The scarlet letter(s)

On Monday, making my way to work at quarter past 8 the city struck me as quiet. At the City Courts of Dili, however, the GNR packed into its small parking lot, with two vans. At least three UNPOL cars as well. Soon the street was shut off, causing mass disturbance to the city’s traffic.

Not this much security or attention was paid to the trial of the Tim Alfa militia from Lospalos, whose members were accused of ambushing and killing nuns and priests.

This week the trial for the alleged conspiracy leading to the February attack on Ramos Horta began.

On TVTL Monday night Angela Pires appeared calm but focused, wearing a tais dress. Newspapers reported she was barefoot – which they interpreted to mean she had come ready to fight. (I do not know what to make of that.) The other defendants, dressed in what can only be described as Guantanamo Orange jumpsuits, looked more the part of people accused of plotting to kill the President.

This morning on the way to Cristo Rei, I biked over some fresh graffiti in large capital red letters “Viva Lia Los. Viva Justisa. Viva Alfredo no Angie.” This is the first graffiti I have ever seen with Angie included. The message was tailor-made for the trial, and cleverly painted in a place where the President would be forced to walk past to continue his morning exercise routine to the beach.

Later in the day, I tripped over some of the bigger conspiracy theories, which seem hyperbolic and indicative of a huge distrust for the two most powerful people in the country. I did not realize, for example, that a great number of people doubt that Ramos Horta was ever shot. They are actually waiting for him to show his wounds at the trial to prove that he was actually attacked! Moreover, some believe that Alfredo’s mate fatin was not on the pavement at Ramos Horta’s house. They believe his body was dumped there. I asked around, to know if these ideas are “regional” but the first person who told me this was indeed from Oecusse, which I imagine defies regionalism. All asked said these ideas are widespread and not limited to one group.

Dili, as in Portuguese colonial times, remains addicted to the whisper. The rumor. It does not help that the major sources of information, daily papers and TVTL are either at best too weak to cover events (let alone investigate), or at worst putty in the hands of a quite aggressive government.

This culture of rumor has serious consequences, one need only to look at 2002 and 2006. TVTL news coverage can be expanded, and from the sounds of it, people want to see Ramos Horta on the stand, and they want him to show his wounds. After all, haree hanesan fiar.

Let’s hope JSMP (whose website desperately needs updating) and some of the weekly papers can provide more information for the public.

Access to information aside, I have started to wonder whether these ema boot can ever regain the trust of a great number of people.

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