Elio Delgado Legon
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.