Honoring Jonas Savimbi


Back in the days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union could be depended on to back opposite sides in the struggles going on all over the world for control of various nations. On the southwestern coast of Africa, the Portuguese colony of Angola, which was granted its independence in 1975, became the scene of a particularly long and bloody battle. In its deepest penetration into southern Africa, Moscow backed a local communist group called the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), headed by Jose Eduardo dos Santos. More or less inevitably, the Western powers backed his chief opponent in the civil war, Jonas Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Their battle for control of Angola long survived the Cold War, continuing, intermittently, to this very day, and is estimated to have cost a million lives (out of a total Angolan population of 11 million). As early as 1976, the communists, aided by Cuban troops furnished by Fidel Castro, acquired control of the capital, Luanda, and much of the rest (though by no means all) of the country. In 1979, without bothering to hold an election, they installed Mr. dos Santos as president. But Jonas Savimbi, supported by Angola’s largest tribe, the Ovimbundu, fought on, aided by South Africa and—more importantly—by the Reagan administration. It is common in leftist circles these days to condemn Savimbi for accepting the help of South Africa, which was still dominated by its white apartheid regime in the 1980s. But it should not be forgotten that even the United States relied on that regime to keep South Africa on our side during the Cold War. When the Cold War ended at the close of that decade, South Africa swiftly became a politically multiracial society, led by a transformed Nelson Mandela. But Mr. Mandela never made any secret of his loyalty to the Soviet Union, and he would have moved South Africa briskly into its orbit if he had come to power while it still existed. With him he would have taken a communized Angola. Instead, President Reagan gave Savimbi the support he needed to battle on. And battle on he did, controlling wide swaths of the country from his headquarters in Jamba, a newly created town of some 9,000 people in southeastern Angola.

 by William Rusher


                   Jonas Savimbi: Anti-Communist 


Angola’s Jonas Savimbi, legendary guerilla leader of UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), was killed by communist MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) forces in combat last week. Mr. Savimbi’s death follows the assassination of another renowned guerilla leader in Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Masood, two days prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11.

These remarkable leaders along with Enrique Bermudez of the Nicaraguan Contras, also assassinated years ago, were direct beneficiaries of the Reagan Doctrine, a critical component of the effort by President Reagan to defeat the Soviet empire by rolling back Soviet-backed regimes in the Third World. The Reagan Doctrine was a stunning success.

The Red Army was bloodied and forced to quit Afghanistan, and the Sandinistas were replaced by a democratically elected government in Nicaragua. Also, covert U.S. military aid to UNITA allowed the group to expel the 60,000-strong Cuban occupation force in Angola and helped turn the tide of war, forcing a peace settlement. The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall relegated these conflicts to the back burner.

The first Bush administration, consumed by its own bleak re-election prospects, turned Angola’s first elections over to the United Nations for oversight and in turn, a biased United Nations let the MPLA count the ballots. Internal U.N. documents proved the balloting rife with fraud. The run-off election between Eduardo dos Santos and Mr. Savimbi was never held.

While negotiating the run-off, under a white flag of truce, the MPLA launched a holocaust against UNITA and other opposition parties, in a mass killing spree Australian reporter Jill Joliffe labeled the "night of the long knives." UNITA diplomats, party officers and activists were slaughtered nationwide, with the body count estimated in the tens of thousands. The prominent, Western-educated Vice President Jeremias Chitunda, well-known and regarded by high-level Reagan officials, was executed trying to escape the capital, Luanda, along with other top diplomats. Chitunda worked successfully to repeal the Clark Amendment in 1985, paving the way for the covert-aid program.

The new Clinton administration quickly sided with the MPLA and, along with the United Nations, imposed sanctions on UNITA for refusing to submit to fraudulent elections. Today, duly elected UNITA parliamentarians are hostages in Luanda. Abel Chivukuvuku, the charismatic UNITA foreign minister, twice has been the target of assassination in Luanda. True to their Stalinist roots,the MPLA methodically bought or co-opted its political opposition, and whom it could not buy, it killed. Regrettably, the new Bush administration perpetuated the Clinton administration’s executive orders against UNITA, which shut down UNITA’s diplomatic offices and unconstitutionally prohibited even U.S. citizens from representing UNITA.

The State Department’s Africa Bureau for years has been compromised by American oil companies operating in Angola (who were kept at arm’s length under Reagan and Bush I), which explains the perpetuation of the Clinton Angola policy. Insight magazine described the problem as a "revolving door" syndrome fraught with conflicts of interest—with State Department Africa officials leaving government service for lucrative MPLA lobbying contracts, then lobbying their former co-workers, and in at least one case, returning to Foggy Bottom to work on Angola. Mr. Savimbi knew the United States was an unreliable ally and that the State Department and CIA could not be trusted.

In the midst of one MPLA offensive, UNITA, desperately short of bullets and other munitions, received shipments of sanitary napkins and boots. But Mr. Savimbi and UNITA fought on with determination, rejecting lives of comfort and safety in exile, and enduring the rigors of combat and the harsh deprivation of life in the bush. UNITA faced impossible odds, with no foreign government left on its side, all corrupted by billions of dollars worth of Angolan crude, and an army of lobbyists paid for by oil proceeds.

President Bush, last June, along with South Africa’s president, urged direct negotiations between UNITA and the MPLA. Mr. dos Santos and his kleptocratic communist cadres had never been willing to negotiate until facing military overthrow. The murder of Mr. Savimbi was a slap in the face to Mr. Bush, after the call for peace talks. The U.S. response should be to repeal the Clinton executive orders on Angola, to call for an end to the killings, to forge a genuine national reconciliation, to exert political control over State’s Africa Bureau, and to ensure that U.S. foreign policy is not debased by our dependency on foreign oil. Mr. Savimbi, responding once to a journalist who asked why we couldn’t assume he would be just another bloody dictator if he won the civil war, said: "Because I know that no one can rule Angola without a government of compromise." That is still to be the country’s fate, even without Mr. Savimbi’s strong leadership.

The MPLA feared and hated Mr. Savimbi because of his magnetism, his brilliant oratory and the devotion he won from the Angolan people. He stood in sharp contrast to thecolorless and untelegenic Communist Party bureaucrats in Luanda. Isolating Mr. Savimbi through Western sanctions, which deprived UNITA of free speech and contacts in the Free World, was their ultimate coup. But Mr. Savimbi, as a martyr, becomes an ever more powerful force. His death reminds us that the Cold War never ended, and that we neglect our international friends and commitments at our peril. The United States forgot Afghanistan and was rudely awakened to the consequences of that neglect on September 11. Foremost, Mr. Savimbi’s murder should prompt a revived Reagan Doctrine, dedicated to aiding with diplomatic and military support those who share our democratic principles and are willing to fight with us in future conflicts—particularly in what portends to be a difficult and protracted war against terrorism.


by Margeret Hemenway and Martin James

The Washington Times, February 28, 2002, p. A 21

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