130. Telegram From the Consulate in Luanda to the Department of State1
Luanda, September 25, 1975, 1700Z.
1430. Subject: Portuguese Will Not Accede to UDI by MPLA.
- I talked on September 24 with High Commissioner Admiral Cardoso about the politico-military situation and specifically what the Por[Page 319]tuguese Government’s attitude would be toward an MPLA unilateral declaration of independence.
- Cardoso said he just queried Lisbon on GOP policy with respect to any attempt by the MPLA to take over the country and was told that under no circumstances will the Portuguese Government acquiesce in such a move. If the MPLA attempts a UDI before scheduled independence day on November 11, Portugal will stand fast. If an acceptable political solution cannot be found by November 11 the GOP must try and give jurisdiction to the United Nations. If that body refuses to take a hand, Cardoso said he may just stay on in Luanda as the symbol of Portuguese sovereignty until a formula can be found that will bring at least one other liberation movement into the government. Cardoso does not believe that MPLA will attempt a UDI before November 11. The Portuguese have intelligence to the effect that the Soviet Union told MPLA about a month ago that a UDI now would not be politically expedient.
- If MPLA does try to take over the country, he said, he is confident that Portuguese troops will fight. They do not like the MPLA and their antagonism is growing. Cardoso cited three reasons for this feeling. Firstly, whites here universally blame the MPLA and its “popular power” groups for the ills that have befallen Angola. Although some of the troops have little use for Portuguese colons, many of them have relations and friends here and identify with their plight. The soldiers who have been in Angola for some time have a different attitude than the military in Portugal itself—they have seen the Angolan situation on the ground and they definitely do not sympathize with the MPLA. They are not pro FNLA or pro UNITA, merely anti-MPLA. Secondly, the campaign of vilification by the MPLA-controlled media in Luanda against the Portuguese military has served to solidify the anti-MPLA feeling among the troops. Thirdly, when FNLA attacked Caxito on July 25, the MPLA fell back so rapidly as to arouse suspicion they were trying to draw the Portuguese into the battle.
- Cardoso said there are now 20,000 Portuguese troops in Angola, 12,000 of them in Luanda, of which 6,000 can be classified as combat troops. By November 1, he said 9,000 of the troops in Luanda will have been withdrawn and the 3,000 that remain will be specially selected for combat readiness. They will be removed on November 10.
- I asked about the defense of Luanda in the event of an FNLA attack. Cardoso said that MPLA President Agostinho Neto called on him two days after his return here as High Commissioner. He told Neto that he would not use his troops to defend the city against FNLA unless MPLA withdrew its forces from Luanda. Neto promised to give him a reply within two days but to date Cardoso has not heard from him. Lisbon has told the High Commissioner that he is to defend the city notwithstanding MPLA presence, but he told me Lisbon does not under[Page 320]stand the realities; the only leverage he has with MPLA is to refuse to send his troops into battle in the event of an attack on Luanda. Again, if Portuguese soldiers were to fight alongside MPLA troops, the world would be even more convinced of the myth that the GOP is in league with the MPLA.
- Cardoso backtracked a bit to review Portuguese policy in Angola since April 25, 1974. Former High Commissioner Admiral Rosa Coutinho was charged with strengthening both MPLA and UNITA in order to counterbalance the then overwhelming FNLA military superiority. MPLA at that time, in military terms, was on its knees, he said, and UNITA was not even that far off the floor—it was prostrate. Rosa Coutinho succeeded in his efforts, but since the installation of the transitional government on January 31, 1975, the Portuguese policy has been one of active neutrality—treat all three movements alike and get involved with none of them except to see that they all had what they needed to function properly.
- If any movement has been favored, continued Cardoso, it has been UNITA, and yet UNITA President Savimbi complains bitterly about imagined GOP favoritism toward MPLA. The High Commissioner said he sent a letter late last week to Savimbi in which he pointed out that Savimbi knows what Portugal’s policy is and he knows where Cardoso stands. He told Savimbi that if he thinks he, Cardoso, is partial to the MPLA, he is completely wrong.
- The GOP is not helping the MPLA in any way, said Cardoso, even though the MPLA political ideas more closely approximate those of the Portuguese military than either of the other two liberation movements. Foreign Minister Melo Antunes, while on the left is a reasonable man who leans toward the countries he has always been in the center and is pleased to see the pendulum swinging toward him. Cardoso added that after MPLA drove both FNLA and UNITA out of Luanda in July and August it began to assume charge of the entire governmental apparatus. He said he went to then Acting High Commissioner General Macedo, explained the danger and recommended that Macedo take corrective action. It was then that Macedo took over the administrative powers formerly reserved to the Presidential Council. Cardoso said he cannot guarantee that individual officers and soldiers do not help one or another movement—all three have received such assistance, but these are actions taken on the spot by Portuguese military and the movement they help depends upon the circumstances and outlook of the officers involved and their perception of the situation. He said that as High Commissioner his physical location has a great deal to do with how people view his role: if he were sitting in Carmona or Nova Lisboa he would most certainly be accused of siding with FNLA or UNITA.
- As far as he is concerned, he went on, his presence in Luanda allows him to serve as a brake on the MPLA. He pointed out that he has taken over the visa issuing function precisely in order to prevent the MPLA from slipping in foreign “advisors”. The only interesting cases that have come to his attention are the applications of a French movie actress and seventeen MPLA-sponsored applications for Cuban technicians in such areas as fishing, industry and agriculture. He told the MPLA that the number seemed excessive and he told me he plans to sit on the Cuban applications for the duration. I asked about Russian advisors. He has seen no visa applications since he took over the function, but he does not know how many if any are in the country, nor does he have any way of checking applications using phony passports.
- In light of the charges made by President Mobutu that the Portuguese military are handing over arms to the MPLA, I asked Cardoso what the Portuguese do with their arms when they leave an area of Angola. They take them with them, he replied. The only weapons that have gone to the liberation movements, he said, were those that were given when the movements seconded troops to the integrated forces provided for in the Alvor Agreement. When the Portuguese left Malange and Luso they came out loaded with arms, he said. UNITA unhitched the locomotive from the cars carrying the troops from Luso and stole their weapons, but the point is the Portuguese do take all arms, ammunition and vehicles with them when they pull out. They leave behind office equipment, kitchens, bedding and other bulky items not worth transporting. On independence the GOP will transfer to Angolan Government twenty-eight vessels and some old planes; jets and helicopters will be removed to Portugal.
- What about efforts to bring about an MPLA/UNITA coalition in the government? Cardoso said that both movements are playing a waiting game. MPLA keeps threatening UDI while maintaining its military offensive in order to force UNITA to capitulate before independence. UNITA for its part, is trying to regain enough territory to be able to force the MPLA to negotiate its (UNITA’s) entry into the government rather than having to capitulate to MPLA demands. Cardoso believes within a few weeks of independence, probably by October 20. UNITA, he added, is anxious for the Portuguese military and the whites to leave Nova Lisboa in order to be able to use the airport to bring in arms. The fields it is now using at Silva Porto and Serpa Pinto are not adequate for large planes and not close enough to crucial areas to allow the rapid deployment of the weapons now available to UNITA. The sooner the airlift of refugees from Nova Lisboa is completed, he said, the happier Savimbi will be.
- Comment: I can vouch for a number of things Cardoso told me. The animosity between the Portuguese military and the MPLA is grow[Page 322]ing and I give little to stories put out by Mobutu, Holden Roberto, Savimbi or anyone else that the Portuguese are aiding the MPLA. All of the troop commanders I have met here are anti-MPLA and it is a good thing they are because the aggressive actions against Portuguese troops by FNLA and UNITA soldiers would have otherwise driven the former toward MPLA had it not been for MPLA’s provocations against the Portuguese. Neither FNLA or UNITA want to admit that their old adversary, the MPLA, is a better fighting force than either of them, hence the charges that the Portuguese are responsible. Even that most anti-MPLA High Commissioner, General Antonio da Silva Cardoso, considered the FNLA to be a bunch of corrupt imbeciles who could not find their way from Caxito to Luanda with a compass and a road map. I realize that U.S. officials talk with FNLA and UNITA leaders and their supporters and that it is difficult to obtain from the outside an appreciation of what is going on inside Angola, but I hope all will keep in mind that MPLA has the edge at this time because it is better organized than its adversaries. Has received large amounts of weapons from the Soviet Union and possesses capable leadership. The Portuguese have had nothing to do with MPLA gains in recent months. For that matter, if it were not for the Portuguese, Savimbi would still be stumbling about in the bush with a few guerrillas.
- I have known Cardoso since I arrived here a little over a year ago and I believe him to be as neutral as he says he is. Still, his job is to try and get Portugal out of here on November 11, if he possibly can. The Portuguese want to leave with honor and claim they will not submit to MPLA demands. The Admiral’s idea of sitting in his chair after independence like Sewell Avery is admirable, but the MPLA is likely to carry him out, and I doubt the Portuguese will mind very much.
- I trust no one in this drama—not the Portuguese, who have no will, not the MPLA, which has no scruples, not the FNLA which has no sense and not UNITA which has no power, at least for the moment. All of the factors driving the leaders of the three liberation movements are negative—hate, greed, ambition—and the final solution in Angola has to be by force of arms. The denouement will come after independence and it will be bloody.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Kinshasa, Lisbon, Lusaka, Pretoria, and USUN.↩