1985: U.S. Support for UNITA Rebels in Angola

Joe Biden opposed U.S. support for Angola’s right-wing UNITA rebels, whose chief lobbyist in Washington, D.C., was Paul Manafort.

068356 41: UNITA troops rehearse marching for Armed Forces Day January 23, 1990 near Jamba, Angola. The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola and the Marxist forces in the capital of Luanda struggle to agree on plans for the future of Angola after fifteen years of civil war. (Photo by Scott Peterson/Liaison)
UNITA troops rehearse for Armed Forces Day near Jamba, Angola, on Jan. 23, 1990. Photo: Scott Peterson/Liaison via Getty Images

In June 1985, Joe Biden cast a losing vote against the repeal of the 1976 Clark Amendment that barred the United States from supporting the right-wing UNITA rebels in Angola. Biden, an opponent of the UNITA rebels’ close ally apartheid South Africa, was one of only 34 senators to vote against allowing the aid. The repeal paved the way for the Reagan administration to aid the UNITA rebels in the name of fighting communist influence in Africa, particularly Cuban forces dispatched by Fidel Castro to fight against the right-wing guerrillas. Soon thereafter, the Reagan administration briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee on a plan to funnel $15 million in covert aid to UNITA. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan invited Jonas Savimbi, the head of the rebel group, to the White House and praised the prospect of Savimbi achieving “a victory that electrifies the world and brings great sympathy and assistance from other nations to those struggling for freedom.” Savimbi was a darling of conservative U.S. think tanks and large oil corporations, most prominently Chevron Corp. His chief lobbyist in securing aid from Congress and the Reagan administration was Paul Manafort, who would go on to be President Donald Trump’s campaign chair. According to Human Rights Watch, “U.S. covert aid to UNITA totalled about $250 million between 1986 and 1991.” By 1989, an estimated 100,000 people had been killed in Angola’s civil war and tens of thousands of people had lost limbs, largely as a result of UNITA’s widespread use of land mines.

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