Dead but not buried, the sparks of the body of the ex-president of Angola and the continental struggle

LUANDA, Angola. Even after his death, the longtime ruler of Angola, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, remains at the center of the political struggle.

The former president died in Barcelona on July 8 at the age of 79, but the question of when and where he will be buried has sparked an intercontinental struggle in which the Angolan government and his widow have clashed with some of his adult children.

mr. Dos Santos’ death came just a few weeks before the decisive elections. Angola’s ruling party and incumbent President João Lourenço, along with Mr. Dos Santos’ widow, want to bring his body home for a state funeral and burial in a Soviet-style mausoleum – a spectacle that could rally support for the party fighting to stay in power.

But his daughter Velvicia dos Santos insists on a private funeral and a secret burial place in Spain where his children can travel. She says she has the support of some of her siblings, who, like her, face allegations of corruption in Angola and could be arrested if they return. They may also have tried to use the return of their father’s body to reclaim their place in the Angolan political elite.

As the two sides fight in a Spanish court, it is now up to a judge in Barcelona to decide the dispute. The outcome could affect the August elections in Angola, a country rich in oil and minerals on the west coast of South Africa.

“People are just trying to use the body and all the problems that come with it to advance their personal interests,” said Augusto Santana, an Angolan political analyst. He added that the incumbent wants to use the death “for electoral purposes” and the children for negotiations to “drop corruption-related charges.”

mr. dos Santos, one of Africa’s oldest leaders, has been a powerful figure in Angola for nearly four decades. On the front of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, he emerged victorious from the war of independence against colonial Portugal and then from years of civil war.

For his supporters, many of whom are part of Angola’s wealthy elite, he has led the country out of violent turmoil to make it one of the world’s largest oil producers, and its skyscraper-dotted coastal capital.

But to many of his detractors, he was a ruthless dictator who crushed democracy and ran an economy choking with corruption when most Angolans lived on less than $2 a day.

“I find it amazing that people now pretend that dos Santos was a saint. He wasn’t,” said Adolfo Tembo, 26, who sells toasted peanuts and bananas.

mr. dos Santos lived in self-imposed exile in Barcelona for three years. According to Welwitschia dos Santos, better known as Chise, he said he wanted to be buried there.

He became increasingly isolated from the party he had controlled for so long. His chosen successor, Mr. Lourenço, who came to power in 2017, turned his back on him, blaming dos Santos’ administration for Angola’s economic problems and persecuting his children.

mr. Lourenço and Mr. dos Santos attempted a rapprochement last year. mr. dos Santos returned to Angola and was scheduled to speak at a party conference. But then he learned that his son, José Filomeno dos Santos, would be sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling the state’s sovereign fund. According to Chise dos Santos, the former president was even more outraged by the plan to remove his face from the Angolan currency.

“My father was extremely humiliated when he first returned to Angola, which he did against our judgment and advice, convinced of President João Lourenço’s desire to achieve genuine reconciliation,” dos Santos said in an email response to questions from The New York Times.

The visit disappointed Mr. Laurence too. His strategy to scapegoat dos Santos as a source of corruption in Angola backfired, as figures from their era still led his government. Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, professor of African international politics at Oxford University, said his failure to get the economy in order has alienated voters.

BUT June Poll The Muday Civic Movement, a citizen-based election monitoring group, found the MPLA trailing 19 percent behind the opposition coalition, which includes UNITA, its former wartime adversary.

mr. Dos Santos was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Teknon Clinic, a leading private medical center in Barcelona, ​​on June 24 with heart and respiratory problems. Three days later, Mr. dos Santos turned to the Spanish police and accused his guardians of negligence.

His guardians were his fourth wife, Ana Paula dos Santos, and his longtime personal physician, João Abraão da Conceisan Afonso. Lawyers for both declined to comment. The Angolan government did not respond to questions, but confirmed that it had hired lawyers for the wife and the doctor.

Chise dos Santos accused his wife and doctor of not taking care of him as his breathing worsened and waiting a day to take him to the hospital after he passed out in the bathroom on June 23.

Then, on July 4, four days before her father’s eventual death, Ms. dos Santos formally accused her wife and the doctor of attempted murder. She says her brothers and sisters support her.

Jose Filomeno dos Santos, The 44-year-old son of the late president responded by email to questions but evaded the question of where and when he would like his father to be buried. He said: “The state has no constitutional obligation to take over my father’s funeral. This decision is up to the family.”

He is in Angola appealing his corruption conviction and says that because his passport was confiscated, he was unable to be with his father in the last days of his life.

When Mr. dos Santos died, the official cause of death was cardiac arrest. But in response to the daughter’s claim, the judge ordered an autopsy. According to preliminary data, poisoning is excluded. State media in Angola. The Spanish authorities are waiting for the final results to make a decision.

“If there is nothing, the body must be handed over to the family,” Judge Francisco Gonzalez Maillo said in an interview. He is a judge in Barcelona who will decide which family member gets the body.

Following in the footsteps of Mr. After the death of dos Santos, Chise dos Santos spread the word that her father planned to support the opposition party UNITA.

But a funeral in Angola could get Ms. Julia in trouble with the law. dos Santos and her siblings, several of whom are under criminal investigation. Isabelle dos Santos, the eldest daughter, could have been arrested if she returned. did not answer to be summoned for questioning to the prosecutor’s office in 2018.

Isabelle dos Santos becomes a billionaire acquired shares in the banking, telecommunications, construction and diamond industries in Angola, often by order signed by her father. They say that she the richest woman in Africa. When her father finally stepped down in 2017, she was the head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol. She was accused of pumping out millions dollars from a state-owned company to its own business empire that stretched from Hong Kong to the United States.

In an email to The Times, Chise dos Santos denied reports that she and her siblings had tried to negotiate an amnesty. Isabelle dos Santos did not respond to a request for comment.

Angola’s Attorney General, Elder Pitta Gros, traveled to Spain as part of a government delegation to decide on the handover of the president’s body, but his spokesman denied reports that Mr. U Gros was instructed to negotiate an amnesty with the two Santos siblings.

“The Attorney General is not negotiating,” spokesman Alvaro Joao said.

Angola held seven days of mourning for its former leader. Instead of a box, a large portrait of the city of dos Santos was erected in the government square in the capital, a red carpet led to it, and uniformed soldiers stood guard.

But the struggle for the city of the Remains of dos Santos is of little concern to ordinary Angolans.

“Do you know how much my husband and I earn? And do you know who is to blame for the terrible situations in which my family and, apparently, the majority of Angolans now find themselves? asked 37-year-old Avenina de Vasco, a janitor. “The MPLA and dos Santos ruled for a very long time. So I don’t care if he’s buried here, or in Europe, or in America.”

Gilberto Neto reported from Luanda, Angola, Jose Batista from Madrid, Spain, and Linsey Chutel from Johannesburg.