Coup Plot Uncovered in Tiny, Oil-Rich African Nation The opposition leader of Equatorial Guinea is in a Spanish jail. Severo Moto was arrested in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the oil-rich country's government using a shipment of weapons intercepted in Spain. Equatorial Guinea is Africa's third largest exporter of crude oil.
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Coup Plot Uncovered in Tiny, Oil-Rich African Nation

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Coup Plot Uncovered in Tiny, Oil-Rich African Nation

Coup Plot Uncovered in Tiny, Oil-Rich African Nation

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90268421/90268398" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The president of the government in exile of Equatorial Guinea is in jail in Spain. Spanish police detained Severo Moto last month for attempting to organize a coup in the tiny African nation. Earlier this week, Moto began a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. His supporters say the arrest was politically motivated allegedly to protect Spain's oil interests in its former colony. In recent years, it's become Africa's third largest exporter of crude oil.

Jerome Socolovsky reports from Madrid.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Oil fields were discovered off Equatorial Guinea in the 1990s. Now the country earns billions of dollars a year in revenues. The country's president and his entourage live in luxurious palaces and have multi-million dollar homes in the United States. The members of the government in exile in Spain live modestly by comparison. Armengol Engonga meets me at a café in Madrid after a day's work at an engineering job.

Mr. ARMENGOL ENGONGA (Vice President in Exile, Equatorial Guinea): (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: He sits at a small table in the corner and takes out a business card that identifies him as vice president in exile and minister of hydrocarbons. Engonga recalls meeting Severo Moto, the 64-year-old president in exile, on April 16 at his home near Toledo.

Mr. ENGONGA: (Through translator) We were having a walk, like we do every time I see him. Two policemen showed up on the sidewalk in front of his house. They showed their badges and said, Are you Senor Moto? You're under arrest.

SOCOLOVSKY: A week and a half earlier police had found a car with weapons at a marina near Valencia. Spanish reports say they were meant to be used in a coup attempt against Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang. Obiang himself took power in a 1979 coup.

Severo Moto initially served in Obiang's cabinet. He came to Spain in 1981 after falling out with the current president. Much of the evidence against Moto is still being kept secret by Spain's national court. But according to the imprisonment order, police found three vintage firearms in the car's trunk, along with about 100 cartridges. Engonga scoffs.

Mr. ENGONGA: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: It's an insult to anybody's intelligence. They say there was a Mauser rifle from the Second World War, another used Spanish rifle and a pistol. And none of the bullets even fit the three weapons. And for that they call him an arms trafficker and treat him like a terrorist?

A court in Equatorial Guinea has convicted Moto in absentia for instigating a 2004 overthrow attempt involving foreign mercenaries. Mark Thatcher, son of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was one of those arrested. He's pleaded guilty in South Africa to unwittingly helping to finance the plot.

A month before Moto's arrest, the supreme court in Madrid blocked the Spanish government's attempt to deport him on account of his involvement in the alleged coup attempts. The Madrid newspaper El Pais says there've now been five.

Engonga says this is a farce and accuses the Spanish government of doing the Obiang regime's bidding.

Mr. ENGONGA: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: The Spanish press can say anything they want, the vice president in exile says. What's been demonstrated is that the only coup attempt that's been attempted and carried out was by Teodoro Obiang. Every time they have an election they always make something up and accuse the opposition of attempting a coup.

There were parliamentary elections in Equatorial Guinea just last weekend. The government announced yesterday that Obiang's Democratic Party won with nearly 100 percent of the vote.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

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