delanceyplace.com 2/25/10 - cuba in africa
over Cuba, he found that he needed allies to
counterbalance the threat of the U.S.
Astonishingly, this quest led the tiny and
poor country of Cuba to places as far afield
as Ethiopia, Yemen, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and
Algeria, adventures which led them to be
perceived as champion of the Third World, but
which each ultimately drained Cuba and ended
"Fidel Castro's need for allies accelerated
still further after the crisis of October
1962 when the Soviet premier Khrushchev
withdrew the nuclear missiles he had
installed in Cuba without even consulting
Castro, whose faith in the Soviets was badly
"Latin America seemed to offer hope. ...
During 1962 Cuba sent expeditions to lead or
support guerrilla movements in Latin America.
The most important went to Che s native
Argentina in June 1963. The rebels planned to
establish a foco which Che himself would
join. After nine harrowing months they were
wiped out by the Argentine army. This was a
blow for [Castro's second-in-command Ernesto]
'Che' Guevara. Discouraged by their Latin
experience, the Cubans turned to a continent
ripe for revolution: Africa.
"Cuba s first friend in Africa was Algeria,
whose uprising against the French, which
started in 1954, seemed to offer a parallel
to Cuba s own revolution. ...
"Che [also] found an ideal situation in the
turbulent ex-Belgian Congo (later Zaire, now
the Democratic Republic of Congo). ...
Hundreds of young Congolese went to Cuba for
free schooling and training and, when the
military revolted against [President]
Massamba-Debat, the Cubans saved him. By 1966
the Cuban force had grown to 1,000, serving
primarily as the presidential guard.
Nevertheless, Massamba-Debat succumbed to a
coup in April 1968 and Che s dreams [there]
"The Cubans had better luck in Guinea-Bissau
where revolutionaries under Amilcar Cabral
were the best organized and disciplined in
Portuguese Africa. ...
"After his failure in the Congo, Che had
turned his attention back to Latin America
where Bolivia seemed to offer ideal
conditions for revolution: poverty,
instability, remote mountain terrain and
borders with the most important countries of
Latin America. Che and his small force set
off in October 1966. ... His campaign was a
disaster that culminated in his capture and
execution on October 8th, 1967. Efforts to
stir revolution in Guatemala, Venezuela and
Colombia collapsed soon after.
"Cuba s most ambitious involvement in Africa
came [in] Angola, the richest and most
strategically important of the colonies,
which was to become independent on November
11th, 1975. ... By the end of 1975 the Cuban
sea and airlift had transported more than
25,000 troops to Angola and the Soviets had
finally joined in, providing heavy weapons
and coordinating closely with the Cubans.
They could do so because the US Congress had
prohibited President Ford from any further
intervention in Angola. Castro was deeply and
personally involved in all this. ... The last
Cuban troops withdrew in June 1991 after 15
years in Angola. They left behind some 4,000
dead and suffered another 10,000 wounded.
"During these years Castro was involved in
another part of Africa. In 1977, on his way
to Angola, he had visited Marxist South Yemen
where he tried to mediate the growing tension
between Ethiopia and Somalia over control of
the Ogaden region, which belonged to Ethiopia
but was inhabited by Somalis. ... In January
1978 Raul Castro flew secretly to Ethiopia
and Moscow and worked out plans for a
coordinated operation: 16,000 Cubans were
transported by the Soviets who provided the
heavy weapons. Cuban troops remained in
Ethiopia, though in diminishing numbers,
until 1989. ...
"There are no happy endings to this story.
Castro s role as champion of the Third World
never recovered from his support of the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Ten
years later, Cuba s General Ochoa, hero of
the Angolan and Ethiopian campaigns, was
accused of embezzlement and executed after a
Soviet-style show trial; his real offence was
criticizing Castro s incessant interference
in military operations.
Guinea-Bissau, where the Cubans had been
successful, suffered coups, civil wars and
assassinations that left it one of the
poorest countries in the world. Che s friend
Laurent Kabila took over Zaire in 1997 only
to be assassinated four years later. By then,
an exceptionally violent civil war consumed
the country; it still simmers in the eastern
parts that Che had hoped to liberate.
Ethiopia s Mengistu turned out to be a bloody
tyrant and was thrown out in 1991; the
succeeding regime fought a war with Eritrea
in 1999-2000. Finally, Angola: after the
Cubans withdrew, the regime sloughed off the
thin skin of Marxism and called relatively
free elections [but then] became a one-party
state, a kleptocracy ranked as one of the
most corrupt places on earth, where the elite
flourished while the mass of the population
remained mired in poverty."
Clive Foss, "Cuba's African Adventure,"
History Today, Volume: 60 Issue: 3,