This article was originally posted on the Student Peace Prize website and reposted with permission. Antero da Silva is one of the first alumni of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute.
Timor-Leste is a country in Southeast Asia, and is one of the youngest countries in the world as it got it’s independence May 20th 2002, after a long and brutal fight against the Indonesian occupation. From the 16th century Timor-Leste was a Portuguese colony, until the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) declared the territory’s independence in 1975. Only nine days after the independence from Portugal, Timor-Leste was occupied by Indonesia. The Indonesian occupation were characterized by struggle, violence, and conflict between the Indonesian military and independence fighters.
Antero Benedito da Silva
Antero da Silva grew up during this chaotic time, but was always dreaming of an independent and peaceful island. Da Silva founded East Timor Student Solidarity Council (ETSSC) in 1998, as a way for students to participate in the ongoing struggle for independence and democracy. He opened up student offices across the whole island, where people could learn about the benefits for an independent country. The Indonesian military and government did not approve of this, and were fighting against the opposition with all means. This led to deaths of several students, and just being part of a student organization made you a target for the Indonesian military. Antero da Silva, as the founder of ETSSC, were seen as one of the most important activists during the struggle for independence and democracy in Timor-Leste. And in 1999 he and ETSSC were awarded the Student Peace Prize for their non-violent against the Indonesian occupation. Da Silva’s work proved to be effective as the country became independent only a few years after he received the Student Peace Prize.
Da Silva initiated the establishment of the Peace Centre of the National University of East Timor (UNTL), hoping to provide a space for a continuous dialogue and learning with the young people. Since the Peace Centre was formally established on February 14th 2007, there are now over 200 students associated with the centre, either as volunteers, participants in short training or as postgraduate and master students. The centre is also used by other organizations, such as Woman Peace and Leadership program (WPL) and West-Sahara solidary group. Today Antero da Silva is the director of the Peace Centre, and is actively encouraging students to become politically and socially engaged.
Even though Timor-Leste has come a long way since the Indonesian occupation, there are still some challenges within the country. Almost 80% of Timor-Leste’s population are farmers who are not very engaged in politics, in addition to this about half of the population is illiterate. This causes great difficulties to a well-functioning democracy, as it is supposed to represent the country as a whole.
Da Silva’s work is just as important today as it was in the 1990s. His work to engage students as well as farmers is highly important as the country’s fourth presidential election is coming up this year. The Peace Project hopes to assist Antero da Silva as much as they can in the process of creating more engagement among the people of Timor-Leste.