Correia, an ethnic Balanta war hero, was an African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) activist from the days of Portuguese colonial control — which only ended in 1974.
He was among the revolutionary council that governed the country after Joao Bernardo (Nino) Vieira‘s 1980 coup d’etat.*
This latter strongman was finally assassinated in 2009, but in the interim he was one of the world’s most plotted-against heads of state — in no small part because he came from a tiny ethnic group, and had a fraught relationship with military brass from the plurality (but not majority) Balanta. Vieira needed Balanta officers like Correia to keep the army on his team. Balanta officers like Correia had to wonder whether they needed Vieira.
Correia had perhaps been involved in a 1982 coup attempt that got a tank commander executed, but such was the danger to Vieira of alienating the Balanta (and Correia’s personal following in the military) that rather than face prosecution, he was simply shifted from Minister of the Armed Forces to the less martial post of Minister of Rural Development in the aftermath. Two years later, still trying to keep his treacherous officer inside the tent pissing out, Vieira took him on as Vice-President.
Despite these relative concessions, however, neither Correia nor his fellow military men were thwarted in their drive to augment their power, and in November I985 they planned to overthrow the regime and to install Correia as President and [Balanta lawyer] Viriato Pan as Vice-President. Correia and about one dozen Balanta were immediately arrested before their coup could be implemented; a total of 53 accused conspirators were later convicted, including Correia and Pan, who were both executed along with four others in July 1986.**
“This event,” reports Human Rights Library, “is vividly remembered in Bissau, where rumor has it that Correia’s eyes were gouged out before he was shot. True or not, this belief is clear evidence of the gruesome reputation of the security forces.”
* Just a captain at the time of the 1980 coup, Correia was a colonel at the time of his execution.
** Joshua B. Forrest, “Guinea-Bissau since Independence: A Decade of Domestic Power Struggles,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, March 1987.