An­gola: Cas­tro’s big African ad­ven­ture

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

South­ern African lead­ers paid glow­ing trib­utes to the late rev­o­lu­tion­ary icon Fidel Cas­tro, but if one coun­try will for­ever be heav­ily in­debted to his lead­er­ship of Cuba, it is An­gola. Cas­tro sent tens of thou­sands of troops when oil-gi­ant An­gola be­came em­broiled in a proxy war be­tween the United States and Rus­sia who were vy­ing for Cold War supremacy. Hav­ing gained in­de­pen­dence from Por­tuguese colo­nial rule in 1975, the Pop­u­lar Move­ment for the Lib­er­a­tion of An­gola (MPLA) govern­ment faced a civil war against the ri­val Na­tional Union for the To­tal In­de­pen­dence of An­gola (UNITA).

Cas­tro sup­ported the MPLA, which was fight­ing US- and apartheid-backed UNITA. It cul­mi­nated in the 1988 Bat­tle of Cuito Cua­navale, in south­ern An­gola, an epic con­fronta­tion that sounded the death knell for South Africa’s apartheid regime and in­di­rectly led to the in­de­pen­dence of Namibia. He was “an ex­tra­or­di­nary fig­ure of tran­scen­dent his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance,” An­golan leader Jose Ed­uardo dos San­tos said of the late Cuban leader.

In a man­ner sim­i­lar to Libya, Cuba pro­vided mil­i­tary and ide­o­log­i­cal sup­port to na­tional lib­er­a­tion move­ments across the African con­ti­nent - around 56,000 of the nearly 400,000 troops Cas­tro sent to Cold War hot spots were in An­gola. The high­light of that de­ploy­ment was Cuito Cua­navale, which “was the wa­ter­shed mo­ment in south­ern African lib­er­a­tion,” said Namibia’s Pres­i­dent Hage Gein­gob. Cas­tro, 14,000 km away in Ha­vana, re­port­edly gave com­mands via tele­phone to his gen­er­als on the ground. “Cuba, in An­gola is where the Cold War su­per­pow­ers forces had their show­down,” said Paula Roque, a Univer­sity of Ox­ford spe­cial­ist re­searcher on An­gola.

Wa­ter­shed Mo­ment

While Cuba pro­vided troops, the Soviet Union was re­spon­si­ble for mil­i­tary hard­ware. By the time the war ended An­gola owed Moscow $5-bil­lion, but noth­ing to Cuba. Cas­tro be­lieved “revo­lu­tion was not some­thing you paid for”, said Roque. “They were very much punch­ing above their weight, they were a small is­land that had such a big am­bi­tious pro­ject in An­gola,” she added. Even African coun­tries with lesser links to Cuba, such as South Su­dan, had lib­er­a­tion move­ment lead­ers trained in Ha­vana.

“South­ern Africa free­dom is in­ex­tri­ca­bly in­ter­twined with the his­tory of Cuba,” said Mac Ma­haraj, an ANC vet­eran and fel­low in­mate of Nel­son Man­dela, South Africa’s late anti-apartheid icon. Af­ter Namibia won in­de­pen­dence from South Africa in 1990, shortly af­ter Cuito Cua­navale, apartheid would fall and the African Na­tional Congress (ANC), led by the freed Man­dela, won its first free elec­tions in 1994. “Fidel be­came a huge in­spi­ra­tion. There in an un­break­able bond be­tween Cuba and the south­ern African strug­gle,” said Ma­haraj.

It was Cas­tro who re­ceived the “loud­est ap­plause” from the au­di­ence at the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Man­dela as pres­i­dent, ac­cord­ing to the late for­mer pres­i­dent’s friend in the strug­gle against apartheid, Ahmed Kathrada. And three decades af­ter the end of Cuba’s mil­i­tary in­volve­ment, Ha­vana’s con­tri­bu­tion to An­gola and south­ern Africa is still alive. More than 42 per­cent of health­care work­ers in An­gola are Cubans, many of whom de­cided to stay on af­ter the war. Else­where in the re­gion, South African state se­cu­rity, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers still go for train­ing in Cuba, ac­cord­ing to Roque.

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