The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda – Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda, FLEC – has publicly declared its intention to cease its activities in return for autonomy. After more than thirty-five years of armed struggle, there is hope that the volatile region might stabilize.
The April 25, 1974, “Carnation Revolution” in Portugal, which resulted in the overthrow of the long-lasting authoritarian regime, had as its major impact the end of the colonial war and, consequentially, of the Portuguese colonial enterprise. In fact, every single colonial territory was granted independence.
Angola became a major Cold-War stage, where the two major factions – MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, or People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) was supported by the Soviet Bloc (Cuba, under Fidel Castro, had troops on the ground), and UNITA (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, or National Union for the Total independence of Angola, supported by the Western Bloc), fought each other between 1975 and 2002, having some interludes.
IN 1975 the MPLA army invaded the Cabinda enclave which, by then had formed a provisional government. The MPLA, supported by Cuban soldiers, overpowered the Cabinda-based movements and took control of the major cities, finally establishing full control after two months of fighting.
Since then, the FLEC – which was not always united under the same banner – has clashed with Angolan Armed Forces. Despite a cease-fire in 2006, conflict continued unabated.
The FLEC has now announced its intention to push for a definitive peace settlement. Antoine Kitembo, FLEC’s Vice-President has stated in a written document that it is “time to make concessions to yesterday’s enemies”. The document continues by saying that it is necessary to open a new page in which Cabinda’s identity and shared sovereignty with Angola, with the ultimate end of total sovereignty over local affairs.
Realizing that it will not be easy for Angola’s government to accept such conditions in a quick way, FLEC also proposes a debate to be started over Cabinda’s administrative status. The option are: Associate Sovereign State, Autonomous Territory, or Federal Autonomous State.
In what seems a move to grant legitimacy and a sense of ‘moral obligation’ to a possible acceptance of any of the options, FLEC demands that during the negotiations there should be present representatives not only part of the organization and the Angolan Government, but also representatives from Portugal (as both region’s former colonial power), Catholic Church, Cabinda’s traditional authorities, African Union, civil society, European Parliament and the enclave’s regional neighbours – The Congos.
Though it seems far-fetched that the Government of Angola will accept any of these terms, the fact that this news is being highly publicized in Angolan press – argued to be tightly censured and controlled -, there might be signs that José Eduardo dos Santos’ regime is somewhat willing to negotiate some, if not satisfying enough, terms.
After all, Cabinda is not just a piece of land detached from Angolan territory. It is a highly oil-rich area which cannot be easily given away, nor unconditionally given a ‘loose leash’.