Subject: Asiamoney: Keeping up with the Carrascalaos

Keeping up with the Carrascalaos Asiamoney


Sep 2003.

If there's one family to know in East Timor, it's the Carrascalaos. Eric Ellis outlines the family's influence in the small but volatile East Asian island.

Doing business in the world's newest nation, the Carrascalao family is near impossible to avoid.

Organizing your communications? That would be the Timor Telecom monopoly, run by Vasco Carrascalao Lino da Silva, who joined it fresh from restoring Portugal's state-owned Banco Nacional Ultramarino's office in its old colonial possession.

But first you need somewhere to rest your head. That would be the Hotel Timor, Dili's closest thing to a five-star hotel, where Vasco's cousin Gina Carrascalao manages the family's interest.

Need a factory built? Gina's father Manuel's construction company could help you out there. Manuel could also set you up with gas supplies... and some land to build it on.

And if some official influence is required, Manuel's brothers Joao and Mario, both influential parliamentarians, would be a start, as would Joao's brother-in-law Jose Ramos-Horta, winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for work towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor. The deal could be done over a cup of coffee the Carrascalaos own one of the world's biggest coffee estates in the mountains behind Dili.

"Yes there is rather a lot of us," says Gabriela Carrascalao, who helps run the UN-backed national television service.

That's something of an understatement. In a saga that would impress the most sweeping Latino novelist, the Carrascalao dynasty has been an authority in East Timor since the 1920s. It was then that the late patriarch Manuel Viegas Carrascalao, a political firebrand in his native Portugal, was deported to what Lisbon then regarded as its convict colony in the East Indies.

Released a year after arrival, as long as he didn't return to Lisbon, Manuel Viegas met and married a local woman, Marcelina Guterres. That she came from local nobility didn't impress the colonial authorities. Theirs was a mixed-race, or mestico, liaison that discomfited them.

Typically, Manuel Viegas was undaunted, eventually siring 14 children, 11 of whom are still alive today. They are the foundation of an extended family with influential relatives in Portugal and its ex-colonies, as well as Australia and Indonesia, where its members were exiled while East Timor's destiny was being batted between great powers.

Manuel Viegas died of cancer a broken man in Lisbon in 1976, barely a year after Jakarta had invaded his beloved East Timor. But his legacy is defended by his 71-year-old eldest son, Manuel, today one of East Timor's richest men.Family crusade

While there are few areas of activity in East Timor in which the Carrascalaos are not evident, it is politics and business that seem to have most consumed them.

At various times in his life, the younger Manuel has been a parliamentarian for parties representing Lisbon, Jakarta and East Timor. He is nothing if not pragmatic, as is his younger brother Mario, who in 1982 was appointed Jakarta's governor in Dili. Ten years later, appalled by the violence of Indonesia's dirty war, Mario appealed to the guerilla leader and now president Jose Alexandre "Xanana Gusmao, then fighting a jungle campaign against Indonesian rule, to end his "crazy independence" idea and let the East Timorese live in peace.

Mario stepped down as governor soon after the 1991 Santa Cruz cemetery massacre of East Timorese by the Indonesian military, an incident that galvanized international opinion against Indonesia's brutal rule in Dili. He later became Jakarta's ambassador to Romania though today he is a leading member in East Timor's nascent parliament.

Macau connection

Another fascinating Carrascalao-connection is with Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho, who was a prominent investor in East Timor before the 1975 Indonesian takeover.

Ho, who harbours casino ambitions in East Timor, despite it being one of the world's poorest nations with a GDP per capita of just US$450, is believed to be an investor in Dili's portside Hotel Timor, the former Hotel Makhota where Jakarta liked to billet its visiting dignitaries.

The official owner is a Macau-based organization called the Fundacao Oriente, of which Ho is said to be a backer. The foundation is active across Dili and is staking interests across a range of businesses, from communications to resources. It's head office? The Carrascalao family home in downtown Dili.

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