The Soviet Union supported the MPLA-PT as a liberation movement before independence and formalized its relationship with the MPLAPT government through the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation and a series of military agreements beginning in 1975. Once it became clear that the MPLA-PT could, with Cuban support, remain in power, the Soviet Union provided economic and technical assistance and granted Angola most-favored-nation status.
The support of the Soviet Union and its allies included diplomatic representations at the UN and in other international forums, military hardware and advisers, and more direct military support in the face of South African incursions into Angola. Civilian technical assistance extended to hydroelectric projects, bridge building and road building, agriculture, fisheries, public health, and a variety of educational projects. Technical assistance was often channeled through joint projects with a third country-- for example, the Capanda hydroelectric project entailed cooperation between the Soviet Union and Brazil.
Soviet-Angolan relations were strained at times during the 1980s, however, in part because Angola sought to upgrade diplomatic ties with the United States. Soviet leadership factions were divided over their nation's future role in Africa, and some Soviet negotiators objected to dos Santos's concessions to the United States on the issue of "linkage." The region's intractable political problems, and the cost of maintaining Cuban troop support and equipping the MPLA-PT, weakened the Soviet commitment to the building of a Marxist-Leninist state in Angola.
Angolan leaders, in turn, complained about Soviet neglect--low levels of assistance, poor-quality personnel and matériel, and inadequate responses to complaints. Angola shared the cost of the Cuban military presence and sought to reduce these expenses, in part because many Angolan citizens felt the immediate drain on economic resources and rising tensions in areas occupied by Cuban troops. Moreover, dos Santos complained that the Soviet Union dealt with Angola opportunistically--purchasing Angolan coffee at low prices and reexporting it at a substantial profit, overfishing in Angolan waters, and driving up local food prices.
For the first decade after independence, trade with communist states was not significant, but in the late 1980s dos Santos sought expanded economic ties with the Soviet Union, China, and Czechoslovakia and other nations of Eastern Europe as the MPLA-PT attempted to diversify its economic relations and reduce its dependence on the West. In October 1986, Angola signed a cooperative agreement with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon or CMEA), a consortium dedicated to economic cooperation among the Soviet Union and its allies.
As part of the Comecon agreement, Soviet support for Angolan educational and training programs was increased. In 1987 approximately 1,800 Angolan students attended institutions of higher education in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union also provided about 100 lecturers to Agostinho Neto University in Luanda, and a variety of Soviet-sponsored training programs operated in Angola, most with Cuban instructors. Approximately 4,000 Angolans studied at the international school on Cuba's renowned Isle of Youth. More Angolan students were scheduled to attend the Union of Young Communists' School in Havana in 1989. Czechoslovakia granted scholarships to forty-four Angolan students in 1987, and during that year Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) also provided training for about 150 Angolan industrial workers.
Cuba's presence in Angola was more complex than it appeared to outsiders who viewed the Soviet Union's Third World clients as little more than surrogates for their powerful patron. The initiative in placing Cuban troops in Angola in the mid-1970s was taken by President Fidel Castro as part of his avowed mission of "Cuban internationalism." Facing widespread unemployment at home, young Cuban men were urged to serve in the military overseas as their patriotic duty, and veterans enjoyed great prestige on their return. Castro also raised the possibility of a Cuban resettlement scheme in southern Angola, and several hundred Cubans received Angolan citizenship during the 1980s. Cuban immigration increased sharply in 1988. In addition to military support, Cuba provided Angola with several thousand teachers, physicians, and civilian laborers for construction, agriculture, and industry. Angolan dependence on Cuban medical personnel was so complete that during the 1980s Spanish became known as the language of medicine.
China's relations with Angola were complicated by Beijing's opposition to both Soviet and United States policies toward Africa. China supported the FNLA and UNITA after the MPLA seized power in Angola, and China provided military support to Zaire when Zairian troops clashed with Angolan forces along their common border in the late 1970s. China nonetheless took the initiative in improving relations with the MPLA-PT during the 1980s. The two states established diplomatic ties in 1983.
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