Dead but not buried, the body of the former Angolan president triggers a continental fight

LUANDA, Angola – Even in death, longtime Angolan leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos is at the center of political infighting. The former pr...


LUANDA, Angola – Even in death, longtime Angolan leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos is at the center of political infighting.

The former president died in Barcelona on July 8 at the age of 79, but when and where he will be buried sparked an intercontinental fight that pitted the Angolan government and his widow against some of his adult children.

Mr. dos Santos’ death came just weeks before a crucial election. Angola’s ruling party and current president João Lourenço, along with Mr dos Santos’ widow, want to bring his body home for a state funeral and burial in a Soviet-style mausoleum – the kind spectacle that could rally the support of a party struggling to stay in power.

But her daughter Welwitschia dos Santos is pushing for a private funeral and a discreet grave in Spain, where her children can go. She says she has the support of some of her siblings who, like her, are accused of corruption in Angola and could be arrested if they return. They could also try to take advantage of the return of their father’s body to regain their place in the Angolan political elite.

With the two sides battling it out in a Spanish court, it is now up to a judge in Barcelona to settle the dispute. The result could influence the August elections in Angola, an oil- and mineral-rich country on the west coast of southern Africa.

“People are just trying to use the body and all these related issues to advance their own personal agendas,” said Augusto Santana, a political analyst in Angola. He added that the incumbent wants to use the death “for electoral purposes” and the children to negotiate “the dropping of corruption-related charges”.

Mr. dos Santos, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, was a dominant figure in Angola for nearly four decades. At the head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, he emerged victorious from a war of independence against colonial Portugal, then from a civil war lasting several decades.

For his supporters, many of whom have entered Angola’s wealthy elite, he lifted the country out of violent turmoil to make it one of the world’s biggest oil producers, his skyscraper-studded coastal capital .

But to his many critics, he was a ruthless dictator who suppressed democracy and oversaw an economy stifled by corruption, with most Angolans living on less than $2 a day.

“I find it incredible that people are now claiming that dos Santos was a saint. He wasn’t,” said Adolfo Tembo, 26, who sells roasted peanuts and bananas.

Mr. dos Santos had been living in self-imposed exile in Barcelona for three years. According to Welwitschia dos Santos, popularly known as Tchizé, he said he wanted to be buried there.

He had increasingly isolated himself from the party he had controlled for so long. His hand-picked successor, Mr Lourenço, who came to power in 2017, had turned against him, blaming the dos Santos administration for Angola’s economic malaise and suing his children.

Mr. Lourenço and Mr. dos Santos attempted a rapprochement last year. Mr. dos Santos returned to Angola and was due to appear at the party conference. But then he learned that his son José Filomeno dos Santos would be sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling the state’s sovereign wealth fund. The former president was further outraged by a plan to remove his face from Angola’s currency, Tchizé dos Santos said.

“My father was extremely humiliated the first time he returned to Angola, which he did against our judgment and our advice, convinced of President Joao Lourenço’s desire to achieve a sincere reconciliation,” said Ms dos Santos, in an email response to questions from The New York Times.

The visit also disappointed Mr. Lourenço. His strategy of scapegoating the dos Santos as a source of corruption in Angola backfired, with figures of their time still at the top of his government. Its failure to fix the economy has alienated voters, according to Ricardo Soares di Oliveira, professor of international Africa politics at the University of Oxford.

A June poll by the Mudei Civic Movement, a citizen-based election monitoring group, found the MPLA 19% behind an opposition coalition containing UNITA, its former wartime enemy.

Mr dos Santos was admitted to the intensive care unit at the Teknon Clinic, a leading private medical center in Barcelona, ​​on June 24 with heart and breathing difficulties. Three days later, Ms dos Santos approached the Spanish police and accused her guards of negligence.

His caretakers were his fourth wife, Ana Paula dos Santos, and his longtime personal physician, João Abraão da Conceição Afonso. Lawyers for both declined to comment. The Angolan government did not respond to questions, but confirmed that it had hired lawyers for the wife and the doctor.

Tchizé dos Santos accused wife and doctor of failing to take care of him as his breathing deteriorated and waiting a day to take him to hospital after he collapsed in his ward bath on June 23.

Then, on July 4, four days before her father’s eventual death, Ms dos Santos formally charged the wife and doctor with attempted homicide. She says she has the support of her siblings.

Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the late president’s 44-year-old son responded to questions via email, but dodged a question about where and when he wanted his father buried. He said: “The state has no constitutional obligation to pay for my father’s burial. This decision is up to the family.

He is in Angola, appealing a bribery conviction, and said because his passport was seized he was unable to be with his father in his final days.

When Mr. dos Santos died, the official cause of death was cardiac arrest. But in response to the girl’s trial, a judge ordered an autopsy. Preliminary results ruled out poisoning, according to Angolan public media. The Spanish authorities are awaiting the final result to guide their decision.

“If there is nothing, the body must be handed over to the family,” Judge Francisco González Maíllo said in an interview. It’s the Barcelona judge who will have to decide which family members will get the body.

Following the death of Mr. dos Santos, Tchizé dos Santos passed on the message that his father planned to support the opposition party, UNITA.

But a funeral in Angola could lead to legal problems for Ms dos Santos and her siblings, several of whom are under criminal investigation. Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter, would risk being arrested if she returned, having did not respond to a summons for questioning by public prosecutors in 2018.

Isabel dos Santos became a billionaire as she interests acquired in the banking, telecommunications, construction and diamond sectors in Angola, often through orders signed by his father. They say she is richest woman in Africa. When her father finally quit in 2017, she was the head of the state oil company Sonangol. She was accused of siphon off millions dollars from the state corporation to its own business empire that stretched from Hong Kong to the United States.

In an email to The Times, Tchizé dos Santos dismissed reports that she and her siblings were trying to negotiate an amnesty. Isabel dos Santos did not respond to a request for comment.

Angola’s Attorney General Hélder Pitta Grós traveled to Spain as part of a government delegation to handle the transfer of the president’s body, but his spokesman denied reports that Mr. Grós had a mandate to negotiate an amnesty with the dos Santos brothers.

“The Attorney General does not negotiate,” said ÁlvaroJoão, the spokesperson.

Angola held a seven-day mourning period for its former leader. Instead of a coffin, a large portrait of Mr dos Santos was erected in a government square in the capital, with a red carpet leading to it as uniformed soldiers stood guard.

But the struggle over the remains of Mr. dos Santos is of little concern to ordinary Angolans.

“Do you know how much my husband and I earn? And do you know who is responsible for the disastrous situations that my family and clearly most Angolans are currently facing? asked Avenina de Vasco, 37, a street cleaner. “The MPLA and dos Santos reigned for a very long time. So I don’t care if he’s buried here, in Europe or in America.

Gilberto Neto reported from Luanda, Angola, Jose Bautista from Madrid, Spain, and Lynsey Chutel from Johannesburg.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Dead but not buried, the body of the former Angolan president triggers a continental fight
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