Francisco Xavier do Amaral obituary

Publié le par The Guardian - Anthony Goldstone

The Guardianpublished 08/03/2012 at 18:33 GMT by Anthony Goldstone

The proclaimer of independence for East Timor

Francisco Xavier do Amaral right
On 28 November 1975, Francisco Xavier do Amaral of Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, proclaimed the territory's independence from Portugal. The next day, though the new government made him president of the nascent republic, it did not invite him to its first council of ministers meeting. Yet Amaral, who has died aged 74, was far more than a figurehead.

The proclamation was a desperate attempt to head off an invasion by Indonesia, which followed on 7 December. The civilian and military leadership, including Amaral, and most of the population fled to the hills and the jungles, intent on fighting back. Within weeks, Amaral became uneasy with this strategy, and differences widened as the Indonesian bombardment of the civilian population intensified.

Amaral later argued that his position had been vindicated. In 1978-79, faced with annihilation, Fretilin told the civilian population to surrender and to continue to work for independence under Indonesian control. This relationship between the clandestine and armed wings of the resistance formed the basis of the non-sectarian "national unity" strategy developed in the 1980s by Xanana Gusmão.

After his arrest in September 1977, Amaral was denounced as a traitor, beaten and burnt by his rivals, confined in a hole in the ground, starved and twice force-marched to new places of detention. Many of his real and putative followers were executed in a purge aimed at stemming the defeatism of which Amaral was accused. In August 1978, he fell into Indonesian hands.

For most of the next 22 years, he was kept as a prisoner of the Indonesian general Dading Kalbuadi, for whom he was obliged to tend his horses and orchids, and was trotted out to mouth support for "integration".

Amaral was born in Turiscai, in the Manufahi district, the eldest son of a local chief. His noble background gave a conservative cast to his politics, but he was strongly nationalist and averse to the effects of colonial neglect. After returning from religious studies in Macau in 1963, he did not become a priest, but a teacher. He then took a job in the customs service and started his own school for Timorese denied a place in one of the few secondary schools.

In May 1974, following the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, Amaral was asked by José Ramos-Horta and Mari Alkatiri to become president of the pro-independence Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT), which that September changed its name to Fretilin. Party politics were a new departure, and Amaral was adept at conveying the unfamiliar ideas involved in a language accessible to ordinary Timorese.

After his return to Timor in 2000, Amaral revived the ASDT label and formed his own party, standing for the presidency in 2002 and 2007. Support in presidential and parliamentary elections ran at about 15% of the national vote.

This was enough to give Amaral considerable leverage, and the two dominant forces, Fretilin and Gusmão, standing as an independent, vied for his support. The Fretilin government made him deputy speaker of parliament when it came to power in 2002. Gusmão, elected as the first president, pressed Fretilin for the full rehabilitation of Amaral and other purge victims. Having defeated an opposition resolution in 2003 to recognise Amaral as the "proclaimer" of Timorese independence, on the eve of the 2007 election Fretilin decided that he deserved the title after all.

In 2007, ASDT became part of the AMP (Alliance of the Parliamentary Majority) governing coalition and Amaral was appointed to the council of state. The following year, he headed a list of 15 leading figures of the liberation struggle honoured by the government. Declining health may have been one reason why these efforts to woo him met with limited success (and why he found it difficult to manage the conflict-riven ASDT), but his even-handed criticism of executive privilege and corruption also reflected his often expressed preference for a politics "that would start at the grassroots and go up".

In 1974 Amaral married Lucia Osorio Soares, whose brothers were prominent members of the pro-Indonesian party Apodeti, but the two soon separated.

Francisco Xavier do Amaral, politician, born 1937; died 6 March 2012

Publié dans Avis de décès

Pour être informé des derniers articles, inscrivez vous :
Commenter cet article