The Women of East Timor

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Three United Nations staff were reported killed today in an East Timor town briefly besieged by Indonesia-backed militias opposed to independence for the territory. [includes rush transcript]

The UN has so far been unable to confirm the deaths, but reported that the siege has ended in the town of Gleno and that 150 UN workers have been evacuated from there.

This follows yesterday’s historic vote on self-determination for East Timor, which many expect will fall on the side of independence for the territory, which has been under brutal occupation by Indonesia for the past twenty-four years. Hundreds of thousands of Timorese voted in yesterday’s referendum, defying a campaign of terror and intimidation by Indonesia-backed militias, which tried to derail the UN-sponsored vote by killing and terrorizing independence backers.

Angry members of the militias blocked roads today and stopped those they suspected of voting for independence from taking planes and ferries from East Timor’s capital, following a threat by militia commander Eurico Guterres to close all borders after the vote.

Yesterday in New York, Timorese exiles living in the Americas cast their vote at a UN office, and we heard from three of them: Constancio Pinto, Jose Gutierres and the Rev. Arlindo Marsal. Today we hear from the women of East Timor.


  • Gabriela Lopez De Cruz-Pinto, survivor of the Santa Cruz massacre (she was pregnant at the time). She lives in exile in New York.
  • Isabela Galhos, was on an exchange program with the Indonesian military in Canada and defected. Her brother survived the massacre and was tortured by the Indonesian police afterwards.
  • Allan Nairn, journalist and human rights activist.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Three United Nations staff were reported killed in an East Timor town briefly besieged by Indonesia-backed militias opposed to independence for the territory. The UN has so far been unable to confirm the deaths, but reported the siege has ended in the town of Gleno and that 150 UN workers have been evacuated from there.

This follows yesterday’s historic vote on self-determination for East Timor, which many expect will fall on the side of independence for the territory, which has been under brutal occupation by Indonesia for the past twenty-four years. Hundreds of thousands of Timorese voted in yesterday’s referendum, defying a campaign of terror and intimidation by Indonesia-backed militias, which tried to derail the UN-sponsored vote by killing and terrorizing independence backers. Angry members of the militias blocked roads today, stopped those they suspected of voting for independence from taking planes and ferries from East Timor’s capital, following a threat by militia commander Eurico Guterres to close all borders after the vote.

Well, yesterday in New York, Timorese exiles living in the Americas cast their vote at a UN office. We heard from three of them: Constancio Pinto, Jose Gutierres and the Reverend Arlindo Marcal. Today we’re going to hear from women of East Timor, women who were at yesterday’s vote, as well, in New York, Timorese exiles.

Actually, yesterday was quite remarkable at this little office on 42nd Street in Manhattan. It was a truly bittersweet time, because when I was there, there were about a dozen Timorese there, and each one had a story that really tells the whole story of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. There were two Timorese priests there, and the brother of one of the priests was executed in front of the other. A young man who fled with his family into the mountains and, like so many families, lost members of his family, as they tried to survive in the mountains for years, he lost his mother and his sister. A protestant minister was there, whose father was disappeared. Husband and wife, a young woman, pregnant with her first son, who survived the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991 that I also witnessed. In fact, she is here today, as well as another woman who is living in Canada now in exile from Timor, whose brother survived the massacre at Santa Cruz and who has her own story to tell of how she eventually got out of East Timor.

We’re joined right now by Gabriela Lopez De Cruz-Pinto, survivor of the Santa Cruz massacre, Timorese exile, who now lives in New York, and Isabela Galhos, who was on an exchange program that was sponsored by Indonesia. She went to Canada, and it was there that she defected.

And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!



AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to the both of you, we wanted to go to Dili, East Timor. It’s not always predictable when we’re going to get a line into Dili, and it looks like we just did. We’re going to go Dili, East Timor for an update on the situation there, and we’re joined right now by journalist Allan Nairn in the territory’s capital.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Allan.


AMY GOODMAN: Allan, can you tell us what the latest is? We just read on the program that three UN staff were reported killed today in the East Timor town of Gleno, when militia members laid siege to the town, and now 150 UN workers have been evacuated from there.

ALLAN NAIRN: Was that confirmed that they died?

AMY GOODMAN: It says “reported killed.” So —

ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, because I know there was a report of that, and it wasn’t certain whether they actually did die. But the [inaudible] they kind of barricaded and attacked this UN convoy [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Are you there? Allan, are you there? Let’s — ah, we lost him. It is very hard, I have to say, to keep lines into East Timor. It’s not easy.

So we’re going to go back to our guests right now in the studio, Isabela Galhos and Gabriela Lopez De Cruz-Pinto. Why don’t we begin with Bela Galhos, as she is called by her friends? Bela, yesterday we talked with three Timorese men about their experiences in East Timor, their stories telling the story of the occupation. Can you talk about your life in East Timor? When were you born?

ISABELA GALHOS: I was born — I was only three years old when Indonesia invaded my country, so I didn’t remember anything that happened in 1975, but I do still remember all of the stories that have been passed on to us, the young generation, through our parents, my elders, and I know the situation back in ’75 was horrible and the situation in ’75 repeatable in my time, grew up under the situation. Under this occupation, I witnessed much. My generation, we witnessed much the so-called genocide. Physically and culturally, the people of East Timor have gone through this. And I can just imagine, in my time, it’s about late ’70s and ’80s, imagine the situation in ’75. The situation I went through was already terrible, but this was worse, like basic rights as a human, as a human being, does not exist. This is the situation, and it must be very hard for my parents, all those who are older enough to experience what happened really in 1975.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you, like a number of young Timorese, ended up working with the Indonesian military. Can you explain what happened?

ISABELA GALHOS: Well, the whole situation, I started to work for the Indonesian government — I mean, the military in my country. It was right after the Dili massacre, because I was a participant in the demonstration, and I’m a survivor of the massacre, as well. And my brother was arrested right after the demonstration. And, you know, being arrested by the military is not being arrested in Canada or in the United States, where you might still survive. In East Timor, it’s like a question of whether you see them again or never see them again. So, right after the massacre, you know, the military rounding up more young people who were suspected and were arrested. And so many of the young people are disappeared at the time, and I was terrified that some of my friends who were arrested at that time will speak out more names of who participated in the demonstration. So I did — wanted to act like I was not — I didn’t participate in the demonstration, so I registered to be members of Indonesian military youth corps. So at that time, I — since then, late — early ’92, I started to work for Indonesian government until early 1994, I came to Canada.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does that mean to say you worked for the Indonesian government?

ISABELA GALHOS: Well, I collected information about my friends, Timorese who were at the time I was at the University of East Timor, UNTIM. My job was to spy them, what they are doing, who participated in the resistance movement, who aren’t, and then collect the information about who they are, what they’re doing, where they are, and provide this information, giving it to Indonesian military. And —

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you feel doing that?

ISABELA GALHOS: Well, it was horrible. You’re living kind of in a double life. At the same time, I also supported the resistance movement underground. I supplied help by making donations and helping with passing information to other Timorese about what really the resistance movements are doing. It was very hard living in this kind of a life.

But what I did, I also learned. By being with Indonesian military, I learned that they are not smart. So I did — I provide them with false information every week. They didn’t notice at all that I was giving them false information. You know, Timorese have — most of Timorese have same name and very long. And every week I make up names and make up locations and make up names, giving it to the Indonesia military. And those military who are in East Timor, they are very young age. There is no other opportunity to get a job. And then the jobs available in Indonesia are become the military. So I therefore used that situation, and I was also playing with them.

AMY GOODMAN: After the massacre, Indonesian soldiers moved into your family’s house?

ISABELA GALHOS: Yeah. We were forced to adopt two Indonesian military. One, his name is Putu Sardana [phon.], and the other one is — two of them from Bali, originally from Bali, but they are military.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “adopt” them?

ISABELA GALHOS: Well, because of my brother was arrested at the time right after Dili massacre, so basically my family was known as a family that’s pro-independence. So at that time most of the Timorese who were pro-independence families were forced to adopt military inside the house to make sure that there was no more further organization, organizing against the Indonesian government or against the Indonesian military at the time. So means like there will be curfew. After 7:00 you have to stay in your home, You never go anywhere. And if you go anywhere, it would have to be through their knowledge, their permission.

AMY GOODMAN: And they slept in your house?

ISABELA GALHOS: They slept there. They come twenty-four hours, anytime they want.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you can’t have conversations.

ISABELA GALHOS: No. When they’re around, you have to speak Indonesian language. You cannot speak your language, and you have to act like you’re just — not try to get — you know, they suspect if you’re doing anything wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to your brother as a result of the massacre and after he was arrested by the Indonesian military?

ISABELA GALHOS: Well, my oldest brother have lost all of his fingernails, body was burned with cigarettes.

AMY GOODMAN: They pulled his fingernails out?

ISABELA GALHOS: Yes. One question, one fingernails. One question, one fingernails. And he was arrested, put in prison for six months. That was hard. And when my mother and I, we went to — the first time when they arrested him, we were not allowed to see him over a week. And my mother and I, we went to Bishop Bello for his help, and he was the one that took us. We went from jail to jail, and finally we saw him again in a police station. By the time when we got there, it was already too late, because all his face was cut off.


ISABELA GALHOS: Yeah, cut up, and his fingernails pulled out. He was terribly beaten.

AMY GOODMAN: We are going to break for stations to identify themselves, then we’re going to come back to you, Isabela Galhos ,as well as Gabriela Lopez De Cruz-Pinto, to tell her story and to talk about the future, not only for East Timor, but specifically for women in East Timor. We also hope to make contact again with Dili, East Timor and get the latest update from there. After that, we’ll be speaking with two Congress members from Los Angeles, as well as an anti-police brutality activist on this day following yesterday’s police brutality hearing by the Congressional Black Caucus. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with our conversation with two women from East Timor. But before we do that, we are going to Dili, East Timor right now. Journalist Allan Nairn is on the line with us, and I should say, as we also just briefly talked to him at the top of the show, that unlike in my situation, Allan was able to defy the blacklist and get into Indonesia, where he’s been for the last four months, and then has recently made it into East Timor. Allan and I [inaudible] Santa Cruz massacre in Dili, where more than 250 Timorese were killed when — after we were beaten by the Indonesian military, they fractured Allan’s skull, and after reporting the massacre to the outside world, we were banned by the Indonesian military. Though that was in 1991, the army blacklist remains, and Allan somehow got in.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Allan.


AMY GOODMAN: Allan, can you tell us the latest from East Timor?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, right now it’s night in Dili. People are very frightened. The militia have been out on the streets. Many people are afraid to go out. Today at the airport, the Aitarak militia was stopping Timorese from leaving Timor. They were actually snatching the tickets away from them. The UN envoy from Gleno was attacked. There were some Australian observers who were in the Suai district. It’s not clear what happened, but they had some trouble with the militias. They are now being, they say, escorted back to Dili by the police.

Also, this morning I had a chance to talk very briefly to the US ambassador, Stapleton Roy, as he was about to leap into a jeep, and I asked him about the Clinton letter, the famous Clinton letter that supposedly admonished Indonesia, the Indonesian government, over the militias. And I asked, “Did Clinton threaten to cut off US military support if the militias weren’t stopped?” And Roy responded by saying, “The letter contained no threats.” So then asked, “Well, did it at least address the issue of the US arms and ammunition shipments?” And he said, “I can’t recall specifically, but it was not a threatening letter.” Roy was clearly very pleased with this letter, and Roy is one of those within the US government who’s a staunch apologist for Suharto and is a hardcore backer of the Indonesian military. So, apparently, there wasn’t anything in that letter which was very upsetting to Ambassador Roy.

AMY GOODMAN: We should explain this letter. We read about it in the New York Times on Saturday. No one’s actually seen the letter, so we’ve only seen the spin of the newspapers. How does something like that work? And in the New York Times, the article said that Clinton was very firm in saying that international aid would be cut off — World Bank, IMF loans — if the Indonesian military did not stop the violence in Timor.

ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, that was the clear implication of the letter. I don’t believe the letter really said that. It’s inconceivable that Clinton would actually cut off the international financial institution money that flows into Indonesia, because that’s a key part of the US economic policy, to shore up Wall Street by keeping the Indonesian currency afloat to some extent and also backing the US multinationals.

And I also don’t believe that Clinton would threaten an actual cutoff. I think that Roy was probably right in saying there were no threats, but it fit the administration’s purposes to put that spin on it to the Times, because Clinton was under a lot of pressure from Congress, from groups like the East Timor Action Network, who were pushing very hard to get Clinton to make some statement. They’ve been pushing for the past two months. Finally, on election eve in Timor, Clinton comes out with a statement. They spin it to the papers, saying “Oh, it was very tough, very strong.” Yet we see clearly it has no effect, because Wiranto knows how to read, General Wiranto, the commander of the Indonesian military. He knows how to see whether something is concretely threatening his military backing from the US. And if Roy is to be believed, and I think he is in this case, that wasn’t — you know, that threat was not held up. Clinton just wants to make angry constituents back in the States think that he was taking tough action.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Allan, I want to thank you very much for being with us, giving us that update and telling us about the meeting with or your brief encounter with the US ambassador to Indonesia, Stapleton Roy. Allan Nairn, speaking to us from Dili, East Timor, where he has gotten in, in spite of the army ban against him.

Well, we’re going to turn back now to our discussion of East Timor with two women Timorese exiles who voted in New York, one who lives in Canada, one who lives here in New York. We are speaking with Bela Galhos, who was in an exchange program as an Indonesian student — that’s how the Indonesian military saw it, even though she was Timorese — in Canada. Can you tell us that last part, Bela, how you ended up in Canada?

ISABELA GALHOS: After — with the activities that I have shown to the Indonesian government, I mean, the loyalty that I was acting on for over two years and a half in East Timor, they see me as another source that could help them in making propaganda for on their behalf, in favor of Indonesia. They always do that. They use Timorese to do things for them, and they pretend they don’t do anything, but Timorese do it genuinely and try to help them. So they send me to Canada, but before then, I went through a lot of training and interrogation to make sure that I will do a good job. So I went through a lot of diplomatic training inside Indonesia, in Jakarta for a month, and I went through over two weeks of interrogation, myself and my parents, to make sure that everything will be just in their control. And then, finally, they decided that I will be doing a good job, so they sent me to Canada.

But then, when I was in Jakarta, I learned the pressure and the things that they wanted me to do. I found it was too much, and inside me I knew that I couldn’t do it. And I will not do it. So when I got to Canada, I was learning so quickly about the situation in Canada, and I defected with the help of my uncle, Constancio Pinto, who are in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you had put his phone number into your waistband of a new pair of pants?

ISABELA GALHOS: Yes. Because of the security reason, I — all of my clothes at the time brought from East Timor all were new. So I cut one of the pants in the back of the pants, make a little hole, and I put the numbers, his telephone number, inside the hole. So when they went through all of my suitcase, they couldn’t find anything. So they let me go after all. And when I got to Canada, I got out, and I took the telephone and the address that I was hiding under that hole, and I write him a letter right away, and I sent it express with the help of a Canadian woman in Canada, whom I don’t know anymore, and three days later I got the telephone call from Constancio, and that was the first time we planned on how am I going to defect, and then I did. We did a good job.

AMY GOODMAN: And yesterday, you voted for the first time in the twenty-four-year Indonesian occupation of East Timor here in New York, where exiles voted. Gabriela Lopez De Cruz-Pinto. You grew up in East Timor. Actually, you married Constancio Pinto, who is one of the leaders of the underground. And at the time of the massacre, you were pregnant but went to the cemetery anyway, a time when Timorese were protesting yet another killing of a Timorese by the Indonesian military.

GABRIELA LOPEZ DE CRUZ-PINTO: Yes, I did. I was pregnant seven-and-a-half months at the time. But I didn’t know that the Indonesian military was going to kill people like that.

AMY GOODMAN: So you went to the cemetery.

GABRIELA LOPEZ DE CRUZ-PINTO: Yes, I did. At the Motael Church, we followed the demonstration, and then in front of the governor’s office I saw they start beating each other dead. So I took a taxi from there with two other friends, and we went to cemetery. And then, when we arrived there, the demonstration not arrive yet. So I went inside the cemetery with Sebastian’s relatives.

AMY GOODMAN: That Sebastian was the young man who was killed.

GABRIELA LOPEZ DE CRUZ-PINTO: Yes. And after we laid the flowers on the grave, and when I looked back, the demonstrators already arrived, but the military already there before the demonstration. So when we get out from there, there is no way we can escape. So we just stand in front of door. And then, when the demonstration arrived, I saw the military also arrive, and when they arrive, they start shooting. And there’s no one is shooting. And when they start shooting, I tried to escape.

I lost all my shoes. And I fell down, because so many people, they pushed me, and I fell down. I laid down on the ground until the shooting stopped. And I get up, I run into the cemetery, and I jump over one-meter wall and with all blood on my dress. And I used a path walk to get to home, because there’s military everywhere. And when I arrived at the [inaudible], it’s close to cemetery. I have a friend live there, and she borrowed me her dress, because she also pregnant at the time. So she borrowed me a dress, and I changed my dress, but I didn’t leave my dress there. I didn’t leave my dress there. I take it home.

AMY GOODMAN: So there wouldn’t be evidence in her house of a bloody dress —


AMY GOODMAN: — so that there would be evidence that someone had been at the massacre site in that house.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, at the same time that happened with you, Constancio Pinto was underground. There was a nationwide manhunt for him from the Indonesian military. He escaped from the country, and then you were held there, even after your son Tilson was born, for several years, despite efforts by the Red Cross and other international bodies to get you out of the country. What did the Indonesian military do during that period?

GABRIELA LOPEZ DE CRUZ-PINTO: During that period, they interrogated me, and they followed me everywhere, even to church, even to visit friends. And they followed me everywhere. They threatened me, and they asked me, they said, “Why don’t you get married? Constancio already die.” And they told me, they said, “We are handsome. We are pretty, white. And Constancio is black, has a flat nose. Why don’t you marry us?” And I told them, I said, “I’m a Catholic, and I can’t do that. If I do that, my parents will kill me. I am married at the church, so there’s no way I can do that.”

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is a standard problem in East Timor for the women of Timor, as many were kept by Indonesian soldiers and high-level officials at their houses.


AMY GOODMAN: And had their children.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Gabriela Lopez De Cruz-Pinto, as well as Isabela Galhos. We only have a few minutes, and I wanted to ask about the future for women in East Timor, because it seems that you face a double oppression. One is the Indonesian military, which has been horrendous, with the killing of a third of the population. And the other is what happens in your own culture, where women stand. Now, if people follow the Timorese situation, you know there are many male leaders. Xanana Gusmao, the rebel leader of East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Bello, also a Peace Prize winner. We’re not hearing from women in leadership. Bela Galhos, why not?

ISABELA GALHOS: Well, you know, it hasn’t been easy being a women living in East Timor. Situation getting worse right after the invasion. I don’t say that before that everything was alright. No, it’s even getting worse and worse there right after the invasion and occupation of East Timor. Our society is male-dominated, and we have a very strong Catholic, very conservative Catholic nation. And we have specific rules that consider as a culture which are putting women down most of the time.

And I see that our future, to rebuild a democratic society, an independent country. All of this will achieve if, you know, they have — other half of the population also have the same position in the society, play roles in the society also. So there’s going to be a lot of work need to be done on this matter, but we’re determined to do so, and we’re very optimistic about it, particularly young ones, the young generation. We’re in a situation where people are very flexible in talking about the situation of women, issues that considered to be taboo, had never been discussed for so many years, and now people talk about it. And I do hope that will be more progress taking place on this matter.

AMY GOODMAN: Are there women’s groups in East Timor that are functioning? And what are the issues that you focus on?

ISABELA GALHOS: There are a group of women that exists right after — more active right after Suharto was overthrown last year. They’re called Fokupers, Forum Communication for East Timorese Women. And then they have a good relationship with Indonesian women’s group, Solidaritas Perempuan, [inaudible]. All of these groups, women’s — Indonesian women’s groups in Indonesia, they have been working side by side in helping Timorese women and go through the situation where under Indonesian military occupation and under our male domination, all of that has been a very good program taking place in East Timor right now in terms of women have been — they have, for the last few, few months, they have come shown that they have a program, and they are determined to do — to change society’s ideas of how they look at women.

AMY GOODMAN: Domestic violence, a major issue, Gabriela, in East Timor, men beating their wives?

GABRIELA LOPEZ DE CRUZ-PINTO: Yeah, because I saw men beating their wives like — just like an animal. They don’t care where in the place where they beat. Even it’s outside the house, they’re beating them up until all their body was swelling. And then sometimes they don’t talk to the women for few days, even though it’s their fault.

AMY GOODMAN: As you have discussions with the male leaders of Timor, are these issues you discuss?


AMY GOODMAN: You’re married. You’re married to one, Gabriela.

GABRIELA LOPEZ DE CRUZ-PINTO: I’m married to one, but so far I haven’t discussed these things, and he hasn’t beaten me up. So —

ISABELA GALHOS: Well, this is something that is a very sensitive issue. It’s not an easy issue to discuss. We do try to discuss this issue. There’s a few conference took place, were only, you know, filled up by East Timorese women. But this such issue is still not considered as an important issue. This issue is considered a secondary issue. You know, right now everybody is focused on liberation of East Timor, so such issue they always consider as a secondary, and they say, you know, “Wait until later, when East Timor is free, and then let’s talk about this.” It’s like same like other country, too. You know, you take an example of many other country, this is what their men tell them. So this the — it’s up to East Timorese women how they’re going to take this leadership, and just do it, not waiting for the men.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, if you two are any indication, the men have quite a challenge in front of them. And we will continue to follow your situation, the situation of women in East Timor. And I thank you very much for being with us. Our guests, Isabela Galhos, who is a Timorese exile, defected to Canada several years ago, here in New York for the historic vote on self-determination that took place yesterday in East Timor. And Gabriela Lopez De Cruz-Pinto, who is here in the United States, as well.

Do you both plan to return ever to live in East Timor?



AMY GOODMAN: Well, we look forward to covering you there and talking to you when you return.

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