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Forum LockedCuba fights in Africa

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    Posted: 19-Sep-2007 at 11:46
Latin America is famous for the interventions of foreign powers in its territory. Spanish, Portugueses, Brits, Dutchs and French, all took chunck of these territories for colonization and some still have under its grips, without forgetting that the U.S. has invaded several times Latin American countries; considered by some in that country the "backyard" of the superpower.
Latin America usually don't intervine outside the continent. The claim of Easter Island by Chile, the Latinos that fought in the Spanish Civil War and the participation of Brazil in the Second World War, beside the U.N. missions of today, are more the exception than the rule. However, during the Cold War, Cuba, a close ally of the Soviet Union, decided to intervine in Africa.
Although the title "Back to the Motherland" is pretty absurd. Cuba is, with Dominican Republic, the more "African" countries in Latin America, in terms of genetic. However, Cuba is a Hispanic country, no matter half its population is mixed. The rest was just a trick of propaganda to propel the fight for communism overseas.
The enemies in Africa were the South Africans. Cubans versus South Africans engaged in a war that not many people know. Cubans were defending the Angolans and communism and South Africans counted with the support of the United States, in deffence of "democracy".
For those that could believe this was a "racial" war, just don't jump to that conclusion. Most Cubans are Spanish rather than Black, and most South African troops were Black mercenaries.
The point is other. What the heck was Castro thinking when started this adventure. He won in Africa but the embargo is still going on LOL
Nelson Mandela, though, recognized that the intervention of Cuba in Africa it was a turning point

Back to the Motherland:
Cuba in Africa

by Christian Parenti

Angola is by most accounts a decimated, nearly hopeless land, ruined by more than three decades of war. But there was a moment in the mid-seventies when this former Portuguese colony shone as a beacon of hope for all Africa. It was here that the mythic power of white military supremacy was smashed by black troops from Angola and Cuba. And though the role of Cuban volunteers in this victory inspired Africans and left internationals everywhere, the details of the story have remained largely hidden and even in Cuba, uncelebrated.

Historian Piero Gleijeses’ new book, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959–1976, recovers this politically far away time. It is a truly impressive accomplishment, based on ten years of research using declassified U.S. intelligence, interviews with principal players, and most importantly, vaults of never before revealed Cuban documents from the Communist Party Central Committee, armed forces, and foreign ministry. This highly detailed but superbly told story recounts Cuba’s many bold, often noble, sometimes successful interventions in Africa. The operations ranged from briefly aiding revolutionary Algeria under Ahmed Ben Bella; fighting and doctoring with Amilcar Cabral’s guerrillas in Guinea Bissau; and Che’s lost year in the Congo with the demoralized rank and file of Laurent Kabila’s Simbas; to Cuba’s finest hour, outgunned and outnumbered, on the battlefields of Angola. This last adventure forms the heart of the book and was Cuba’s largest engagement, thus its details are worth recounting.

On October 14, 1975, as Angolan independence approached and the civil war tipped in favor of the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the South African armored column Zulu crossed into Angola. Made up of white troops from the South African Defense Forces (SADF) assisted by several thousand black mercenaries, Zulu rolled over the MPLA’s few defenses and started racing for the capital, Luanda. Joining Zulu came a second column, Foxbat, airlifted into the central Angolan town of Silva Porto—a gangster’s Shangri La and home to the warlord Jonas Savimbi and his murderous National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Meanwhile, from the north came another anticommunist guerilla army, Holden Roberto’s National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), which was saturated with CIA personnel, South African military advisors, and Zairian troops, plus some Portuguese and British soldiers of fortune.

This secret invasion code named “Operation Savanna” was just the culmination of an older U.S.-backed, Kissinger-approved program of covert action which had begun half a year earlier when it became clear that an exhausted Portugal was giving up on its colonial project and that the Marxist MPLA would win the civil war between itself and the two anticommunist groups, UNITA and the FNLA. Formal decolonization was set for November 11, 1975, and the CIA/South African invasion was an attempt to steal Angola away from the MPLA before that legitimizing date.

Also on the ground were five hundred volunteer Cuban military advisors who had been training and fighting alongside the MPLA for the last two months, but many of this number were in the country’s detached northern oil-rich enclave, Cabinda. The speed and secrecy of the South African blitzkrieg stunned both the MPLA leadership and the Cubans. Less than three weeks after invading, Zulu was almost upon Luanda, yet the head of the Cuban military mission, Diaz Argüeselles, still did not grasp the magnitude of the situation. As Gleijeses explains: “There were no Cubans in southern Angola, so he had no clear idea of the strength of the column and he did not realize that it included South African troops.”

A few days later, the Cubans and the MPLA leadership were disabused of their confusion when all the coastal highway towns south of Luanda had fallen to Zulu. Within hours it became clear to the MPLA and their Cuban comrades on the ground—and then to Fidel and his brother Raul Castro—that they must choose either to abandon Angola to the ravages of South Africa and its proxy warlords or send immediate reinforcements. After consulting with Raul and a few top aids, Fidel dispatched 430 members of the Special Forces and an artillery regiment. Most would go by boat arriving in about a week, but a vanguard detachment of 158 elite Cuban commandos and heavy weapons specialists dressed in civilian clothes boarded two passenger planes and took off for Angola.

Before they left Fidel met them on the tarmac. “He spoke most of all about the South African invasion,” recalled one veteran of the operation. “He said that some of the Cuban instructors had died, that it was a difficult situation, that we must stop the South Africans before they reached Luanda and that many of us would not return. He said that it was very hard for him to say this and not go with us.” Even more chilling were the final instructions: fight with the MPLA, if the MPLA lost the capital go to the hills and fight on, if the MPLA gave up—only then, if possible—the survivors should fall back to Zambia where Cuba had a new embassy.

After two stops for refueling, the Special Forces touched down in Luanda under the cover of night and immediately raced to the nearby bluff-top village of Quifandongo from which the MPLA was guarding the capital with several hundred of its best troops, some artillery pieces and six Soviet-made rocket launchers. Just outside Quifandongo lay Holden Roberto’s FNLA, a host of 3,500 mounted on trucks, tanks, and mobile artillery, massing for their final assault on Luanda.

But here fate and the megalomaniacal hubris of the CIA’s pet, Roberto, intervened. As one of the South African veterans of the operation wrote: “Unlike Savimbi who...relied on his South African advisors’ professional knowledge, Roberto insisted on going his own way.” As high-flying South African bombers attempted to soften up the village, the attacking foreigners suggested a flanking maneuver but “Roberto shrugged off all such subterfuges in favor of an advance straight down what later became known as Road.’ ”

The FNLA forces—described by a South African veteran as a “hoard of partly trained...tribesmen...Portuguese mercenaries...[and] faint-hearted Zairians...” held together by a few SADF officers and CIA advisors—lined up on the road to attack as a convoy. Greeting them was an awful hail of Cuban controlled artillery. As one discouraged white advisor later wrote, “one by one the armored cars were knocked out.” Mauled and panicked, the attackers scattered.

From there, half the Cubans turned south and ambushed Column Zulu. Put in check, the column tried an end run around the Cubans but was ambushed again. This time, caught on a long open stretch of road surrounded by impassable monsoon-soaked terrain, the South African tanks and trucks were smashed to pieces. From then on Zulu’s war was a fighting retreat home. By March 27, 1976, the last SADF tanks rolled back across the Namibian border where then defense minister, and future South African president, P. W. Botha watched and saluted through “a cloud of dust.”

News of South Africa’s humiliation in Angola swept the bantustans electrifying and emboldening ANC activists and youth. A few months later the ghetto of Soweto exploded, marking the beginning of the end of apartheid.

Impressive as it may be, the Cuban adventure in Angola was only one piece of a truly audacious African foreign policy. Gleijeses makes a convincing case that Cuba was not a Soviet pawn in Angola or elsewhere. In fact, in the majority of these interventions the Cubans played a leading role, sometimes acting against the wishes of the Soviet Union. In Angola, for example, the MPLA had been requesting direct military intervention—troops—from both the USSR and the Cubans starting in early 1975. But these socialist states held off: Cuba for fear of antagonizing the United States; the USSR in the hope of achieving a new arms agreement.

When Cuba finally acted it did so without consulting the Soviets. And when the Russian “elder brothers” were presented with the fait accompli of Cuban troops duking it out with South African invaders, requests from Castro and the MPLA for military aid contained as much blackmail as they did supplication. What were the Russians to do—let the Cubans sink? Of course once the tide had turned, the independence date had come, and South Africa had finally been exposed in the western press as the aggressor, the USSR was happy to help out. In this regard, Gleijeses makes the point that Cuba was to the USSR as Israel is to the United States: financially dependent, smaller, and weaker, but very often in the lead and calling the shots.

Cuba’s interventions weren’t always victorious. Che’s year in what is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo was a socialist Heart of Darkness. Che’s host, the dashing, seemingly committed Laurent Kabila turned out to be a soft, jet-setting fundraiser who frequented foreign capitals while his troops languished in the jungles around Lake Tanganyika. Che tried to turn things around but Kabila’s Simbas (meaning lions) preferred to lay low while a U.S.-backed army of white mercenaries supported by Cuban-American pilots had its way with the geographic heart of Africa. Likewise a leftist coup in the nearby French Congo turned out to be heavy on radical pronouncements but light on actual socialist forward motion. The Cuban mission there—to train a more left-leaning popular militia—ended after a rightwing coup.

What makes Conflicting Missions such an important and compelling book is its truly commanding array of obscure and exotic sources. The ultimate prizes are the declassified Cuban communications, reports, and diaries, as well as the interviews with Cuban veterans whose voices are heard here for the first time. And it is these sources that tell the previously obscured stories of Cuba in Africa, particularly in Guinea Bissau and Angola. So thorough is Gleijeses’ research that he frequently takes the reader on little archival detours to cross-reference, re-check and eventually debunk many a flimsy source. For example, Gleijeses proves that Dariel AlarcF3n (alias Beningo), a former associate of Che Guevara’s who now lives in France, is a liar. Vouched for by Regis Debray, AlarcF3n is important because Jorge Castaneda relies heavily and uncritically on AlarcF3n in writing his controversial biography of Che. More specifically AlarcF3n via Castaneda claimed that Che and Fidel had a major falling out that led to Che’s death by way of suicide missions, first in the Congo then in Bolivia. But, as Gleijeses shows, AlarcF3n was not at a key meeting where the rift supposedly occurred, nor was AlarcF3n, contrary to his many assertions, even in Africa with Guevara.

As for the many flimsy and ridiculous claims of mainstream U.S. newspapers and politicians, they too are triangulated and then methodically destroyed by bombardment with multiple, cross-referenced counter sources. The veracity of State Department and CIA intelligence reports, on the other hand, are often corroborated by interviews and other intelligence sources excavated from previously secret Cuban, European, and East European archives. All of which, once again, goes to show that there is frequently a massive gulf between what U.S. government agencies know and what they say. After all, one discourse is for making policies, the other is for selling them.

A particularly interesting, but little examined, subplot in Conflicting Missions is the strangely personalistic and ad hoc nature of Cuban relations with African states and movements. The Cubans risked all for leaders they liked and respected while often suffering chilly relations with groups that might seem their natural allies. Che set the initial tone in most of these cases during his diplomatic barnstorming through Africa in late 1964 and early 1965. At times the connections and near misses seem counterintuitive. For example, Che offended and alienated the very Marxist, Cuban-oriented Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, but quickly bonded with the ideologically more eclectic, more social democratic, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau’s liberation movement. In later years this meant scant Cuban involvement in Mozambique and a huge military and medical assistance package for Cabral’s forces in Guinea Bissau.

A final question remains: why did Cuba risk military defeat, confrontation with the United States, and ill repute in the West? Gleijeses’ answers are multifaceted and always crosschecked between CIA/State Department and Cuban sources. Most important in the whole picture—whether one likes it or not—is Castro’s ideological commitment. Throughout the CIA and State Department documents Gleijeses finds descriptions of Castro as “first of all a revolutionary,” “a compulsive revolutionary,” with a “fanatical devotion to his cause,” motivated by “a messianic sense of mission.” One report stated that Castro believed he was “engaged in a great crusade.”

Added to this was another logic—to survive Cuba needed friends. As one of the only Marxist-Leninist revolutions in the third world, life was rough. Two, three, many Cubas would help defuse and check imperialist aggression and perhaps deliver a modus vivendi with the United States. Ultimately, this book humanizes Cuban foreign policy, complicates the standard Cold War history and, in a realistic scholarly fashion, gives credit where credit is due.

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Another account:

A History Worthy of Pride
Dr. Piero Gleijeses,
Professor of US Foreign Policy, Johns Hopkins University
Photos: Ediciones Verde Olivo
CubaNews, July 18, 2005

The role of Cuba in the world since 1959 is unprecedented.[1] For more than four decades, Castro has challenged and humiliated the imperial arrogance of the United States. In the 1960’s, the fear of a second Cuba in Latin America dogged the leaders of the United States and impelled the creation of the Alliance for Progress. Since the end of the 1970’s until the end of the 80’s, Havana maintained a strong presence alongside those who fought for revolutionary change in Central America. 

The arrival of 36,000 Cuban soldiers in Angola between November 1975 and March 1976 astonished the world; however, it was only one stage along the road beginning in 1959 that had taken the Cubans to Algeria, the Congo Leopoldville (later called Zaire), the Congo Brazzaville and Guinea-Bissau.[2]

At the beginning of the 60’s, the Cuban leaders saw similarities between the Algerian revolution against French colonial domination and their own struggle against Fulgencio Batista and the United States. In December 1961, a Cuban ship took weapons to Casablanca for the Algerian rebels. It returned to Havana with 78 wounded guerilla fighters and 20 children from refugee camps. The epic struggle of Cubans in Africa had begun. The assistance continued after Algeria achieved its independence in 1962. In May 1963, a 55 member Cuban medical company arrived in Algiers. Just as it would be for all the missions that followed, up until 1978, the help was free. And in October 1963, when Morocco attacked Algeria, the Cubans rapidly deployed a contingent of 686 soldiers with heavy weapons in defense of the Algerians. This occurred despite the fact that Rabat had just signed a contract with Havana for the purchase of a million tons of sugar valued at $184 million dollars — a considerable sum of hard currency in a moment that United States was trying to paralyze Cuban foreign trade.

The concern of Cuba towards sub-Saharan Africa was intensified at the end of 1964. The guerilla fighters fought in the Portuguese colonies of Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. In Congo Brazzaville, the new government proudly proclaimed its revolutionary sympathies. Above all, there was Zaire — where the armed revolt extended surprisingly quickly beginning in the spring of 1964. This was a threat to the survival of the corrupt régime that presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had been able to impose. To save the Zairian régime, the Johnson administration dispatched an army of a thousand white mercenaries in a broad ”covert” operation that everybody knew about — except for the US press. This produced a wave of indignation, even among those African leaders who had good relations with the United States. For the Cubans, the conflict was not only an African problem. “Our view was that the problem of the Congo [Zaire] was a problem of the whole world,” wrote Che Guevara.[3]

In December 1964, Che Guevara went to Africa on a three-month trip that evidenced the increased interest of Havana in the region. In February 1965, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Che came to an agreement with the rebellious Zairians that Cuba would send a group of instructors to help them in their struggle. In April, a Cuban column of about 120 men under Che´s orders entered eastern Zaire through Tanzania. Some weeks later, a second Cuban column under Jorge Risquet’s control arrived in neighboring Congo Brazzaville at the request of the government of that country. The government was living “in fear” of an attack by CIA-backed mercenaries. The column had a more strategic task. As Raúl Castro pointed out “it was Che’s reserve column” that would spring upon the opportunity as soon it presented itself.[4] In the summer of 1965 there were 400 Cuban soldiers in central Africa.

But central Africa was not ready for the revolution. When the Cubans arrived in Zaire, the mercenaries had practically defeated the rebellion. The history of Che’s column is not one of major combat, but of the good sense of 120 men who were in an impossible situation in a world completely alien to them, but who maintained their humanity and behaved with discipline and commitment to the end. In November 1965, after the final collapse of the rebellion, the Cuban column left Zaire. Meanwhile, in the Congo Brazzaville, Risquet’s column stopped a military coup in June 1966 by means of daring and diplomacy, and without spilling a drop of blood. The Cuban doctors who were a part of the column carried out the first vaccination campaign against poliomyelitis in the country and 254 young Congolese went to Cuba to study — with Cuba covering all the expenses. In December 1966, the column returned to Cuba, although the Congolese government asked them to stay. Risquet understood, and made Havana understand, that there was no revolution in Congo Brazzaville. “He took us out at the opportune moment,” observed his second in command. “He knew how to be flexible.”[5]  

The end of the 1960’s was a period of growing maturation in the relationship between Cuba and Africa. In those years — until 1974 — Cuba’s focus in the continent was centered on Guinea-Bissau, where PAIGC guerilla fighters were fighting to liberate their country from the yoke of Portuguese colonialism. At the request of the PAIGC, Cuban military instructors came to Guinea-Bissau in 1966 and stayed until the end of the war in 1974. This was the longest Cuban operation in Africa until the dispatching of troops to Angola in 1975; and it was also the most successful. According to the words of the first president of Guinea-Bissau, “we knew that we could fight and triumph because other countries and people supported us ... with weapons, with medicines, with supplies... But there is a country that, besides material, political and diplomatic support sent their sons and daughters to fight on our side, to spill their blood in our earth alongside that of the best children of our homeland. This great people, this heroic people, we all know is the heroic people of Cuba, the Cuba of Fidel Castro, the Cuba of the Sierra Maestra, the Cuba of Moncada ... Cuba sent its best youth here to help us in the technical aspects of our war, to help us carry out this great struggle ... against Portuguese colonialism.”[6]

The only foreigners who fought with the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau were the Cubans. Likewise, throughout the duration of this long war, the only foreign doctors in the guerilla areas were Cuban (with a single and fleeting exception), and there were no Guinean doctors up until 1968. “The Cuban doctors really made a miracle”, said Francisca Pereira, a health worker of the PAIGC. She observed, “I am eternally grateful to them. Not only did they save lives, but also they risked their own. They were truly selfless.”[7]

The Cubans who went to Africa did so voluntarily. The mystic of the guerrilla war motivated them. “We dreamed about revolution” one meditated. “We wanted to be part of it, to feel that we fought for it. We were young and the children of a revolution.” The volunteers didn’t receive public praise in Cuba. They left “knowing that their history would remain secret.”[8] They didn’t win medals or receive material rewards. Upon their return they could not boast about their feats because what they had done was secret.

The North Americans knew that the Cubans were in Africa — in Algeria, Zaire, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau — but, as the US ambassador in Conakry observed from his position as an observer of the war in neighboring Guinea-Bissau, “the Cuban presence didn’t worry the State Department.” In its arrogance, the US could not imagine that such a small and poor country could play an important role in a distant continent. This helps us to understand why the US was amazed by the arrival of Cuban troops in Angola in 1975. “It was a true surprise,” observed Paul O’ Nelly, the manager of the Southern African Office of the Department of State from 1973 to 1975. “I don’t recall if we knew of the ties between Cuba and the MPLA, but even if we had, they would not have worried us.” [9]

These ties had been drawn tighter in 1965, when Che met with Agostinho Neto, Lúcio Lara, and other leaders of the MPLA in Brazzaville in an “historic encounter”, as Raúl Castro called it. “We spoke, we debated,” Lara remembers. “We only wanted one thing: the Cuban instructors. The war was becoming difficult and we didn’t have experience ... Guevara promised that he would speak with his Party and his government so that instructors would be sent to us.”[10] Risquet’s column trained MPLA guerillas fighters in the Congo and some of the Cubans were with the MPLA in the Angolan enclave of Cabinda acting as advisors, instructors, and combatants, forging bonds that would never be forgotten.

In 1966, the MPLA pulled out of Cabinda and centered its efforts on a new front in the east of Angola that would open up starting from the frontier with Zambia. There was no longer reason for the Cubans to stay in the Congo. Nor could instructors be sent to the new front in the east of Angola due to opposition from Zambia.

When the Portuguese dictatorship was overthrown on April 25, 1974, the MPLA faced the ambitions of the FNLA that, according to the CIA chief stationed in Luanda, “was directed by corrupt men, completely lacking principles.” MPLA also would have to face the UNITA of Jonas Savimbi, a commander whose devouring passion was absolute power. Civil war exploded in the spring of 1975. As the November 11th independence day approached, the MPLA was winning and conquering the FNLA-UNITA coalition. They were winning not because of help from Cuban troops (there were no Cubans yet fighting in Angola) or because of superior armaments (the FNLA and UNITA had a slight advantage in weapons thanks to help from the United States and South Africa). The MPLA was winning because, just as the Luanda CIA chief said, the MPLA was by far the most disciplined and dedicated of the three movements. The leaders of the MPLA were more effective, better educated, better trained and more motivated than those of the FNLA and UNITA; “their supporters were also more motivated.”[11]

To prevent the MPLA victory, South African troops — in a column called “Zulu” — invaded Angola on October 14th, transforming the civil war into an international conflict. South Africa was well aware of the unwavering hostility of Neto toward apartheid and his commitment to aid the Southern African liberation movements. Even so, it is possible that Pretoria would not have invaded had there not been the prompting of Washington. 
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had decided that Angola could provide an easy victory that would lift the prestige of United States — and his own — after having been defeated by the communists in Vietnam the preceding April. He presented the struggle in Angola in classic cold war terms: the FNLA and the UNITA — supported by the West — would crush the MPLA that was backed by the Soviet Union (in fact, Soviet assistance to the MPLA was very limited because Moscow distrusted Neto and did not wish to endanger the SALT II Treaty negotiations). 

While the South Africans advanced quickly toward Luanda, the MPLA resistance collapsed in the face of the enormous military superiority of the invading forces. Zulu would have taken the city if Castro had not decided, on November 4, to send troops in response to an urgent request from the MPLA. The Cubans, accompanied by the young armed forces of the newly formed Popular Republic of Angola, checked the South African advance. They later pushed Zulu back until, on March 27, 1976, the last South African troops retreated to Namibia.

Angola expanded Castro’s horizons. In Ethiopia, in 1978, 16,000 Cuban soldiers helped to repel the invading Somali army. Tens of thousands of Cubans remained in Angola during the 1980’s, offering invaluable assistance. Smaller Cuban military companies served in the Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Benin. The Cuban military instructors trained Namibian, Rhodesian and South African guerrillas.
I have presented this outline of Cuban policies in Africa to be able to reflect upon the motivations behind these policies. However, I should explain the limits of my sources.
I have carried out extensive research in Cuban archives, but I only had access to documentation referring to Cuba’s policies in relation to Africa. I have also not been able to interview the key people who directed these policies — Fidel and Raúl Castro. My investigation has been limited to the period 1959-1976, with an important exception, the relations with Angola that I have studied until the end of the 1980’s.[12]
I have examined the policies of Cuba not only through Cuban documents but also through the eyes of non-friendly governments — combing the files of the US, Great Britain, Belgium and Western Germany — and of through the eyes of the government of the German Democratic Republic, a sensitive and difficult friend whose perceptions very closely reflected the perceptions of the USSR (there is no declassified material of value on this theme in Russian archives). I have supplemented my archival research with interviews of more than 160 people — Cuban, American and African; and I have reviewed press reports from 30 countries in the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Africa.
It is interesting to point out that during the 1960’s, while the leaders of the United States denounced Cuba as a Soviet puppet, the analysts of the CIA and the State Department’s Office of Intelligence and Investigations (INR) pointed out the resistance of Castro to Soviet counsel and his open critiques of the USSR. An analysis from 1968, which reflected the consensus of the intelligence services, concluded, “Castro does not have the intention of being subordinated to Soviet discipline and direction, and he has increasingly disagreed with Soviet concepts, strategies and theories.”[13] Castro also criticized the Soviet Union for dogmatism and opportunism, being stingy in its assistance to the governments and liberation movements of the Third World, and excessively anxious to accommodate the United States. He did not hide his dislike toward the inadequate assistance from the Soviet Union to North Vietnam, and in Latin America he pursued policies that clashed with the desires of Moscow. The reports of the CIA and of INR unceasingly discussed the motivations of Cuba in Africa and Latin America, and neither of them once indicated that the Cubans were acting at the request of the Soviet Union.

Therefore, if we eliminate the Soviet “ingredient,” what were the Cuban political motivations? What do the enemies say?
The analysts of the CIA and the INR pointed out that the two decisive factors of Cuban foreign policy were self-defense and idealism. In terms of self-defense, US intelligence analysts did not have qualms recognizing that Castro had repeatedly outlined his will to explore a modus vivendi with United States — in 1961, 1963, and 1964. With the fleeting and very delicate exception of October-November 1963, the US always rejected his overtures. The United States answer was paramilitary operations against Cuba, murder attempts against Fidel Castro and the strangulation of the Cuban economy.
Then the Cubans reached a very blunt conclusion: if Washington insisted on aggression, the best defense would be the one of counterattack — not a direct frontal attack against the US, this of course would have been suicidal, but via paths in the Third World. Cuba would assist revolutionaries of the Third World everywhere possible, winning friends this way and weakening the US’s influence. Just as the CIA had said, Castro considered the survival of the revolution as dependant “on the emergence of ‘other Cubas’ ... [Castro thought] that United States would ultimately be forced to accept Cuba when it had to simultaneously face ‘several’ other revolutionary governments.”
When Che Guevara went to Africa in December 1964, US intelligence analysts emphasized this self-defense aspect. With much more wisdom than the later biographers of Che — particularly that of Jorge Castañeda, the former Mexican Secretary of State. They never said that Guevara was acting independently of Castro. On the contrary, the director of the State Department’s Office of Intelligence and Investigation, Thomas Hughes, observed that “the three month trip of Che Guevara to Africa is an important part of a new Cuban strategy.” This strategy, he explained, was based on the Cuban belief that Africa was ready for the revolution and that it was in Cuba’s interest to extend the revolution there. It would win new friends for Havana and would weaken the influence of United States on the continent. 
“It was almost a reflection,” said Victor Dreke, the second in command under Che in Zaire. “Cuba defended itself by attacking its aggressor. That was our philosophy. The Yankees were harassing us, so we went to face them along other roads in the world. We had to divide their forces, so that they could not pounce on us with all their power, or on any other country.”[15]

However, to explain Cuban activism in the 60’s only in terms of self-defense would be to deform reality — an error that US intelligence didn’t make.
There was a second decisive factor, just as the CIA and the INR frankly recognized: idealism, or a “sense of a revolutionary mission.”[16] As the president of the National Council on Accounting? National Accounting Office told the director of the CIA in September 1963, “[Castro] is above all a revolutionary.”[17] Report after report emphasized the same point: Castro was “a compulsive revolutionary,” a man with a “fanatic devotion toward his cause” who was “inspired by a messianic sense of mission.” He believed that he was “was immersed in a great crusade.” The people who surrounded him shared his sense of mission: “the revolution is their raison d’être.” Just as Hughes said, Castro and his compañeros were “dedicated revolutionaries, entirely convinced that one day they could catalyze radical change throughout Latin America and that they had to do it.”[18]

The Cuban leaders were convinced that their country had a special empathy with the Third World. Cuba was racially mixed, poor, and threatened by a powerful enemy. Culturally, it was Latin American and African. Therefore, it was a special hybrid: a socialist country with a Third World sensibility in a world that as Castro correctly said, was dominated by the conflict between the privileged and the impoverished, a struggle of humanity against “imperialism”,[19] and where the main dividing line was not between socialist and capitalist states, but between the developed and underdeveloped countries. 

These were, thus, the two motive forces of Cuban activism in the 60’s: self-defense and idealism. But did this continue being the case in the 70’s? Plus, concretely, how does it allow us to explain the dispatching of Cuban troops to Angola in November 1975?  

Documents sweepingly demonstrate that the shipment of Cuban troops was a rich example of two things: the independence of Cuba vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, and the idealism of Cuban foreign policy.  

Just as a high Soviet official said it in his memoirs, the Cubans sent their troops “on their own initiative and without consulting us.” In fact, the evidence is already so overwhelming that even Kissinger, who he loved to negate the Cubans saying that they were Soviet peons, reflected saying, “At that moment we thought that [Castro] was operating according to instructions from the Soviets,” he wrote in the last volume of his memoirs. “We could not imagine that he would act in such a provocative manner so far from his country unless Moscow pressured him for repayment of their military and economic support. The proof available today indicates that it was the opposite.”[20]

What was it then that motivated Castro’s daring decision to send troops to Angola? It was not the narrow interests of Cuba, and certainly not realpolitik. With his decision to send troops, Castro did more than to stop informing the Soviets — he challenged Moscow, because he knew very well that Brezhnev was opposed to it. The operation bore a serious military risk for Cuba. Pretoria, at the request of Wash-ington, could expand its intervention and the Cuban soldiers would have to face the full force of the South African army without any guarantee of Soviet help. He had to wait two months before Moscow began to offer basic necessary logistical help to transfer Cuban troops to Angola. Also, dispatching troops endangered Cuban relations with western countries at a moment in which they were notably improving: the United States was discussing a modus vivendi; the OAS had just lifted sanctions imposed on Cuba since 1964, and the countries of Western Europe were offering low interest development assistance loans. 

Realpolitik would have demanded that Cuba ignore the peremptory requests of Luanda and not send troops. Though a client of the Soviet Union, Castro was showing his independent mettle.
It was idealism that motivated the decision to send troops. The victory of the Pretoria-Washington axis would have meant more than the defeat of the MPLA, the old friend of Cuba. It would have meant the victory of apartheid and the reinforcement of white domination of the people of Southern Africa. It was a defining moment. Castro sent his soldiers. As Kissinger explains so well in his memoirs, “Castro was perhaps the most genuine revolutionary leader in power in those moments.”[21]

I do not know of any other country, in the modern epoch, for which idealism has been such a key component in its foreign policy. I do not know any other country than Cuba that for such a relatively long duration (17 years, if I limit myself to the period that I have investigated in depth) has demonstrated so much generosity and courage in its foreign policy. As one leader of the PAIGC said, “The Cubans understood better than anyone that they had the duty to fight and help their sisters and brothers to be free.”[22]

There is something more: the Cubans treated movements and governments that depended largely on their help with deference. This was something that I had not imagined when I began my research, because I had never before encountered that in the foreign policy of other countries. I did not believe that this could be possible. In relation to the PAIGC, the MPLA, or the government of Angola, Cuba was a large power and a benefactor; but it acted with a sense of respect that I believe is the only instance in the annals of the conduct of larger powers in relation to those who depend on their help. The Cuban government’s behavior was equaled by the behavior of the Cubans on the ground. In all moments, the Cubans showed a sensibility and empathy that made them different, as much different from their socialist allies as their western enemies.
If we ask what the Cubans achieved with their revolutionary foreign policy, the balance is very positive. They contributed to the containment of Morocco in 1963. They offered a valuable help to the MPLA in the Congo in 1965-66, and in Guinea-Bissau the Cuban contribution was of great importance. Without a doubt, the most stunning success was in Angola, where they conquered Washington and Pretoria, and prevented them from installing a government in Luanda that was dependent on South Africa. And following Angola, a tidal wave was released by the Cuban victory that extended throughout Southern Africa. Its psychological impact and the hope that it awoke is very well reflected in two news articles — from opposing sides, but saying the same thing — that were released in the South African press in February 1976 when the Cuban troops were pushing Pretoria’s army back toward the Namibian border.
In the Rand Daily Mail — one of the most important newspapers in South Africa — a South African military analyst wrote, “In Angola, black soldiers — Cuban and Angolans — defeated white troops in combat. In the context of racial conscience on the battlefield, it didn’t matter if the brunt of the offensive was borne by Cubans or Angolans. The only thing that is certain is that they are winning and that they are not white. The psychological advantage, an advantage that whites have enjoyed and exploited for more than 300 years of colonialism and empire, is disappearing. White supremacy has been delivered an irreversible blow in Angola, and the whites who were there know it.” 
The “white giant” had retreated for the first time in recent history — and the Africans celebrated. The World, the main black newspaper of South Africa, observed, “Black Africa is riding on the crest of the wave unleashed by the Cuban victory in Angola, black Africa is tasting the intoxicating wine of the possibility of achieving the dream of total liberation.”[23] There would only have been the pain of more defeat, and not those feelings of intoxication, had the Cuban troops not arrived — defeating the plans of Washington, defeating Pretoria and challenging the Soviet Union. 

The impact was more than moral. It had concrete consequences. It forced Kissinger to take a position against the white racist government of Rhodesia and kept Carter on the right track until Rhodesia finally ceased to exist and Zimbabwe emerged in 1980.[24] It also marked the true beginning of Namibia’s war of independence. As a South African general wrote, “Many military observers consider March 27, 1976 the date that [SWAPO’s] war of insurrection really began ... for first time they obtained what constituted more or less, the prerequisite for a successful insurrectional campaign, which was a border that offered safe refuge.”[25] For twelve years Pretoria continued to refuse to leave Namibia and used it to launch destructive incursions into Angola. This continued until the spring of 1988 when Cuban troops stopped the South African lunge against Cuito Cuanavale in the southeast of Angola and followed this victory with a successful advance toward the Namibian border. 
Reagan’s deputy Secretary of State for African affairs sought out Jorge Risquet, Castro’s point man for Africa. He wanted to ensure that Cuban troops would not enter Namibia. “A question that arises is the following one,” he said. “Does Cuba have the intention of stopping its advance at the border between Namibia and Angola, because its troops are not very far from that border?” Risquet replied, “I cannot give you that answer. I can’t give you or the South African’s tranquilizers.... I have not said that they won’t stop or that they won’t advance. What I have said is that they are not constrained by anything and that they can only be limited by an agreement. Understand me well, I am not threatening. If I told you that they won’t stop, it would be making a threat. If I told you that they will stop, I would be giving you a tranquilizer, or a Tylenol; and I wish to neither threaten nor anaesthetize.... What I have said is that only the agreements [about Namibian independence] can give guarantees.”
In his cable to the US Secretary of State, Chester Crocker, the deputy secretary wrote, “To discover what the Cubans think is an art form. They are prepared for war as much as they are for peace ... we are witnesses to a great tactical virtuosity and a true creativity at the negotiation table. This has as a backdrop, the unparalleled projection of the military might of the Cuban army on the ground.”[26]

In December of that same year, Pretoria accepted to withdraw from Namibia and to recognize its independence. Although it would be simplistic to affirm that only Cuba deserves the credit, it is undeniable that Cuban troops played an indispensable part. It was a noble and just end to a history worthy of pride. 

Like in the 60’s, when hundreds of Cubans went to fight in Africa joined by hundreds of civilian aid workers providing technical assistance (primarily in the health fields), the thousands of Cubans who went to fight in Angola in 1975-76 were soon joined by thousands more civilian aid workers. And in the 80’s, to the tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers who went to Africa were added tens of thousands civil aid workers. At the same time, tens of thousands of scholarship holders from Africa went to study in Cuba. The help was free, or offered at nominal costs. This help continues today with the presence of thousands of Cuban doctors in Africa and Latin America, living and working in the poorest areas. It also continues through the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana that is training 7,000 doctors from these two continents — without being paid a cent. In the words of Dean Juan Carrizo, “the school is a door open to hope.”[27] It is another example of the generosity of the Cuban Revolution.
Nelson Mandela highlighted this generosity when he was in Havana in July 1991. His words triggered a “wave of condemnation” in the United States. “We come here with the feeling of the great debt that we have contracted with the people of Cuba,” he said. “What other country has a history of greater altruism than Cuba has showed in its relation with Africa?”[28]

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Sep-2007 at 12:04

Cubans in Angola:

Cuban Migs in Angola
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Sep-2007 at 12:11
More pictures:
A captured South African tank
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sparten Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Sep-2007 at 14:07
S Africans usually cut them to pieces in battle, and well the Cubans were transported to Angola and supplied by the Sovs, but that said, great to see a little country punching above its weight.
The Germans also take vacations in Paris; especially during the periods they call "blitzkrieg".
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pekau Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Sep-2007 at 18:52

An excellent article. Thanks for sharing...

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