Cubans after a Piece of the Angolan Pie

Erasmo Calzadilla

Location of Cuba (red), Angola (green), and South Africa (blue)
Location of Cuba (red), Angola (green), and South Africa (blue).

HAVANA TIMES — After Fidel Castro decided to take part in the war in Angola in the mid 1970s, any Cuban who had the required age and build could see themselves transformed into an internationalist soldier overnight. Thousands lost their lives in that war and no few returned home with incurable traumas.

The apparent aim of Cuba’s intervention was to repel the South African invaders. It was no secret, however, that “our” forces favored the red wing of the warring Angolan factions.

Ironically, almost two decades after the war, the African nation is heading in a direction diametrically opposed to socialism – and many Cubans want to jump on the wagon of the prosperity afforded by this Third-World-styled capitalism.

But it’s not that easy. When Angola entered its deadly war, the Cuban leadership organized the recruitment process in such a way that even the humblest man from the sticks could “win the lottery.”

Today, however, when Angola is offering well-paid jobs and the possibility of getting oneself out of poverty, Cuba’s bureaucracy handles matters with the utmost secrecy. I have a ton of friends and acquaintances that want to sign up but don’t know who has the list, what door to knock on, what office they’re handing out the cake in.

Shouldn’t the Cuban media provide people with clear information about the possibility to return to an Angola of opportunities? Or do the elite prefer to keep the hen of the golden eggs a secret?

If any reader knows anything about this, please post a comment, so we can all get in on what’s going on.

6 thoughts on “Cubans after a Piece of the Angolan Pie

  • I am born in Angola found bear dead and rescued by Fidel and raised in Cuba I believe it is mans right to go wherever he chooses Nuff said!
    I thank the Orisha for my adopted countries intervention and will always be a FIDELISTA On the other hand
    Perhaps, if Europeans would cease and desist their greed PERHAPS?

    Now unless and until your an Angolan or a Cuban who has been in the struggle who cares what, you think?

  • You wrote: ” it seems that the idea of Cuba being involved in Angola, indeed was a Russian concept.”

    Yes, and no. The reality is more complicated. Shortly after the Cuban Revolution, Fidel sent Che to Algeria to promote his idea of an international movement of Third World Revolutions, (“One, two, many Vietnams”). While the Russians were delighted to have a new island in their camp, they were leery about these young hot-shots and their world revolution. The Russians preferred a more cautious and gradual approach to the Cold War.

    When Cuba began training Angolans in guerilla warfare, the Soviets were supportive and sent weapons to Angola. When Fidel suddenly sent thousands of soldiers to fight in Angola in the the fall of 1975, the Russians were surprised. They had asked Fidel to send military trainers and advisors to assist the FAPLA in using the new Soviet weapons, not a whole army.

    But once the Cuban army arrived en masse, the Soviets agreed to arm them. The next 14 years of bloody war dragged the Soviets deeper into Africa than they had ever intended. Several times the Russian officers clashed with the Cuban officers in Angola over issues of strategy. By the late 1980’s Gorbachev wanted out of this Angolan quagmire. When the Russians started to cut back on the supply of weapons, the Cubans finally agreed to join the US sponsored negotiations to end the war in Angola.

  • According to this report:

    Cuba and Angola are looking to expand their co-operation in a number of areas:

    “Currently, there are 4,062 Cubans including 1,800 physicians and 1,400 teachers working in Angola, under the existing cooperation between both countries.

    Gisela Rivera said that the cooperation is also extended to the areas of water and energy, and soon it will cover the field of agriculture, animal husbandry, rural electrification.”

    In another recent report, the government of Brazil has announced loans of $5 billion to Angola and $1 billion to Cuba. The details and purpose of these loans has been classified as secret by the Brazilian government. It is possible that rumours in Cuba of new job opportunities in Angola are somehow related to these loans.

  • The Cuban intervention in Angola began a decade earlier than the mid 1970’s. The first Cuban troops started training Angolans from the MPLA in the early 1960s in bases in the Congo. A group of these MPLA fighters, lead by Cuban officers, launched their first mission into Angola in September 1966, when the Carlos Cienfuegos Column entered northern Angola. Note that this 9 years before the Portuguese were to leave their African colony. The Cuban goal in supporting the MPLA was to have their preferred faction win the growing guerrilla war against the Portuguese. Indeed, the Cuban lead band often fought against the other Angolan liberation group the FLNA, more often than they fought the Portuguese.

    When the Portuguese finally left Angola in 1974-75, the struggle for power among the various Angolan factions was fierce. While the UN & the OAU had attempted to mediate a unity government formed by the various Angolan groups, the various factions distrusted each other and each believed they could take power by force. When the MPLA, with Cuban help, seized control of the capital city, Luanda, the Cuban government was quick to recognize their proxies as the legitimate government of Angola. In reality, there was no legitimate government and no one faction controlled a majority of the territory.

    There were several clashes between the FLNA and the MPLA. Although both factions were nominally “Marxist”, their ethnic distinctions were more important. The FLNA was supported by China, (and even for a while, by the CIA) while Cuba and the USSR supported the MPLA. In the summer of 1975, 50 Cuban weapons specialists arrived in MPLA controlled territory to help receive Soviet supplied weapons and to train the MPLA soldiers. The MPLA now had a well funded, well armed military called FAPLA, with a robust Cuban officer cadre.

    The growing presence of Cuban and Soviet military advisers in Angola was viewed with alarm in South Africa. In early Spetember, the SADF crossed the southern border and occupied the Calueque hydroelectric installation. This project was built by South Africa and Portugal during the colonial era and an existing treaty allowed South Africa to send troops to defend the facility. At the same time, the SADF began arming and training the guerrillas of Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA movement, as their Angolan proxies in the Cold War power struggle.

    During September a further 400 Cuban troops arrived in Angola. When the South African Defence Forces launched Operation Savanah on October 6th, 1975, there were already over 500 Cuba troops in Angola training, commanding and fighting with the FAPLA. The South African government, with the encouragement and support of the USA, invaded Angola in response to the presence of the Cuban and Soviet military presence already in the country. In response to the SADF invasion of southern Angola, Fidel suddenly increased number of Cuban soldiers being sent to Angola, launching Operation Carlota, sending thousands more Cubans to fight in Angola. The Soviets were surprised to learn that Fidel had dispatched an army to Angola. They had expected a smaller commitment of military trainers. In any event, the Russians continued to pour billions of dollars worth of military hardware into Angola.

    Contrary to the official history taught in Cuba, the intervention in Angola was a far more complex story in which each side provoked a further escalation of the other side. Ultimately, the Angolan people suffered terribly as they were the victims in a Cold War struggle between the USA & South Africa, against the USSR & Cuba, each side with their local Angolan proxies.

    For a full, detailed and balanced history of the Cuban intervention in Angola, I recommend reading Edward George’s excellent book:

    By the way, there remians today a small contingent of Cuban soldiers in Angola, acting a palace guard for the corrupt Angolan dictator, José Eduardo dos Santo.

  • A stimulating article on a critical topic. I would offer, with respect, that after the Bay of Pigs, when JFK failed to deliver an all out air assault to support the “unofficial” American invasion troops, the political landscape changed. Castro and all Cubans knew the yankees would return, bringing down a full all-out invasion of Cuba…something Castro could not defend the country from. In that cold war ere, he had but one option to secure control of the island…to team up with Russia…the Bear…the largest threat to American domination of the planet. Relying only on what I have read, it seems that the idea of Cuba being involved in Angola, indeed was a Russian concept. I feel that reality was masked in Cuba to bolster a stronger image of the leader, the fellow with the beard who is still respected in Cuba, and not without reason. Throughout the history of post revolutionary Cuba, we all must remember, that while Castro ” appeared” to be the supreme leader, the people FUNDING the leadership, and providing everything from oil to equipment, foodstuffs to aircraft, were the Russians. Education, the greatest tool on earth, at the higher levels, was provided by Russia in Russia for thousands of Cuban professionals, engineering, medicine, and political science. I have met hundreds of well educated Cubans, who spent years in Russia. Suffice to say, in my conclusion, that as we say in Canada, you must take all this with a grain of salt. Don’t give Castro all the credit or blame. Russia controlled the purse strings til about 1990….and the person handing out the cash, always calls the tune. Great article. Thanks for writing it. You raised a very valid point on a topic which sits like a huge wart, on the history of the Cuban Revolution.

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