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February 2021

Independence or death! Under a fascist dictatorship, Portugal was the last European country to hold colonies in Africa. This hard line stance forced a bloody national liberation struggle in Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique in the 1960s and 70s.

Angola was the first country to witness armed struggle, beginning in February 1961. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), headed by Agostinho Neto and enjoying close ties with Cuba, led the guerrilla struggle in what was the richest Portuguese colony in terms of natural resources.

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In Guinea, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), with Pan-Africanist intellectual Amílcar Cabral, enjoyed the support from neighboring Guinea-Conakry to launch its offensive against the colonial regime. However, Cabral was murdered in 1973 and did not get to live his country’s independence.

The Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) also saw its leader and founder Eduardo Mondlane assassinated by the Portuguese secret police in 1967. The baton was passed to the young and charismatic Samora Machel, who would secure more and more success in the guerrilla campaign starting from the country’s north.

The colonial war, ever more draining for Portugal, was a key factor to precipitate the end of the dictatorship. The April 25, 1974 Carnation Revolution created a new democratic regime and paved the way for the independence of the colonies.

Though the MPLA, the PAIGC and FRELIMO had revolutionary projects, the newly independent countries (in different contexts) were caught in civil wars, foreign interventions, as well as deviations from their ruling classes. And while they could not overcome underdevelopment, the ideals of liberation and equality remain simmering and ready to reemerge.

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Text: Ricardo Vaz. Artwork: América Rodríguez.


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