The CIA spent more than 20 years worrying about Dom Mintoff, initially fearing he would “try a coup” and later that his party would “rig” the 1987 elections and “cling to power”. At one point, the US even decided to encourage support for the Nationalist Party to prevent further “authoritarian” escalation in Malta, all the while creating best and worst case scenarios for the post-Mintoff era.
The details emerge from declassified CIA documents that were released online last night. Some 13 million pages of documents were published after a lawsuit against the CIA called on them to publish documents previously only accessible on a few computers at the National Archives in Maryland.
[They feared] he would “try a coup” and later that his party would “rig” the 1987 elections and “cling to power”.
Dom Mintoff, who dominated Maltese politics for more than 50 years, was elected Prime Minister in 1955 but was replaced by PN’s George Borg Olivier in 1962 until he was re-elected again in 1971. Mintoff then remained in power until 1984, when he handed over to his deputy Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici who eventually led the party to defeat in 1987.
In October 1964, a month after Malta gained Independence, the CIA wrote a secret Special Report entitled The Outlook For An Independent Malta.
“Should Mintoff again come to power – and his present chances are not bad – the outlook would be more bleak. There are already some Communists in the MLP, and there is no reason to believe that Mintoff will give up either his anti-Western proclivities or his authoritarian inclinations. Even though he has a good prospect of coming to power legally, there has been concern in the past that he would try a coup, and this can by no means be discounted now. In any case, he may well try another series of harassing demonstrations, particularly after he has had time to build up current low morale in the MLP.”
“There are already some Communists in the MLP, and there is no reason to believe that Mintoff will give up either his anti-Western proclivities or his authoritarian inclinations.”
When Mintoff regained power democratically in 1971, the CIA’s analysis thawed somewhat, describing his main objective as being to “stimulate the economy and provide a higher standard of living for the Maltese people”.
In 1979, the CIA’s main fear was the Soviets getting a foothold in Malta. By then Mintoff had already “outwitted his opposition” for the better part of 30 years and the agency was getting antsy.
By 1980, the CIA had begun to understand the charisma and achievements of Mintoff: “The Prime Minister has become something of a folk hero for his role in ridding the country of a foreign military presence. His forceful and charismatic personality, his widely acknowledged skill as a political organizer, and his tight grip on the dominant Labor Party put him at a distinct advantage over his strongly pro-West but largely ineffective Nationalist Party opposition. Under his leadership Malta’s economy has remained relatively healthy; unemployment is low, monetary reserves are rather high and the inflation rate is respectable.”
But it was toward the end of Mintoff’s career as Prime Minister that the CIA really started to get worried about Malta’s prospects.
A year after he handed over power to Mifsud Bonnici, the CIA wrote a 42-page report about US Policy Toward Malta, outlining their concerns.
“Malta shows a trend toward authoritarian government and a more centralised economy. These trends make a Nationalist Party return to power more difficult, and also tend to discourage Western business firms from investing in Malta…The opposition Nationalist Party, more popular than the ruling Malta Labor Party, hopes to regain power via the 1987 elections. There is a serious threat, however, that the MLP will thwart the democratic process and cling to power.”
“Since 1981 there has been an erosion of human rights and democracy, exemplified by intimidation for the press and judiciary as well as some violence against the NP,” the report concluded.
In February 1986, a memo signed by then US President Ronald Reagan signed off a document that summarised the US policy toward Malta.
“This directive defines US policy toward Malta in light of Malta’s move to enhance ties to Libya and the Soviet bloc, accompanied by an increasingly authoritarian style of government. The situation warrants close US monitoring, consultation with our Allies, and a modest expansion of US resources designed to help keep Malta nonaligned and free from foreign exploitation or domination.”
One of the memo’s key objectives was to “encourage support for the Nationalist party and any democratically inclined members of the Maltese Labour Party”.
The CIA also kind of predicted the rise of Joseph Muscat, or someone like him, who would rise from a Labour’s rather depressing post-Mintoff era and unite his party.