PERSON OF THE WEEK - May 28-June 3, 2006
When the week started, a young nation was on the brink of collapse. When the week ended, East Timor appeared to be stabilizing - and it was all because of President Xanana Gusmao. Don't get me wrong, things are still pretty bad, but Gusmao's pragmatic leadership has kept the situation from disintegrating into irreparable chaos. When the capital city of Dili descended into chaos, Gusmao took direct control of the defense and interior ministries (the minister’s had steeped down as a result of the violence) and set about trying to end the violence. While these actions had an effect, I think that Gusmao may have made an impact by simply making impassioned public cries for peace.
In many other nations, a president's call for peace would have been laughed off by opposition rebels, but not in East Timor. In Timor, Gusmao isn't just a political leader, he is the embodiment of the nation itself. He spent decades leading a guerilla uprising against the forced annexation of East Timor by Indonesia and is revered as a national icon by the government and the rebels alike. In fact, the rebels don’t demand the fall of the government, they are merely asking Gusmao to fire the prime minister. They have no issues with the president himself (and if they did, I doubt that they would have the audacity to voice them). In short, Xanana Gusmao is to East Timor what George Washington was to the United States, and mere words from his lips seem to be enough to cause significant change. I give him kudos for using his power to hold his young democracy together rather than consolidating power for himself.
Xanana Gusmao is not perfect (he is a member of the socialist Fretilin party, so I obviously have some disagreements with him there), but he provided tremendous leadership to a nation in turmoil. In my book, he has more than earned the title of Person of the Week.