Cuba Foils Kissinger in Angola
The story of how Cuba helped Angola defend it's newly won independence is little remembered today. Not surprising since seemingly all African history even it's very recent history is little remembered. This isn't surprising given a media whose primary role seems to be to indoctrinate the public. It is best forgotten exactly how Apartheid fell in south Africa and more generally the whole process of independence is also best forgotten. It is best forgotten because it would shatter the illusions we in the west have about our role in the world. The media likes to portray the interaction between the US, Europe and Africa in humanitarian terms. Westerners go there to feed the hungry and to treat the sick so we are told. Imperialism has changed little since the 19th century in this regard which also portrayed it's actions as motivated by noble humanitarian motives. Unmentioned were the looting of a continent, Genocide, and the enslavement of millions. Today the west maintains the same poses while engaging in the same genocide and exploitation as always. Never asked is why there are so many poor sick and uneducated people. Never mentioned is the way that progressive leaders were overthrown across the continent many were murdered. All part of the deliberate scheming by Europe and the US to establish neocolonialism on the continent to continue to loot the whole continent from behind the scenes.
In southern Africa the US and Europe supported the continuation of Portuguese Colonialism and they also Supported the continuation of Apartheid South Africa and Apartheid in Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) and Namibia. Interestingly US support for Portugal was partly based on the value of the Azores Island base which Portugal let the US use to supply Israel during the 1967 war. The same war that led to the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza which led Israel to increasingly adopt Apartheid. Aparheid was a system by which Blacks were given second second class citizenship in their own land. The government waged a constant low intensity war on the black population who were exploited for cheap labor. They were segregated into townships and could not even travel freely in their own country. For most Americans the tale of the fall of Apartheid has been reduced to the release of Mandela from prison. Of course as William Blum points out he was arrested in the first place because of intelligence provided by the CIA. Forgotten is the long series of proxy wars fought by South Africa to maintain Apartheid in Rhodesia and Namibia. Forgotten is their attempt to install a client regime in Angola. Also forgotten is that the US and western Europe supported South Africa in these Wars. On the other hand it was Socialist countries like Yugoslavia, East Germany, the Soviet Union and above all Cuba that provided vital aid that would help African revolutionaries win and maintain independence in the face of Overt and covert attempts by the US Europe and South Africa to maintain Apartheid in Rhodesia, Namibia, and South Africa and to prevent the MPLA from coming to power in Angola. This Article will deal with the story of the Angolan civil war where the MPLA and Cuba inflicted a decisive defeat on a US backed South African invasion force. This defeat would provide a turning point that would eventually lead to the fall of Apartheid in South Africa Namibia and Rhodesia. This Article is a sequel to my earlier "Che Guevera in the Congo" which described Cuban aid to Algeria, Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo) French Congo, and Guinea-Bissau. Like that Article it is based on the excellent "Conflicting Missions" by Piero Gleijeses which Unearths the largely forgotten story of the Cuban efforts to aid African Liberation movements. In those countries Cuba had provided weapons and relatively small numbers of advisers who trained and fought alongside African Revolutionaries. In Angola Cuba sent a much Larger force. Castro would defeat not only the schemes of the South Africans but also the schemes of the infamous Technocrat and War Criminal Henry Kissinger. (if you think war criminal is Hyperbole to name just two examples Kissinger overthrew the Democratically elected Allende government in Chile and installed the brutal Pinochet regime He also gave the green light for the Genocidal Invasion of East Timor both within a couple of years of the Angola war ) 1975 the year the Angolan civil War began was the same year as the fall of Saigon and so Kissinger intervened in Angola largely to demonstrate to the world that the US was still willing to wage brutal pointless wars in remote parts of the world. Or as Kissinger would say to demonstrate American resolve to intervene anywhere it's interests were threatened. Or in the case of Angola even to intervene where it's interests were not threatened. Instead the Angolan Civil war dealt the US a second humiliating defeat and provoked a brief scandal.
First some background on Angola. Angola had long been a Portuguese Colony the Portuguese had conquered it centuries before the rest of Europe had established their African colonies. Portugal was ruled by Fascist Dictators first their was Salazar and after his death their was Cateano. England cleverly granted it's African Colonies independence while maintaining it's economic control it thus tried to avoid fighting costly counter Insurgency wars like the one it fought in Kenya. France after it's failed attempts to Fight brutal counter-Insurgency wars in Indochina and then Algeria also relinquished overt control while maintaining Economic control though an extremely effective system. Portugal a Fascist dictatorship instead opted to maintain it's colonies by force and it closely allied with South Africa in the fight to maintain the status qou. However due to the success of Amilcar Cabral's PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau who fought an extremely effective war of independence with the help of Cuban advisers and Soviet weapons, the strain of fighting a loosing war eventually brought the Portuguese Dictator Cateano down in a Coup by left Wing officers. The new government decided to grant it's colonies independence and this meant Independence for Angola.
In Angola there were 3 conflicting parties which had fought each other prior to independence as much as they fought the Portuguese. There was the FNLA lead by Holden Roberto who was both corrupt and incompetent. He was backed by the Dictator of Zaire Mobutu who had been in charge of the Congo's brutal but ineffective army. After the US and Belgian backed fall of Lumumba he eventually rose to power and would manage to hang onto power well into the 90's. Mobutu also hoped to seize Angola's Oil which province of Cabinda. He was an important US ally although relations were often strained. Then there was UNITA which was lead by Jonas Savimbi. He was a Ruthless but charismatic opportunist. during the struggle for independence he was actually collaborating with the Portuguese providing them intel so they could eliminate the other two movements. As independence approached he decided to offer his services to the South Africans and the CIA and received support from both. Both UNITA and the FNLA aimed to mobilize tribal and regional loyalties. The MPLA was the only group that had broad mass Appeal across Angola especially in the cities. It's educated and committed Leaders chief among them Agostinho Neto were socialist leaning nationalists. However they were too moderate for the taste of the Soviets. They sought to maintain contact with western Business interests for example. Cuba had sent them Aid and advisers and helped them smuggle a Guerrilla force into Angola. However they became distanced after Cuba withdrew it's military advisers from the French Congo (Congo Brazzaville). It was Yugoslavia who provided them important Aid early on. However as independence approached the MPLA asked the Cubans for Advisers. The US officials on the ground realized that the MPLA was the only viable candidate but they were over ruled. Instead the CIA began to funnel aid to both the FNLA and UNITA. South Africa provided both groups with advisers and weapons as well. The US hired bands of Mercenaries to aid the FNLA and UNITA. Angola was scheduled to have elections after independence but the US decided that instead it would launch a proxy war to destroy the MPLA before independence. They launched a CIA covert war operation codenamed IAFEATURE.
Initially the conflict began in the Capitol city of Angola Luanda. The FNLA had a large and well equipped force there while the MPLA had the support of the majority of the cities population. FNLA attempts to seize control of the City backfired as the cities population formed armed units that managed to resist and then expel the well armed but poorly trained and disciplined FNLA. Although the forces of the MPLA were often equally poorly trained they were well motivated and helped in those early days by Yugoslavian weapons shipments. The MPLA forced the FNLA to flee the capitol. Mobutu and the CIA sent an FNLA invasion force in from the north reinforced with white Mercenaries veterans of bloody African counterinsurgency wars like the one that crushed the Simba revolt in Zaire. It was initially successful but Cuba's advisers had already begun to arrive in the country. At Quifangondo the MPLA and their Cuban trainers inflicted a Humiliating Rout on the Advancing FNLA, their Zairean, allies and the Mercenaries who fled and the whole invasion force fell apart. They were also aided by a single Russian an artillery expert who would provide extremely useful advice. The MPLA was also successful in fighting UNITA. Thus in this early phase of the war the MPLA was winning on their own the FNLA and UNITA were no match for them. Secretly the US decided to ask the South African's to intervene directly by Launching an invasion.
Initially the South African advance was very successful they were better trained and had more advanced equipment and were well motivated convinced of their innate superiority and eventual invincibility. They were a professional army and in the south they met mostly poorly trained MPLA units. Unfortunately for them the Cuban advisers in the country together with the MPLA quickly realized the danger and sent word to Castro that all would be lost unless Cuba sent substantial reinforcements. Castro did not even dare to ask Soviets for advice earlier in the year they had turned down a similar plan. Castro decided to take the risk of Angering both the Americans and the Soviets by sending a large group of reinforcements. This unpredictable decision would completely surprise Henry Kissinger who misinterpreted Castro's decision as an order from the Kremlin. Although the Soviets were aiding the MPLA they were also trying to maintain Detente with the US. Angola was not worth upsetting the US over especially since they didn't trust MPLA leader Neto. Castro also risked the possibility of a Cuban defeat. However he was guided by his Ideals he wouldn't not Abandon Angola to the mercy of Racist apartheid South Africa and the Imperialist US.
The troops Cuba sent combined with the MPLA units that had been trained managed to inflict a devastating ambush on the South African's which had been steadily advancing and had already beaten an MPLA with it's Cuban trainers inflicting the first Cuban casualties. The battle was commanded Diaz Arguelles and he inflicted severe damage on the invading south African force on a bridge near the village of Ebo. For months after this the MPLA and their Cuban allies managed to hold off the once Irresistible South African invasion. Meanwhile In the North they repelled yet another FNLA invasion this one lead in person by Holden Roberto. Unlike Savimbi Roberto seldom fought or commanded from the front. His Leadership proved a disaster and yet again the CIA proxy army was beaten despite it's south African advisers and Mercenary reinforcements. meanwhile The MPLA and their Cuban reinforcements in the oil rich Province of Cabinda (which was separated from Angola by a strip of Zairian territory) also managed to easily repel a Zairian invasion attempting to install a FLEC splinter group. FLEC had two branches both of whose real purpose was to seize Cabinda on behalf of the French intelligence connected ELF oil company. The Angolans had given the contract to gulf oil. During the war the US pressured Gulf Oil to suspend payment to Angola which they did until it became clear the MPLA would win.
The Cuban assistance had proved decisive after months of failing to advance the South African's finally gave up and retreated to within 30 miles of the southern Border. With Cuban aid the MPLA had also beaten back FNLA and UNITA. They had resisted the attempt to invade Cabinda. For the moment they were victorious. Back in the US a brief scandal erupted when it became clear that the US was collaborating with South Africa. The War would produce one of the greatest whistleblowers in CIA history John Stockwell. Moreover it proved a humiliating setback for Kissinger. The popularity that Cuba's contribution to the war earned it among Africans forced the US to lessen their support somewhat for Apartheid countries like Rhodesia. Meanwhile in South Africa itself the Angolan victory caused the black population to redouble their struggle for freedom. The Famous Soweto riot in South Africa which raised worldwide awareness of the injustice of Apartheid was in part inspired by the Angolan victory. As for South Africa's whites they viewed the loss as catastrophic falsely claiming it was the first time in 300 years that Whites had been defeated by non-whites. Apparently even in Africa African History is suppressed for it's amazing that they ignored the famous defeat the Boers suffered at Inhambane during their famous flight from british rule. They also seemed to have forgotten the famous british defeat at the hands of the zulus at Isandlwana. They even seem to have forgotten the war in Guinea Bissau where their allies the Portuguese had been beaten which had ended the year before. In any case they reacted as if it was the first defeat imperialism had ever suffered. Perhaps this defeat was the first hint they had that their current system would some day be defeated. In Cuba they were exultant Castro had gambled and won. Cuba had fought on the right side of history. The somewhat ambivalent Soviets changed their attitude after the Victory and rewarded Cuba with more economic Aid. Cuban aid to Angola had not been military alone. As with all there Missions in Africa the Cubans also sent Doctors. All Angola's doctors except for one were Portuguese rather then Angolan and they all decided to leave the country before independence. The Cubans sent over 200 doctors to make up for the loss of all Angola's doctors except one. In an interesting coincidence around 200 Cubans gave their lives during the first year of the war. They even won the respect of their enemies In the words of the Official south African History of the war This is how they were described "The Cubans rarely surrendered and quite simply fought cheerfully until death." However even with the initial victory it would turn out to be a long proxy war. Cuban aid would continue. So too would attempts by the US and South Africa to destabilize the country. Eventually the strain of the war would contribute to the collapse of Apartheid in South Africa. That will have to be the subject of a future article. Piero Gleijes wrote a second book chronicling events down to 1992 called "Visions of Freedom". For now it is enough to remember that the US yet again supported the worst possible forces in the world in it's seemingly endless war on the third world. It is also worth remembering the debt the world owes Cuba for helping to end the scourge of Apartheid. This small Island Cuba that remains under siege from the US helped change the course of African history. Angola should always be remembered for it's victory over the forces of Empire and Oppression.
I relied on Piero Gleijeses excellent "conflicting missions" which I highly recommend. I also recommend you find some of the many John Stockwell talks and interviews available free online. He does wonderful exposes not only of the Angola war but also of US Imperialism in general. Along with Philip Agee he is one of the great Cold war whistleblowers. Also check out my February post script on Angola for a Great quote from Mandela praising Castro for his role in ending Apartheid. Since I've listed the two great Cold war whistleblowers I should mention yet again that great War on Terror Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds since I just finished her new novel Lone Gladio a book that provides a great window on America's current partnerships with some of the most evil and regressive forces on the planet today. Check out this great article on Amilcar Cabral who helped kill the Portuguese Empire, and Freed Guinea-Bissau.