The independence of Angola (was US/UN/East Timor/Portugal)

michael perelman michael at
Thu Oct 21 21:06:00 MDT 1999

My Marxist colleague, George Wright, wrote an excellent book on Angola with a blurb
from Chomsky.

"João Paulo Monteiro" wrote:

> Jose G. Perez wrote:
> > Rabble was Holden Roberto's force, racists were the south Africans and
> > psychopaths some of the mercenaries the CIA signed on for the effort. Those
> > were Stockwell's descriptions.
> I haven't read Stockwell's book but it is beyond dispute that the CIA supported
> the FNLA in the angolan civil war of 1974-76. They have recruited english,
> american, portuguese, dutch, french and belgian mercenaries. Badly organized and
> with lax discipline, about 100 of them died. This effort had connexions in
> Portugal, among the right-wing terrorist network operating here, which
> collaborated in the shipment of weapons. The point is: how far were the
> americans willing to go? Congress had barred direct armed involvement. In June
> 1975, Kissinger secured 16 million dollars for covert actions in Angola, plus 32
> million in funds for FNLA. In December, the Senate refused a request for 100
> million in further funding and, in January 1976, the House of Representatives
> passed the Clark Amendment, forbidding any further involvement in angolan
> affairs (this was only to be revoked 10 years later by Reagan). The cubans - who
> arrived in force early in November 1975, when the MPLA was completely cornered
> in Luanda - were allowed to rout FNLA on the North and repeal the south-africans
> and UNITA to the southern border. Of course, the U.S. just had no way of
> defeating the cubans short of a direct military invasion. But they made no
> efforts to destabilize the country at that time either, when they had ample
> means and people at their disposal for it. They even had some legal
> legitimization, for the MPLA had simply teared down the tri-partite accords
> signed with the other movements, expelled them from Luanda and took power
> single-handedly manu militari.
> The U.S. was kicked in the ass by the cubans in Angola and have let it stand
> quietly. Now, even in those immediate post-Vietnam times, this is rather
> mysterious. Apparently they were in no mood for a confrontation with the USSR at
> the price of an overt, thoroughly exposed and long-term alliance with the
> south-africans, which could be very damaging to its relations with most of black
> Africa (not to mention the european liberals and the civil rights movement at
> home). Was there a deal? With the angolans surely. They have secured with them
> the interests of Gulf and Texaco in the oil extraction facilities of Cabinda. I
> have no proof of any larger deal concluded with the soviets, but this doesn't
> seem too far-fetched. The MPLA unilateral declaration of angolan independence
> was on November 11. On November 25, a right-wing military coup has effectively
> put an end to the portuguese revolution. (Coincidentally or not, the
> american-blessed indonesian invasion of East-Timor was on December 7.)
> But lets make a bit of History.
> The interest of the US in Angola goes back to 1960. Their man has always been
> Holden Roberto and his tribalist bakongo organizations. The bakongos spread to
> both sides of the Congo river, in Zaire and the north-west of Angola. The
> origins of the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) go back to a
> ludicrous question regarding the succession to the throne in the kingdom of
> Congo, a traditional but politically meaningless post. The fact remains,
> however, that the armed struggle in Angola was initiated in 1961 by UPA (Union
> of the Peoples of Angola), Roberto's strictly bakongo party, later to be renamed
> FNLA after fusioning with another minor organization. UPA's actions that year
> consisted of a series of massacres of portuguese ranchers (and many mulattos and
> black servants) in the North of Angola, carried out by throngs of fanatical
> gangs armed with nothing but machetes and magical spells. UPA/FNLA has always
> been a tribal organization of peasants with absolutely no political education.
> The portuguese repression that ensued was nothing short of genocidal. It was
> condemned in the UN Security Council by both the US and the USSR. Lisboa and
> Luanda were full of anti-american patriotic furor those days. The americans
> have, of course, changed course later (particularly the Nixon administrations
> were very close to the portuguese fascists), but they have remained in contact
> with FNLA. After the seizure of power of Mobutu (Roberto's brother-in-law) on
> Zaire, in 1964, the FNLA has been nothing more than a tool of his. Military
> activity against the portuguese colonialist army has all but ceased. The FNLA
> served more as a buffer against penetration by the MPLA.
> Jonas Malheiro Savimbi has always been a very special case in the angolan
> nationalist movement. He started as the man in charge of foreign affairs for
> UPA. He was kicked out and applied for acceptance in the MPLA but found no
> takers. So he founded his own movement, UNITA (National Union for the Total
> Independence of Angola), in 1966, based on his Ovimbundu tribe of the angolan
> central plateau. UNITA has only three small armed actions against the portuguese
> army in its curriculum prior to 1974. Savimbi has managed to grant some chinese
> support and sometimes poses as maoist (he has done so even recently). But in
> fact he has had lots of very warm correspondence with the colonialist
> authorities, culminating in a formal peace signed with them in 1971. From then
> on UNITA has functioned as a shield against the incursions of the MPLA from the
> East. He was also in contact with the CIA.
> The MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) is the movement of the
> detribalized urban masses and the intellectual and politicized section of the
> angolan nationalists. It was founded in 1956, gathering a series of
> organizations, one of which was the Communist Party of Angola. Armed action
> begun in 1961. In spite of its operational difficulties, it has been by far the
> most effective military challenge to the portuguese (particularly in the period
> 1966-72). The problems of the MPLA were its difficulties in having military
> access to angolan territory and its perennial internal dissensions. Access to
> Angola was barred by Zaire and, naturally, by Namibia (under south-african
> administration). The MPLA was in good terms with the government of the Republic
> of Congo (Brazzaville), which granted them access only to the small enclave of
> Cabinda. After the independence of Zambia, it was able to launch a second front
> from the East. But the terrain there was not the most favorable and there were
> immense logistical difficulties. Then there were the problems at the level of
> political direction. MPLA has lived in a state of almost permanent rebellion
> against its president dr. Agostinho Neto, a great poet and accomplished marxist
> but also an egocentrical and autocratic man. In 1973, a rebellion occurred in
> the eastern front led by Daniel Chipenda, completely paralyzing it. On the
> political front, there was also the "active revolt" of Mario de Andrade in 1974.
> And this was the situation on April 1974, when the fascist regime fell in
> Portugal. A situation of relative calm with extreme weakness and division on the
> angolan nationalist movement.
> The first months of the new regime were times of extreme political indefinition.
> The president of the republic was the proto-fascist and neo-colonialist general
> Spinola, but the democratic movement of the armed forces (MFA) was vigilant on
> the background, supported by the awakened popular masses. Until the summer of
> 1975, the popular tide has been in permanent ascent, defeating the successive
> coups and machinations led by Spinola. Autumn was again a time of indecision,
> until the final thermidorian coup of November 25, 1975. From then on, bourgeois
> rule (now in western, liberal and "democratic" garb) was no more to be
> challenged in Portugal.
> Due to its exceptional richness, the importance of the portuguese colony
> (600.000 people) and the favorable military situation, Spinola was particularly
> interested in securing a neo-colonialist solution for Angola. For him "the loss
> of Guinea-Bissau was regrettable, the loss of Mozambique a tragedy that could
> and should be avoided, but the abandon of Angola was unthinkable". He nominated
> the notorious fascist general Silvino Silvério Marques as governor. He devised
> plans for decolonization that would take up to 4 years to conclude. He tried to
> associate Zaire's president Mobutu to the process, in a meeting held in Cabo
> Verde whose content has remained secret and subject to intense speculation. Then
> he tried to promote all sorts of "living forces" and independent thinkers as
> alternatives to the liberation movements, particularly the MPLA that he
> abhorred. At first, the colonial establishment - very assured of its strength -
> saw no reasons to be worried.
> The problem for Spinola was that things were moving fast. With the introduction
> of democratic freedoms of organization and manifestation, powerful social forces
> were unleashed, both in Portugal and in Angola. In June and August, violent
> racial confrontations surged in Luanda. The white colonial community grew
> increasingly alarmed and begun a terrorist campaign. Some sectors of it have
> devised a rodhesian style white independence, but there was no sufficient
> cohesiveness and maturity in the movement. After the failure of the spinolist
> coup of September 28 in Portugal, the neo-colonialist solution was impossible
> and the whites begun to support either UNITA or FNLA.
> The portuguese armed forces organized themselves democratically under the MFA
> flag and demanded the departure of Silvino Marques. For his substitution, was
> nominated admiral Rosa Coutinho a discrete officer who nobody knew very well at
> the time. He was a marxist, a firm supporter of MPLA and did not try to conceal
> his options. The position of the portuguese governments at that time was also
> generally towards recognizing the MPLA a certain hegemony in the nationalist
> field. In fact, even the U.S. council in Luanda was favorable to the MPLA, on
> the grounds that it had the best men to constitute an able administration. The
> MFA/Angola and the administration have helped the MPLA organize itself
> (including the solution of its grave internal problems) and offered some
> armament. When the african soldiers of the portuguese army were demobilized,
> most of them were integrated in the MPLA forces, including the katanguese
> gendarmes and the fearsome hit-men "flechas".
> However, the situation on the ground was still difficult. Particularly the FNLA
> was a very considerable force and had strong backing, not only from the U.S. but
> from many african countries as well. It managed to occupy the northern districts
> and made a push to Luanda in August, stopped by the portuguese parachutists. The
> three movements started to occupy positions on the ground and this reality could
> not be ignored.
> Under the mediation of Portugal and the Organization of African States, the
> angolan nationalist movements were pressed to find a agreement on a transition
> to independence, which they did in a conference in Mombassa (Kenya), attended by
> Neto, Roberto and Savimbi. Based on this prior agreement, they signed a formal
> accord with the portuguese government in Alvor (Algarve, Portugal), on January
> 15, 1975.
> The Alvor accord called for the immediate formation of a transitional government
> with the participation of Portugal and all the three movements. A joint army was
> to be formed also. Elections for a Constituent Assembly were to be held in
> October. The whites would be recognized full angolan citizenship. Later, the
> date for formal recognition of independence was set for November 11, 1975.
> Most probably neither of the movements believed a word of what they were
> signing. They just wanted to see the portuguese administration leave as soon as
> possible. Probably the portuguese government just feigned it was arbitrating a
> serious agreement. The fact is that as soon as the three nationalist movements
> gained access to the capital, armed confrontations between them were
> unstoppable.
> In Luanda, the MPLA was at ease. It started a policy of arming its civilian
> supporters. In February 13, the MPLA attacked the barracks of its dissident
> Chipenda. Chipenda with his 2.000 men joined FNLA and later fought alongside
> UNITA and the south-africans. In March 15, the FNLA tried to make some
> commemorative military marches in Luanda. And this was really the beginning of
> the angolan civil war. A violent battle with heavy weapons begun. It lasted,
> with brief periods of cease-fire, until the expulsion of the FNLA from the
> capital in July. The portuguese army and the transitional government were
> powerless to stop the violence. The white residents begun to flee in droves for
> Portugal. In August, it was UNITA's turn to be expelled from Luanda. The Alvor
> accords were dead and the MPLA again proclaimed itself the sole representative
> of the angolan people.
> The south-africans invaded from the South, in October. They were joined by UNITA
> and Chipenda's men. In the North, the FNLA was reorganizing its forces in
> Ambriz, 100 km from Luanda, with white mercenaries and regular troops from
> Zaire. This was the effort Stockwell must have referred to. The two columns were
> on the move early in November and their goal was to attack Luanda jointly on the
> 11th, the date the remains of the portuguese army were supposed to leave and
> independence be proclaimed. The MPLA destroyed two bridges but that was not
> enough to stop them.
> The south-africans were ordered to stop, in order not to compromise their
> allies. And the northern column also stopped, within sight of Luanda. Says
> portuguese general Diogo Neto: "I was in Luanda until the 8th. On the eve of my
> departure, the two columns were very near the capital but were forced to stop by
> diplomatic pressure of the U.S.. The american consulate in Luanda closed on the
> 2 or 3 and one of its members, which I suppose was from the CIA, told me before
> leaving that everything had been arranged." What is certain is that a deal had
> indeed been reached with the MPLA over the Cabinda oil. But was that all?
> The 8th of November was also the date the first 650 cubans of "Operation
> Carlota" (in honor of the leader of a slave rebellion of the XIX century)
> arrived in Luanda, by air. The airport was controlled by the portuguese.
> According to Gabriel Garcia Marquez ("The Cuban Mission to Angola", 'New Left
> Review', nºs 101-102, February/April 1977), Fidel Castro had only decided on the
> mission three days earlier. But the idea was much older and preparations have
> certainly been going on for some time. The operation was supposed to be secret
> ("a secret jealously kept by eight million cubans"), but it seems at least
> Julius Nyerere (of Tanzania), Samora Machel (of Mozambique) and portuguese
> leftist firebrand lieutenant-colonel Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho have had previous
> knowledge of it. And the portuguese high-commissioner in Luanda (member of the
> "military left") gave permission to land. I don't have access to Garcia
> Marquez's article but, according to my source, it doesn't say the soviets were
> taken by surprise by the action (which I think very unlikely). It only says "it
> was a sovereign and independent act of Cuba; the Soviet Union was not informed
> beforehand but only AFTER THE DECISION WAS TAKEN" (my emphasis). If the
> americans were taken by surprise is anybody's guess at this point.
> On November 11, the portuguese high-commissioner, admiral Leonel Cardoso,
> transferred sovereignty to "the angolan people", put the portuguese flag under
> his arm-pit and left. The MPLA's Agostinho Neto thanked him and, to a delirious
> crowd, proclaimed the Popular Republic of Angola, which Portugal only recognized
> in February 1976. Simultaneously, the FNLA proclaimed its republic in Ambriz and
> UNITA its own in Huambo (then still called New Lisbon).
> When the cubans arrived, the military situation was considered so grave that
> they expected, at best, to secure the enclave of Cabinda. But, superiourly
> organized and motivated, they have repelled the south-africans back to the
> border and routed the northern force. The "second war of liberation" was
> concluded in February 1976. But south-african incursions kept occurring until
> the battle of Cuito Cuanavale and the accords of New York (December 22, 1988)
> between Angola, South-Africa and Cuba, which secured the independence of Namibia
> and the cuban withdrawal. In the late 80's there was a real "cuban scare" on
> white racist south-african society.
> UNITA activity remains strong, this very moment. They have inherited part of the
> bakongo constituency of FNLA and kept much of its own original ovimbundu
> support. As I write this, the angolan army is trying - with some success - to
> dislodge UNITA forces entrenched in some municipalities of the central uplands.
> > The attitude of the USSR is an interesting question. In CNN's Cold War
> > series, Fidel Castro says the first contingents of Cubans, a few hundred
> > "advisors" were sent to Angola without even notifying the Soviets. (Fidel
> > does not add this, but I've seen elsewhere that the decision was partly for
> > security reasons: Cuba was afraid the planes might be attacked if word got
> > out). This tends to be confirmed by contemporary accounts, especially the
> > one written by Gabriel García Márquez. The follow-on force, which came by
> > boat and took longer to get there, and was explicitly combat units, not just
> > advisors and brought the total Cuban force to several thousand, is what got
> > the Soviets involved. According to Soviet officials interviewed in the Cold
> > War series, it was that larger force that drew them into the Southern Africa
> > situation, as they could not refuse to supply the Cuban contingent, and thus
> > willy-nilly allowed themselves to get dragged into a conflict where as they
> > view it no vital soviet interests were at stake. (Obviously, from the point
> > of view of these Soviet functionaries, it was a mistake.)
> >
> Former soviet officials interviewed for western TV series or books are not
> always the most reliable sources. They all seem strangely eager to say basically
> the same thing: "What we have done back them was pure nonsense, as we knew long
> ago but, you know, the system was just like that. Thank god, now we have
> freedom". This is history retrospectively revisited with the eyes of the
> vanquished. It's also their way of searching acceptance in the realm of
> contemporary "serious" political discourse.
> Of course, the soviet apparatchiks were callous and none too found of socialist
> revolutions. But leninist state ideology was still a powerful source of
> legitimization of their rule. And they were engaged in a deadly contest for
> world hegemony, for which they could only find allies in the struggle of the
> rebel third world nations. I don't have much information on how exactly foreign
> policy decisions were taken by the brejnevist state apparatus, but is does seem
> that certain leaders of the "International Communist Movement" were influent, to
> various degrees. Fidel Castro was, of course, very hard to say no to. Alvaro
> Cunhal, the leader of the Portuguese Communist Party, was also very influent. He
> had very close friendships (going back to the 30's) with key figures in the
> Politburo like Boris Ponomariov, Mikhail Suslov and indeed with Brejnev himself.
> The middle 70's were bad times for US imperialism. There was the oil crisis,
> Watergate, defeat in Indochina. The soviets took positions in Vietnam and Laos
> (1975), Angola (1975), Ethiopia (1977), Southern Yemen (1978), Cambodja (1979),
> Nicaragua (1979), Afghanistan (1979). Probably this has helped overstretch the
> resources of the USSR (which was by then clearly on accelerated decadence), and
> some officials may have started to grumble. But their was also confidence,
> initiative and even some ideological assertiveness.
> The MPLA was supported by the USSR and Chekoslovakia since 1964. Many of its
> cadre (including the now angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos) were formed
> there. In short, for many reasons, the USSR just couldn't failed them in the
> hour of truth. And they did give substantial help. According to US government
> sources, between 100 and 200 million dollars worth of military aid, between
> March and the end of 1975. This included some 170 military advisors, armored
> vehicles, planes and the very effective 122 mm rocket, decisive in many
> confrontations.
> Of course, what really decided the matter were the cubans soldiers.
> João Paulo Monteiro

Michael Perelman
Economics Department
California State University
Chico, CA 95929

Tel. 530-898-5321
E-Mail michael at

More information about the Marxism mailing list