Cuban Involvement in Southern Africa

Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy

Chapter 21

By Morgan Norval

Copyright 1989 Published by: Selous Foundation Press, Washington DC

ISBN: 0-944273-03-3 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 89-62602

NOTE Page numbers appear between [square brackets] at the start of the page. Footnotes appear in red, and appear at the end of the chapter, although in the original book they appear at the foor of the page in question.

[227]There have been several popular misconceptions over the role of the Cubans in southern Africa. The most widely held canard is that they are in Angola to protect the Luanda government from the ravages of the South African Defense Force, which has "repeatedly violated the territorial integrity of the People's Republic of Angola." This version is nothing but solid Marxist propaganda.
So prevalent is this myth that its essence was included in the bilateral protocol signed between Castro's Cuba and Communist Angola for the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola. The preamble among other things states: "That the acceptance and strict fulfillment of the preceding provisions eliminate the causes which motivated the request by the Government of the People's Republic of Angola-in legitimate use of its rights envisioned by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter-for the sending into Angolan territory of a Cuban internationalist military contingent to insure, together with the FAPLA [the Angolan Government army], its territorial integrity and sovereignty against the invasion and occupation of a part of its territory"1

To have any credibility and to sustain itself over long periods of time, a lie or myth must contain a grain of truth somewhere in its makeup. Such is the case surrounding the myth concerning the Cuban presence in Angola.

The South Africans have over the years made numerous incursions into Angola in either their counterinsurgency role against SWAPO or to help UNITA resist the onslaught of Soviet-directed offensives against its capital.

[228] For a while, after Operation ASKARI in 1983-84, South Africa had occupied strategic bases in southern Angola from which it monitored and countered SWAPO's infiltration activity directed at Owamboland. Technically, this was an occupation of Angolan territory, but there was no movement by the South Africans to make it permanent. In fact South Africa quickly resorted to diplomacy in an attempt to eradicate the cause of its action-SWAPO activity originating from Angolan territory and directed at Namibian citizens in Namibia.
To put the Cuban presence in Angola in its proper perspective, it is necessary to go back and examine events centered around the Portuguese withdrawal from Angola in 1975.
There were three liberation movements in Angola that were not only trying to kick the Portuguese out of the country, but also seeking to assume power in their place. They were: the Frente National de Libertacio de Angola (FNLA), the Movimento Popular de Libertacio de Angola (MPLA) and the Uniao National para a Indepencia de Angola (UNITA).

Of the three movements, the FNLA was considered to be the strongest militarily. It had concentrated all it efforts to develop its military prowess at the expense of economic, political and cultural considerations. It opened the guerrilla war against the Portuguese with a February 4, 1961 attack in Luanda on the post office and several police and army barracks.
Under the leadership of Holden Roberto and based in Zaire, the FNLA had over the years built up, at least on paper, a formidable military force numbering about 10,000 men. However, FNLA's ability was in theory only Its leadership was corrupt, its soldiers poorly trained, lacked leadership and zeal for fighting. The Portuguese had largely neutralized it by 1974.
Although the FNLA fired the first shots in the armed confrontation with Portugal, it was not the oldest of the three movements. That distinction belonged to the MPLA. It was founded in Luanda in December 1956 by Dr. Antonio Agostinho Neto and several communist radicals of mulatto origin. Although it claimed to be the "peoples party", the MPLA was a minority party limited to the mixed blood community in and around Luanda and to the Mbunda tribe whose lands were adjacent to Luanda.

The MPLA was not regarded as being as efficient a military force as the FNLA. One reason for this was that the MPLA was based a long way from the scene of the guerrilla war. It was based in the Congo and was separated from Angola by Zaire. It was extremely difficult to infiltrate guerrillas into Angola from Congo-Brazzaville through Zaire. When the MPLA did manage to get insurgents into Angola they tried to avoid clashes with the Portuguese but clash with them they did.
[229] After several skirmishes with the Portuguese, the MPLA in 1963 fled to the Congo, moving to Congo-Brazzaville, where, under a new Marxist regime, its fortunes looked more promising. Yet they still had difficulty infiltrating into Angola and did their best to avoid the Portuguese. Instead they pursued their war against their rivals the FNLA in the north and UNITA political organizers in the east.2
So intense was the MPLA's hatred of Roberto's movement that they would often inform the Portuguese where FNLA units were located and let the Portuguese army wipe them out.3
The MPLA, however, was no military problem for the Portuguese. It was so beset by internal factions and feuds, the movement had almost ceased to exist as a fighting force in 1972. The MPLA had fallen to such a sorry state that Moscow had withdrawn its support.4
In March 1965, Neto traveled to Moscow and returned with Soviet support. Arms and supplies began arriving at the MPLA bases in Brazzaville. Neto's anointment by Moscow pushed him into the top circles of Third World radical chic.
The following year, 1966, Cuba made her entry into the affairs of the MPLA by providing military trainers and an elite bodyguard for MPLA President Neto.5
In 1964, FNLA's Foreign Minister, Jonas Savimbi, became uncomfortable with the political future of the movement. It had always been known as a military rather than a political force. Savimbi wanted to change the movement's emphasis.
Two years later, in March 1966, Savimbi broke with the FNLA and founded UNITA at Mwonga in Angola's Moxico province.6 At first, UNITA operated from bases in Zambia. Its guerrillas were sent into eastern Angola where they conducted their operations. UNITA lost the good will of Zambia when it sabotaged the Benguela railroad, the main route used to ship copper, Zambia's main export, to the outside world. For this transgression, Savimbi was kicked out of Zambia, spent months in exile in the Congo, and finally [230] moved his command inside Angola, establishing a base in a sparsely populated region. This left him no choice but to build his base of support with the local population and in classic guerrilla manner he slowly built up his political organization.
Savimbi was unique among the leaders of the three factions fighting the Portuguese. Whereas Roberto and Neto operated from sanctuaries in Zaire and Brazzaville, Savimbi led UNITA from the Angolan bush. His willingness to take the same risks as his men made them not only loyal and determined fighters, but had the effect of solidifying loyalty to his fledging political organization.
Trouble was brewing in Portugal that was to have far-reaching consequences in Angola. It all grew out of a small book, Portugal and The Future, authored by General Antonio De Spinola, Deputy Commander of the Army. The book, published in February 1974, was highly critical of the Portuguese wars in their colonial empire. Spinola maintained that Portugal faced certain defeat if it tried to win the wars against the insurgents by military means alone.
His book appeared at a crucial time in Portuguese history and it became an instant public hit. Portugal, one of the poorest countries in Europe, found the staggering cost of fighting the wars a severe drain on the economy. At the time of the book's publication, Portuguese military expenditures on the colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau were taking fifty percent of Portugal's budget.
A group of dissident officers formed a secret group, the Movement of the Armed Forces (MFA), to protest the government's policies and the wars in the overseas colonies. "We must end, once and for all, this damned colonial war, which is consuming everything, including the dignity of military professionals of a civilized nation," became the rallying cry of the dissident officers.7
On April 25, 1974, the dissident MFA officers staged a coup d'etat and Spinola became the new President of Portugal.
Spinola replaced the Governor-General of Angola with the leftist Vice Admiral Rosa Coutinho. Coutinho, nick-named the "Red Admiral," would play a pivotal role in the seizure of power by the Marxist MPLA in Angola.
The new leaders quickly moved to halt the fighting in Portugal's African territories. In early May, the Portuguese announced in Luanda that the three [231] insurgent groups would be treated as legitimate political parties as soon as they stopped fighting.
This was followed up with an announcement on the 19th of May that the 50,000 Portuguese troops would cease all military operations against the insurgents. For all practical purposes Portugal's counterinsurgency war against the rebels in Angola was over.
The three liberation movements were caught off guard and eventually became embroiled in futile arguments and bickering among themselves. They immediately started jockeying for position to take advantage of the changing military situation in Angola.
The FNLA moved forces into northern Angola and by late September 1974 it had established itself over a large area of northwestern Angola. It was centered on the area where the Bakongo tribe, which Roberto was a member of, lived in Angola. Having established his base in northern Angola, Roberto sent a large delegation to open a FNLA headquarters in Luanda where the FNLA began their campaign to gather support for their movement. Roberto hoped to capitalize on the presence of Bokongo tribesmen in the capital as his base of support. Since the Bakongo comprised five to ten percent of Luanda's population, Roberto was counting on his tribal ties to strengthen his political hold on the capital.
While this was going on, the MPLA was going through another of its seemingly endless internal quarrels. There were three factions competing for power and only pressure from Presidents Ngouabi of Congo-Brazzaville, Kaunda of Zambia and Nyerere of Tanzania prevented the movement from flying apart. A temporary truce was agreed to by the three factions which gave Neto the presidency of the MPLA.
The truce didn't last and the other two factions renounced Neto. The faction led by Daniel Chipenda left the movement in disgust and took along 2,000 of the MPLA guerrillas under his command.
Neto, nevertheless, held a conference with his faction. They elected him president of the MPLA and, more importantly, both Portugal and the Soviet Union accepted Neto's faction as the bona fide MPLA. This recognition added a new patina of respectability to the MPLA in the eyes of many throughout the world.

With the leadership of the MPLA secured by foreign recognition, Neto turned his attention to getting the movement into the upcoming race for power in the soon to be independent Angola. The MPLA opened an office in Luanda a month after the FNLA had opened theirs in the capital. Neto had two aces up his sleeve: the MPLA's traditional center of support had always been in Luanda; and Neto had an ally in high places in the capital-the [232]Portuguese Governor-General Vice Admiral Coutinho. Coutinho was an open leftist and he looked with great favor and sympathy on Neto's leftist socialistic ideas. He turned a blind eye to the weapons that had been pouring in to the MPLA from the Soviet Union since it had resumed military aid to the MPLA in late August 1974. British intelligence estimated the Soviets gave almost $6 million dollars worth of weapons to the MPLA in the last four months of 1974.8
Coutinho's bias was obvious even to the foreign media. Portuguese officials conceded that the MPLA, once thought to be by far the most important of the liberation movements, didn't have the support of the people of Angola. It would in all likelihood require outside support in order to gain power. The Observer's Luanda correspondent wrote, ". . . Admiral Rosa Coutinho and most of the other Portuguese officials here appear to be still backing the MPLA, and this has led to suspicions among the other two movements and most of Angola's whites that the administration plans to prop up the MPLA."9
UNITA, however, opted to pursue a political policy of reconciliation and unity among the three movements to deal as unified Angolans with the Portuguese over the question of independence.
Savimbi hosted a conference at Cangumbe from October 26-29, 1974, with delegates of all three movements in attendance. Savimbi's purpose was the formation of a united front among the three movements to deal with the question of independence.
Coutinho arrived at the conference its second day and pushed for a transitional government under terms offered earlier by Portugal in August. The terms were to establish a transitional government in Angola to include not only the representatives of the three movements, but also representatives of the fifty or so groups that had popped up like mushrooms, after the coup in Portugal. The transitional government envisioned by the Portuguese would pave the way for free elections in two years.
The Portuguese proposals were rejected by the three movements. Savimbi stressed that UNITA would not serve in any transitional government unless the MPLA and FNLA were also represented.10
Savimbi then left on a tour of black African states in an effort to get their support in promoting unity among the three movements and to speed up the independence process in Angola.
[233] After getting the encouragement and support of African leaders such as Kaunda of Zambia, Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenyatta of Kenya, Savimbi turned to a harder task-getting the leaders of the MPLA and FNLA to agree to a unity proposal.
After a series of meetings and negotiations with Roberto and Neto the three movements signed accords on November 25 and December 18, 1974, agreeing to work together for independence.
As the year drew to a close the Portuguese agreed to hold talks on January 10, 1975 with the three movements to work out a timetable for Angolan independence.
On January 10, 1975, representatives of the three liberation movements met with Portuguese officials in the Portuguese coastal town of Alvor. An agreement and timetable for independence was worked out by the parties and signed on January 15, 1975.
Under the terms of the agreement elections would be held on October 31, 1975, for a national Constituent Assembly and the date set for independence would be on November 11, 1975.
Until independence the governing power would be held by a Portuguese High Commissioner and a transitional government made up of representatives of the three liberation groups. Each movement would have three ministerial posts in the transitional government, and each group would hold the premiership on a rotating basis. The Portuguese would also hold three ministerial posts as well as the High Commissioner's post.11
Named as the Portuguese High Commissioner was Vice Admiral Rosa Coutinho, the MPLA's "friend in high places."

The Alvor Agreement could start a process that could lead to independence and a multi-party democracy. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way as months prior to the agreement Chinese and Soviet meddling in Angola assured that Angolan independence would flow from the cartridge box not the ballot box.

During the mid-sixties and seventies there was a serious rivalry between the People's Republic of China (PRC) communist regime and the Soviet Union as to who was the true champion of the Third World liberation movements. The involvement of one would almost by reflex bring the other into the picture. It was no different in Angola.
In June 1974, almost seven months before the Alvor Agreement, the Chinese sent 120 instructors and 450 tons of weapons to the FNLA in Zaire.12
[234] Chinese aid to the proclaimed anti-communist Roberto seemed a strange thing to do. But since the Soviet Union was the traditional supporter of the MPLA, the PRC threw its support behind the FNLA.

The Chinese support of the FNLA forced the hand of the Soviets. If they wanted any influence in the soon to be independent Angola they had better deal themselves back into the game and make sure their favorite comes out on top. They dealt themselves back in by resuming military aid to the MPLA in August. At the same time the Soviet Communist Party proclaimed that "the MPLA was the true spokesman of the Angolan people."13

In December 1974, while the three liberation movements were agreeing to a united front, the MPLA sent a large contingent of its officers to the Soviet Union for military training.14
The U.S. was well aware of the increased military aid going to the MPLA and it decided to back the FNLA with covert aid.
Even though the three superpowers were now involved in the internal affairs of Angola to one degree or another, it was the Soviets' aid that carried the day The Chinese, in spite of their boasts of being the true champions of the Third World liberation movements, did not have the resources to match the Soviets' capacity for dispensing and delivering aid. Nor did the United States, reeling from the after-effects of both Vietnam and Watergate, have the stomach to match the communist action. The US. could match or even exceed the Soviets' largess, but it did not possess the will to do so.

The Soviets were also realists. They knew the U.S. was soured on foreign adventures and lacked the will to oppose their moves in Angola with any degree of vigor.15 So they felt pretty safe in backing the MPLA. But, having seen the results of the past constant bickering within the MPLA, they would temper their aid with a firm degree of control over their activity. This could be easily accomplished by their surrogates, the Cubans, who had been involved with the MPLA since the mid-sixties.

Given the past history of the MPLA with it succession of feuds and internecine fighting, it begs credulity to think that the Soviets would give massive amounts of aid, with no strings attached, to a group that was noted for its instability. Unlike other nations, the Soviets are not in the habit of blindly throwing aid and cash at a problem. Their help comes with a big string attached-Soviet control. Months after the Soviets cast their lot with [235] the MPLA, there were still raging feuds within the MPLA. Daniel Chipenda set up offices in Luanda claiming to be the real MPLA. This didn't sit too well with Neto. On February 13,1975 Neto's followers attacked Chipenda's killing fifteen of them. Chipenda fled from Luanda, taking with him over 2,000 of the MPLA's best trained troops. They promptly joined the FNLA.16 If anything, Chipenda's split would have convinced the Soviets that the group they were backing still didn't have its act together and would have to be watched and closely supervised.

The loss of such a large number of its trained fighters would obviously affect the ability of the MPLA in any future confrontation with the other two liberation movements and time was against their recruiting, training and replacing Chipenda's forces. Fighters would be needed sooner not later. What, then, could be done about the situation?
From the Soviets' points of view they had few options. They could reverse their decision to support the MPLA. But this would cost them their golden opportunity of bringing Angola into their sphere of influence, as the MPLA was too weak to prevail on its own in Angola. To allow the ripe plum of Angola to fall under the influence of the Chinese because of their help to the FNLA was too much for the Kremlin to stomach. The only other option was to raise the stakes and take more vigorous steps to prop up the weakened MPLA.
There were risks involved, as direct Soviet intervention would wreck the detente between the United States and the Soviets so the use of Soviet forces in Angola to prop up the MPLA was out. But there was an alternative in the person of an ally who was itching to stick his nose into Angolan affairs: Fidel Castro.

Castro is a megalomaniac and one of his most driving ambitions was to be recognized as a leader of importance in the world. He was constantly looking for opportunities to increase Cuban international prestige. The situation in Angola presented just such an opportunity, as Cuba had been involved with Neto and the MPLA for years. The opportunity to rescue his fellow revolutionary proved hard to resist.
The solution was clear: the Soviet Union would supply arms and war material while Castro would send the necessary manpower.
Thus massive aid flowed into the MPLA. Not only had the Soviets been aiding the MPLA since August 1974, a little over four months before the Alvor Agreement, but so had East Germany, Yugoslavia, the Portuguese Communist Party and the naive Scandinavian countries. The aid was so [236] abundant that the MPLA had more guns than soldiers to shoot them. Obviously, the donors knew that somebody would use these weapons, either an expanded MPLA or somebody else. Given the time-frame of the rapidly changing situation an effective increase in the MPLA's trained manpower situation would evolve after events had passed them by Thus, it seems logical to assume the weapons were there for use by somebody else-the Soviet's surrogates.
This urgent preparation and arming by the MPLA prior to the Alvor Agreement should have convinced any doubter that the MPLA had no intention of abiding by any agreement signed with the other two contending movements.
Another factor in the political and revolutionary equation in Angola, at the time, was the simple fact that as a minority party, the MPLA could not possibly win free national elections envisioned under the Alvor Agreement. If the envisioned elections had taken place UNITA's Savimbi would have won. On June 16, 1975, Senator Dick Clark (D-IA) asked John Marcum and Douglas Wheeler, two experts on Angola, appearing before the Senate Foreign Relation's Subcommittee on African Affairs, who they thought would win free elections in Angola. Marcum replied, "UNITA first, MPLA second and FNLA third." Wheeler stated, "it is possible UNITA would win . . . perhaps even a slight edge on plurality or majority." 17 A newspaper in Luanda took a nationwide poll in Angola in 1975 to gauge support in the upcoming elections. Its results showed UNITA with forty-five percent, MPLA with twenty-five percent and FNLA with twenty percent of the vote.18
The Soviets were no fools and realized the MPLA could not win at the polls. A military solution was the answer to the uncertain ticklish problem of elections posed by the Alvor Agreement. In fact Neto used the respite provided by the Alvor Agreement to mobilize his followers in their stronghold of Luanda to take care of his bitter rival. Fighting in the city between the MPLA and FNLA intensified with the latter being driven out of the capital by mid July 1975.
The Soviets and their surrogates weren't the only ones that wanted the Marxist MPLA to take power in Angola. Officials in the Portuguese government worked behind the scenes to help them. The most active of these officials was none other than the Portuguese High Commissioner, Admiral [237] Rosa Coutinho. He devised a scheme to install the Marxist MPLA in power in Angola.l9
The Alvor Agreement turned out to be just a ploy of Coutinho's to enable the MPLA to buy time to get their act together and mobilize their troops for a military takeover.
To ensure that the MPLA would not be defeated-a reasonable assumption given the fact of the defection of its ablest commander and over
2,000 of its best troops to one of its rivals-Coutinho personally arranged for Cuban troops to be sent to Angola and allowed the Soviet weaponry to be shipped to Angola for use by the Cubans and the MPLA.

Coutinho later admitted that his goal was to ensure that the MPLA succeeded the Portuguese by any means necessary In a recent Canadian produced television documentary, he stated: "I knew very well that elections could not be held in the territory I said at that time that the only solution was to recognize the MPLA." 20

Why couldn't the elections be held if Coutinho didn't realize that the MPLA wouldn't win them? Obviously, if the MPLA were as strong a political entity as its mythmakers would have us believe, there could have been no reason not to hold elections.
Furthermore, if Coutinho didn't also recognize the military incompetence of the MPLA why did he have to hustle off to Havana and arrange for Cuban troops to prop up the MPLA? If the MPLA were competent enough, why would they need foreign troops?
The stated rationale for using the Cubans in Angola was to save black Angolans from attack by white-ruled South Africa. This myth is entirely false.
For one thing, by mid-1975, the South Africans were not in Angola. They were in South West Africa, in small numbers, fighting the SWAPO terrorist insurgency. The South Africans weren't in Angola, but the Cuban's were. According to Carlos Rafael Rodriquez, deputy prime minister of Cuba, the first "significant" numbers of Cuban troops arrived in Angola in May 1975.21 By June, the Cubans were building military training centers in widely [238] scattered areas of Angola-centers for launching military operations by the MPLA against the other two movements.
The first South African forces to enter Angola did so on August 11,1975, when they occupied the Cunene Dam complex just over the border in Angola, which supplies water and electricity to Namibia.22

According to the leftist American journalist and author, Tad Szulc, there were 250 Cuban advisors in Luanda in May 1975, rising to 1,500 before the South African intervention.23

In July, the MPLA suddenly attacked UNITA, destroying any hope for a negotiated political solution. By mid July MPLA units had evicted both FNLA and UNITA from the capital, Luanda. The Alvor Agreement for all practical purposes was now a dead letter.
By August, the situation had escalated into a full-scale civil war and the FNLA and UNITA had retired to their tribal areas to build up their forces, acquire weapons and prepare for the ominous future. Under the old theory that "my enemy's enemy is my friend," UNITA and FNLA's fortunes were bound together in an uneasy alliance against the MPLA.
After pushing their opposition out of Luanda, the MPLA also attacked southward to seize the ports of Lobito, Benguela and Mocamedes (now called Namibe). Thus all of Angola's seaports were now in the hands of the MPLA, effectively stopping the other movements ability to use Angolan ports as entry for outside aid. This would affect UNITA more than the FNLA, which had its main bases in Zaire. UNITA was forced to rely on overland or air routes. Material could only come through the north from Zaire and Zambia, or through the south, from the South Africans. Zaire was doubtful because of its close ties with Roberto's FNLA. Zambia, although at first a Savimbi supporter and hostile to the MPLA, did not have the necessary infrastructure to support a massive logistic resupply effort to UNITA.
That left only the South Africans and Jonas Savimbi turned to them for assistance. The South Africans responded, believing they had the assurances of support from the Americans and several black African states, among them Zambia and Zaire.24
South Africa's objective in assisting UNITA was to force a military stalemate among the factions which would lead to a negotiated settlement of [239] the Angolan civil war.25 Many still feel, however, that the true goal of the South Africans was to drive north up the coast of Angola, capture Luanda and allow either UNITA or the FNLA to form a government in Angola.

While this view no doubt comfortably reinforces the views of the hate South Africa crowd, it founders on an elementary principle of war-mass. The term mass simply means having enough combat power concentrated at the critical time and place for a decisive purpose.26 In short, the 2,000 man South African force that crossed the Angolan border at Cuangar on October 14,1975 was far too small for such an ambitious undertaking. At the time the South Africans had crossed the border there were already close to 4,000 Cubans in Angola and this number would swell three-fold by January 1976. The elements of such a force just don't magically appear out of the sunrise. As Colin Legum, no friend of South Africa, has pointed out: "The mobilization and transport of such large numbers would require at least six weeks from the time the decision was taken. The Russian and Cuban contention that their military intervention was the result of South African intervention is clearly a post facto rationalisation, since they were seriously involved before March 1975, and they had already put their aid program into its second phase by the beginning of October-fully three weeks before the South African army had crossed the frontier."27'
South Africa had some vital interests in the outcome of the power struggle in Angola. An independent Angola, dominated by a Marxist government, could provide bases and assistance to communist groups such as SWAPO and the African National Congress (ANC) for their attacks on South Africa and Namibia. This is precisely what happened.
South Africa also had economic interests in Angola in respect of the Cunene hydroelectric complex which is of great importance to Namibia. South African capital had invested heavily in the scheme and a Marxist Angola would be unlikely to compensate them for their efforts after taking it over.
South Africa obviously misread the diplomatic situation, especially the weakened condition of the American government's will to pursue and back up its diplomatic action and promises in Angola.

[240] Of course the American action was undercut by the American liberals' assault on the intelligence agencies, chose most likely to involved in carrying out secret American diplomacy in Angola. The Church and Pike committees assault and emasculation of the CIA should have alerted the South Africans as to the hollowness of American government assurances and the growing congressional opposition to aiding the Republic of South Africa.
When the South African presence in Angola became public and caused a furor, the United States government tucked its tail between its legs and ran away.
The final ingredient in the Angolan tragedy was provided by the incoming sanctimonious Carter Administration. Nothing illustrates it better than the flip-flop position taken by Carter's UN Ambassador Andrew Young. At the opening of a new Martin Luther King library in Lusaka, Young condemned the Soviets for sending arms into Angola, suggesting that the US should stop selling grain to the Soviets until they quit sending arms to Angola.29 But, after the Cubans had installed the MPLA in power in Angola, as Carter's UN Ambassador, he would fatuously refer to the Cuban presence in Angola as a stabilizing force.

So the South Africans were left to do the West's dirty work, no doubt hoping for an improvement in their relations with the West. In this they were also to be disappointed.
As the November 11, 1975 date for Angolan independence approached, the FNLA decided it would be in a commanding position to seize Luanda and force the Portuguese to turn over the country to them. Reasoning that whoever held the capital would be in the catbird seat, Roberto launched his drive. Independence day dawned and Roberto's troops, along with two battalions of Zairean forces and a band of mercenaries, were still about 50 kilometers from Luanda.

Cuban/MPLA forces, using "Stalin Organs"-forty-barrelled 122mm rocket launchers-laid a heavy barrage of fire on the FNLA and their allies. This attack by the Cubans showed the phoniness of the FNLA's alleged military prowess. Roberto's soldiers panicked and fled from the scene, totally demoralized.

This disaster, known as the Battle of Death Road, broke the FNLA [241] and their retreat didn't stop until they had reached their sanctuary in Zaire.
However, the Cuban/MPLA force did not take advantage of the situation by attempting rapid maneuvers or pursuit to trap and annihilate the FNLA/Zairean force.

Instead, they cautiously employed conventional Soviet military tactics -advancing methodically, making sure each sector was secure before proceeding further. This slow, steady progress continued until midJanuary 1976 when the last FNLA troops cleared out of northwestern Angola.

The Cubans had determined on achieving a military victory for the MPLA. On November 5, 1975, six days before the FNLA launched its ill-fated attack on Luanda, Fidel Castro decided to send more troops to Angola.

His reasoning proved to be sound. By then reports from his troops being mauled by the South Africans in southern Angola had alerted him to the presence of their forces in the civil war. Castro reasoned that once the South African presence became known they would become a lightning rod and attract international condemnation. While they were getting all the abuse his escalation would attract little attention.

He also correctly realized that the shameful American pullout from Vietnam in April of that year had so crippled the American will that the Americans would not support any new foreign adventures, especially in Angola. He was right. Rationalizing his opposition to American aid in Angola, Senator Hubert Humphrey dismissed Angola as a small, faraway country of little concern to the United States, much as Neville Chamberlain had described Czechoslovakia upon his return from his Munich meeting with Adolf Hitler in the thirties.

Castro was right. Condemnation poured down upon the South Africans and Castro was able to pour thousands of his troops into Angola-7,000 by December, up to 12,000 by February 1976.30 The United States reacted with the Congress passing legislation (the notorious Clark Amendment to the Fiscal Year 1976 Defense Appropriations Bill) prohibiting the use of funds in Angola, except to gather intelligence.

South Africa, with its conscript military, could not afford to match Cuba's escalation and engage in a war of attrition with the Cubans, backed [242] by the massive logistical depots of the Soviet Union. South Africa's equipment was not as modern as that of the enemies she was facing and there were no Western supporters willing to provide the necessary equipment to continue the war.
Left hanging by the United States and certain black African countries, particularly Zambia and Zaire, failure to give them open support for their Angolan intervention, the South Africans began to withdraw their forces from Angola.
By the middle of February 1976, the Angolan civil war, for all intents was over. The FNLA had ceased to exist as a fighting force; the South Africans had withdrawn; the MPLA's Peoples Republic of Angola was officially recognized by the OAU; and UNITA had scattered into the bush to continue its guerrilla war against new colonial masters in Angola, the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Yet the Cubans remained. There were no South African troops in Angola, so what was keeping the Cubans?

At first it seemed that the Cubans too were going to leave Angola. Castro told Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme that Cuba would reduce its forces to 5,000 troops by the end of 1976, and he expected the rest to leave during the following six months.31 Thus, if these reports were accurate, Cuban troops would have been out of Angola almost one year before South Africa launched her first major cross-border attack on SWAPO facilities in southern Angola. There was certainly no indication when Castro made his statement to Palme that he was anticipating any South African action in Angola. In fact his statement indicates the contrary.

Thus, even if South Africa has become a convenient scapegoat, blaming her for Cuba's continued presence in Angola rests on shaky ground.

If not South Africa, then who, or what, has really kept the Cubans in Angola?

It was the resurrection of UNITA, rising like the mythical phoenix bird from the ashes of the Angolan civil war, that forced the Cubans not only to stay, but to raise their force level to between 50,000 and 60,000 troops.32 Besides, Castro's ego would not permit him to abandon Angola.

[243] This would run counter to the messianic revolutionary mission he has set for himself.

As Dr. Vladimir Ramirez, a psychologist and former Cuban political prisoner and head of the Latin American Study Center in Miami, Florida, points out, "But it is important to understand that Castro doesn't have armies in Africa so that the USSR can keep him in power in Cuba. Rather he tries to keep his power in Cuba to be able to keep armies in Africa

. . . "Castro loves power. He needs power like the addict needs his drug. But power to Castro is not and end in itself, it is an instrument, a weapon to fulfill his messianism and etch his place in history . . .

"Because of the above we can be sure Castro will never give up his presence in Africa. Neither psychologically nor politically can he give up what has always been the meaning of his life . . ."33

Cuba entered Angola to protect the MPLA from being tossed out of Luanda by Holden Roberto's FNLA. It has remained because the minority MPLA government cannot rule Angola by itself. The Cuban troops are the Praetorian Guard of the Peoples Republic of Angola and their sole function is to prevent it from being overthrown by UNITA.

The South African incursions into Angola in the late seventies and eighties were aimed at damaging SWAPO bases in Angola and were never designed as a threat to the MPLA regime in Luanda.

The syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer remarked upon the false notion that the Cubans were invited in by the Angolans to protect the Luanda regime: "There is not the slightest historical question that the MPLA, the only Marxist movement of the three, accepted chat UNITA would win those elections, and thus moved to bring in Cuban troops and take the capital of Luanda before the elections could be held. They grabbed (not earned) power.
"As a journalist/ historian, I am further amazed at the constant falsification of that history to read even in these new agreements that the Cubans were 'legitimately' invited in under a 'request' of the MPLA 'Peoples Government of Angola.' In fact, there was no government at all at [244] that time; indeed, the Cubans' coming precluded the legal formation of such a government."34

The real threat to the MPLA's continued hold on power in Angola is from UNITA. It is to counter this powerful threat that Cuban troops will remain in Angola.


1. Text of Pacts on Namibian Independence and a Pullout by Cuba;' The New York Timer, December 23, 1988.

2 Venter, A.J., The Terror Fighter, Rustica Press, Cape Town, 1969, p.31; Bridgland, E, Jonas Savimbi: A Key to Africa, Paragon House, New York, 1987, p.91.

3 Marcum, J., The Angolan Revolution, Vol. II: Exile Politics and Guerrilla Warfare 1962-1976, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1978, p.211.

4. Marcum, John, "Lessons of Angola," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 54, No. 3, April, 1976, p.413; for a

description of the internal feuding within the MPLA, see: Bridgland, op. cit., pp.108-110.

5 Marcum, The Angolan Revolution, op. cit., p.225; Bridgland, op. cit., p.64.

6 Bridgland, op. cit., pp.68-69.

7 Ibid., p.103.

8. Ibid., p.116; Marcum, The Angolan Revolution, op. cit., Vol. II, p.432.

9 Borrell, J., The Observer, December 7, 1974.

10 Bridgland, op. cit., p.112.

11 See: Norval, Red Star, op. cit., pp.204-211.

12 Marcum, The Angolan Revolution, op. cit., Vol. II, p.246.

13 Stockwell, J., In Search of Enemies, W W Norton, New York, 1978, p.67.

14 Marcum, The Angolan Revolution, op, cit., Vol. II, p.253.

15 Shultz, R.H., Jr., The Soviet Union and Revolutionary War, Hoover Institution Press, Standford, CA, 1989, p.22.

16 Bridgland, op. cit., p.119.

17 ISSUP Bulletin, Pretoria 4/88, p.9; Testimony of John Marcum and Douglas Wheeler, before US Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, June 16, 1975, p.117.

18 Matatu, G., "Angola EO Futuro," Africa, March, 1975, p.40.

19. See the 1988 one-hour television documentary titled "The New Liberation Wars: Angola," produced for public television by Stornoway Productions, 59 St. Nicholas St., Toronto, Ontario, M4YlW6, Canada.

20 Ibid.; see also: Kwacha News, Vol. 3, No. 1, January/ February, 1988, p.G.

21 Binder, D., "Cuba says Africans vote won't affect Angolan aid," The New York Times, January 12, 1986, see also: Norval, Red Star, op. cit., p.53.

22 Statement of Robert Ellsworth, Deputy Secretary of Defense, before the US Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Angola Hearings before the Subcommittee on African Affairs, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, January 29, February 3, 4 and 6, 1976, p.83.

23 Szulc, T, Fidel: A Critical Portrait, Avon Books, New York, 1986, pp.708-709.

24 Bridgland, op, cit., p.169; see also: Newsweek, May 17, 1976.

25 Cuban Involvement in the Angolan Civil War, ISSUP Bulletin in 4/88, p.4; see also: Moss, R., The Sunday Telegraph, February 6, 1977.

26 Summers, H.G., Jr., On Strategy, Dell Edition, New York, 1984, p.175.

27 Bridgland, op. cit., p.453; see also: Legum, Colin, "The Role of the Western Powers in Southern Africa," in: AfterAngola: The War Over Southern Africa, Rex Copings, London, 1976, pp.21 & 40.

28 Bridgland, op. cit., p.154.

29 Stockwell, op. cit., pp.231-232.

30 Nossiter, B., "Swedes see limited pullout by Cubans," The Washington Port, June 3,1976, p.17; see also: "Castro says Cubans leaving Angola," The Washington Port, June 7, 1976, p.6.

31 Kirkpatrick, J., "Slandering Savimbi," The Washington Post, July 4, 1988, p.A21.

32 Ramirez, Dr. Vladimir, "Castro's Cuba: Socio-Economic Conditions," American Review, Institute For American Studies, Rand Afrikaans University Johannesburg, 1989, p. 16.

33 Geyer, G.A., "But 's about Angola;" The Washington Times, February 13, 1989, p.D2.

@ A Forgotten War
@ No more heroes
@ What happened to the boys on the border?
@ In conflict

@ Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy Chapter 6
@ Chapter 7
@ Chapter 12
@ Chapter 13
@ Chapter 14
@ Chapter 15
@ Chapter 16
Chapter 18
@ Chapter 19
@ Chapter 20

@ Civil supremacy of the military in Namibia


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