Jonas Savimbi

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Jonas Malheiro Savimbi (1934 - 2002) was a rebel leader in Angola who founded the Unita movement in 1966, and ultimately proved a central figure in 20th century Cold War politics.

With support from the United States and several African nations, Savimbi spent the majority of his life battling Angola's Marxist, Soviet-aligned government, which was supported by weapons and military advisors from the Soviet Union and Cuba. Savimbi remains an extremely important figure in Angolan history, viewed by some as a "freedom fighter" and by others as a war-monger who perpetuated a lengthy Cold War conflict.

Jonas Savimbi was born and raised in the eastern province of Moxico, which later served as his power base during the civil war that broke out in 1975, following Angola's independence from Portuguese rule. The war was an extremely bloody and costly one, causing the deaths of many thousands.

Savimbi's war against Angola's Marxist government became a sub-plot to the Cold War, with both Moscow and Washington viewing the conflict as important to the global balance of power. In 1986, for instance, Savimbi was invited by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to the White House. Reagan spoke of Unita winning "a victory that electrifies the world...."

Equally important, Savimbi also was strongly supported by the extremely influential Heritage Foundation. Heritage Foundation foreign policy analyst Michael Johns and other conservatives visited regularly with Savimbi in his clandestine camps in southern Angola and provided the rebel leader with ongoing political and military guidance in his war against the Angolan government. Savimbi's U.S.-based supporters ultimately proved successful in convincing the Central Intelligence Agency to channel covert weapons to Savimbi's war against Angola's Marxist government, which greatly intensified the conflict.

As U.S. support began to flow liberally and leading U.S. conservatives championed his cause, Savimbi won major strategic battles in the late 1980's and early 1990's, and Moscow and Havana began to reevaluate their engagement in Angola, as Soviet and Cuban fatalities mounted and Savimbi's ground control increased. At the height of his military success, Savimbi controlled nearly half the country and was beginning, in 1990, to launch attacks on government and military targets in and around the country's capital, Luanda. Observers felt that the strategic balance in Angola had shifted and that Savimbi was positioning Unita for a possible military victory.

Signaling the concern that the former Soviet Union was placing on Savimbi's advance in Angola, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev raised the Angolan war with Reagan during numerous U.S.-Soviet summits.

Under military pressure from UNITA, the Angolan regime negotiated a cease-fire with Savimbi, and Savimbi ran for president in 1992. But he questioned the legitimacy of the election when he lost, and resumed fighting. In 1994, Unita signed a new peace accord, but Savimbi declined the vice-presidency that was offered to him and again renewed fighting in 1998.

After surviving more than a dozen assassination attempts, Savimbi was killed four years later, in February 2002, in a battle with Angolan government troops.[1]. A ceasefire between UNITA and the MPLA was signed six weeks later.

Adapted from the Wikipedia article, Jonas Savimbi, and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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