Cuba Book Fair: Something Is Missing

Photo Feature by Irina Echarry

angola1HAVANA TIMES — The 22nd Cuba Book Fair is a small window to Angola, and through it we can capture a glimpse of the culture and identity of that nation, linked to our past. We get a chance to see contemporary artistic creations from Angola and also photos of ancient rock paintings from the Tchicundo Hulu area.

In one hall are displayed wicker fiber crafts, wood carvings, prints, and photos of current day Luanda, with its highways, tall buildings and annual carnival celebration.

There are sculptures by Mpanda Vita, paintings by Alberto Matondo and Jorge Gumbe, and Angolan music and poetry. Lovers of stamp collecting can tour the country through its postal stamps thanks to a book published in Cuba.

Much is said about the bonds of friendship between Cuba and Angola. Indeed, the phrase serves as a hook to attract people to the “Cabaña” fortress (the main site of the book fair). We talk about this as being a veritable family reunion – and that’s true. For example, some of the Angolans artists exhibiting here studied under Cuban instructors.

One of the Angolan books published by Cuba’s Editorial Oriente, El rastreador de dinero, recounts the ups and downs of the protagonist leaving his state sector job and becoming a “self-employed” worker.

angola08In the opening pages, the private sector worker talks about how he cheated the government when he was working as a messenger. Author Roderick Nehome uses a lot of jargon, but — since the translation is Cuban and the subject’s so topical — the book seems as if it were written by one of our own.

We have many things that unite us to Angola. How many Cubans were deployed to Africa to fight against apartheid, to build, educate and heal! This is the theme of many of the books at this year’s fair.

The works are especially about the war. That theme is even included in one of children’s comic books: Cuito Cuanavale, about the decisive battle that rooted out the forces of apartheid. Other testimonies narrate the heroic acts of Angolan and Cubans in those struggles.

The presentations of these books, attended by military personnel (officers and cadets), produce constant cheering about the brave Cuban troops who defended the sovereignty of a sister nation.

angola04All that’s fine, there’s no doubt of the courage that was displayed by the soldiers from the island. But when we talk about war and internationalism, I always feel that something remains off the table, despite it too being something very important.

This other side involves not only the number of casualties. Such figures are often cold, distant. Behind the thousands killed in Angola were families who were left without children, without fathers, without mothers, without solace.

Likewise, thousands of people didn’t return the same – they came back physically and emotionally maimed. A deep sadness always accompanies the victories.

I walked around the Cabaña Fortress looking for those families. I went in the bookstores trying to find some paper of someone giving a presentation about the feelings, the loss, and the bitterness. But that isn’t at the book fair or in the books. There are no testimonies.

The book fair concludes its Havana segment on Sunday but will then open in other Cuban provinces during the next two weeks.

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6 thoughts on “Cuba Book Fair: Something Is Missing

  • As usual, you place the blame on both sides. But the prime mover in that instance, just like in others historically, all over the world, is US imperialism.

    You seem always to deliver the spin of imperialism, no matter the subject, no matter the article.

  • There was a lot more to the context and history of fighting in Angola than you recall, and a lot more than is depicted in the comic book the author above mentioned.

    Angola was a front in the cold war between the Soviet Union & the USA. The Cubans and the South Africans were their respective proxies. The Angolan militias, the MPLA & UNITA, were their local pawns.

    When the Portuguese left Angola, the rebel groups signed an agreement to form a national unity government. But with encouragement from the USSR, the MPLA seized control of power and attacked the FNLA & UNITA. Cuba sent troops to help the MPLA gain power. The US backed FNLA & UNITA and the civil war began.

    Castro sent troops to Angola, not to fight “the forces of apartheid” but to install a Marxist dictatorship under the MPLA, with the help of the USSR. The South Africans entered the war, with the support of the USA, to help UNITA fight against MPLA.

    When the peace treaty, the New York Accords, was signed in 1988, both the Cubans and South Africans agreed to withdraw their troops from Angola. Fighting among the militias continued, but eventually MPLA, FNLA & UNITA agreed to UN endorsed multi-party elections in 1992. When no side won an outright majority, the MPLA launched a surprise operation against the FNLA & UNITA, slaughtering at least 10,000 people (some estimates put the number of victims as high as 25,000). Thus the civil war flared up again for another decade.

    This is the true legacy of Cuban intervention in Angola. Theirs was not a selfless act of Internationalism, but part of a cynical cold war battle between the USSR & the US in which the Angola people were the ultimate victims.

    I condemn all of the foreign interventions, (USSR, USA, Cuba & South Africa) and going right back to the Portuguese colonialism. Were it not for the outside interference, the various rebel groups would have resolved their differences and found a way to govern the country peacefully.

  • As I recall, it was the South Africans who intervened militarily and were approaching Luanda, about to defeat the people’s new government, lead by the MPLA, when the Cuban patriots came in surreptitiously and stopped the South African advance.

    What a surprise it was when the Cuban rockets hit!

    You seem to be equating the Cuban aid given to the MPLA, Griffin, with the South African racist intervention. I truly wonder how any thinking person could take such an unreasonable, heartless, retrograde stand.

  • I take neither side in that war, Grady. Angola became a puppet and a victim of the global cold war between the USSR and the USA. Each side had their proxies and both sides committed atrocities.

    The people of Angola were harmed by all who intervened.

  • I’ll admit that I don’t know the particulars of this battle. But I do believe that anything short of a decisive victory for the South African racists and their UNITA puppets was a victory for national liberation of the Angolan people.

    It’s interesting, Griffin, that your heart is always “on the other side” with your comments, whether with regard to this article, or any other. Why is that? Is it because you are “doing a job”?

  • The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale as not the decisive victory the Cuban propaganda proclaims. The Angolan & Cuban forces fought to stalemate with UNITA & the South Africans. Neither side could accurately claim “victory”, (although each side did) but the battle did raise the costs to both sides for continuing the war and lead to peace negotiations.

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