At the turn of the twenty-first century, a small half-island nation emerged from the chaos of conflict against monumental odds. Within just 15 years of independence, Timor-Leste managed to become the most democratic nation in Southeast Asia. Its success was possible due to the skill of its leaders, shifts in geopolitics, and unprecedented levels of international support. Leaders were able to unite East Timor’s ethnically and politically divided society and transform it into a powerful resistance network that coalesced military, clandestine, diplomatic, and activist efforts at a critical juncture in history. A successful campaign to win the hearts and minds of the global audience and the realignment of powerful interests after the Cold War culminated in considerable pressure on Indonesia to release its grip. Brief UN administration and considerable commitments from Australia, Portugal, the United States, and other nations to construct institutions and deploy troops helped prevent a return to violence. Timor-Leste’s savvy and dynamic leadership capitalized on this international support and managed to use its considerable oil reserves to overcome fragility. Despite centrifugal forces, the leadership continues to share aspirations of building a sovereign and prosperous nation.
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