LISBON ( Associated Press) – Former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled Angola for nearly 40 years starting in 1979, died on Friday at a clinic in Barcelona, Spain, the Angolan government said. Dos Santos was 79 and died after a long illness, the government Facebook page said.
According to the official text, dos Santos was “a statesman of great historical scale who ruled the Angolan nation at a very difficult time.”
Dos Santos has lived mainly in Barcelona since resigning in 2017 and was reportedly undergoing treatment there for health problems.
Angola’s current head of state, Joao Lourenço, declared five days of national mourning starting Friday, with the country’s flag flying at half-mast and public events cancelled.
Dos Santos came to power four years after Angola gained independence from Portugal and entered the Cold War as a proxy battleground.
His political career consisted of one-party Marxist rule in the post-colonial years and a democratic system of government adopted in 2008. He voluntarily resigned when his health began to decline.
In public, dos Santos was polite and even shy at times, but he was a shrewd orator behind the scenes. He kept tight control of the presidential palace in Luanda, the capital of the southern African country, by distributing Angola’s wealth among his army generals and political rivals to ensure his loyalty. He demoted someone he believed to have gained a level of popularity that could threaten his command.
Dos Santos’ greatest enemy for more than two decades was UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, whose post-independence guerrilla insurgency fought to oust dos Santos’ party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Was. Portuguese).
The MPLA had financial support from the Soviet Union and military support from Cuba in the war against UNITA. Savimbi was supported by the United States and South Africa.
The war would last until 2002, with a brief period of UN-mediated peace, when the military finally tracked down and killed Savimbi in eastern Angola.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, dos Santos abruptly abandoned its Marxist policies. He grew closer to Western countries, whose oil companies invested billions of dollars, mostly in offshore exploration.
His supporters praised his ability to adapt to changing circumstances. His critics considered him a dishonest politician.
In 2004, then-US President George W. Bush invited dos Santos to the White House, at a time when the United States sought to reduce its reliance on oil from the Middle East.
Angola has become the second largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria, producing about 2 million barrels per day. It also mined diamonds worth over a billion dollars a year.
However, the wealth never reached the Angolan people, who were at risk due to large areas of unmapped minefields during and after the Civil War. Its citizens had little access to basic services such as running water or roads. Education and health care were scarce, and are still scarce.
More than $4 billion in oil revenue disappeared from the Angolan state treasury between 1997 and 2002, the Human Rights Watch organization condemned in a 2004 report based on an analysis of International Monetary Fund data.