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Following a trip to Madrid’s archives, Agustín Velloso uncovers the history of Spain’s relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the 1960s and the secret backing given to Moise Tshombe’s ‘subversive activities’, his use of Spanish state resources and institutions and ‘the support of the press and other fascist entities of the time’.

In May 2011 I went to the General Archive of the Administration (AGA), located in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid), to try to get official documentation on the stays of Moise Tshombe in Spain. My goal was to verify and complete the information on the role of Spain in the Congo that I had previously collected from various sources. At the AGA I was given access to five cases on Tshombe which the archive managers informed me were deposited there.

One of them, which was sealed, had the following handwritten on the cover:

‘Not accessible according to law 9 / 1968 Official Secrets
AGA, 42, 08834.08 - (2018/19)
Information Pack on Moise Tshombe .- Years 1966–1969’

It is not easy to find information on the role of Spain in the first years of independence of the Congo. Official information which is freely available doesn't mention some of the most important facts about others and hides the essence of them.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC), through its General Directorate for External Cooperation, publishes reports on countries with which Spain maintains various kinds of relations. In these they present data on the countries under study, and others relating to the history of their relations with Spain.

The report, which was published in April 2008, is dedicated to the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). It reflects ‘Visits by Spanish personalities to the DRC and vice versa’. The first of them, in 1965, is presented briefly with a date and four words on page 27:

‘04/06/65 Moise Tshombe, Prime Minister.’

This naturally doesn't say much to an unaware reader. You would have to know that between the Congolese elections of 1960 and that trip as prime minister five years later his main activity was political and military subversion against Patrice Lumumba, Congolese legitimacy and the UN, which took place partly in Spanish territory in collaboration with Spain.

The MAEC says nothing about the official hearing granted at the El Pardo palace by the head of state, Francisco Franco (1892–1975), four days later on 8 June, about which graphic evidence is preserved in the AGA, photographs of both of them, which until 2011 have remained inaccessible to researchers (23).

The MAEC doesn't give notice of other trips made by people from both countries until eight years later, on 20 March 1973, when the minister of communications and transport travelled to Spain. Not until 8 May 1974 was there a Spanish trade mission trip and on 2 December of that year, a visit by the minister of trade. The kings made their first trip 19 November 1983. There was no agreement based on cooperation until 28 January 2008.

Therefore, the picture of relations between Spain and the DRC shows a faded trace just skipped over here and there with official travel, almost unnoticed. However, what is most interesting is precisely that what is made public by the MAEC was not the first trip Tshombe made to Spain. Ironically, two other trips made with the approval of Franco, which were public knowledge but still remain hidden, despite being the most important trips in the 50 years of relations between the two countries, and were critical to the development of the tragedy that still continues in the DRC.

The MAEC says nothing of the time Tshombe spent in Spain in 1963 and a later stay in 1966. Both had their origins in events in the DRC in 1960 and later, which have been reviewed in previous pages.

There is no doubt that the MAEC knows about these trips, the facts that motivated them and what Tshombe did in Spain. Nor are there reasons for keeping Tshombe's activities in Spain hidden.

The file mentioned above, currently available since May 2011, and others which were there before, while acknowledging that there may be other information not yet available in the AGA and other archives, shows that Tshombe did not come to Spain for private or health reasons, as stated in the press.

He did it to carry out subversive activities against the legality of the DRC, with the protection and support of the Spanish head of state himself and some of his close aides, with the use of Spanish state resources and institutions, as well as with the support of the press and other fascist entities of the time.

Tshombe enjoyed a bodyguard provided by several Spanish police agents, enjoyed the support provided by private citizens, some with high social and political positions and had the backing of the press (along with the ABC daily and Arriba, connected to these citizens). At the same time however he was spied on by Spanish agents of both the Civil Guard and others belonging to the secret service.

It is reasonable to think that Tshome's connections, both those aimed at helping him and those designed to control him, were not only Spanish but from other countries which had closer relations with the DRC, in particular with its wealth, having their own ways of acting on Spanish soil.

It must be remembered that during the time Tshombe was in Spain there were several serious political incidents, including assassination. This is mentioned in a document that belongs (like all those listed below unless otherwise noted) to the same report:

‘In Spain something smells bad. First was the Delgado case. (24) Then the Djida case. (25) Now the Tshombe case.

‘There are many gunmen in Spain, many murderers in the shadow of the gunmen and Franco murderers. It is logical that gangs sometimes try to exterminate each other … The murderers living in Spain are many. So many that perhaps it is they themselves who are undermining the foundations of the Franco regime, to facilitate the work of the Spanish people who want a Spain free of murderers and robbers, from whatever nationality.’

This refers to a document of three pages with no stamp or author, with these details:

Header: 20.07.67 21 h. REI .- 2

The Tshombe case

Footer: PSP / cmv

The author's tone is not unusual, decidedly anti-Franco, in what looks like a foreign press release. Note that the files contain all types of documents, official reports, some with seals and others without, some signed and some unsigned, national and foreign press clippings, single handwritten notes of government agents and private individuals, letters and personal writings, photographs…

Some of these documents simply contain descriptions of events, but others also add comments to these. Some even collect rumours and it seems even invent or at least draw conclusions based on prejudices and assumptions, which of course do not provide valuable information but rather the opposite.

The author entertains himself in the goings-on of Tshombe:

‘Tshombe, after his long periods of assassinations, fled to Franco's Spain, where he was welcomed by the dictator with no trace of reserve, certainly without regard to these, after having received so many of Hitler's murderers.

‘Tshombe led the life of a king in Spain, an absolute king, surrounded by all sorts of luxuries and concubines in the centre of fascist immorality that was Franco's Spain.

‘While in Spain, the Mobutu government sentenced him to death. But from Spain, Tshombe, in the moments of leisure that the pleasures which came furiously allowed, while throwing away a fortune belonging to his people, from whom it was stolen, continued to organise conspiracies against the Congolese people with the acquiescence of Franco, who made his first arms betraying his people.’
Obviously it isn't necessary to be anti-Franco to note that the description is essentially true – simply leave aside the combative style.

So it was that a year before, 1966, and in early 1967, that other documents which also seem to be drawn from press summaries show that Franco and his government were fully aware of the political situation of Tshombe. Referring to the following documents:

A loose folio with the reference: 26.9.66 - 17 h. - TASS .- 23
Title: ‘Request from the government of the Congo’
Text: ‘The government of Congo today requested the Spanish government to end the 'subversive actions against the Congo by Moise Tshombe from Spanish territory … In the event that Spain – highlights the note – continues to favour the activity of Tshombe, the Congolese government will be forced to take the initiative of breaking off diplomatic relations between Kinshasa and Madrid.’

A loose folio with the reference: 10.10.66 - 16 h. - TASS .- 29
Title: ‘Request from Congolese parliamentarians’
Text: ‘18 Congolese MPs have demanded the severance of diplomatic relations with Spain, since the latter continues to grant political asylum to Moise Tshombe (also Portugal) and the Foreign Minister Justin Bomboko delivered a note to the Spanish chargé d'affaires lamenting Spain's tolerance of the presence in its territory of Tshombe, a “traitor who will be tried by a military court”.’

A loose folio with the reference: 21.10.66 - 21 h.30 - REI .- 4
Title: ‘Spanish news’
Text: ‘The Congolese government has called its ambassador to Madrid home for consultations … based on the worsening of Spanish–Congolese relations in the last months, in view of the activities carried out by Tshombe currently in Madrid.’

A loose folio with the reference: 24.10.66 - 18 h.15 - TASS .- 32
Title: ‘Tshombe's subversive activities’
Text: ‘With the approval of Ian Smith, Moise Tshombe uses the territory of Southern Rhodesia as a base for subversive activities against the government of the DRC … Through his agents, he sent instructions from Madrid to participants in the mutiny of former Katanga gendarmes in Kisangani. As a liaison, Tshombe used his brother Thomas in this case, provincial councillor in Southern Katanga.’

A loose sheet with the reference: 7.3.67 - 22 h.15 - BBC .- 16
Title: ‘Request for extradition’
Text: ‘The Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs has asked the Spanish government to try to persuade Mr Tshombe, who faces a possible death penalty, to accept the offer of the Congolese government … of a plane ticket to return to Kinshasa from Madrid, where he lives in exile.’

It should be borne in mind that what Franco and his government knew was also well known in Europe and indeed in Africa, as journalistic sources point to the Soviet news agency TASS and the BBC, which using different terms were full of the same information.

So too did the Americans, which immediately suggests that the administration of US President Lyndon B. Johnson was able to invite Franco to provide one more service to the US empire by welcoming Tshombe in Spain, helping them achieve their goals, which of course benefited the United States more than Spain and of course than the DRC.

For this reason the news media could not come as any surprise to Franco and his collaborators. In the file ‘Tshombe in exile - Ext 650,’ publicly accessible, you can see Franco's game. He welcomes and supports Tshombe because of his dependence on the US, but not – as stated by the author of the anti-Franco text reproduced in the previous lines – ‘without regard to this fact’, but rather for the opposite:

On 21 May 1964, Karl Tichmann – correspondent of the German company Bayerischer Rundfunk, TV section – wrote to the director general of film and theatre (Madrid) to say that the company ‘intends to film in Spain for the German movie entitled ‘Tshombe in exile’ and asks to be ‘granted the required permission to film.’

In handwriting one reads as follows: ‘dismissed, 5/23/64.’

To this paper comes the exp. 650–64 (also accessible) received 22 May 1964 at the Department of Cinematography (with a three pesetas stamp), signed by Karl Tishcmann. The letter is presented as a documentary for German television:

‘Duration: one quarter of an hour (16mm)
Date of commencement of filming in Spain: 25 May 1964
Expected duration: one day
Total budget: 5,000 pts.
Plot summary: ‘non-political interview with former president of Katanga, Mr Tshombe, about his private life in exile’
Author of the script: Wolfgang Kahle (editor)
Author of literary screenplay: Marianne Khal, assist. editorial
Director: Siegfried Müllhofer, tec. sound’

On a separate sheet (handwritten) undated and unsigned:

‘Consulted by phone with D. (Director?) Revenga, foreign affairs, reports that his director is not in favour of authorising the filming out of fear that the subject on other occasions has caused troubles and problems of a political nature.’

Apparently it did not help that the Spanish delegate for the export union of the German film industry ‘certifies that the German TV company Bayerischer Rundfunk requests authorisation to film a report on the subject Tshombe in exile in Spain. As we know that that report will contain nothing adverse to the good name of Spain, we would greatly appreciate permission for the shooting in question.’

The signature of William Petersen and the seal of the export union on 22 May 1964 follow.

Since then, in 1967, things went from bad to worse for Tshombe, as we have seen, causing both increased control over him, his activities and his surroundings, while a sector of the extreme right strengthened the support it provided him. The following documents show both the status of Tshombe and the movements of his contacts in this regard:

On a sheet with the letterhead ‘Spanish Pro-liberation of Tshombe Board, P.O. box 14042, Madrid, October 1967’ is a statement about this, at the foot of which one can read a list of members (some highlighted with a pen):

Pablo Arredondo - Enrique del Campo - Italy Carcavilla - Miguel Fagoaga - José Luis Gómez Tello - Patricio González de Canales - P. Marcos Venancio - Luis Nieto Antúnez - P. Miguel Oltra - Fray Justo Perez de Urbiel - Carlos Pinilla - Blas Piñar

The document consists of three paragraphs. With no introduction to the subject it begins by lamenting the ‘international silence on the Tshombe case’ and then noting that it is in ‘contrast with the great propaganda machine and coercion orchestrated by international human rights leagues and other organisations, always the same, (as) if it were an ordinary prisoner of political crime, (the) worst enemy of traditional values.’

It ends: ‘The undersigned invite different organisations and people of goodwill worldwide to coordinate their efforts through the Spanish Pro-liberation of Tshombe Board to try to remedy as soon as possible this attack on international rights and human dignity, which also harms Spanish national sovereignty.’

Another document, one page, headed ‘Zaragoza. Spanish Pro-liberation of Tshombe Board’ and dated ‘Madrid, 26 October 1967’, reports:

‘Many letters to the Spanish Pro-liberation of Tshombe Board, based in Madrid and made up of leaders and veterans of the Banderas Falange and Requetes Division, who together with three priests have called on all Spaniards to coordinate their efforts to liberate the Congolese politician Moise Tshombe arrested by Algerian authorities.

Most of the signers of the manifesto are part of the editorial board of the weekly “Fuerza Nueva”, chaired by D. Blas Pinar.’ (26)

These people, including those that are Catholic priests, are far from being anti-Franco. Franco, however, closely controlled them, as shown by the two following documents.

The first, an unsigned paper dated Madrid 14 October 1967, carried this heading:

‘Subject: Campaign pro-Tshombe
Reference: SIP Exp 121
Secret (in red ink)
Recipient: Hon. minister of information and tourism. Madrid.

Text: ‘Your Excellency: I enclose with this letter a proposed ”Spanish Pro-liberation of Tshombe Board”. God preserve your Excellency many years, the director general.’

At the foot: a stamp printed in blue ink from the prime minister's office, director general of plazas and African provinces.

Another document – an ‘information note’ – reports on a meeting of the Spanish Pro-liberation of Tshombe Board.

This is an official paper with this letterhead:

‘General Directorate of the Guardia Civil. Chief of Staff, Second Section
Briefing note. No. 1521
Confidential (with a red seal)
From: Second Section of EM (SIGC) Madrid
To: Hon. Minister of Information and Tourism. Plaza
Date: 9 September 1967
Subject: Meeting in Andorra with the so-called pro-Tshombe committee’

The text of the note:

‘It was attended by: Ricardo Marques Ribes, Ignacio Rubio, Juan Diaz Miño, Jacques Leonard, a French citizen who is said to have been a prisoner in the Belgian Congo, a Spanish priest, dressed as a clergyman, about 30 years old, of approximately 1.850 metres height, brown hair combed back…

‘Mr Ribes told a newspaper correspondent that the pro-Tshombe efforts being made in Andorra were known to their Excellencies, the minister for information and tourism and the director general of security, adding that the committee had about a quarter of a million pesetas to cover the costs incurred in the carrying out these activities.

‘The economic situation of the above described doesn't seem very shining, judging by the expenditures, as at lunchtime they only took a small inexpensive snack at the bar.’

An interview of Tshombe by the correspondent of the Journal de Genève in Spain months before this solidarity movement points to a paper of two pages:

Header: Information Services of the Directorate General of Press
Bolprex (03/28/67). Press Switzerland.
Journal de Genève. Independent, article by Richard Mowrer. 16 March 1967
Title: Tshombe living a slightly golden exile in Madrid
Text: ‘The correspondent visited his flat in Madrid, now a former prime minister and sentenced to death by a Kinshasa court for treason. This is the second time that Tshombe is in exile. During the first of his exiles, he also remained in Madrid until mid-1964. This period of his life was almost one year and was much more comfortable for him. Then he had a house in Moraleja, a car and, in the city, a richly furnished apartment which served as his office … This time he has a much reduced budget. General Mobutu seized everything Tshombe had in the Congo, including my 17 cars, he tells me.

‘He says at this time he'd rather not talk about politics nor the Congolese high treason trial because it could hamper relations between the Spanish government and the Congo. “It is ironic in that was I who inaugurated the Congolese embassy in Madrid, after my first period of exile in this country, which is now obviously the Embassy of Mobutu”.

‘Are you afraid of being killed, have you been threatened? Tshombe says he can answer both questions negatively, but he adds: ”I am protected by the Spanish police, four men in total, one of whom lives permanently in my house”.’

Ironically, neither the efforts of private Catholic fascism and nor the security of official Catholic fascism could prevent the small plane flying from Ibiza to Palma de Mallorca, where Tshombe was travelling escorted by two Spanish policemen, from being abducted, apparently the first aerial kidnapping occurring in Spain – by J. Francis Boden – apparently his friend, and then flown to Algeria where he was imprisoned and died in mysterious circumstances.

This document describes and comments on the event:

Header: Briefing Note Exp. SIP 121
Date: 23-X-67
Secret (stamp in red ink)
Prime Minister's Office - General Directorate of Plazas and Provinces (Seal in blue ink)
Title: Prisoner Tshombe
Text: ‘For nearly four months, in circumstances that have not yet been fully clarified, a plane that transported the former Congolese Prime Minister Moise Tshombe was dramatically diverted in flight and forced to land in Algeria. Tshombe was jailed despite a Supreme Court order authorising his extradition to the Congo, where Mobutu's regime has sentenced him to death – he continues a prisoner in this country.

‘What happened to the once proud African leader, who before being kidnapped, said he was preparing a plot to regain power?

‘He says he is depressed. His fellow prisoners say he is moody and looks sad. What he seems most concerned with is the uncertainty of his future.’

It should be remembered that the director general of plazas and provinces at that time was José Diaz de Villegas, probably the most senior official to help Tshombe carry out his political plans, clearly characterised by the previous secret briefing note, written in the department under his command, as ‘a plot to regain power’.

The next documents available to the public leave open the suspicion that the Spanish army general alternated his support – with the use of state resources – to Tshombe the coup leader, with cultural and charitable activities, or were they just a better cover for this support?

The documents are:

- A letter to Tshombe from Diaz de Villegas on the letterhead of the director general of plazas and African provinces and of the Institute of African Studies – National Research Council – Prime Minister's Office
- Another letter from Diaz de Villegas (a copy without signature or seal or letterhead).

Document header:

‘General Directorate of Promotion of the Sahara - Section 1966: RC
Subject: Tshombe, - Moisés
Dr Fleming n º 48. - Madrid ‘

The first letter of Diaz de Villegas, 10 March 1964, addressed to Hon. Dr Moise Tshombe, P º Pintor Rosales, 20, Madrid, inviting him to the ‘XIV exhibition of painters of Africa’ at the Círculo de Bellas Artes on the 14th.

In a letter to Diaz de Villegas, Tshombe gratefully answers he is busy and unable to attend the official opening, but that he will come at another time, for which he hopes to count on the general.

Another letter from Diaz de Villegas to Tshombe on 15 September 1966 (Dr Fleming 48, Madrid) says:

‘My distinguished friend: I would greatly appreciate that you propose to me two or three African students, well prepared for higher education and of sound moral formation, for whom I could get scholarships and even travel grants to pursue their studies at the University of Navarra (Pamplona).

Hoping this offer is interesting, your good friend sends his sincere regards,

José Diaz de Villegas.’

Tshombe responds in French gratefully to say that he will get to it on 19 September 1966. He writes to him at St. Juan Vigon 5, Madrid 3 (signature of Tshombe, original in blue ink).

The portrait of Tshombe's stay in Spain is completed with a few strokes of his private life, which would be of no interest as such were it not to show the weak moral and professional base of those who painted them.

These are a few surveillance reports written by timid agents with sexual prejudices, typical of a Catholic and macho society, and based on the assumptions of supposedly professional ‘spies’, rather than on security and national interests.

There is a document that shows this kind of work, one page without headings or signature and dated Madrid 12 June 1967:

‘Let it be known that on the 3rd of this month, a young Belgian underling stayed at the Hotel de Mar, who is said to be just one of many “women” at the disposal of the former Congolese leader Moise Tshombe for his comfort. According to comments gathered, it seems that every time he planned a trip to Palma de Mallorca, he is preceded by two or three days before his arrival, by two or three people occupying the room that the gentleman of colour expressly books in said hotel. They also say he spends a lot of money with his extraordinary large party, who shows an inordinate fondness, as party animals, as evidenced by the election of his concubines, all very young, flamboyant and with extravagant lines.’

Even without the references to 'individuals' this espionage work is just as sloppy. There is one document on an official letterhead saying:

‘General Directorate of the Guardia Civil. Chief of Staff, Second Section
Briefing Note
From: Second Section of EM (IACS) Madrid
To: Hon. Minister of Information and Tourism. Plaza
Date: 23 May 1967
Subject: Arrival of a Russian transatlantic vessel at the Port of Palma de Mallorca’

This sheet describes the arrival at the port of Palma de Mallorca of the Soviet Mediterranean tourist ship 'Ivan Franko' (27), Italian and French tourists and the reception its captain offers, and which local authorities attend:

‘Numerous members of the public went to the port to watch the ocean liner that was awaited with certain expectation, with no nasty comments made nor incidents. At 19.30 hours the former president of the Congo Moise Tshombe boarded, having arrived on the island on the same date, where he stayed for an hour. The purpose of the visit is not known. Passed on for your knowledge.’

The year before his death, the Civil Guard was still working on the ‘Tshombe case', without being able to even remotely suspect his death despite their years of monitoring:

There is an official document in a folio headed by:

General Directorate of the Guardia Civil, Chief of Staff, Second Section
Briefing Note No. 1521
From: Second Section of EM (IACS) Madrid
To: Hon. minister of information and tourism. square
Date: 28 February 1968
Subject: Probable visit of former President Moise Tshombe of Katanga to Almeria

In the paper there is reference to a business visit Tshombe made four years earlier to Almeria and the author concludes that he could return to this city even though it adds that he is in prison (in Algeria, pending extradition to the DRC, where he awaits trial for high treason):

‘In May 1964 Mr Tshombe visited the town of Almeria, and Adra in the same province, enquiring about the price of some land, so it would not be surprising if he went outside the capital if he were released. Passed on for your knowledge.’


* Translated from Spanish by Bob Thomson.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.