Q: How can be the independence of East Timor guaranteed in the future? There are voices in Indonesia that are still calling for re-possession of your country. Can you trust Indonesia or do you have to prepare yourself militarily?
A: No. I must say that when we try to see East Timor in the eyes of Indonesia, we are forgotten issue. In the eyes of their people - we are already the past. I am very confident they (Indonesians) are ready to build the relation of cooperation and of the mutual understanding in which the friendship will prevail. I don't see any military strike coming and I don't think we will have to face Indonesia as an enemy, occupier or invader, again. I must be clear in this aspect. Of course, the army will be a part of our sovereignty, but it will be created only in this context, not in order to face Indonesia.
Q: The suffering of your nation was enormous. East Timor experienced greater loss of life on a per capita basis than any other nation in the 20th century. Is the real reconciliation possible? Can the victims forgive the victimizers?
A: I believe so. I believe that we can heal. Reconciliation is nothing new here. We started the reconciliation even during the struggle. Many Indonesians who were supposed to fight us at the end joined us. They died as heroes. Many of them ended up participating actively in our struggle. That's why reconciliation is not a new issue and I believe that our people are ready to forgive. Part of the reconciliation is to explain to both sides that those who committed violations of human rights should face trial as a gesture of repentance. But to answer your question: Yes, we are ready.
As a political issue, reconciliation is not just about putting people to jail. Reconciliation - from my point of view - must direct our societies towards healing. Healing - to heal the wounds. We have to start looking into the future. Of course it will be often difficult, but we have to decide if our goal is to heal the trauma or to constantly revive the pain. It is very difficult question.
But in general I believe that the people will forgive and will try to forget the past.
Q: You personally suffered under the occupation. How do you feel towards the former occupiers - your mighty and populous neighbor?
A: I use the expression "Historical mistake". I used to analyze our past, even by recognizing some mistakes made by our side. Such as being Marxist during the Cold War, without taking in account what was happening in Asia - in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos. Maybe we were too euphoric in the past, taking East Timor out of the world context. We, East Timorese, were possessed by the revolutionary euphoria and now when we are accusing Indonesia, we don't see ourselves - we don't examine ourselves. It is only my point of view - I respect other people's opinions. But I must say now: the occupation was a historical mistake made by Indonesia in the greater context - in the war context, in the political context, in Asian context and in the context of internal situation of Indonesia itself. It was led by Suharto. I don't believe that if Indonesia was a democracy at that time, the invasion could happen.
Right in November 1999 we went to Jakarta. We talked to their politicians, to the government. We said that we didn't come to revive the past but instead to rebuild the relations with Indonesia - with our former enemies. It was a war and Indonesians were instruments of the system. Not that it excuses terrible human rights violations.
Last year I met some of their generals. Even some generals that I encountered during the 1983 ceasefire
Q: Have they shown some remorse?
A: No. I even met with my former captors. They would simply say: "It was a war. It was my mission to capture you. Well, I respect you now, you respect me..." Before I was a prisoner, now I am a leader. Nothing. No remorse.
I believe that if we can put our suffering into perspective, we cannot remove the trauma, but we can remove the negative psychological state of mind.
We fought them in the campo de batalla - in the battlefield. The war already ended.
Q: You mentioned Marxism as a mistake. Do you mean to say that it was a philosophical mistake for FRETILIN to follow Marxist ideology during the first independence?
A: Before Gorbachev announced Perestroika, our former leadership of FRETILIN in 1977 announced that the Marxism was our official ideology. I was a member of the leadership. After the big defeat that we suffered in 1978 and 1979 - some of our senior members died or were captured - we didn't know how to lead the struggle, anymore. We had to ask all basic questions again. And in 1983 we re-formulated everything. In 1987 we just abandoned the ideology.
Q: So you don't consider yourself a Marxist, anymore?
A: You see, I was watching ABC and BBC when Gorbachev announced Perestroika. All I could say was: "Wow! Wow!" And I was happy. I was very happy, because to Indonesians I could say "no, I didn"t change because of Gorbachev. I changed before."
When I became a leader of the struggle, I was following very closely what is happening in the world. Some people still believed in the Marxism and even now, we have PSD party and it is their right to exist - but I didn"t want to have Marxism as a fundamental base of the struggle.
Q: And yet East Timor was a victim of the Cold War. In fact it was sacrificed not by the left that was always against Indonesian occupation, but by the Western Powers. Indonesia received green light to occupy your country from the United States, from UK and from Australia.
A: Maybe some people who saw the Marxism as a weapon to liberate our country would think differently. But let me express my opinion: After the WWII, there was an enormous struggle for independence in Africa. Some countries achieved independence smoothly; others had fallen victims of the Cold War between the superpowers. Former Portuguese colonies in Africa were gaining independence and they served for us as an example. We have to see all this complexity.
I may think that our ideology then was wrong, but I admit there were reasons for it. Angola, Mozambique were entering the struggle. But we didn't have a capacity to fight and in fact we didn't have to. Portugal was tight up in Africa and in fact we were free to choose our independence. Government in Portugal changed - it became left-wing and some of our people went there: they were influenced by Portuguese students, by left-wing intellectuals. Therefore I would never say that our ideology was something stupid. No, there was a complicated process in the world and we were part of it.
Q: East Timor has very complex relationship with Portugal. You gained your independence but East Timor was then the poorest part of Asia. Portuguese totally mismanaged your country. Yet you intellectually and economically depend on Portugal again. You are making Portuguese an official language, although only a fraction of East Timorese can speak it. Is it because Portugal played very positive role during the struggle against the Indonesian occupation? How complex is really your relationship with that former colonial power?
A: We entered the new faze with Portugal after the WWII - after the Japanese occupation. It was still a colonization, of course. But one of the aspects of the Portuguese presence here was that they didn't touch our traditional structures. They didn't touch our beliefs. In some way our people felt that yes, there are Portuguese here, occupying our country, but in our houses we could be ourselves. Of course when the Indonesian troops came, it was brutally and abruptly different. It was a war.
Q: And Indonesians immediately tried to impose their own culture on East Timor?
A: Yes. Now, of course when we remember Portuguese times, we were very neglected. We were poor. But there is a difference between the neglect and violence.
Then during our entire struggle against Indonesia, Portugal was always with us. They stood by us in United Nations and later in European Union. If they neglected us for hundred years, we have to admit that in 24 years of Indonesian occupation they paid their dues.
Q: How would you like to see East Timor in the future? On what ideas is it going to based?
A: We have to show our people that they didn't suffer for nothing. They need some certainties. They have to believe that our independence means that they can start changing their lives. It will be slow and gradual process. They must know that independence means more than just a flag, parliament, government. It must have a positive impact on people's lives. Otherwise some will remember that in terms of numbers, Indonesia spent plenty of money here, during the 24 years of the occupation. Of course big part of it went to the infrastructure so they could move their troops. But money was spent.
We have to always remember that we fought for the independence in order to improve lives of our people.
Q: What kind of economy you wish for this country - what kind of political system? Strong government, social state or what is called free market economy?
A: I thing that our conditions are calling for the mixed economy. Private sector should be strong but it will come later. You see, private sector will not be created overnight - it may take 15 to 20 years.
People are now demanding everything from the government. And I am trying to explain to them that government cannot be like a patron, it is simply not in a position to provide everything. Of course if we have some strategic recourses, they will be divided between our people and channeled trough the government.
We also have to give people a civil society. They themselves have to try to do their best to improve this place.
Q: What is East Timor going to live from? From oil that was found close to its shores? From the fishing, agriculture, tourism?.. What is the future of this country?
A: Common consensus in this country is that we cannot depend on the oil reserves. We need sustainable resources. Of course we have to develop all that you mentioned - agriculture, tourism, and fishing. We can't depend only on the resources that will disappear in a few decades.
At the beginning, everything will be very difficult. Our country is fragile. Fragile in terms of our resources. Fragile in terms of our capacity. Fragile in terms of experience.
We are at the beginning of everything and we have to mobilize the most precious resources - our people. We need the civil society and I understand that the civil society is not just NGO's, churches and other institutions. It's not just intellectuals.
But everyone has to take part in building East Timor, including the church and the intellectuals. Some of our greatest problems are the infrastructure and of course the education. Half of our people cannot read or write. Maybe more than a half. We have to face enormous challenges. But if we will succeed, in some twenty years from now there will be a new society.
And the people are willing to wait, to work and to dream. Somebody told me at the meeting: "In the year 2020 we would like to have one doctor in each district." You see, people understand - they are not demanding anything for tomorrow. They know the difficulties.
At the end of 1999, people were suffering but they were smiling. They had great expectations for the future. Now they understand how slow will be this process. But they still didn't lose hope.
Q: Do you think that the world is doing enough to help East Timor? Are there more words than actions?
A: No, we understand the situation. There are other countries in need. There is Afghanistan. Maybe there will be another conflict somewhere else, soon. We would like to see more help. But even if we receive only few millions in aid, I can't forget that the UN and the international community are spending hundreds of millions a year for their operations here. It is temporary, of course, but still We would like to see one billion in aid, or more. But we are very grateful for every dollar that we get.
Q: Until now you were very hesitant to accept the candidacy on the post of the President
A: I must tell you: I don't want to be a President.
A: For many reasons. One is that I swore to my comrades in jail, and some of then died since then, that I will not seek an office. Other reason is that I never felt desire to be a President. I often tell my comrades: we fought to liberate this country. We didn't fight to get compensation or privileges.
Q: I noticed that many of your comrades are still very poor.
A: Yes. And they accept that fact. They didn't fight in order to become rich.
Q: But why now? Why did you decide to become president now?
A: I simply have to say that the situation obliged me to accept. I wasn't forced, simply obliged.
Q: And now you will almost definitely become the president.
A: I don't know. Maybe. Thing is that I really respect my opponent. Since I have decided to run, I will do everything possible in order to win. But I don't know how to explain it - it is simply not my desire to defeat my opponent. If I win, it will simply mean that I won - not that I defeated him.
The day I announced my candidacy, some people asked me: "imagine that you lose. What will you do"? I said: I will scream Thank you very much! I am free!