Xavier you are number one


Xavier was the first.

In one of its last acts, the first Timorese parliament, dominated by some of his long-time foes, finally decided to face up to the facts: Xavier was the first President of Timor-Leste. He deserves to be officially recognized as such, with all of the symbolic and humble material privileges that may bring.

In speaking to Lusa, Xavier offered more of his typical wily humor, reporting that Xanana and Ramos Horta called him today. “They congratulated me, but it’s not even my birthday today. I guess they have something to offer me anyways.” Clearly, Xavier is aware of the power he will yield in an eventual unity or coalition government.

He went on to say, “It’s too bad this had to come so late, but thanks to everybody. I still have one or two months to go back home and enjoy what is to come. Even if it’s just eating potatoes.”

I have written about him in various different moments on this blog.

I think appreciating Xavier is key to understanding East Timor as a nation. The man is fascinating, is articulate in many languages, entirely approachable, and dare I say, a living national treasure. (And it’s rare I can say that about people who have endorsed marrying off teenage girls!)

If I had the time, I would be on his front porch tomorrow to ask about writing his biography.


3 thoughts on “Xavier you are number one

  1. In response to the following comment posted on the ETAN list by Lúcio Ferdinando dos Reis Morais

    oh yeah… he’s a national treasure for you, the blogger of raiketak. but i also found some idiosyncratic statements made by xavier, for example he often says that east timor as a majority chatolic country should not be led by a prime minister who was moslem. he referred it to mari, who with horta ‘forced’ him to set up fretilin. this is just to say that we may be articulate but his mind or common sense to certain degree is already deteriorating. he’s a fading hero, then.


    I can appreciate that if a foreigner called an eccentric populist leader of my country as a national treasure, I might also take issue with that. And the point on xenophobia is well-taken.

    But the fact is Xavier represents not only a lot of people — political constituents — but he also represents the thinking of quite a few non-elite Timorese people. Recognition and symbols of an indigenous Timor are very important outside of Dili, and I think Xavier’s xenophobic comments need to be contextualized.

    Hearing him talk on many issues makes me cringe also. There is a whole dimension of Timorese thought, where the cosmological and political mix, that is barely even touched by the Dili elite.

    An elite does not want to face that “idiosyncratic” characters like L7 and Xavier have huge staying power and are able to interface between common people and the government.

    People could, instead of attacking Xavier as ‘fading,’ learn how to take the best from his approach. I would suggest that there is much to be learned from his life and his power to captivate and communicate.

    For me one of the victories of Timorese independence can be the new space to generate a positive, inclusive history that takes into account the uniqueness of the Timorese experience.

  2. I first met Xavier in May 1975 during the 1st anniversary of the founding of Fretilin. He was welcoming the delegations as they arrived on foot after walking from their districts . He took his role as President seriously, recognising and understanding the symbolism attached to his position.
    Later,during the period of the UDT coup attempt, he was a great help in assisting the repatriation of foreigners seeking repatriation as he responded to my contacts from Darwin.

    I thought he had been killed during the invasion and was happily surprised to greet him in 2000.

    His idiocyncracies were what identified him as a Maubere and set him apart from the pretentious elite minority

  3. Thanks for your comment.

    What happened to Xavier in the interim – between the Proclamation and 2000 – is summarized by Damien Kingsbury here http://blogs.crikey.com.au/northern/2012/03/07/vale-francisco-xavier-do-amaral-first-president-of-east-timor-elder-statesman/

    There is an inherent tension between the idiosyncrasies and what some (albeit elites) call his demagoguery (or in Marxist revolutionary terms ‘obscurantism’). I can see both sides of this – but I think it is important not to dismiss Xavier, but instead to understand his symbolic and political influence, and to take the positive elements. Like him or not, he knew how to communicate with masses of people, and rural people, in ways that very few do.

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