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May 13, 2008


Marry me Hilzoy. This was perfect.

Re: ‘Blood Diamonds”

I know a guy who travels to an African country which I am 95% sure is Angola. He purchases a license from the official government to barter for rough diamonds on the street, I think he said the license costs $20,000/yr. He then takes the diamonds back to his place in Canada and makes them into jewelry. He’s a pretty interesting guy.

According to him, DeBeers is out to get people like him because they undermine DeBeers’ dominant market position. His license is legitimately issued by what consists of the official government. DeBeers's tries to label all non-DeBeers diamonds as ‘blood diamonds’, when that is not true. He doesn’t like DeBeers.

He says rural Africa is a rough place and nothing has changed there in thousands of years except the introduction of cell-phones.

Savimbi got 40% of the vote in 1992 (and actually didn't loose the election, as he refused to participate in the run-off).

It may look irrelevant but it does mean that at some point, a large mynority of the Angolese liked him enough, or disliked MPLA enough to actually vote for him. Sure, his behavior after the election was pure evil and he did his share of nasty thing before, but somehow conflating pre-1992 and post-2002 Savimbi and presenting UNITA as an illegetimate movement and calling MPLA "the actual government of Angola" are weird stances.

Beyond that, if 40% of the Angolans were so mistaken about him, one can see why Wingnuts with a strong desire to throw money at anyone who claims to fight marxists would be too.

Africa is definitely NOT my area of expertise, but I do have a question for "Random African."

How certain are you that the fact that "Savimbi got 40% of the vote in 1992" actually means that "40% of the Angolans" were in favor of him? I've seen data indicating that 99% of North Koreans are (similarly) in favor of Kim Jong-Il. Significant? I hardly think so.

And that query was by me, dr ngo.


How is it that when I'm looking at a sentence that says "You are currently signed in as dr ngo," and I post something, it forgets who I am?

Who am I, anyway? Am I my resume?

(Points - but not many - for the song cited.)


By most standards, the 1992 election was open and fair. That's why Savimbi's reactions was so disgusting.


And remember that he wasn't the incumbent and had been tarred by the South African association.


Not at all clear what you're arguing. As the Harding article points out, Savimbi did have support; the three Angola wars were conducted so brutally that, inevitably, some sizeable minority of the government's excesses came to prefer Savimbi, and those of his own ethnicity often supported him too.

How all that demonstrates that he wasn't a thug, or that he wasn't responsible for some truly horrific atrocities, or that McCain's advisor isn't responsible for giving support to one of post-independence Africa's premier thugs is lost on me.

"Tis did not have to happen. We could have let Angola be. Its government was dreadful, but Savimbi was no rose either; even if you think that we should intervene in other countries, when a country seems to have a choice between two awful options, there's no real point in choosing sides, and certainly no point in plunging a country into civil war to get your side to win."

It seems to me there's a conspicuous gap in your otherwise typically superb post, which is the lacuna in explaining why the U.S. government of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford made this choice. Random roll of the dice? It looked like a good vacation spot? Savimbi's PR firms?

This might be relevant, and this.

"Marry me Hilzoy."

Do you have one to spare?

"How is it that when I'm looking at a sentence that says "You are currently signed in as dr ngo," and I post something, it forgets who I am?"

Happens to me, too, every time I try to use the Typekey sign-in. Typepad is apparently just broken.

(Note also the usual recent limit of no more than 3 links per post or you're tossed into the spam queue: I can't think of anything more destructive to productive online conversation than to discourage people from including as many links as possible to support their arguments, unless it's stripping out their email addresses so they can't communicate with each other.)

Yup, my name and other fields went to blank, again. Like always. Broken.

As a trivial side-note, it's interesting when one person consistently presents claims, and never supports them with data, but always "supports" them with an anecdote, and apparently considers anecdotes as sufficient from which to draw conclusions, but the person never bothers to look for, or present actual data or actual facts. Only single anecdotes are presented, as if they were grounds for drawing a conclusion.

The apparent means of acquiring relevant "information," rather than mere facts, explains a lot about the conclusions consistently drawn, doesn't it?

Please release my captive comment. Thanks.

The point is that before 1992, few knew how much of a thug he was and/or were fooled into giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Basically, having been a lobbyist for Mobutu is a lot worse.

"The point is that before 1992, few knew how much of a thug he was and/or were fooled into giving him the benefit of the doubt."

Funny how that was quite clear in endless articles in the Eighties, then, when plenty of us were objecting to or protesting the U.S. alignment with UNITA and Savimbi. Why is it the Clark Amendment was passed in 1976?

Digression back to why the U.S. government cared so much about Angola, and not so much about, say, Somalia:

[...] An insightful comment of Secretary Schlesinger was, that the US "might wish to encourage the disintegration of Angola. Cabinda in the clutches of Mobutu would mean far greater security of the petroleum resources."


Angola is currently the second biggest trading partner in Sub-Saharan Africa of the U.S., primarily because of oil; Angola produces .0014 billion barrels (220,000 m³) of oil per day, second only to Nigeria in all of Africa. This is expected to rise to .002 billion barrels (320,000 m³) per day by 2008.

But how is it that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans were protesting Savimbi and UNITA and U.S. support of them during the Eighties, when "few knew," I wonder?

How did this happen?

In the late 1980s, however, international human rights organizations accused UNITA of human rights abuses, charging that UNITA was intimidating civilians to force them to support UNITA or to withhold support for the MPLA-PT.
Did this not happen, or did all of us constitute a brave, proud, few, given that the objectors were more or less identical to the set of people in the anti-apartheid movement. (I only volunteered to be ritualistically arrested and repeated once, at the SA consulate in Seattle, but friends of mine were arrested many many times; it was quite the trendy thing in some circles during the Eighties.)

Appalling, but hardly surprising. During the Cold War many actually believed the "better dead than Red" credo. If the Soviets supported a government, we would support any anti-government movement regardless of its bloodthirstiness.

"did all of us constitute a brave, proud, few, given that the objectors were more or less identical to the set of people in the anti-apartheid movement"

This may explain that, right ?

And on Somalia, Angola, oil, may be we should all remember that Chevron was thriving in Cabinda under MPLA control (with installations guarded by Cuban troops
) and that Siad Barre got plenty of American military aid in the 80's

Over the next few years, the United States increased its military assistance to Somalia. In 1982, for example, equipment sales and gifts amounted to US$14.3 million; on July 24 of that year, the United States responded to an Ethiopian attack on Somalia by providing the Siad Barre regime with antitank weapons, radars, air defense guns, small arms, and ammunition. In 1983 United States military aid totaled US$21.2 million; in 1984 US$24.3 million; in 1985 US$80 million, a large amount of which included air-transpor; table 155mm M-198s; in 1986 US$40 million; and in 1987 approximately US$37.1 million. For 1981-84 United States Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to Somalia included US$57.15 million in delivered matériel, US$60 million financed with a Department of Defense guarantee, and US$1.811 million in commercial exports. During this same period, the United States trained 126 Somali military personnel under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. The cost of the training came to more than US$2.31 million. Somalia also participated in the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) Operation Bright Star exercises.

After the SNM launched armed attacks in northern Somalia in late May 1988, the United States provided Somalia with US$1.4 million worth of military equipment, which consisted of 1,200 M16 automatic rifles and 2 million rounds of M16 ammunition, 300,000 rounds of 30-caliber ammunition, and 500,000 rounds of 50-caliber ammunition. Additionally, the Department of Defense donated US$1 million for a 220-bed hospital, which operated in Berbera to help victims of the conflict.

Eventually, we cut our ties to Savimbi.

Specifically, the Bush administration publicly reversed the long Republican position of support for Savimbi and opposition to the MPLA in 2002, shortly after Savimbi's death, when he hosted Dos Santos in Washington.

The groundwork was laid earlier, though. During Bush's 2000 campaign, sizable contributions were made to the Republican Party by the wife of Pierre Falcone, a French citizen who in 1998 passed money and arranged for arms transfers to the Dos Santos government in return for concessions to most of the world's oil giants. Sonia Falcone also contributed $1000 to Bush's exploratory committee in 1999.

By the time of his visit with Bush, the Dos Santos government (which consists largely of Dos Santos himself and a few close friends) had become an oil-bribed dictatorship in the classic mold, and had ditched pretty much all of its early socialism.

This "transition" by Dos Santos began in 1998, when Pierre Falcone, Jean-Christophe Mitterand (son of French PM Jacques), and a Russian-born Israeli, Arkadi Gaydamak, funnelled money and arms to the MPLA government in return for oil concessions to Total-FINA-Elf, Chevron, BP, Exxon, Texaco, and Phillips.

Thus reinforced, the government effectively scrapped the 1994 peace treaty with Savimbi and went on an offensive against UNITA. After Savimbi was killed, the remaining leadership negotiated a new peace agreement with Dos Santos.

The payments and arms shipments to Dos Santos became the subject of a scandal in France at the time Falcone was arrested in December 2000. U.S. publicity about "Angola-gate" caused the Republican Party to return $100,000 in contributions made by Sonia Falcone just before Bush's inauguration. To avoid any appearance of impropriety, of course.

Some of the U.S. coverage of "Angola-gate" was by the Arizona Republic, because the Falcones have a ranch there at the time. Since McCain was out of the picture by then, his name did not come up in the scandal. But I wonder if the Falcones covered their bets in 1999...

Sort of puts the Reverend Wright's " chicken's coming home to roost" statement in context. America likes to pretend it has never done anything bad in the world. It has. I'm so sick of ideology being used as a sheild to hide and justify basically inhumane action whoever is doing it. I don
't think it has to be this way.

Jean-Christophe Mitterand (son of French PM Jacques)

Actually, it's "son of French president, François Mitterand" and chief of the African Affair department from 1986 to 1992. Because of Elf (and complicated connexions in neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon), France has been quite friendly to Angola long before 1998.

And, since I never go a day without blaming Dick Cheney, I will add this:

According to an Associated Press report on October 26, 2000, the US Embassy in Luanda assisted Halliburton in securing a $68 million US Export-Import Bank loan for Angola in 1998, during the height of much of the arms running activity between dos Santos, Falcone and Gaydamak. The AP cited a cable from the US Embassy in Luanda to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that states, "Our commercial officer literally camped out at the offices of the national oil company, petroleum ministry and central bank, unraveling snag after snag to obtain the transfer of funds ... The bottom line: thousands of American jobs and a foot in the door for Halliburton to win even bigger contracts."

Cheney, a one-time supporter of UNITA, appears to have changed his mind after the former CIA-backed guerrillas were deemed a threat to US oil interests.

Just another reason why I'm not particularly sorry to see all of the Clinton crowd back in the executive branch, either.

Thanks for the correction about Mitterand, RA. Jacques is Chirac.

Of course France had strong connections to Angola before 1998; that's what made young Mitterand of use to the plan. But the oil concessions began in 1998 -- at least for the U.S.-based majors.

RA's point about early Chevron footsying with the MPLA is well-taken. The major reason any of the world's powers have been interested in Angola is Cabinda, and its oil.

"Jean-Christophe Mitterand (son of French PM Jacques)"

Um, what?

"Sonia Falcone also contributed $1000 to Bush's exploratory committee in 1999."

I'm unclear what you're suggeting the significance of this is: do you think Bush shifted policy years later for $1000?

Also, there are links one could give in 2 seconds with a lot more info than writing a version that has "facts" like Francois Mitterand ever being Prime Moinister; might save time.

"RA's point about early Chevron footsying with the MPLA is well-taken. The major reason any of the world's powers have been interested in Angola is Cabinda, and its oil."

I sort of thought I brought that up back at 09:21 AM.

The major reason any of the world's powers have been interested in Angola is Cabinda, and its oil.

Nope, not buying it.

- if the USSR had any interest in Angolan oil, they would have gotten some of it from their allies, right ? Instead Chevron and Elf got contracts with MPLA.
- if oil was really the issue, it would have been much more easier to support the Cabindan independentists, especially since Cabinda's small population would have allowed it to be happy with even small shares of its oil revenue, since Cabinda had a strong case for independence and since Cabinda would have been much easier to defend. Instead, FNLC got no support from no powers and had a fight Cubans protecting Chevron instalations. (that said, early US support of the BaKongo-based FNLA could sort of fit in the picture. Cabindans are close cousins of Bakongo)
- if oil, which is in an northern exclave, was the issue, why put support a movement based in the South ?

The reason why everyone was interested in Angola was strategic. Period. South Africa didn't want Marxists on the border of Namibia. Zaire didn't want Marxists next to its border. The US didn't want Zaire/Congo to turn any shade because it's right in the middle of Africa. And the USSR wanted the exact opposite.
(just like the US started to like Siad Barre at the moment Ethiopia turned red)

On some level, yes, diamonds and oil are what make anyone interested in Angola, but I think that explanation is too glib to really shed light on why consecutive US administrations were in bed with first the FNLA, and then also UNITA, going back to the early 1960s in fact. Subsequently, the MPLA became more avowedly Marxist and progressively closer to countries like Cuba, Algeria and eventually the USSR. Ultimately, as Portuguese authority collapsed, the US and China together were determined to prevent the MPLA from seizing power. Regional allies like South Africa and Zaire were very much in accord with this policy. The Nixon-Ford administrations were determined to set the terms of detente with the Soviet Union in a way that prohibited, as they saw it, communist expansion in Africa.

A Democratic Congress, fearing immersion in another Vietnam, tried to clamp down on support for the FNLA/UNITA. In this way, Roberto Holden and Savimbi then become battlefields in American domestic politics. Like Chiang Kai Shek before them, and Ahmed Chalabi after them, these guys then become a cause celebre for one party or the other to assert their foreign policy convictions.

As various people have pointed out, the fact that US firms were merrily drilling away in MPLA-controlled Cabinda is one of the more striking refutations of the notion that US foreign policy is determined by commercial interests.

I think Angola (and also Iraq) are a lot less about oil and a lot more about the nefarious intersection of international politics with partisanship in Washington.

For that reason I think you'll find it hard to find anyone (in either party) inside the beltway who has fancied themselves a foreign policy-maker without a record of succor for some slimey outfit or another. One of the reasons I like Obama is that he is associating with a fresh cohort of foreign policy types, and distancing himself from the Clinton-era goons (I being of the opinion that Clinton's foreign policy was both wrongheaded and incompetent, and his wife's pronouncements in this area seem even worse).

Random African beat me to it.

I would add that both Ethiopia and Angola offered naval facilities to the Soviets at a time that they were greatly expanding their deep-water fleet.

I do think it was largely ideological though too, on some level the Soviets couldn't not assist self-avowed communist regimes in Africa.

When the Portuguese colonial administration in Angola collapsed in 1974-75, there were three insurgent groups: MPLA (Marxist-Leninist, supported by USSR, other African liberation movements), FNLA (backed by Mobutu and the United States at his behest); and UNITA (tribal-ethnically based, supported by China, initially--Savimbi a Maoist??).

During the Cold War many actually believed the "better dead than Red" credo.

Some people who have posted on this blog still do.

Gary: Glancing at the most recent posts while previewing saves valuable snark.

No, I don't think Bush shifted policy years later for $1000. I think the shift occurred earlier, across the board: the U.S. government shifted policy to support the MPLA government starting in 1998, with the enthusiastic support of Halliburton and major oil companies. I think the Falcones' $100,000 contribution to the Republican Party in 2000 was part of cementing this relationship.

It became politically safer for Bush to make this new relationship public once Savimbi was dead.

I'm glad my too-simple statement occasioned byrningman's post at 2:38, because I agree with almost all of it.

Sometimes it's instructive to make stupid mistakes. I started to wonder why I'd thought Mitterand and Chirac were prime ministers, so I went to wikipedia and learned about France's semi-presidential system.

Very different from our own semi-presidential system, which involves having a president with only half the brains, character, and commitment required for the job. Or, alternatively, in which the president gives given half of his job over to a new fourth branch of government (without troubling to tell the rest of the country about it).

When the Portuguese colonial administration in Angola collapsed in 1974-75, there were three insurgent groups

No, there were more. Those three were the one the Portugese signed a peace treaty with. FLEC and the Eastern Revolt were excluded for apparently not being national groups.Which is odd since FNLA was probably even more "tribal-ethnically based" than UNITA and MPLA simply did a good job at hiding it.

I'm glad my too-simple statement occasioned byrningman's post at 2:38, because I agree with almost all of it

Sorry, I didn't mean it like that.

byrningman, 'too-simple' is my own evaluation.

hard to find anyone (in either party) inside the beltway who has fancied themselves a foreign policy-maker without a record of succor for some slimey outfit or another

This is similar to a point I was making in comments to part 1 of the thread. But, unwisely, I attributed such experience to specific lobbyist-pols for whom I was then unable to come up with slimy foreign-govt clients. So, though it's hard, it does turn out to be possible. ;>

My wife's cousin was a captain in the Brazilian army when he went to Angola for about a year as a UN peacekeeper in 1997. He had been living in Tefe in the Amazon, a place that was rife with malaria, heat, mosquitoes and snakes and that he had gotten very tired of. His time in Angola changed him significantly. The greatest risks were landmines, malaria and rebel (i.e. Savimbi) attacks.

When he got back he told me that Tefe was a paradise.

One of my favorite ever jaw-dropping moments, which I have surely mentioned before: I knew a Kurdish Marxist back in 1988 (in Turkey.) I asked: why Marxism? Why now? and at a certain point in the conversation, I asked: is there even one country where Marxism has been a success, economically? Cuba, he said. Doesn't count, on account of subsidies, I said. His next stab was......


(He had no experience of a free press. In Turkey, you pick ideologies, and then read and believe stuff accordingly, at least if, like my friend, you've never been outside the country. In this way, he had read and believed Soviet periodicals from the Brezhnev era. Apparently, one had had an article on Angola, Socialist Paradise.

It took several days for me to get my jaw off the floor.)

I see a more central problem with this kind of lobbying. An advanced and interdependent society such as the one we live in depends on discouraging the indiscriminate murder of innocent people. Promoting excuses for anyone who slaughters innocent people erodes our necessary ability, to condemn other people who do it. Praise for Jonas Savimbi and UNITA taint any condemnation of Hezbolla with hypocrisy.

“Sen. John McCain said today that his campaign will do a better job scrutinizing the people who work for it, given the resignation of two officials who had ties to a firm representing Myanmar's military junta....

"People will be thoroughly, more thoroughly, vetted and we'll make sure that that is the case."

He specifically referred to the two people who were tied to Myanmar--Doug Davenport, a regional campaign director for Mid-Atlantic states, and Doug Goodyear, who was slated to run the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., this summer.

"We found out that these two individuals had represented that country and so they left. We will vet everyone very seriously to make sure there's not a repetition," McCain told reporters.”
From TPM.

Surprise me Senator: Please?

It's an old point, going back at least as far as Hobbes, that few governments are as bad as the breakdown of civil order in a country. (Hobbes actually said no governments were that bad, but there was no Pol Pot in Hobbes' time to serve as counterexample.)

Life under a dictatorship can be oppressive and onerous, and even small expressions of opposition can get you into big trouble. But you only have one big thing to fear, and it's usually possible to learn the rules of survival, and live a more or less normal life - going to work, finding romance, raising children, growing old - within those constraints.

But life in a war zone with no clear front lines destroys the possibility of normalcy. Death or serious injury can come from a multitude of directions, and obtaining the bare necessities of life can be a continual challenge. It's a horror, and persons who subject others to such horrors have fully earned the right to be called war criminals. Nixon and Kissinger, Reagan and Kirkpatrick, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith - all of them.

Key facts: (1) Savimbi was responsible for escalating the conflict after he lost the election in 1992, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives (2) To finance the escalation, in the face of the MPLA's ability to rely on oil revenues, he turned to blood diamonds, parking billions (literally) offshore in Western banks -- much of which still sits there, unclaimed. (3)A major reason why apartheid ultimately fell "peacefully" in the early 1990s was that, with Cuban assistance, Savimbi and his South African/US allies got their asses handed to them in the late 1980s. So we may have Fidel to thank for saving Southern Africa from a much bloodier civil war -- at the price of keeping the psychopath Jonas Savimbi out of power. (4) The MPLA has since turned into a kleptocracy, helping its key leaders to oil and diamond revenues. Unhappily this has been perpetuated by foreign oil companies like Chevron, which refuse to "publish what they pay" the Angolan government. In many ways we continue to treat this country like a pawn in our imperial game, with dos Santos & Co. inheriting Savimbi's mantle...Of course it is romantic nonsense to have expected Reagan/Cheney & Co. to have desisted from supporting Savimbi and opposing the Cubans in this geopolitical struggle. If you want a different foreign policy, you must fundamentally reshape the interests that determine it. Anything less is a liberal pipe-dream.

Hello hilzoy,

I would like to congratulate you for an article that is, in my opinion, highly accurate and fair. I am an Angolan citizen currently at University abroad, and am very please with the level of insight, care and fairness of your work.

Also please allow me to share some of my knowledge with you. Firstly, Savimbi is regarded, by most if not all Angolans, as a terrorist and killer. As you correctly pointed out, the previously Marxist party ruling the country, the MPLA, established a harsh dictatorship were freedom was restricted. It is my belief as an Angolan who experienced the war firsthand however, that this government was by far better than anything Savimbi would have provided if given the chance to control the nation. To be honest, as the son of a white woman and a black man I would have probably been killed, since Savimbi's Unita believed such should be the fate of any white or mestizo individual living in the country. Unita was not only racist but tribalist at the time of Savimbi, and often resorted to superstition (such as the sentencing and burning of children, men and women accused of witchcraft) to manipulate and control its army and supporters.

I must point out however that the Unita present today is not the Unita led by Savimbi in the past. The current leader of Unita in fact, Samakuva, split the party into two distinct factions after 1999, for he disagreed with the continuation of a pointless war and desired to truly help the country develop.

It is my belief that the MPLA will win (fairly and by majority) the upcoming legislative and presidential elections. I am personally very satisfied with this. To be honest, I attempt to avoind politics, but it is undeniable that this party has helped my nation develop after the end of the war. The MPLA government will surely further help Angola into the path of prosperity, and in the future its power will be peacefully passed from the MPLA to another party.

I understand I have written a lot but please understand that this is a highly sensitive and important subject for me. With Savimbi (and hence the war) finally gone, Angolans such as myself can finally see our country develop and our rights to freedom increasingly respected. Let us pray that our previous enemies (not only the US but China, Israel and South Africa) shall continue as our allies and friends forever, so that together we can improve not only our countries but the entire world.

Most Sincerely

Goncalo Madaleno

Ps: I know for a fact that although officially the US cut relations with Unita after the 1992 elections, in reality it only stopped providing the aid that allowed Savimbi to keep fighting after 1999.

Obviously you never met the man, I did on mission for the Reagan Administration. It is very interesting (and one sided) that his opponents were conducting warfare on the same level (again your ignorance of Africa shows)and the conduct of such was brutal. Any election that is conducted now will of course be MPLA won after Bill Clinton sided with Debeers (wonder if there was a kick back). I have the unique position to have observed and studied Jonas as the best result for his country (unless you like christians killed in large numbers for their faith which the MPLA does to this day. It would have resulted in a Social-Democracy (the economy would not have supported western style free trade) that would have grown to a total Democracy instead of the "Strong Man" government currently in power.

French interview of Jonas Savimbi in 1978 :

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