Fighting in Angola from a Distance

Elio Delgado Legon

Cubans and Angolans. Foto:
Cubans and Angolans. Foto:

HAVANA TIMES — Thousands of Cubans – both civilians and members of the military – voluntarily travelled to Angola to defend the freedom of its people, once seriously threatened by the racist South African regime. I was mobilized several times to receive training as a militiaman and asked if I was willing to go into combat in Angola. I said I was, but they never called me (from what I’ve been told, because I was a professor at the University of Havana).

When my son Elio was enlisted in the military, he asked to be sent to Angola.

It was the beginning of 1983 and the war was at its height. My son had been in training for more than two months when his first daughter was born. He asked the military for permission to say farewell to his family and went to the hospital to see the newborn. A few days later, he left for Angola, to join a contingent where he was to serve two years of military service.

A long time went by before his first letter reached us. In it, he told me he had been assigned to drive heavy equipment around (something akin to a transport truck), and that he was part of a military caravan.

Aware of the danger that driving in a caravan during a war entailed, my heart and thoughts were constantly in Angola, and, every day, I waited for a letter that would let me know everything was ok. One day, my son told me he was no longer driving a truck in a caravan and that he had been transferred to Luanda to undergo training and become an instructor for young Angolans joining the military. I felt a little relieved.

Later, I learned that, during some exercises, he had fallen accidentally and dislocated a shoulder. They wanted to send him back to Cuba, but he refused. He said he would return to Cuba only after completing his mission. And so it was: he recovered and served as a sergeant instructor for Angola’s FAPLA until the end of his mission. In the end, he was bequeathed the First Class Internationalist Combatant medal and the Distinguished Service medal.

Following his return to Cuba, he told me of the many times that, as sergeant instructor, his life had been in danger.

Some people are of the opinion that Cuba should not have taken part in that war, but, how could Cuba have denied President Agostinho Neto the aid he requested to guarantee the country’s independence, threatened by South African aggression? The Cuban revolution has always offered just causes its solidarity.

After the proclamation of independence, the country ran the risk of being occupied by South African forces, as was Namibia – and the war became increasingly complicated, to the point that sending a contingent capable of ridding Angola of the danger definitively became necessary.

The outcome is well-known: Angola was freed from aggression, Namibia regained its freedom and the opprobrious apartheid regime in South Africa came to an end. For these three reasons, I dare say the sacrifice was worth it.

I never told my son this, but I would have preferred to go to that war myself than stay home waiting for news. In the end, I was left with the feeling that, even though I did not go to that war, I did take part in its combat.

4 thoughts on “Fighting in Angola from a Distance

  • The Angolan government of Jose dos Santos is widely recognized as one of the most corrupt oligarchies in Africa. And that’s saying something! His daughter, Isabel dos Santos, is the richest woman in Africa, with holdings in real estate, retail stores & a monopoly on the lucrative telecom business.

    Cuban commandoes continue to provide the palace guard for the Angolan president-for-life.

  • Isn’t it odd how socialists see their military interventions in other countries as pursuing liberation from oppressors but see interventions by the UN, NATO or the US as imperialism and aggression.
    The usual result for the 13 countries in which Cuba has intervened has been the installation of dictatorships – modelled obviously upon that of the Castro Ruz family in Cuba.

  • Tthere is even a reference in Leonardo Padura’s Inspector Conde stories. It breaks my heart to realise the human cost to Cubans who went to Angola. And then to see that the outcome in Angola, one of the most unequal societies in the world, was for a few crooks to get filthy rich at the expense of the rest of the population makes my blood boil. Solidarity with whom?

  • The above account of a father’s concern for the safety of his son in a far away war zone is sincere and heartfelt. However, the reference to the history of the Cuban intervention in Angola is thick with errors.

    Contrary to the official Cuban story, the Cuban mission to Angola did not begin in 1975 with Operation Carlota, but in 1966 when the first unit of Cuba soldiers entered Angolan territory to train & fight with one of the Angolan rebel groups, the MPLA, against the Portuguese colonialists.

    By 1975, Cuba had about 500 military in Angola training, and sometimes commanding in battle, the FAPLA army. The Cubans were there not as stated above, but to install Neto as the president against the will of the other Angolan rebel factions, the FNLA and UNITA. During the 1960’s and early ’70’s, the MPLA (and it’s army, the FAPLA) was supported by Cuba & the USSR, while the FNLA and UNITA were backed by Zaire & China.

    The South Africans intervened in Angola in response to the Cuban presence in Angola. The South Africans invaded from the south to prevent the MPLA from seizing control of Angola. It was at this point that the US & South Africa began to support UNITA, in late 1975. During the initial battles with FAPLA and their Cuban officers, the South African Defence Forces push north with their Angolan allies and threatened to defeat FAPLA. It was in response to this impending defeat that Castro decided to go all in and launch Operation Carlota, eventually sending over 35,000 Cuban soldiers to fight in this African civil war.

    For a thorough and accurate history of the Cuban Intervention in Angola, I recommend this free ebook, available online:

    The true history of the Angolan Civil War is far more complex, brutal and at times absurd, than the official host pry from Havana.

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