese song and dance on the Town Hall stage and provided Oceanic food of papaya, rice and an array of spices.

Cllr Mick Lerry warmly welcomed the Ambassador and the Timorese community and they exchanged gifts. Bridgwater had contributed a silver salver for the Embassy whilst the Ambassador brought friendship adornments and numerous bags of Timorese coffee.

Culture, Internationalism and Friendship

Sally Mann, Quayside festival, bringing people of all nations together through shared culture

Town Council Leader, Cllr Brian Smedley(Westover, Labour) said “The East Timorese have suffered incredibly in their fight for independence and in their struggle for dignity and security. They are very welcome here in this working class town, no stranger to struggle and proud of our internationalism. Bridgwater is a cultural hub with our carnival, festival, and creative arts traditions and the Timorese bring an exciting new dimension to this and to our multi-cultural community.”

Bridgwater Together

Michal Puzynski from Somerset Diverse Communities and a key organiser of Bridgwater Together

Also present were Sally Mann, organiser of the Quayside festival at which the Timorese recently performed and Michal Puzinski, the Polish manager of the Somerset Diverse Communities organisation, Annamarie Gould, the Town Council’s Community outreach worker plus the new Catholic Priest Father Michael Thomas whose congregation has now grown to the largest in this town.

Cllr Smedley added “Bridgwater Town Council supports our guest worker communities and encourages everyone to work together to enhance the town for the better. We provide funds and support for the Bridgwater Together organisation which is a leader in the town for this move towards integration, mutual support and inter community understanding.