A “NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES” IN CONAKRY
Setting: a one-story house, painted white, stands alone at the center of a wide courtyard; a huge mango tree grows in front of the house; a shed used as a garage; the place is in Conakry, capital of the Republic of Guinea, whose president is Séku Turé. Time: 3 o’clock in the morning, January 20, 1973. Action: A car, a VW, is being parked under the shed. Two spotlights focus on the car occupants – Amílcar Cabral and his second wife, Ana Maria. Out of the darkness a stern voice orders that Amílcar be tied up. He struggles and refuses to be subdued. The leader of the raid presses the trigger and hits Amílcar in the region of the liver. Amílcar, crouching on the ground, suggests that they talk. The reply: a burst of machine gun fire aimed at the head of the founder of the PAIGC. Death is immediate. The perpetrators: Inocêncio Kani, the first to shoot, a guerrilla war veteran and former PAIGC navy commander; the others are members of the party, all Guineans.
In other points of the city where the some 500 PAIGC militants are living, the remaining leaders of the party stationed in Conakry are arrested by groups participating in the uprising. Among those arrested are Aristides Pereira, Vasco Cabral, José Araújo. They are all taken to a scouting boat that heads for Bissau. On January 21, Séku Turé receives the leaders of the party uprising at the presidential palace. Everything indicates that he supports Cabral’s assassins. But, surprisingly, the President of Guinea-Conakry gives them no protection. He orders that the conspirators be arrested, instructs the Army to temporarily hold all members of the PAIGC and intercepts the boat that was taking the imprisoned leaders to Bissau. Séku Turé then sets up an international commission to investigate all of these events. Gradually, the old leaders of the PAIGC are granted their freedom. The party’s Superior Council for Liberation decides to go further in the investigation.
From that point on, conclusions are reached fairly quickly because of a web of intrigue, denouncements, accusations and betrayals. Approximately 100 party members are indicted, tried and executed. This number includes the majority of those who participated in the crime. But it also includes a number of innocent people. This type of occurrence is inevitable. The death of Amílcar Cabral, the almost uncontested leader, gives rise to a chain reaction of hatred and passionate reprisals. In such an atmosphere, it is difficult for justice to be impartially served, especially at a time when no one is interested in abating the war against Portuguese colonialism.
The truth is that the assassination brings about no benefits for the Portuguese Army; the guerrillas intensify their activities. As of March 1973, the rebels have a new weapon at their disposal – the ground-to-air missile Stella – which effectively cancels out the air supremacy of the Portuguese armed forces. In May of that year, the Governor of Guinea-Bissau, General António Spínola, advises Joaquim da Silva Cunha, Minister of National Defense, that “...we are getting closer and closer to the possibility of a military collapse.” Then, on September 24, in the forests of Madina do Boé, the PAIGC unilaterally declares the independence of Guinea-Bissau.