Cas­tro’s mil­i­tary for­ays in Africa

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Back in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War, the small Caribbean na­tion of Cuba went to war thou­sands of miles away in the bat­tle­fields of An­gola and Ethiopia, leav­ing thou­sands dead. Cuban leader Fidel Cas­tro, who died late Fri­day, was con­vinced that the global stage for the “world revo­lu­tion” was hap­pen­ing in Africa - and thus Cuba be­came the first Latin Amer­i­can na­tion to go to war out­side its own con­ti­nent.

An­gola and Ethiopia soon be­came sym­bols of the “re­gional con­flicts” of the Cold War, in which Washington and Moscow bat­tled for ide­o­log­i­cal supremacy and power through proxy wars. But Ha­vana’s in­volve­ment in the fight­ing fields far from home was to cost it dear. Some 4,300 Cubans died in African con­flicts, half of them in An­gola although ex­perts say that num­ber has been sharply un­der­es­ti­mated.

Cuban vet­er­ans have of­ten com­plained of lack of care and ben­e­fits on re­turn­ing home. In An­gola, Cas­tro re­sponded to calls for help from the Marx­ist guer­rilla leader Agostinho Neto, who had seized Luanda dur­ing a bloody war from its Por­tuguese colo­nial masters. Neto had no in­ten­tion of shar­ing An­gola’s in­de­pen­dence, with ri­val guer­rilla lead­ers Holden Roberto, sup­ported by Zaire - now the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo - or Jonas Sav­imbi, backed by South Africa. Ini­tially thou­sands of Cuban troops were de­ployed along 14,000 km of coast­line in Op­er­a­tion Car­lota, named in honor of a black slave re­volt in Cuba. Moscow also poured lo­gis­tics and fund­ing into An­gola in a war that turned into a hard slog for Cubans, as the he­roes of the is­land’s guer­rilla-led revo­lu­tion had to quickly adapt and learn counter-in­sur­gency tac­tics. In March 1988, the South African army re­treated in the face of the Cubans at the bat­tle of Cuito Cua­navale in An­gola, a set­back that sounded the death knell for the apartheid regime and led to the in­de­pen­dence of Namibia.

The An­gola cam­paign lasted un­til 1991, when the last of some 400,000 Cuban sol­diers sent to fight “im­pe­ri­al­ism” in an “in­ter­na­tional mis­sion” fi­nally re­turned home. In Feb 1977, Gen­eral Ar­naldo Ochoa was also sent to Ethiopia to sup­port the leader of the Com­mu­nist mil­i­tary junta, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, against the Ethiopi­ans’ for­mer So­mali al­lies, who were forced to sur­ren­der the Ogaden plateau to 17,000 Cuban sol­diers. Cuban troops were also sta­tioned in Mozam­bique af­ter its in­de­pen­dence. Since the 1960s Cuban troops have served in Al­ge­ria, Guinea, Guinea Bis­sau, Equa­to­rial Guinea, Sierra Leone and Libya.

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