By Isaac Risco (dpa)

Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela. Foto:

HAVANA TIMES — Admired around the world, Nelson Mandela also had a symbolic relationship with a Latin American country and, in particular, a man, Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

In his last open letter to Mandela in 2010, Castro called him an “old and revered friend.”

“In all my years in prison, Cuba was an inspiration and Fidel Castro a tower of strength,” once praised the late South African president.

One of the historical photos now circulating shows Mandela about to warmly embrace the old Latin American revolutionary, one of the few occasions in which Castro used a suit instead of his classic olive green military uniform during the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in 1998.

After becoming a global icon, “Madiba” never hid his allegiance to Cuba for its early support for his fight against apartheid, despite criticism that arose against Castro for the authoritarian excesses of his government.

“We profoundly respect and admire him, not only for what he did for his people, but also for his proven friendship to our country,” said the younger brother of Fidel, President Raul Castro, upon learning of Mandela’s death on Thursday.

A video also displays the affection Mandela and Fidel Castro professed, calling each other “brothers” during a visit by the South African to Havana in 1991. Cuba was the first Latin American country that he had visited. Mandela would later visit Argentina and Brazil, but his point of reference on the American continent would always Cuba.

In a dialogue recalled on Cuban TV on Thursday night, Mandela tells Fidel, “Before you say anything, you have to tell me when you are coming to South Africa. When are you coming?”

“I have not visited my South Africa homeland,” Castro responded, and he paid off his debt in 1994. Cuban television recalled that dialogue on Thursday night.

The revolution came to power in Cuba in 1959 led by a young Castro who electrified the world, including a militant activist in the far South. Especially in the Third World the bearded Cuban leader became a symbol of the struggle against colonialism.

For decades socialist Cuba tried to translate the spirit of their revolution to other struggles for emancipation, and also gave direct support to Africans. The Caribbean island sent troops to fight in Angola, a campaign considered in Cuba as one of the great “internationalist” deeds of Castro.

In the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, Cuban troops played a decisive role in stopping the advance of the Angolan insurgency operating with the support of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Cuito Cuanavale is considered today as a turning point for Africa, where the apartheid ended in 1992. Mandela never forgot the gesture.

“Our friend Cuba, who helped us train our people, who gave us resources that helped us so much in our struggle,” said the South African leader in his meeting with Castro in 1991.

Mandela also always ignored any criticism of his meetings with controversial leaders such as Castro or the old revolutionary and later Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

“We should not abandon those who helped us in the darkest hour in the history of this country,” Mandela told former US President Bill Clinton during a visit to Cape Town, to justify his ties with Castro and Gaddafi.

For Mandela, his vision of Latin America was always linked to Castro and Cuba.

23 thoughts on “Mandela, a Loyal Friend of Cuba’s Fidel

  • Gabriel, I’m sorry, but your characterization of the regime in Cuba as bloody is just wrong. In fact, it applies to just about every Latin American country BUT Cuba and Costa Rico. Certainly is a common misconception in this land of the “free press” though.

  • If you would like to know what actually happened in Angola, go ahead and read this book:

    It’s factual, balanced, well written and throughly footnoted. His history is in no way a pro-South African perspective, who come in for a great deal of criticism.

    Or you can stick your head in the sand and keep on reciting the party line. The choice is yours.

  • The exact nature if the Cuba-USSR relationship in Angola is still subject to debate. The account given by the book I linked to, by Edward George, says that the USSR arranged with the Angolan government to send military hardware. The Russians asked Cuba to send a couple thousand advisors to train the Angolans. Instead, Fidel sent 20,000 Cuban troops, which surprised the Russians. The Russians then sent more supplies to keep the larger Cuban force stocked.

    The crucial fact which the official Cuban account hides is that the Cuban intervention in Angola began long before the South Africans invaded southern Angola. The Cubans began training MPLA guerrillas in 1962, before Angolan independence from Portugal. The first Cuban troops entered Angolan territory in 1966, fighting in support on one rebel group, the MPLA. The spent more time fighting the FLNA, supported by China at the time, than they did fighting the Portuguese. When Portugal suddenly withdrew from Angola in 1975, the MPLA and their Cuban allies rushed to seize control of the capital city. Fighting between the FLNA and the MPLA broke out into full scale civil war. Cuba backed one rebel faction and helped them defeat their rivals. The claim by Havana that they responded to a request for help from the government of Angola is false. The Cubans installed the pro-Soviet rebel group, the MPLA into power by force of arms.

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