Dialogue with a Coup Leader: Has Guinea-Bissau Become a Narco-State?

Antonio Indjai, the general who lords it over the small West African nation, is unrepentant and uncompromising about overthrowing the previous government. And he dislikes the U.N. too

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Joe Penney / Reuters

Antonio Indjai, Guinea-Bissau's army chief of staff, takes a seat after a news conference at military headquarters in the capital, Bissau, on March 19, 2012

General Antonio Indjai, 57, is the chief of staff of Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces, and on April 12 he overthrew the elected government in a coup, citing as the reason the presence of the Angolan military. The 270 soldiers from Angola had originally arrived to help reform Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces, which stand accused of involvement in a cocaine transshipment trade that sees an estimated 30 tons of the illegal substance ending up in Europe every year. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime has noted an increase in drug trafficking since the coup, which was triggered by allegations that the Angolans were plotting to destroy Guinea-Bissau’s military. In response to the coup, all foreign aid to the government was cut. West Africa’s regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has since deployed a stabilizing force inside Guinea-Bissau. Indjai met TIME’s Jessica Hatcher at the military barracks in the capital, Bissau, on Oct. 2, 2012.

TIME: What is the relationship between the military and the transitional government?
Indjai: It is a positive relationship. That means, we are agreed on all facts, from A through to Z. It is positive in every way.

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Some say it’s you with the power, not the government. What do you say to that? 
I ask you, who has real power anyway? I ask you, who does decide on power in the world?

There has been talk of adding more forces to the current ECOWAS forces deployed in Guinea-Bissau. Would that work?
For the world to be preoccupied with a place like this, where there is no need for foreign forces and where there is peace, it makes no sense. Let them send their troops where there is a need, to Mali and to Syria, for example. If the U.N. is not concerned with these countries, why is it concerning itself with Guinea-Bissau? Do you see anyone being killed in the street here? No. What’s the problem? Let them go to Syria instead.

If Carlos Gomes Jr. were to come back, would the former Prime Minister be safe? 
We would not be responsible for Carlos Gomes Jr.’s security on his return. If he were to come back, he’d be responsible for his own security. I repeat, if he were to come back, whatever happened to him would be his own or the U.N.’s responsibility.

When do you expect a new round of elections? 
If the U.N. continues to instigate trouble in Guinea-Bissau, people will not have enough time to prepare for elections. With the transitional period standing at one year, if the troubles continue, then how can we prepare in time for elections? They must pipe down and allow us to organize the elections freely with the current government.

The first problem is why they are granting [the deposed interim President] Raimundo Pereira a voice at the U.N. [General Assembly] when he has been dismissed by a coup — how can he speak on behalf of the people? Who is he reporting to? He has been absent for 90 days. I call that trouble.

How do you consider U.S. politics with a view to Guinea-Bissau? 
Very, very positive.

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I have read a lot about the April 12 coup but would like to hear about it from you. Why did you organize a coup? 
We didn’t organize a coup, we organized a countercoup. Do you know the origins of this coup? Angola and Carlos Gomes Jr. Would America allow a foreign army with heavier weapons than them inside the United States? We said [to Angola], Either you give these weapons to us, or, if not, leave the country and we will continue with cooperation between our two countries in the future. They said no, and only reinforced their own weaponry. I’m asking you, in light of this, what is the origin of the coup? Angola and Carlos Gomes Jr.

If we hadn’t organized a coup before them, they’d have reinforced their troops here and arrested us. The intention of Carlos Gomes Jr. was to have international forces to add to the Angolan troops, which meant they could have struck us down at any time. I drew [Carlos Gomes Jr.'s] attention to this more than 20 times — I said not to bring Angolan troops here. This is why we organized a coup. I didn’t ask that he remove the Angolan troops, just that he solve the problem of the weapons.

I’ve heard people in the street say that the coup represents a failure of democracy. 
Of course I agree the coup is a failure of democracy. A coup has no place in a democracy. But if you have no other means of escape, you have to look for a solution. For example, if I took you and locked you in this room with my weapon and I were to shoot, how would you react? You’d want to escape, and you might break down the door — you’d take any means that you could in order to get out.

We removed just two people — the Prime Minister and the President. Where else does that exist, that a coup d’état happens and no one dies? Not one. Since they didn’t want to take our advice, we said leave or you will be dismissed.

(PHOTOS: Guinea-Bissau: World’s First Narco-State)

The head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Yuri Fedotov, said last week that drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau has increased since the coup. What are your observations on that? 
We are requesting that they send a special mission to investigate and evidence this, to see where and when the drugs have come through here since April, and whether it really has increased or not. The representative of the U.N. here is a crook — he’s the brother-in-law of Cadogo [a nickname for Carlos Gomez Jr.]. All this information has been prepared by [Joseph] Mutabobo [the U.N.’s special representative to Guinea-Bissau] — if I were the government, I’d consider him persona non grata. 

Some say that the chief of the armed forces in Guinea-Bissau is involved in drug trafficking: How do you respond to that? 
Show me the proof. I tell you, all the people who are providing this information are crooks. Because I didn’t obey Carlos Gomes Jr., they are chasing me out of the country. I want proof — let them provide that proof.

Was Carlos Gomes Jr. involved in the death of President João Bernardo “Nino” Vieira? 
I don’t know. That is political.

Were you involved? 
For what? Why should I be involved in that? This is no more than the gossip on the street. If I wasn’t in power at that time, how should I know? I wasn’t the chief of staff then. Let us ask Carlos Gomes Jr., the former Prime Minister.

There is a history of conflict between the military and civilian government in Guinea-Bissau. What is it that the military wants? 
There is no misunderstanding between us — the only problem was the weaponry brought by the Angolans. This was the only misunderstanding we had.

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