Please Update your browser

Your browser is out of date, and may not be compatible with our website. A list of the most popular web browsers can be found below.
Just click on the icons to get to the download page.

Jakarta Post

The pandemic world: A chance to be better

  • José Ramos-Horta


Dili   /   Sat, May 9, 2020   /   03:28 pm
The pandemic world: A chance to be better White shoes are displayed during a demonstration by Registered Nurses and the National Nurses United (NNU) members, on behalf of healthcare workers nationwide who have passed away due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, during a protest outside the White House in Washington, U.S., May 7, 2020. (REUTERS/Tom Brenner)

I have read the bloggers who say that the silver lining in COVID-19 is that we are realizing that we are all part of one family.

Sure, we are a human family, and some are the rich relations. And the richer relatives probably rarely speak of, much less to, the homeless cousins in Los Angeles, in the banlieus of Paris, the brown ones, Asians and Latinos. If you are one of the few Asian super rich, you are reminded of the miserable existence of your outcast relations when you look down from your penthouse.

Much too late into the COVID-19 pandemic the US administration and Congress finally mobilized trillions of dollars to address the extreme social upheaval and economic meltdown. And sadly, there was not one word about sharing some of that staggering amount with its humbler neighbors and others across the globe.

Instead, the current US administration has proposed massive cuts in Overseas Development Aid and frozen vital funds to the United Nations and the very institution - the World Health Organization - most of us are dependent on to help contain the pandemic. This mobilization of money was all about America first and America last.

The European Union though usually slower to move on any issue did mobilize nearly one trillion dollars to salvage its citizens and economy. Again, there was no mention of sharing a meaningful portion of it with Europe's neighbors.

I understand the difficulty of having to stay inside when one is used to moving. For many it has been nerve wracking, not being able to find toilet paper or flour to bake bread with their newly found time. According to the World Food Program (WFP), 135 million people in our world face crisis levels of hunger. Now as economies are collapsing due to this global COVID-19, exacerbated by regional conflicts fueled by Western and Russian arms producers, an additional 130 million people are on the edge of starvation leading us into what the WFP executive director has called famines of “biblical proportion.”

We have an opportunity to come out of this disaster of unprecedented magnitude with new priorities and a plan of action to rebuild our countries and societies.

If there is an overriding lesson from COVID-19, it is that with families and nations alike, the health of the unit is only as strong as its weakest link. The other lesson is that no walls are high and thick enough to prevent millions of desperately poor to march towards the affluent North, the US or Europe.

We have seen how the wretched of the world, the unwanted, will continue to venture through the unforgiving deserts of North Africa, defy storms and die on Mediterranean beaches. The strongest and luckiest ones having survived unscrupulous human traffickers and the unforgiving wrath of nature, exhausted and hungry, camp at the gates of Europe.

Across the world, we have all had agonized moments when we have come face to face with the prospect of our own mortality and our fragility.

There is an approach that has worked in the past and could work again. After World War II, up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the wealthy faced another threat to their security, the rise of totalitarianism in the West. There were, at two different times, two different strategies to address this threat. One proved to be a dismal failure. The other a resounding success.

One strategy was to fight the rise of communism at the doorstep of the wealthy included the establishment and funding of the Contras – the US-armed and trained mercenaries in Central America to fight new generations of romantic youth inspired by El Che and Fidel, with funding and arms from the Soviet Union. In a proxy battleground, both sides trained youth and sent them to kill.

When the Cold War ended, the US and Soviet military advisers went home, with no thought to repairing

or rebuilding the debacle they had helped to create, leaving behind a cache of weapons, and culture of violence as their legacy. Those trained in murder and torture became useful assets for drug lords.

The other challenge was to address the threat of totalitarianism in post-World War II Europe. In 1948, the US enacted the Marshall Plan sustained by 5 percent of the US GDP to finance the rebuilding of Europe. When one looks at the Europe that emerged, and the vibrant markets for US goods that were created in the process, it was clearly a resounding success.

One program answered a threat with fear, violence, and death. The other rebuilt the health of the nations and fostered freedom and strong democratic institutions and traditions.

If we are truly one family, I issue a challenge to my wealthier “cousins” to nourish the health of the entire family, lift the survival potential of all with a modern-day Marshall Plan not for one single region but for all regions. This would require the combined leadership of the G7 + G20 countries. In addition, I propose that we solicit the active engagement of the 1,000 biggest banks in the world, 1,000 biggest companies, 1,000 richest men and women, 1,000 richest Foundations, 1,000 universities, and 1,000 richest churches to invest in the green and blue economy, sustainable agriculture, clean water, education and health, modern clinics and hospitals, science and medical research institutes, create meaningful jobs in every country in the world.

For starters, I plead:

  • That the US lifts all sanctions on Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea to kick start these economies severely damaged by COVID-19 and the global economic meltdown, not of their making.
  • That the world’s financial institutions, creditors nations, and commercial banks write off the entire debt of all least developed countries and of the so-called “highly indebted countries”. Relieved from the debt burden, countries should invest more in infrastructure, education, and health, employment creation, fostering of small business and agriculture, green energy, and blue economy.
  • Freeze all weapons exports to all developing countries, for the next 10 years. Remember the slaughter of human beings that you enable with your weapons sales.
  • A worldwide mandatory end of torture and a 10-year moratorium on the death penalty. We are promising to start anew after this global pandemic, aren’t we? This is the least we should do to show our humanity.
  • Last but not least, move further on the Paris Agreement, set a more ambitious 0.5 degree Celsius temperature increase instead of the ridiculous 2-1.5 degree.

Some will say I am naive, that I am proposing the undoable. To them, I will say: Please spare me your old platitudes of realism and pragmatism. They brought us this mess. The luxury of reflection on our connectedness is only of value if it is followed by a plan of action to lift the state of our connected world in tangible ways.

Anything less will continue to leave us all blindsided, while the economies of the West are buoyed by weapons sales and the death of innocent women and children on the other side of this world we share.


Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate and former prime minister (2006-2007) and president (2007-2012) of Timor Leste. The article was published in Wallstreet International Magazine.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.