Shortly after the overthrow of its government in 1974, Portugal ended five centuries of colonial rule in Angola. But this did not end foreign intervention across its borders. Under an agreement signed in Alvor, Portugal, on January 15, 1975, the three main Angolan liberation movements were included in a transition government and elections were set. Before Portugal could turn the country over to an elected government, civil war broke out, and outside powers intervened on behalf of one or more of the three liberation factions.
Shortly thereafter, the Ford administration authorized the US Central Intelligence Agency to provide arms to two of three main liberation movements: the National Front for the Liberation of Angola and UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), led by Jonas Savimbi. The mostly Western-educated Mr. Savimbi is a member of -- and legend among -- the Ovimbundu tribe.
During the same period, the Soviet Union renewed its military assistance to the third liberation movement, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, and a first group of some 230 Cuban military advisers arrived at the MPLA's request.
By July of 1975 the MPLA had repelled both of the other liberation groups, taking the capital, Luanda, but not before South Africa sent troops to fight alongside UNITA forces. The National Front for the Liberation of Angola disbanded, leaving UNITA as a rival government based in the west-central town of Huambo.
A second attempt by the CIA to get covert aid for UNITA was leaked to the press. Heavy criticism caused Congress in the fall of 1975 to ban all further American covert assistance to Angola, despite the escalation of Cuban and Soviet forces in Angola.
Since then, the United States, alone among Western nations, has refused to recognize the MPLA government, although the US was Angola's biggest trading partner last year.
After his first inauguration in 1981, Reagan began to push for support for UNITA rebels, whom he calls ``freedom fighters.''