In their news report “In Angola, Odebrecht is in the mirror”, the journalists of Agência Pública*, Eliza Capai and Natalia Viana (http://apublica.org/2016/02/em-angola-a-odebrecht-no-espelho/) talk about how “the Brazilian contractor has become one of the pillars of José Eduardo dos Santos’ authoritarian regime”. On October 15th, the Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais (http://www.makaangola.org/) took part in a public interview in Rio de Janeiro, by invitation of the same agency, where he stressed the denunciation of the involvement of the Brazilian contractor in dirty businesses with the MPLA’s regime. An involvement that begun during the last years Brazilian’s military dictatorship and was strengthened during the PT administrations, under the sponsorship of the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES).
By Cristina Ribeiro.
It is quite possible that an important quantity of people who are relatively unaware of what is happening in the world consider the Angolan regime at least progressive. Ruled by the mythical MPLA since its independence from Portugal, in 1975, Angola generated one of the main characters of the African colonial liberation wars -Agostinho Neto-, the country’s first president. Supported by the former USSR and Cuba -as well by all the liberation movements of the former Portuguese colonies- the MPLA considered itself Marxist-Leninist, and its leaders treated each other as “comrades”. But it was a play. This regime revealed itself, since the very beginning, as corrupt and complacent with the privileges of its leaders. Odebrecht, which works in Angola since 1984, had an important role for the consolidation of the MPLA apparatus and in the transformation of its political leaders into the nearly exclusive businessmen of a miserable country.
As reminded by the journalist, the relationship between Odebrecht and José Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola for the past 37 years, begun during the military dictatorship.
An old complicity
The historian Pedro Campos, in “Strange Cathedrals – the Brazilian contractors and the civilian-military dictatorship“, tells how the generals Ernesto Geisel and João Batista Figueiredo supported Odebrecht to open its business Angola. The company had earned the trust of the generals during the construction of the nuclear plants of Angra dos Reis, on the 70’s. It was the dictatorship which allowed the funding of the hydroelectric plant of Capanda, an undertaking mentioned on the Brazilian-Angolan joint communique, from January 1989, during the visit of then president José Sarney to Angola. On the same communique, the two presidents, Sarney and José Eduardo dos Santos, “congratulated themselves for the positive results reached by the delegations of Brazil and Angola during the talks held in 1988, about the concession of new credit lines of the Bank of Brazil to the National Bank of Angola (BNA)“.
“Brazil was the first country to recognize Angola’s independence and, whichever was the government in power in Brazil, this relationship with Angola was always privileged and extremely corrupt. It is previous to Lula“, said Rafael Marques. “It so happens that during Lula’s period“, he continued, “there was an economic boom in Brazil of exploration and raise of the oil prices, and the same happened in Angola. And this was what potentiated the cases of corruption, because there was more money, more credit lines of Brazil for Brazilian contractors“.
According to the journalist, 76% of these credit lines were for construction projects led by Odebrecht in Angola, mostly dams. Dams which consumed millions of dollars from the vaults of the Angolan State, but which were unable to provide electricity to most of the population. To this day, only 30% of the population has access to electric energy.
As well as inefficient, these projects were also shrouded in mystery. The credit lines that favored Odebrecht in Angola –and also in Cuba- were kept relatively opaque for a long time, because the Brazilian government prohibited its diffusion. In August 2013, the back-then president of the BNDES, Luciano Coutinho, confirmed in a hearing before the Senate that the funding offered by the country to Angola and Cuba had been classified because of an agreement between Brazil and the two countries. In 2015, Marcelo Odebrecht told the O Globo newspaper (15/6) that there was nothing illegal or immoral about the $8 billion loans which BNDES granted to his company between 2007 and 2014. Only in 2015 the BNDES decided to make public the data about its operations.
“Why were these operations rendered secret?” questioned Rafael Marques. “Brazil is a country which has a democracy, why would it pass a decree to stop journalists, citizens, from having access to this information? And today, when we look at how the funds were spent and how they were used in projects in Angola, we see how many of these funds ended up inside the purses of the Angolan leaders and their Brazilian partners“.
The Brazilian octopus
“Could it be that Odebrecht is a political arm of Brazil in Angola?”, asked a person present in the interview. “Or is the Brazilian politics an arm of Odebrecht?”, answered, with another question, the Angolan journalist. After building the Capanda plant, Odebrecht got the most important strategic projects of the Angolan state, its second biggest client after Brazil, becoming the biggest private employer on the country, with 12000 employees. “Every year there is some news in the state media about a meeting between the Angolan president and the president of Odebrecht. There is no other company, no other multinational that has this sort of privileged access to the Angolan chief of state”.
“If we look at the more than 30 years of Odebrecht in Angola, there is a question which is evident: how many Angolans did Odebrecht formed? I know of no Angolan to ever became a chief of department inside Odebrecht. It is a company which is also very segregationist, especially in Africa. When Odebrecht leaves, what will it leave here?“, he asked. In a country where 36% of the population lives below the poverty line, it built luxury condos in which 3 or 4 room apartments cost up to US$3 million. While in these condos the paths are asphalted, in most streets of Luanda there are not even sidewalks for the people to walk safely.
Besides the plants and condos, Odebrecht also built the main roads of Luanda and the precarious water sanitation and distribution system of the capital; it owns a supermarket network and it is one of the owners of the biggest diamond extraction operation in Angola. Even the sugar produced in the country has participation of Odebrecht, as well as the street cleaners of the neighborhood of Maianga -downtown Luanda- wear orange uniforms with the company’s logo. It is also a part of the General Assembly and the Fiscal Council of the Eduardo dos Santos Foundation, the biggest NGO in Angola.
A matter of courage?
For questioning the Angolan regime and its elected companies, as Odebrecht, the life of the journalist Rafael Marques has not been easy. In 1999 he was accused of defaming the president of the country and the MPLA in the article “The dictatorship’s lipstick“, in which he pointed José Eduardo dos Santos as responsible for “promoting incompetence, embezzlement and corruption as social and political values“. He was sentenced to six months in jail and payment of a fine. Last year, a new accusation, this time of slander, done by seven generals, among them the State Minister and Head of the Military House of the president, Hélder Vieira Dias Kopelipa. The so-called “slander” was in the book “Blood Diamonds: torture and corruption in Angola“, published in Portugal in 2011 (you can download it for free in Portuguese on the website of the Tinta da China publishing company: http://www.tintadachina.pt/pdfs/626c1154352f7b4f96324bf928831b86-inside.pdf), in which he relates human rights violations committed by Army generals and a series of companies in the Angolan diamond mines.
“Part of my job has been fighting fear”, he said in the interview. “I understood that the more fear I had, more I would help authoritarianism in my country, more I would contribute to things staying as they are. We have had a party in power for 40 years and a president for 37. It is necessary to fight the status quo. It is not a matter of courage, I am also very scared. It is a matter of affirming citizenship”.
A citizenship which Odebrecht and the regime do not grant to the Angolan people. In two reports made by Rafael Marques about the presence of the Brazilian multinational in the diamond extraction sector, it was revealed that the company’s security guards got to the point of torturing members of local communities with the goal of imposing their rules, among them one that forbids citizens to use the water of the river nearby.
In another report, this time about the main morgue of Luanda, the journalist denounced the precariousness and the humiliation to which the relatives of the dead are submitted. “Each family hast to bring its own water drum to wash the dead in an open place“. Ironically, just beside the morgue is the new headquarters of the National Assembly, which costed 350 million dollars to the public coffers.
“The people are constantly terrorized. I made a research a few weeks ago in an area of Luanda, in the outskirts, where over the last five months the police has murdered more than 100 young people, all with headshots, in plain day, on a soccer field, with youngsters playing ball, children leaving school“, he said. “But when we denounce these cases we are accused to be in service of the imperialism, in service of external forces which hate the country, which do not want to see Angola develop”.
Last year it was given considerable attention to the judicial process moved by the Angolan government against 17 activists, known as “revús” -shortening of “revolutionaries”-, sentenced to jail for up to 8 years, half of them by supposedly taking part in “acts for the preparation of a rebellion“. Among the 17, there was Laurinda Gouveia, Philosophy student and barbecue seller, who in 2014 was arrested for participating in demonstrations and tortured by six commanders of the police and of the State Intelligence and Security Service. The repression to youngsters gave origin to an international movement of solidarity, which intensified during the hunger strikes they carried. To try to lessen the pressure, the government forced the parliament to hurriedly pass an amnesty law to benefit the activists. “Innocents have no amnesty“, said Mbanza Hamza, one of the activists.
One of the participants of the public interview asked Rafael Marques if in Angola there had ever been socialism. The journalist was emphatic: “For many years the left-wing parties, in Brazil and in Angola, had a very complacent, covering up attitude towards these two parties [Frelimo, of Mozambique, and MPLA, of Angola], which as the years passed became predator parties, without any sort of ideology except that of accessing wealth for the exclusive enrichment of its leaders”. With the toppling of the so-called socialist regimes in the former USSR and the European East, the MPLA did not hesitate in getting out of its left-wing clothing and adhering without any sort of subterfuge to the games of the market.
In an official speech in 2013, José Eduardo dos Santos said: “The primitive accumulation of capital in the Western countries happened hundreds of years ago and by then the rules by which they played were different. The primitive accumulation which took place in Africa nowadays must be suitable to our reality“. He could not be clearer: primitive accumulation means turning the “Santos” family and the MPLA elite into a bourgeoisie without competition. Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the Angolan president, is the richest woman in Africa, with a fortune estimated above US$ 3 billion. On last June she was designated president of the administration council of Sonangol, the national oil company, and she is also responsible for the development plan of the capital city. “In 2012“, said Rafael Marques, “I spent nine months investigating the way through which she became a billionaire, and it was quite a simple investigation: I looked for the presidential decrees which ensured the participation of his daughter in a series of businesses involving the Angolan state. For example, one day some news were released about the acquiring of 80% of the stock actions of a cement company by the Angolan state; two days after I found out these actions had been transferred to the president’s daughter”.
Near the end of the event, someone asked Rafael Marques what he thought would be the new relationships that would be established between Angola and the Michel Temer administration and if he did not fear a distancing process between the two countries. His answer: “I think these relationships [with the Temer government] are indeed affected, but because there is no money, because Angola is currently in the midst of an economic crisis. About Lula, he did a lot, but this did not mean an exchange between the Brazilian and Angolan societies. This relationship was strong at the business level, and particularly more in the construction and services areas than in industrialization proper. It is a relationship which benefited the PT more than the Angolan people“.
In the second greatest oil exporter African country, the vast majority of the population still lives with less than 2 dollars a day, and one in each six children dies before their 5th anniversary. What happened with the MPLA and its project of putting an end to exploitation and oppression in Angola? This is a subject to be developed in future articles.
Translation: Gabriel Tolstoy.