Friday, September 10, 2010



Eric Ellis, Dili

May 20, 2002

ON A dusty afternoon in Dili, capital of a haunted land that is soon to be proclaimed the 190th member of the United Nations, a babel of languages issues from the foreign clientele at the City Café. Here, at $2.40 a shot, a caffe latte costs either what most of East Timor's 800,000 people earn in a day, or 1/70th the average per diem of the 20 or so UN workers patronising the cafe.

There is inequity and there is poverty, but at least Dili is no longer so dangerous. Without backing from Indonesia, the militias that trashed East Timor during the 1999 independence referendum that first brought the UN here have evaporated. Today, a truckload of Australian bricklayers in Stubbies and singlets, VBs in hand, jangles past a platoon of soldiers double-parking their Humvee and setting down automatic rifles on the cafe's chic silver tables for their third coffee break of the day. Territorian muscle might be rebuilding East Timor but the "Third Portuguese Cappuccino Armoured Brigade" is at least keeping Lisbon's former colony safe for espresso lovers.

Sitting serenely in the midst of this hubbub is the cafe's only East Timorese customer, an old man sipping a short black and stroking his long, grey beard. At 30cm, the beard is of a length that might even be regarded as magnificent were it not so wispy. But the dishevelled whiskers of 70-year-old Manuel Carrascalao are magnificent, if not for their vigour then certainly for what they mean for his family, East Timor's grandest clan, the Carrascalaos

In 1999, Manuel Carrascalao made a pledge to the memory of his youngest son, Manuelito (Little Manuel). He was dismembered by the machetes of the Aitarak militia in April that year, murdered in the family home defending 140 refugees who had sought sanctuary, as East Timorese have done for generations from the Carrascalaos, just two doors from where his father now sits with his coffee. Manuel has vowed not to shave until Manuelito's killers are brought to justice.

Clan members expect Manuel's beard to become even more magnificent. East Timorese are being encouraged to forgive past injustices. A South African-style reconciliation commission examining Indonesia's 24-year occupation has been formed. The militia killers are still at large, sheltered in Indonesia, where they are likely to remain forever. Aitarak's chief, Eurico Guterres, is a member of Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri's ruling party. The Carrascalaos are experienced at hoping for the best but expecting the worst. They've had four generations of practice.

Few families grow as big, as epic, as tragic and as controversial as the Carrascalaos. Their history traverses the joyous peaks and desperate troughs of East Timor's past -participants in it and victims of it. They are, at once, East Timor's Medicis, its Kennedys and possibly even its Corleones, with a story as sweeping a Latino saga as anything Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez could conceive.

There's a towering, pitiable patriarch and a patient, adoring wife and mother. There's love honoured in defiance of political, social and racial prohibitions, against a shimmering backdrop of revolutions, civil wars, invasions, coups, myriad intrigues, marriages, separations and exiles that have sent the Carrascalaos from Portugal to East Timor to Australia, Indonesia, back to Portugal and its former colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Macau, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and now, full circle, to an independent East Timor.

THE CARRASCALAO story begins in 1901 in the tiny village of Sao Bras de Alportel in the Algarve region, on Portugal's southern coast, with the birth of Manuel Viegas Carrascalao to a working class family. Today, the Algarve is God's Waiting Room for superannuated British golfers, but then it was one of Europe's poorest regions, and unable to contain the young Manuel Viegas. Strikingly tall at two metres - his daughter Alice reckons he looked like Charles de Gaulle - he left home for Lisbon, finding work as a printer's apprentice in the capital.
These were volatile days in Portugal. Civil war and rumblings in Lisbon's African colonies had crippled the First Republic. By 1926, it had collapsed in a right-wing military coup, ushering in five decades of dictatorship, 40 years of it under the iron grip of António de Oliveira Salazar.

Manuel Viegas was also intoxicated by the heady political climate. Drawn to the emerging anarchist movement that was reshaping politics across the Iberian peninsula Portugal shares with Spain, he became a leader of Portugal's biggest trade union in the mid-1920s, a nascent Lech Walesa of his day. Branded a terrorist, Manuel Viegas was jailed, tortured and, in 1927, deported to East Timor, Portugal's penal colony in the East Indies.

"The Portuguese never sent common criminals here, they only sent political prisoners," says his tenth-born child Joao, over pork ribs and rice in his comfortable bungalow on Dili's embassy row. "There was no communications, no transport from East Timor in those days. He couldn't run away from here."

Manuel Viegas was jailed on arrival in Dili but was released shortly after on condition he toe the line. It was a condition he didn't keep. In 1928, he met Marcelina Guterres, a Timorese woman. Although she hailed from local nobility, theirs was a mixed-race, or mestiço, liaison that discomfited authorities. In colonial East Timor, a Portuguese man could quietly take a Timorese mistress but to step out socially and, worse, marry her was unacceptable.

"My father was different," says Joao. "He was very loyal to my mother so it was not very comfortable sometimes for Portuguese officials and the governor at official functions when my mother was there at his side."

Manuel Viegas and Marcelina began their family. Dora was born in 1929, then Maria, then Manuel, the first son and today's bearded patriarch. He was born on Atauro, East Timor's prison island 10km off Dili's coast, where Manuel Viegas was again briefly imprisoned for refusing to abandon his political activity, even in the colony.

Through the 1930s the family continued to grow: Ermelinda, Mario, Artur, Alice and Jose, the eighth child, born just as World War II and the Japanese arrived to brutalise East Timor, even though Portugal was officially neutral. "My father refused to go to Australia with the other Portuguese. He stayed in East Timor to resist the Japanese," says Joao. But stubbornness had its price. Deprived of medication, four-year-old Jose died in his sister Dora's arms en route to hospital, just as the Japanese were being routed by Allied forces. A nameless ninth child, a girl, had died in childbirth a year earlier, strangled by her umbilical cord.

Joao arrived on August 9, the day that war ended after the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. "My father said he didn't know which event to celebrate the most," says 12th-born daughter Gabriela.

After the war, the family returned to a Portugal now firmly in the dictator Salazar's grip. But Manuel Viegas had been transformed in official eyes. He was now hailed as a hero for keeping the Portuguese faith in East Timor during the Japanese occupation, and Salazar asked him to return to Dili. Manuel Viegas was reluctant to go back but, showing a political pragmatism his children would inherit, he wrung concessions from the dictator. He was granted title over a 386ha government-owned coffee estate he'd cultivated in the sierra 55km west of Dili. Rehabilitated and with a Portuguese Order of Merit on his chest, the patriarch and his family returned in 1946. Manuel Viegas became a member of East Timor's constituent assembly of local Portuguese worthies, founded the Dili chamber of commerce and eventually became mayor of the colonial capital. The union firebrand once tortured by the state was now a don, part of Portugal's landed establishment in East Timor.

Back in Dili after the war, Francisco was born, number 11, the sixth and last son, then Gabriela, Angela and Natalia.

The Carrascalao family was now complete. From 1928 to 1954, Marcelina had given birth to 14 children, eight girls and six boys. Eleven Carrascalao children are alive today, after first-born Dora's death of cancer in 1980 in a Portuguese refugee camp, and the 1940s deaths of two infants. These children produced 46 of their own and possess more than 20 passports - Portuguese, Australian and Indonesian - and soon to rise above 30 when East Timor prints its own.

THEY STILL talk in East Timor about the 1987 funeral of Dona Marcelina Guterres Carrascalao. She died in Dili during the Indonesian occupation. It was a huge, very Catholic event and for many Carrascalao grandchildren born or raised outside East Timor, it was a defining moment in their national consciousness.

One of the grandchildren, Vasco Carrascalao da Silva Lino, the eldest of Maria's four children, remembers it well. Born in Dili in 1963, he was an army brat, his Portuguese father posted by Lisbon to fight colonial wars in faraway Angola, Guinea-Bissau and later, East Timor. "When I was growing up, I lost contact with Timor. It became like a legend, a myth, of stories that my mother told me, distant, and it stayed like that mostly up until I came here for my grandmother's funeral."

When Marcelina died, Vasco was living in Portugal's remaining Asian colony, Macau, a 24-year-old accountant running a Portuguese media company. He flew to Dili for the funeral. "This was my first time here, as an adult. It was shocking to me, to see how Indonesian it had become. I think for all of us, we were all committed to East Timor from that point on."

In October 1999, Vasco returned to help rebuild East Timor. He has re-established Portugal's government-owned Banco Nacional Ultramarino in its old head office, which had been looted by militia.
Marcelina's funeral was special too for Vasco's aunt Gabriela. She had been stranded in Lisbon when the Indonesians invaded in 1975, in the midst of a month's holiday from her reporting job in Dili. Gabriela didn't return to East Timor until her mother died in 1987. Marcelina is now buried at Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery, site of the notorious 1991 massacre of around 250 East Timorese by Indonesian troops that shocked the world and marked the beginning of the end for Jakarta's brutal rule.

IT began far away in Portugal. On April 25, 1974, the Portuguese military ousted Salazar's heir, Marcello Caetano, and turned left, declaring that Portugal's colonies of Asia and Africa, including East Timor, would be allowed self-determination. Portugal's "Carnation Revolution" had changed the political landscape but it led to a vacuum in East Timor - and an opportunity for Jakarta.

Three main political parties emerged in East Timor. The Uniao Democratica Timorese (UDT) favored gradual independence and a commonwealth relationship with Portugal. With Manuel, Mario and Joao as key organisers,the UDT represented East Timor's landed elite. Some called it the 'Partido Carrascalao,' the Carrascalao Party.

The Marxist Frente Revolucionaria de Timor L'este Independente, or Fretilin, wanted full and immediate independence. The Jakarta-backed Associacao Popular Democratica de Timor (Apodeti) wanted integration with Indonesia. East Timorese were to be given three choices in a referendum scheduled for March 1975: autonomy under Portuguese sovereignty, independence, or to join Indonesia.

But when Lisbon reneged on its referendum pledge, the UDT formed a short-lived coalition with Fretilin to challenge Apodeti. But the coalition dissolved. The UDT seized Dili on August 11, 1975 and nine days later Fretilin seized it back. East Timor plunged into civil war.

A Carrascalao by marriage, Vasco's father, Vasco Lino da Silva, is regarded as a family hero for his role in 1975. As East Timor erupted into chaos that year, "Capitan Lino" was dispatched from Lisbon to East Timor on a special assignment, most likely to destroy government records. The Portuguese authorities abandoned Dili on August 26. With his Portuguese masters in retreat, Capitan Lino then joined the UDT of his brothers-in-law, Manuel, Mario and Joao, whom da Silva had once opposed in Portuguese Angola.

On December 7, 1975, Indonesian marines swept over the border near Balibo and stormed ashore in Dili. East Timor would become Indonesia's 27th province for 24 years.
The invasion was terrifying for all East Timorese and particularly for the politicised Carrascalaos. The daughters were in Lisbon with their anxious parents but the sons became refugees, detained first in Atambua, the West Timorese border town, and when the Indonesians realised who they were, in Bali, where officials tried to persuade them to support the annexation. Their brother-in-law, Capitan Lino, was badly treated, spending 18 months in an Indonesian military prison in West Timor.

In Lisbon, patriarch Don Manuel Viegas Carrascalao, who had made his life in East Timor almost 50 years earlier, felt powerless and anguished. An 80-a-day smoker, he had come to Portugal in early 1975 for treatment of lung cancer. The old man was dying.

Gabriela remembers the time with her father as horrible. "Mario had been appointed to write to father to tell him what was going on at home. My father was particularly worried about Kiko (Francisco) because he was never mentioned in Mario's many letters. That's because even we didn't know where he was for a long time, that he had fled on a boat into the islands."
This once towering patriarch, now wizened by cancer, could only watch as his life's work, his family, his coffee estate, his beloved adopted homeland were being destroyed by an alien culture. In October 1976, not even a year after East Timor became part of Indonesia, Don Manuel Viegas Carrascalao died in Lisbon, broke and broken. "He wanted to come back to East Timor to die but the Indonesians wouldn't let him," says Joao. "He didn't have enough money to buy cigarettes. Completely broke, no house, no property anywhere else except East Timor and now that was gone, nothing."

The next 24 years of Indonesian occupation were tough on the Carrascalaos. Joao was exiled to Sydney with his wife Rosa and her brother, Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's most public advocate and, later, awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Sydney's Timorese community gathers in Liverpool and it was from here that Joao kept up the independence fight while running a few small businesses and lecturing in the surveying he'd learnt in Angola. Francisco and Artur became accountants in Sydney. One of his nine children, Nene, is today a nightclub DJ in Dili; another son, Nuno, an actor in Channel Seven's Pop Stars. Gabriela ended up in Melbourne, married an Australian and worked as a journalist at SBS. Alice, who had been living in the Mozambican colonial capital, Cidade de Lourenço Marques, (modern-day Maputo) divorced her Portuguese banker husband and joined her sisters in Australia, first in Sydney and then Darwin, and is now a translator with an Australian aid agency.

Son Manuel, who'd been a member of Salazar's Uniao Nacional party (that had originally deported his father) became a member of Indonesia's rubber-stamp parliament representing then President Suharto's Golkar party. He stayed in East Timor protecting the family's interests, which amounted to the coffee fazenda at Liquica, the family home in Dili and 175ha of farmland outside Dili where Marcelina had raised cows and vegetables to feed the family and where Manuel lives. (Today he collects rent and a profit-share from what has become an Australian-managed hotel and apartment complex for foreigners, one of Dili's most lucrative $US businesses). With the family so widespread, it was also expensive, in pre-Internet days, to stay in touch. "We could be millionaires if we didn't have all these phone calls, I am not kidding," says Gabriela. "And we talk a lot." The East Timorese also talk a lot about the Carrascalaos and their myriad interests in East Timor, many whispering that they are in fact millionaires.

THE old politician Don Manuel Viegas Carrascalao raised a politicised family. Son Joao co-founded two political parties, attempted a coup to overthrow East Timor's Portuguese administration, fought a civil war and was a senior figure in East Timor's anti-Indonesian umbrella resistance group, CNRT. He was briefly Infrastructure Minister in the current government until resigning in pique last year. Joao's brother-in-law Jose Ramos-Horta is now East Timor's foreign minister. Businessman Manuel has had what would politely be described as quixotic political career, dancing with the Portuguese fascists, Suharto's Golkar and, later, the pro-independence CNRT. In Lisbon, last-born Natalia, 49, represents the Partido de Social Democracia in Portugal's parliament. (She also wrote a popular Timorese cookbook in Portugal.) A cousin is the former Portuguese Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco da Silva. Also in Lisbon, 13th-born Angela became Portugal's highest profile AIDS campaigner after losing her only child to HIV. Gabriela, the 12th born, runs TV Timor Lorosa'e, East Timor's equivalent of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and was, in 1974, the world's first female East Timorese journalist. She was also a key organiser of the Independence Day celebrations. Another distant family cousin is Joao Tavares, the pro-Jakarta militia leader now living in Indonesian West Timor. His goons trashed East Timor during the 1999 independence referendum. (He wears, as a trophy, the watch of one of the five Australian journalists infamously killed by Indonesian invading forces in 1975) With this pedigree, its seems almost logical to note that East Timor's Mandela figure, the guerilla leader-cum-President Xanana Gusmao, is a distant cousin on the family's maternal side.

And then there is Mario. He did it differently. He became Indonesian, rising to be a highly paid senior foreign ministry official. His daughter, Sonia, was one of Indonesia's most famous soap opera stars, his son an oil executive. In 1982, Mario was appointed Jakarta's governor in Dili and, ten years later, appalled by the violence of Indonesia's dirty war, appealed to Gusmao, then fighting a jungle campaign against Indonesian rule, to end his "crazy independence" idea and let East Timorese live in peace.

James Dunn, Australia's consul-general in Dili before 1975 and one of the world's leading authorities on East Timor, insists that it's too neat, and also wrong, to regard Mario as Indonesia's puppet. "It's much more complex than that," he says. "He was the advocate East Timor needed to check Jakarta's excesses. The truth is that things would've been much, much worse in East Timor if it wasn't for his governorship."

Jakarta's wooing of Mario began just five days after the invasion. Indonesian officials plucked him from the Atambua refugee camp and flew him to New York to help explain the invasion to the UN Security Council. Playing an anti-communist card at the height of the Cold War, Indonesia's invasion was a fait accompli that had the tacit blessing of neighbouring Australia and, crucially, the United States.

Mario didn't read to Jakarta's script at the UN but the Indonesians persisted. For four years, Mario was under a peculiar type of detention, staying passport-less with his family in a luxury Jakarta hotel as the generals tried to persuade him to their cause.

Seeing his task as defending East Timorese interests around the world, Mario joined Indonesia's foreign ministry, learnt Bahasa Indonesia, was posted to New York as the deputy head of Indonesia's mission to the UN and, improbably, was appointed Jakarta's ambassador to Romania during the 1990's.

In 1982, the Indonesians offered him the governorship of East Timor. His ten years in the governor's palace draws mixed, mostly positive reviews in East Timor. Harder-line East Timorese regarded him as Jakarta's well-paid puppet. The more moderate majority, including today's President Gusmao, who secretly met Mario twice as a jungle guerilla, say he was an outspoken advocate for East Timor in Jakarta when true power in Dili rested with the Indonesian armed forces. One Western diplomat sees him "as almost a fifth columnist in the great Iberian tradition", forever leaking details to diplomats and journalists about what Indonesia was really doing in East Timor, most notably the 1991 massacre. Mario resigned in disgust the following year.

During the 1990s, Mario says he never ceased pushing East Timor's interests to Jakarta. He claims to have directly influenced President BJ Habibie into allowing the 1999 UN independence referendum. Today, Mario is leader of the Partido de Social Democracia, a small party in the independent East Timor's parliament, and an advisor to Gusmao. A prominent moral authority in the parliament - "my real family is the Timorese people" - but has little direct power.

Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta calls him "a man of integrity". "He could've gotten very rich but he did not. He saved a lot of people during those years." (Ramos-Horta was less polite about his brother-in-law, Joao, whom he last year described as the "Jonas Savimbi of East Timor')

Manuelito Carrascalao's murder was page-one news in April 1999. He died defending the family home from the savagery of the Aitarak militia. I certainly remember him. Fluent in English, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia and East Timor's Tetum dialect, Manuelito was my interpreter when I first came here in April 1999 to cover the emerging militia violence. Then a wiry 17-year-old, he proudly told me he was preparing to enter university in Lisbon, to continue the Carrascalao tradition. He was going to call his first son Manuel, in honour of the grandfather he'd never met. Two weeks later, he was dead.

Manuelito's memory lives on in his father's beard. For his 39-year-old sister Gina, indeed for the entire Carrascalao clan, Manuelito's death was the defining moment in their East Timorese struggle, one far more poignant than the 1999 referendum, the fall a year earlier of the Javanese potentate Suharto that made the plebiscite possible, or even the May 20 independence celebration.
"We had a sense that our house could be attacked because the militia were saying anyone who didn't fly an Indonesian flag would be attacked," Gina recalls. "There was no way in the world my Dad would fly that flag."

Gina spoke to her brother from Darwin a few days before his death. "He was at the house playing guitar with some friends. I asked what was he going to do and he said there's nothing I can do. 'The only thing I can do is to pray', there is a houseful of refugees here' and he said there was no way he would leave them, they had come to our house for protection."
On that fateful day, Manuel went to Dili airport to greet his wife. Manuelito called his father en route to the airport to tell him the family house was under attack. Shots were being fired into the house and a mob was rioting in the street. "My Dad turned around but he could not get through because Aitarak had blocked the road," says Gina. "We have pictures of what they did to my brother. One of my cousins witnessed everything. Manuelito was shot in the legs and then they started slashing him."

The Carrascalaos abandoned the family house in Dili that had been their home for more than half a century. The house has been re-built by the Portuguese Fundacao Oriente that is also developing the old Hotel Makhota, the place where Jakarta's secret police preferred foreigners to stay during Indonesian rule, and where Gina is now an executive.

IF THERE is a unifying centre to the Carrascalao family, it probably lies 2000m up at the cloudline of the lush sierra behind Liquica, 55km west of Dili. Here, in a stunning setting the British in India would've described as a hill station, sits a gracious white-washed plantation house. Tended by staff with teeth stained red with betel, the house sits on a spur, commanding a view above 386 hectares of organic arabica coffee plants, wild banana, avocado and rambutan trees. The gardens explode with bougainvillea, poinsettia, hibiscus, frangipani and bamboo.

This is Fazenda Algarve, named after the Portuguese region where Don Manuel Viegas Carrascalao began his remarkable life. His daughter Gabriela calls it "the soul of her family", where the youngest nine of the Carrascalao children were born in a birthing ritual with Timorese midwives that the family's descendants are determined to revive. And it will be here, some time later this year, that the clan will gather for a special occasion.

This time it won't be for a birthday or Christmas, a wedding or a funeral. It will be to fulfill the deathbed wish of Don Manuel Viegas Carrascalao, to return his ashes, now in Portugal, to his adopted country, a now independent East Timor. His eldest son, Manuel, will officiate as patriarch. He hopes to do it clean-shaven.