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Name of leader            Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão

Popular name                     Xanana Gusmão

Birth name                          José Alexandre Gusmão [1]


Organization                       Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor


Organization Acronym     Fretilin


Conflict country                  Indonesia

Gender                                  Male   


Year of birth                         1946[2]


Place of birth                       Manatuto, Portuguese Timor[3]


Year of death                       N/A






Birth order


His birth order is unknown, but he was raised in his family with a brother and five sisters.[4] He is the second son in a family of nine children according to another source.[5]


Age at start of rebel leadership


In 1979, so at age 33.[6]


Leader entry method


After the Carnation Revolution in Portugal on April 25th, 1974, Gusmão decided to join the newly formed Associação Social Democrata –ASDT (Social Democrat Association) which was later that same year transformed into the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin). Having worked as a journalist and photographer, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão took on the party’s job of Deputy-Director of the Department of Information. Following the death of the then President of FRETILIN, Nicolau Lobato in December 1978, and coupled with the loss of a majority of the Central Committee Members of Fretilin, Gusmão was left with the task of reorganizing the struggle.[7] Consequently, Gusmão was able to rise to prominence within Fretilin since then.




No, there is no evidence of powersharing.


Education (also name universities attended, if any); note any relevant experiences while a student


He completed primary and started secondary school at the Catholic mission of "Nossa Senhora de Fátima" in Dare.[8] He attended high school in Dili, the capital.[9]        


Ever married? If yes, age of first marriage


Yes, in 1969, he married Emilia Batista, of whom he later divorced and then he married his second wife in 2000.[10] Therefore, Gusmão was 23 when he got married for the first time.




Yes, he has five children.[11]


Religious identification


He is a Roman Catholic.[12]


Family background


Both of his parents were schoolteachers.[13]


Political affiliations and intellectual circles; note any relevant social connections made


In March 1981, Gusmão organized the first national conference of Fretilin, where he was formally elected to become the leader of the resistance movement and commander-in-chief of Falintil.[14]


Physical and mental health


No, there is no evidence of poor physical or mental health.


Pre-militant leader occupation


He was a journalist and photographer.[15]


Experience in a state military, and role; any relevant social ties


Yes, from 1968-1971, he served and reached the rank of corporal in the Portuguese Colonial Army after being recruited for three years of national service.[16]


Experience in a nonstate military, and role; any relevant social ties


Yes, for his leadership of Fretilin in the earlier phases of the war.


Combat experience prior to assuming resistance organization leadership?


No, there is no evidence of combat experience.


Held government position prior to assuming leadership?


He served as the Deputy-Director of the Department of Information.[17]


Lived in exile?


No, while technically he was imprisoned by the Indonesian government in Jakarta, which is outside his homeland of East Timor, this does not count as exile.


Study abroad?


No, there is no evidence he studied abroad.


Did the leader receive military training abroad?


No. He had “mandatory military service in the Portuguese armed service.”[18] Since East Timor was Portuguese colony at the time, this does not count as foreign military training.


Did the leader have extensive work experience abroad?


No, there is no evidence he had extensive work experience abroad.


Serve time in prison? Social connections during that time?


Yes, on November 20th, 1992, the Indonesian military captured Gusmão in Díli and charged him with subversion. At his trial, which begins in February 1993, he was prevented from reading his 27-pages defense statement. On May 21st, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in Jakarta's Cipinang jail for having, according to the presiding judge, "disturbed the life of East Timorese." The sentence is later commuted to 20 years.  Faced with international commendation, Gusmão faced a kangaroo-court trial and was imprisoned in a prison reserved for criminals only, but amid pressure from the international community, the Indonesian authorities were forced to transfer him to Cipinang prison reserved for political prisoners.

In prison, Xanana Gusmão devoted his time to the elaboration of the strategies of the Resistance, while studying Bahasa Indonesia (the Indonesian language), English and Law.[19] Additionally, Gusmão met his second wife, the Australian foreign aid worker and teacher Kirsty Sword. Sword, who also works covertly for the East Timorese resistance, passed messages from Gusmão to his colleagues outside. He was imprisoned in 1997, when Mandela visited him. The two bonded.[20]


Was there an assassination attempt on the leader by the state?


No, there is no evidence of an assassination attempt by the state.


Cause of Death?




Primary language, and other languages spoken as adult


He spoke Tetum as his primary language, in addition to Bahasa Indonesia, English, and Portuguese.




[1]Image Credit:

 The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, “Xanana Gusmão President of East Timor,” Encyclopedia Britannica, March 1, 2016,  accessed December 16, 2016,

[2] “Biography Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and Security of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste,” Government of Timor Leste, accessed December 16, 2016,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. 

[5] Paul Robert Bartrop, A Biographical Encyclopedia of Contemporary Genocide Portraits of Evil and Good (ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara, 2012), 108.

[6] "East Timor: Remembering History, The Trial of Xanana Gusmao and a Follow-Up on the Dili Massacre,” Human Rights Watch Reports, April 1993, Accessed August 5, 2021.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Biography of Xanana Gusmao,” The Biography,

[10] “Biography Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and Security of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste,” Government of Timor Leste.

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. 

[14]  Ibid. 

[15] Ibid.

[16] “Xanana Gusmao: The President,” Government East Timor, accessed December 21, 2016, 

[17] See f.n.2

[18] “Biography of Xanana Gusmao,” The Biography,

[19] “Xanana Gusmao: The President,” Government East Timor

[20] Amanda Wise, Exile and Return Among the East Timorese, (University of Pennsylvania Press: 2006), 80

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