Monday, March 2, 2009



By The Associated Press

Guinea-Bissau, a tiny country in West Africa, has had a long history of instability and numerous attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974. For 23 of the past 29 years, the country was ruled by President Joao Bernardo Vieira.

RISE AND FALL OF VIEIRA: Vieira came to power in a 1980 coup and weathered numerous coup attempts until being forced out 19 years later at the onset of the country's civil war in 1999. Vieira went into exile in Portugal. A transitional government was formed and opposition leader Kumba Yala became president, but he was ousted in a 2003 coup. The country organized elections in 2005. Vieira returned from exile and ran, winning the vote.

MILITARY PURGE: The military is made up primarily of members of the Balanta ethnic group, who have long resented being under the rule of Vieira. He belonged to the Papel ethnic group, which represents roughly 5 percent of the population. After one of many failed coup attempts in the 1980s, Vieira set up a military tribunal and condemned to death several Balanta officers in an attempt to purge the military of his ethnic enemies.

COCAINE TRADE: In recent years, Guinea-Bissau has become a key transit point for South American cocaine. The drugs are flown from South America in small planes and then parceled out to dozens of drug mules that carry them north to Europe. The huge influx of money from the drug trade has been a major destabilizing force for the small nation.

BLOOD FEUD: The bad blood between Vieira and the head of the armed forces, Gen. Batiste Tagme na Waie, ran deep. Waie was one of the Balanta officers that Vieira targeted in his purges of the 1980s. Waie spent years in exile on a deserted island off Guinea-Bissau's coast. In November, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the president's residence and when the military failed to respond, those close to Vieira suspected the military, and possibly its chief, was behind the assassination attempt.

TIT FOR TAT?: Waie was killed Sunday night when a bomb hidden underneath the staircase to his office exploded. Those close to Waie, including his chief of staff, say it begs the question of whether the president was involved. A day later, a military group gunned down Vieira in what many suspect was an act of revenge by the military. The gunmen, however, have not been identified and the military says they belong to a renegade group.