Subject: Time: Q & A: Xanana Gusmão

From the Magazine | Notebook

Q & A: Xanana Gusmão

TIME talks to East Timor's President


Thursday, Jan. 04, 2007

Xanana Gusmão has played many roles over the years: jailed dissident opposing Indonesia's subjugation of East Timor; jungle commander leading a rebellion against an occupation army; reluctant President heading a new nation still wracked by violence and poverty. Now, at 60, Gusmão is the subject of a documentary about his struggles to make East Timor independent and viable. Directed by Singaporean broadcast journalist Grace Phan, A Hero's Journey is a tale of forgiveness and reconciliation, and recently won Amnesty International's Movies that Matter Award. TIME's Jason Tedjasukmana talked with Gusmão about both the real and reel worlds.

In the film you reminisce about the past. Was it easier to fight a war against the Indonesians than it is now to run the peace? It is more difficult now. The recent violence [in East Timor] reflects frustration with social change. That is why we need to prove to the people that all the suffering of the past must be honored.

Have you forgiven the Indonesian government for its 24 years of brutal occupation of East Timor?

We already did in 1999 when [East Timor's capital] Dili was still burning and we could still smell the destruction. For us [the occupation] was a historical mistake.

Has forgiving Indonesia brought any benefits to your nation?

I think so. People are now taking advantage of the good relationship between the two countries. Indonesia is our closest neighbor; 80% of our trade is with Indonesia.

You have said that the East Timorese are still fighting. For what?

For social justice. In a society where people are busy with their jobs, they will not have time to engage in violence because they will be preoccupied with work. But because they don't have jobs it is easier to behave in the wrong way.

Have you disappointed your people?

We keep telling the people that we cannot change everything in one day. We ask them to understand that in the past four years we have tried to build the institutions of the state. That is not an easy task. In the next couple of years we will start development programs, but we know that four years without jobs is not easy for them.

Is an independent East Timor governable after so many years of occupation and colonization?

In the beginning of any process some crises are inevitable, but we have to remember that we were beginning from zero. We have to build everything. We are aware that we are not mature enough yet, but that does not mean we are not able.

Will you run for President again after your current term ends in May?

No way. It was a mistake [to run before] and I will carry this burden until May 19. We just signed a deal with Australia to import pumpkins, so I would prefer to become a pumpkin seller.

From the Jan. 15, 2007 issue of TIME Asia magazine

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