Salsa music blasts out of a shiny new tape deck as 10 Cuban soldiers lounge outside the Cabinda airport waiting for the plane that will take them 250 miles south to the Angolan capital, Luanda. Two Soviet military advisers squirm on a metal rail, trying to talk over the blaring Afro-Latin beat. Angolan women guarding piles of food and clothing sway silently to the music's beat.
Suddenly the crowd stirs, hoping the plane that pierces the mist over the South Atlantic is an Angolan Airline flight from Luanda.
But it is just another corporate jet bringing United States oilmen to meet a helicopter that will ferry them out to Chevron's giant ``Malongo'' oil compound about 15 miles due north.
The northern enclave of Cabinda, the source of most of Angola's 285,000-barrel-a-day oil output, is symbolic of the East-West tug of war that this poor southern African nation plays.
The self-proclaimed Marxist government is in the 11th year of a brutal bush war against rebels. It wages this war with the backing of Soviet and Cuban manpower and weaponry against an insurgency that is backed by South Africa -- and since March, by the United States as well.
In 1975, the US Congress passed the Clark Amendment, which prohibited the US from supporting any of the factions fighting in Angola. But in July of last year, Congress repealed the ban. Early this year the US began delivering a ``covert'' aid package worth $15 million, including sophisticated Stinger antiaircraft missiles, to the rebel forces of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, known as UNITA.
The Soviet Union and Cuba, with an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 troops and hundreds of teachers and doctors, wield great influence in Angola. But the West dominates trade. Socialist countries send the AK-47 assault rifles and MIG-23 jet fighters to the Luanda government. Capitalist nations provide it with loans and the equipment and skills to extract oil.
The United States is Angola's biggest trading partner, and more than 50 percent of the country's oil, the commodity that accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the country's foreign exchange, is exported to the US.
In Cabinda, hundreds of Cuban soldiers back up Angolan security forces, though they apparently do not guard the Cabinda oil compound.
Jonas Savimbi, UNITA's leader, has branded all oil installations, Angolan and American alike, legitimate military targets, because they earn the government between $1 billion and $2 billion each year.
While the Reagan administration pressures Luanda by hailing Mr. Savimbi as a ``freedom fighter'' and sending him Stinger missiles, socialist-country diplomats in Luanda worry that Angola is becoming too dependent on the West.
``We hope they do not move too close to the capitalist countries, lured by economic benefits,'' one diplomat says. ``They should not forget who are their friends who gave their lives to defend this country.''
Part of their concern stems from the close ties a handful of top Angolan economic officials maintain with Western bankers and businessmen.
US corporate officials and Western diplomats give Angola high marks for its negotiating skills and an impeccable payment record on its $2.7 billion foreign debt.
In recent months, Luanda has begun piecing together a conservative austerity program along International Monetary Fund guidelines, even though Angola is not a member of the IMF. An Angolan Cabinet minister says, however, that his government may join the IMF soon.
The dramatic fall in the world price of oil will cost the country about $1 billion this year. To the delight of its Western creditors and to the chagrin of Moscow and Havana, this has forced the government to introduce some free-market policies in Angola.
Nevertheless, Angolan officials dismiss talk that Luanda is about to adopt a free-market economic model and abandon its socialist principles.