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Luís de Almeida Cabral

First President of Guinea-Bissau


Luís de Almeida Cabral, the younger brother of the revolutionary-philosopher Amílar Cabral, was a leading nationalist in his own right and became the Guinea-Bissau's first president.

Date of Birth: 11 April 1931, Bissau, Portuguese Guinea
Date of Death: 31 May 2009 of a heart attack, Torres Vedras, Portugal

An Early Life
Luís de Almeida Cabral was born in Bissau, the capital of Portuguese Guinea, on 11 April 1931. His mixed-race (mestiço) parents originally came from the Cape Verde islands. Cabral was educated in Bissau and trained as an accountant, joining Companhia União Fabril (CUF) - a Portuguese multinational corporation which had an effective monopoly over Portuguese Guinea's economic activities (specifically three cash crops: husked rice, groundnuts, and paper pulp).

Forming the PAIGC
Luís Cabral spent much of his early life in the shadow of his half-brother Amílar Cabral, and was introduced to politics by him. Luís and Amílar Cabral, along with Aristides Pereira (who became the first president of Cape Verde), formed the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC, African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) in 1956, a clandestine independence movement working to overthrow Portuguese rule in the country.

Portuguese authorities soon started investigating those associated with the PAIGC. Amílar Cabral, the charismatic leader of the movement, went into exile in Guinea, but Luís remained in Portuguese Guinea as a labor organizer for the União Nacional dos Trabalhadores de Guiné (UNTG, National Union of Guinea Workers), for which he eventually became secretary-general.

The Guerrilla War
On 3 August 1959 Luís Cabral helped the UNTG organize a dock strike in Bissau, the Portuguese authorities responded by sending in the Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado (PIDE, International and State Defense Police) and over 50 Africans were killed (now known as the Pijiguiti Massacre, for the particular dock where the massacre took place). As a result, the leadership of the PAIGC abandoned its policy of non-violence. In 1961 they started an armed struggle against the Portuguese authorities -- a guerrilla war involving about 10,000 PAIGC soldiers (supported by Soviet advisors) versus around 35,000 state troops (Portuguese and African).

Luís Cabral was now a hunted man, he crossed the border into neighboring Guinea where PAIGC received support from the government of Sékou Touré. Whilst in exile Luís Cabral remained in PAIGC's central committee. In 1963 he returned to the liberated zone within Guinea-Bissau and took charge of the Quitafine frontier -- a strategic region in Portuguese Guinea in the ongoing struggle against Portuguese colonialism.

In 1965 Luís Cabral was appointed to the war council and in 1967 he took control of the party's administration and represented PAIGC overseas, seeking support from the international community. Between 1970 and 1972 Cabral directed reconstruction efforts in liberated regions of Guinea-Bissau.

Leadership Passes to Luís Cabral
Amílar Cabral, now a respected pan-African philosopher and nationalist, was assassinated on 20 January 1973 on the eve of independence -- leadership of PAIGC was passed to Aristides Pereira. The Portuguese Guinea branch of PAIGC, however, was placed under the control of Luís Cabral.

Independence for Guinea-Bissau
On 24 September 1973 the PAIGC unilaterally declared independence, with Luís Cabral as Chairman of the Council of State -- PAIGC controlled roughly 90% of the country by that time. The following year, as a result of the April 1974 Carnation Revolution, a new left-wing revolutionary government in Portugal recognized the country's freedom, formally granting independence to the new Guinea-Bissau on 10 September. Luís Cabral became the country's first president. (Cape Verde achieved its own independence in 1975.)

Luís Cabral had surprisingly good relations with the new socialist government in Portugal, he initiated a planned socialist economy, and led a single-party regime. But the toll of 13 years of guerrilla war had reduced the country's ability to produce cash crops. Despite aid from USSR, China and parts of Europe, Cabral was unable to turn the economy around -- due in great part to a lack of education and high level of corruption.

Ousted From Government
Luís Cabral's desire for a united Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde caused consternation amongst the people of Guinea-Bissau. Sensing the time was right, on 14 November 1980 Cabral was removed from power by a bloodless coup led by the prime minister (and former commander of the armed forces) João Bernardo Vieira. Cabral was charged with abuse of power and received a death sentence. He was held under house arrest for 13 months before being allowed to go into exile. The cope had the intended effect of souring relations with Cape Verde, and both political and military unity between the two countries was permanently shattered.

Life and Death in Exile
Luís Cabral first went to Cuba, and then relocated to Lisbon, Portugal in 1983 -- he received a government pension and was allowed to bring his family over. Cabral maintained that he feared returning to Guinea-Bissau whilst Vieira was in power. When Vieira was overthrown by Ansumane Mané on 7 May 1999 Cabral was invited to return, and was granted a Bissau-Guinean passport which referred to him as the 'president of Guinea-Bissau's Council of State'. He returned for a few days in November that year, but announced publicly that he did not intend to return to active politics or to take a role in the leadership of the PAIGC.

Luís Cabral died on 31 May 2009 in Torres Vedras, Portugal, of a heart attack. The government of Guinea-Bissau announced a three day period of morning in his honor.

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