In Cuba

By Charles Mckelvey, originally published on his substack.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel arrived in Luanda, the capital of Angola, on Sunday, August 20, 2023.  It is the first stop in an African tour that includes Angola, Mozambique, and Namibia as well as South Africa, where the Cuban President will be attending the Summit of BRICS in his capacity as President of G77 plus China.

Díaz-Canel was met by the Angolan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Téte Antonio

Díaz-Canel was met by the Angolan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Téte Antonio

Cuba and Angola: Allies in the struggle against colonialism

Cuban journalists Yaima Puig Meneses and René Tamayo León write that “no country in the world has fulfilled its debt with its African roots as had Cuba.”  Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have lent collaboration to all corners of the African continent, supporting their struggles for independence and contributing to the long road of overcoming the underdevelopment that is a legacy of colonialism in the region that is the cradle of civilizations.  Rooted in the strong ties of friendship and cooperation that Fidel maintained with the founding fathers of African independence since the early 1960s, Cuba has supported African development in a wide variety of fields, including education, culture, agriculture, construction, hydraulic resources, and energy, with an emphasis on the formation of human resources.   Presently, there are 7,000 Cuban collaborators working in Africa in various tasks, mostly in the field of health.  In addition, more than 30,000 African professionals have been educated in Cuban schools and universities.

Cuban support for Africa has included military missions, which was once used as a pretext by the United States for its economic sanctions against Cuba, when the real reason for the sanctions was Cuban insistence on its sovereign right to develop its own political-economic system and its own economic policies of development, without accommodation to the economic interests of the United States and U.S. corporations.

On December 12, 2005, in an event commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola, Fidel told the story of Cuban military missions in Africa.  In 1961, when the Algerian people launched their struggle for independence, a Cuban ship brought arms to the Algerian freedom fighters; and on its return to Cuba, it brought hundreds of wounded soldiers and injured civilians for treatment in Cuba.  Two years later, when Algeria attained its independence and found itself threatened with foreign invasion, Cuba sent troops in response to the Algerian request, without asking permission from anybody.  In those days Cuba also sent tens of doctors to Algeria, initiating the most extraordinary medical collaboration to the peoples of the Third World that humanity has known.

Fidel noted that Cuban collaboration with the independence struggles in Angola and Guinea Bissau began in 1965.  It was a period in which the disintegration of the Portuguese colonial empire was beginning: Guinea Bissau attained its independence in 1974, and Mozambique, Cabo Verde, and Sao Tomé attained their independence in 1975.  Initially, Cuban support in Guinea Bissau consisted of instructors to prepare leaders as well as material aid; but during the ten years of the independence struggle, tens of Cuban doctors joined the guerrillas to provide medical aid.

The case of Angola, however, was different, Fidel explained.  Angola was the most extensive and the richest of the Portuguese colonies.  When Angola declared its independence in 1975, the government of the United States launched a covert plan to crush the legitimate interests of the people and to impose a puppet government.  A key part of the plan involved alliance with South Africa, in which the apartheid regime was to provide instruction and equipment to the organizations created by Portuguese colonialism, with the intention of frustrating the independence of Angola and converting it into the property of Mobutu, the corrupt head of state of Zaire, and the richest and most well-armed U.S. puppet.  Mercenaries—including violent individuals, terrorists, thieves, and confessed racists—were openly recruited from the ranks of the so-called “free world,” whom a few years later would be baptized by U.S. President Ronald Reagan as “freedom fighters.”

In October 1975, the army of Zaire and mercenary forces supplied with heavy arms and military advisors from South Africa were preparing to launch new attacks in northern Angola, and they were already in the proximities of Luanda.  Meanwhile, a greater threat was emerging in the south, where South African armored vehicle columns had penetrated the country and were advancing rapidly to the center of the territory.  The intention was to occupy Luanda with the united forces of the South African racists and the mercenary troops of Mobutu before the proclamation of independence of November 11.

At that moment there were only 480 Cuban military instructors in Angola, who had arrived to the country weeks before, in response to the request of the President of the MPLA Agostinho Neto, a prestigious leader who had directed and organized the people’s struggle for many years and who was supported by all the African peoples and was recognized throughout the world.  He had asked Cuba to send instructors to train the army battalions of the new independent state.  The Cuban instructors possessed only light arms.  In the early days of November, a small group of the Cuban instructors, joined with their inexperienced students, confronted the racist army in battle.  In the unequal combat, tens of Angolan youths and eight Cuban instructors died.

In response, Cuba decided in the beginning of November, in coordination with President Neto, to send by air and by sea troops of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.  By the end of November, the enemy aggression in both the north and the south had been detained, as a result of an offensive initiated by 36,000 Cuban troops.  The South African troops to the south were pushed back more than 1,000 kilometers to a colonial enclave on the border between Angola and Namibia; and in the north, the regular troops of Mobutu and the mercenaries were driven back to the other side of the border of Zaire.  This Cuban military initiative, which would be given the code name Operation Carleta, was the most prolonged, massive, and successful internationalist military campaign in the history of Cuba.

We know today, Fidel noted, things that we did not know then, as a result of the declassification of documents.  It turns out that neither the President of the United States nor Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were able to imagine the possibility of Cuban participation in response to their covert plan to subvert the independence of Angola.  Never before had a Third World country acted in support of another people in a military conflict beyond its geographical region.

For its part, the Soviet government, Fidel recounts, pressured Cuba strongly, requesting rapid withdrawal, as a result of its concern with the American response.  Cuba had serious objections to this proposal, but Cuba felt that there was no alternative other than to accept the Soviet demand for withdrawal.  At the same time, the Soviet Union later decided to supply arms to Angola, responding positively to Cuban requests to this end.  Cuba believed that the gradual withdrawal of its troop should be accompanied by the support necessary for Angola to form a strong Angolan army of defense.

Accordingly, in 1976, Angola and Cuba decided on a gradual reduction of Cuban troops over the next three years, which would give the government of Angola sufficient time to form a strong Angolan army, with the exception of Cuban combat units in the highlands approximately 250 kilometers from the border of Namibia.  This process of withdrawal was initiated; and by March 1977 some 12,000 Cuban troops—one-third of the total—had been withdrawn.  However, as a result of the obstinacy of the governments of the United States and South Africa during the years of the Reagan Administration, Cuba found it necessary to maintain direct military support to Angola for the next fifteen years.

In 1987, Fidel recounts, Pretoria and Washington launched a great invasion of Angola.  In that situation, Cuba decided to bring together the necessary forces to deal a definitive blow to the South African forces.  Cuba repeated the story of 1975, rapidly transporting military units and equipment across the Atlantic, this time bringing the number of Cuban troops in Angola to 55,000.  The joint Cuban-Angolan military action had decisive advances, and it ended the South African military aggression.  It forced South Africa to swallow its habitual arrogance and to sit at the table of peace negotiations, which culminated in the Peace Agreement for Southwest Africa, signed by South Africa, Angola, and Cuba in the United Nations in December 1988.

Cuban combatants, Fidel narrates, returned to Cuba with their heads held high, not bringing gold or booty, but bringing only the friendship of the Angolan people and the satisfaction of having complied with their duty, and bringing also with them the glorious remains of their fallen comrades.  Cuban support enabled Angola to consolidate its independence as well as the attainment of the independence of Namibia.  In addition, it was a significant contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe and the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Fidel observed that U.S. imperialism has made an extraordinary effort to eliminate any reference to Cuba’s role in the independence of Angola and Namibia and the defeat of the previously invincible forces of the army of apartheid.  The government of the United States seeks to rewrite history.

At the Solemn Session of the National Assembly of the Republic of Angola, held on the occasion of the visit of the Cuban delegation to Angola, the President of the Assembly, Carolina Cerqueira, reaffirms that the unconditional aid of the Cuban people was the determining factor in the consolidation of the independence of Angola.  She observed that “the Cuban troops were the fundamental pillar for the independence of Angola and Namibia and for the end of the racist regime of apartheid in the Republic of South Africa.”

From its first military support to Algeria in 1963 to the last withdrawal of military troops from Angola in 1991, Cuba sent a total of 380,000 military personnel to Africa, along with 70,000 civilian personnel on military missions.  Some 2,107 Cubans fell in combat in the struggles for the independence of the peoples of southern Africa.  Speaking in Kingston, Jamaica, on July 30, 1998, Fidel declared, “We do not deserve any special recognition, any special gratitude.  We were simply fulfilling our duty.”

Cuban military support to Africa pertained to the stage of the worldwide transition from colonialism to neocolonialism.  It involved support for movements of national liberation in countries where the transition from colonialism had been delayed: in the case of Algeria in the 1960s, due to France’s refusal to accept the independence of Algeria under any terms, considering it a part of French territory; and in the case of the Portuguese colonies in the 1970s, due to Portugal’s economic unpreparedness for the neocolonial stage, with the struggle in Angola extending into the 1980s due to its importance to the United States.

Today, however, we are in the full neocolonial stage, with worldwide anti-imperialist struggles against neocolonialism and for the development of a pluripolar world order.  In this stage, Cuba’s primary mission is no longer military.  Rather, Cuba today plays a central role: in formulating in international forums the principles of a more just international economic order; in providing practical support in the areas of health and education; and in developing mutually beneficial trade with the nations of the Third World plus China.

Cuban military missions in Africa, however, are more than a historical footnote.  They are remembered by the peoples of the world, in spite of U.S. efforts to erase them from the historical account.  They provide Cuba with credibility today for leadership in the construction of a more just world, just as the U.S. role in Angola exposes its decadence.

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Angolan President João Gonçalves Lourenço

South-South cooperation in practice

On August 21, following conversations with his Angolan counterpart, João Gonçalves Lourenço, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel participated in a session of the Council of Ministers of Angola.  He emphasized the ties of blood, culture, and common struggle that unite Cuba and Angola, and he expressed confidence that the two nations will be able to increase the level of economic, commercial, and financial relations between them, taking advantage of possibilities that exist as a result of the various existing areas of collaboration, including renewable sources of energy and biotechnology.   For his part, Angolan President Lourenço expressed the intention of Angola to deepen ties of friendship and economic cooperation, and he viewed the visit of the Cuban delegation as an important step in bringing about this objective.  He called upon the delegations to creatively think of practical mechanisms for facilitating interchange between the two nations at all levels, involving the complementary use of available resources and the transfer of scientific and technological knowledge, with priority on the industrialization of the two nations and the sustainable use of raw materials.

Three bilateral agreements were signed in the areas of pharmaceutical regulation, tourism, and economic cooperation, which supplemented previous agreements signed in Havana this past April at the Fifteenth Session of the Intergovernmental Commission.  Cuba has ongoing intergovernmental commissions with several nations, which are dedicated to facilitating areas of cooperation and overseeing the implementation of agreements.

In his August 21 address before the National Assembly of the Republic of Angola, the Cuban President declared that the close relations between Cuba and Angola were forged during the hideous period of colonialism and slavery, when millions of Africa’s sons and daughters were forcibly torn from African lands to serve as a workforce in the cutting of sugar cane and other tasks of hard labor.  “The mark left on our country by those sons and daughters of Africa and Angola in particular is so deep that we can say with full conviction that Africa is a fundamental part of the melting pot of Cuban nationality.  Cuba is the daughter of African blood, and from Africa we received fundamental values that explain our own existence, principally that of resistance in the face of adversity.”  That forced migration became legendary in the second half of the nineteenth century, as African sons fought with machetes for their personal liberty and for the liberty of their country.  “Their contribution was vital to the forging of the Cuban nation and culture.”

Díaz-Canel quoted Fidel, who declared that “without Africa, without her sons and daughters, without her culture and customs, without her languages and gods, Cuba would not be what it is today.  The Cuban people, therefore, have a debt with Africa.”

Díaz-Canel further declared that the generation that today has the destiny of both nations in their hands has the duty to honor the close friendship of the historic leaders of their revolutions, Fidel Castro and Agostinho Neto, and to preserve what they attained and to advance together in the path of development that their peoples deserve.

Concluding reflections

The August 21 interchanges with the Cuban delegation in Angola included emotional moments in which Angolans who had studied in Cuba expressed their gratitude for the educational opportunity that Cuba had provided them.  Imagine how you would feel about Cuba, if you were from a poor country and you had been provided a scholarship to study in Cuba, and that study became the foundation for your career in your native land in a service profession.

Cuba would have provided much more support for African development, if it had not been for the blockade.  Because without the blockade, Cuba would have been much more advanced in its socioeconomic development, and it would have had much more to offer in concrete and practical steps in South-South cooperation.

The empire knew this, which is why it had to impose the blockade on Cuba.  Without the blockade, Cuba and Africa would now be showing the world the only possible road for humanity, as would be Cuba and Latin America and the Caribbean, and Cuba and China and Vietnam.  The USA will continue to blockade Cuba as an unacceptable threat to the neocolonial world-system until the USA recognizes that the neocolonial world-system can no longer be imposed in the face of the demonstrated persistence of the peoples of the world in seeking a more just pluripolar world order; until the USA learns that its national security and economic interests would be better served by cooperation with the governments of the world and by solidarity with the world’s peoples in their quest for an alternative, more just world order.

Angolans and Cubans speak to one another in different European languages, requiring the service of translators in their communications, as a consequence of colonial history, with Angola conquered and colonized by Portugal, and Cuba by Spain.  Such is the condition of the world today.  The peoples of the world speak to one another in the European languages of Spanish, English, Portuguese and French. They speak of their dreams of sovereign states, when the governmental structures and territorial boundaries of the states were created by Europeans.  And they speak from principles, some of which are the product of the European Enlightenment and European and American political philosophy.

But the peoples of the world are constructing a world that is not of European design.  It is a world in which the colonized peoples are not the providers of cheap labor and cheap raw materials and markets for surplus goods, with states too weak to do anything other than accommodate to American and European interests.  They are constructing a world of sovereign and equal states in which all peoples have to right to socioeconomic development, thus providing the foundation for a prosperous and politically stable world.

This is the great irony of our times.  The peoples of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean are using European philosophical concepts and categories to construct a just world that no European was able to imagine, except for a small minority that casts aside pretexts and unreasonable legitimations in the quest for truth, whose voice is silenced by marginalization.



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Fidel Castro