Where the Cold War Lives

October 07, 1990

If the United States and Soviet Union are as cooperative as they claim, Angola's civil war should end. The two superpowers need to get tough with their respective clients, who are not mere puppets and do have their own reasons for pursuing the conflict.

The war began when the Portuguese flag came down in 1975. The government was the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by Agostinho Neto. MPLA was really begun by clandestine Communists in the Portuguese colonial service. It won immediate aid from the Soviet Union and Cuba. The U.S. backed two dissident movements, one of which vanished. The other, the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Savimbi, had mystical rapport with Western conservatives. It thrived.

That was 15 years ago. The war goes on. The government now led by Eduardo dos Santos is backed by urban intellectuals distant from tribal origins, UNITA by the Ovimbundu people in the south. The government is a bunch of Marxist ideologues far removed from Angolan realities, though their revenue comes from Western oil companies drilling in Cabinda province. UNITA rests on the charismatic appeal of Mr. Savimbi, supported by a grim regime of terror and personality cult.

The December 1988 agreement for 50,000 Cuban troops to quit Angola and South Africa to drop support of UNITA should have brought peace. It did not. The government wants no part of Mr. Savimbi who, in turn, demands nationwide elections first, though his own commitment to democracy is questionable. The two sides are holding peace talks in Portugal. But the Soviet Union is still pumping some $800 million in military aid to the government, and the United States some $60 million in not-so-covert aid to UNITA.

Mr. Savimbi retains a high-powered public relations firm to influence American public and congressional opinion and just had an unprecedented audience with President Bush. This was not likely to mellow him for the next round of talks. He would founder without U.S. aid. Without Soviet aid, the Neto government would, too.

The partnership of Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze has been remarkable. But so far it has not brought results in Angola. The worst thing that could happen to that richly endowed country is perpetuation of the war. If neither side budges, that is what will happen.

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