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WASHINGTON TODAY: Capitalist Allure Captivates Former Castro Pal

September 20, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ He was once Fidel Castro’s best pal in Africa. He used to speak of the Soviet Union as the ″dependable rear guard of all people who struggle for freedom and independence.″ Less than two years ago, he said one-party Marxist rule was indispensable for his country.

Thus, when Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos paid a visit to the White House the other day, there was a ″Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner″ quality to it.

Dos Santos has spent much of this past week flitting about Washington, telling government officials, interviewers, think tanks and business executives that he is ready for democracy and capitalism after long years of armed struggle against both.

His visit here marks another milestone in what has been a remarkable ideological migration.

In a New Year’s Day speech last year, dos Santos said ″Only a one-party system realistically serves our country. ... The (ruling) MPLA will guide the state and society.″

Last Tuesday, the new dos Santos talked to a business group about just how much he is looking forward to national elections next year.

″I am excited about these elections for several reasons,″ he said. ″They have allowed the people of Angola to form political parties and express themselves freely.″

At another point, he said ″I do not hide the fact that I have been the head of a socialist government, but we are a Marxist government no longer.″

Dos Santos says he harbors no animosity toward the United States even though Washington’s support for Angola’s anti-communist guerrilla movement contributed in no small measure to the extraordinary devastation the country has suffered.

According to estimates published by the Overseas Development Council, Angola’s civil war drove between 640,000 and 1.1 million Angolans from their homes. An additional 438,000 fled the country altogether.

The estimates indicated that war fatalities between 1980 and 1990 totaled 340,000, of which only 20,000 were military deaths.

This was just part of the price that Angola paid for its role as a surrogate battlefield of the United States and the Soviet Union. At one point, there were 50,000 Cuban troops supporting leftist rule in Angola.

In a recent interview, dos Santos had only praise for the U.S. role in promoting the peace agreement signed last May.

As for the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of war material the United States supplied to his enemies since 1986, dos Santos says that rather than dwell on the unpleasant past, ″we have concluded we should look to the future.″

It could be argued that dos Santos’ conversion was forced on him. Earlier this year, he had a choice of continuing the war at a time of declining Soviet and Cuban support or making a deal with his U.S.-backed enemies.

Dos Santos chose the latter option, mindful that Angola had not known peace in three decades. But the price for dos Santos was high: he had to repudiate his cherished one-party rule.

With Angola finally at peace, he’s counting on democracy, a free market and foreign private investment to give Angola a brighter future.

President Bush is prepared to continue sending food aid to Angola and modest sums to help with voter registration and other democratic trappings.

But Bush also wants to make sure that dos Santos’ conversion from his Marxist past is genuine. He told dos Santos that U.S. diplomatic recognition of Angola will be withheld until an elected government takes office.

Meanwhile, Angola will continue on as one of two African countries without a U.S. Embassy. The other is Libya.


EDITOR’S NOTE - George Gedda has covered foreign affairs for the Associated Press since 1968.

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