A couple of the candidates seeking to represent the Republican Party in next year’s United States’ presidential election are the children of Cuban exiles. These are Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. In Florida, where most of the Cuban exile families reside, Cubans who left the island after the victory of the Fidel Castro-led revolution on New Year’s Day of 1959, and their children and grandchildren, are known to be among the most right wing, neoliberal, and militaristic of American citizens. If you examine the Cuban exile population, you will also see that almost all of them are white, or appear to be white.
Yet, half of the Cuban people were black or brown when Fidel came to power. Almost all Cubans of color remained in Cuba after the Cuban Revolution. Racism had been terrible in pre-Castro Cuba, and the Cuban Revolution has not been able to eradicate the legacy of centuries of slavery, but things became substantially better for the masses of black Cubans after the Revolution. That is why they prefer to remain on the island.
In last weekend’s issue of this newspaper, we published an article by Isaac Saney, a history professor at Dalhousie University and Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, which was originally published on November 6, 2015 by the CounterPunch web site. The article was written to mark the 40th anniversary of Operación Carlota. This was a very long article, and most of you readers would not have read it. Because most of you will not have read Saney’s article, you will continue to believe that South Africa’s brutal apartheid government just woke up one fine day in 1990 feeling kind, and decided to release Nelson Mandela from prison after he had spent 27 years incarcerated. This was not the way it was. Fidel Castro’s Cuba had contributed materially and magnificently to the defeat of racist South Africa on the battlefield, most dramatically at the Battles of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola between 1987 and 1988. Cuito Cuanavale was the beginning of the end of apartheid. The Cubans made it happen.
But you don’t know that. Perhaps, after I reproduce some paragraphs from Professor Saney’s article, you may decide to find last weekend’s newspaper and read his entire article. I wish you would.
“November 5, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of Operación Carlota, Cuba’s 15-year mission to defend Angola’s independence, which played a decisive role in southern African national and anti-colonial liberation struggles. Cuba’s extensive and decisive role in the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa is marginalized in the dominant Western discourse and narratives. Cuba’s critical contribution is not only frequently ignored, it is treated as if it had never occurred. However, the overarching significance of Cuba’s role cannot be ignored.
“Havana initiated Operación Carlota November 5th, 1975, in response to direct and urgent request from the government of Angola. Having just achieved independence after a long and brutal anti-colonial struggle, Angola confronted an invasion by racist South Africa. South Africa was determined to destroy the Black government of the newly independent Angola. Operación Carlota was decisive in not only stopping the South African drive to Luanda, the Angolan capital, but also in pushing the South Africans out of Angola. The defeat of the South African forces was a major development in the southern African anti-colonial and national liberation struggle.”
“Named after the leader of a revolt against slavery that took place in Cuba on November 5, 1843, Operación Carlota lasted more than 15 years. During that time, more than 330,000 Cubans served in Angola. More than 2,000 Cubans died defending Angolan Independence and the freedom and right of self-determination of the peoples of southern Africa.
Africa’s children return
“Cuba’s solidarity with Angola was not simply one country coming to the aid of another, but a part of the African diaspora – the Black world – rising to the defense of Africa. Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959, Cuba has engaged in ongoing solidarity with the peoples and the continent of Africa. In tribute to Cuba’s assistance to African liberation struggles, Amilcar Cabral, celebrated leader of the anti-colonial and national liberation struggle in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, stated: ‘I don’t believe in life after death, but if there is, we can be sure that the souls of our forefathers who were taken away to America to be slaves are rejoicing today to see their children reunited and working together to help us be independent and free.’
“The Cuban Revolution’s involvement with Angola began in the 1960s when relations were established with the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The MPLA was the principal organization in the struggle to liberate Angola from Portuguese colonialism. In 1975, the Portuguese withdrew from Angola. However, in order to stop the MPLA from coming to power, the U.S. government had already been funding various groups, in particular the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by the notorious Jonas Savimbi. In October 1975, South Africa, with the support of Washington, invaded Angola. On November 5th, 1975, the Cuban revolutionary leadership met to discuss the situation in Angola and the Angolan government’s request for military assistance to repel the South African invasion force. The decision to deploy combat troops thwarted apartheid South Africa’s goal of turning Angola into its protectorate.
“The Cuban leadership justified the military intervention as both defending an independent country from foreign invasion and repaying a historical debt owed by Cuba to Africa. Fidel Castro frequently invoked Cuba’s historical links to Africa. On the fifteenth anniversary of the Cuban victory at Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs), he declared that Cubans ‘are a Latin-African people.’ Jorge Risquet, Havana’s principal diplomat in Africa from the 1970s to 1990s, was also unambiguous in explaining Cuba’s military intervention in terms of Cuba’s obligations to Africa, and this linkage resonated especially with black Cubans, who were able to make a symbolic connection with their African roots.”
South Africa’s war of terror
“The survival of the racist South Africa state depended on establishing its domination of all of southern Africa. Towards this end, Pretoria had militarized the South Africa state, fashioning it into the sword to defend the racist system and wage a regional war of terror. From 1975 to 1988, the South Africa armed forces embarked on a campaign of massive destabilization of the region. The war of destabilization wrought a terrible toll.”
“The human toll was immense. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission underscored that: ‘The number of people killed inside the borders of the country in the course of the liberation struggle was considerably lower than those who died outside … the majority of the victims of the South African government’s attempts to maintain itself in power were outside South Africa. Tens of thousands of people died as a direct or indirect result of the South African government’s aggressive intent towards its neighbors. The lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of others were disrupted by the systematic targeting of infrastructure in some of the poorest nations in Africa.’
“Between 1981 and 1988, an estimated 1.5 million people were (directly or indirectly) killed, including 825, 000 children. This was the result of Pretoria-sponsored insurgencies (namely, UNITA in Angola and Renamo in Mozambique) and direct military actions by the South African armed forces. South Africa launched numerous bombing raids, armed incursions and assassinations against surrounding countries. One notorious example was the 4 May 1978 massacre in a camp for Namibian refugees, located in the town of Kassinga, southwestern Angola, where a South African air and paratrooper attack killed hundreds of people and, also, took hundreds of prisoners.
“Perhaps the late Julius Nyerere summed up the situation best when in 1986, as President of Tanzania, he observed: ‘When is war not war? Apparently when it is waged by the stronger against the weaker as a pre-emptive strike. When is terrorism not terrorism? Apparently when it is committed by a more powerful government against those at home and abroad who are weaker than itself and whom it regards as a potential threat or even as insufficiently supported of its own objectives. Those are the only conclusions one can draw in the light of the current widespread condemnation of aggression and terrorism side by side with the ability of certain nations to attack others with impunity, and to organize murder, kidnapping and massive destruction with the support of some permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. South Africa is such a nation.’”
The Battles of Cuito Cuanavale
“In 1987-1988, a decisive series of battles occurred around the southeastern Angolan town of Cuito Cuanavale. When these occurred, these battles were the largest military engagements in Africa since the North African battles of World War II. Arrayed on one side were the armed forces of Cuba, Angola and the SouthWest African People’s Organization (SWAPO); on the other, the South African Defense Forces, military units of the Union for the Total National Independence of Angola (UNITA – the South African proxy organization) and the South African Territorial Forces of Namibia (then still illegally occupied by South Africa).
“Cuito Cuanavale was a critical turning point in the struggle against apartheid. From November 1987 to March 1988, the South African armed forces repeatedly tried and failed to capture Cuito Cuanavale. In southern Africa, the battle has attained legendary status. It is considered the debacle of apartheid: a defeat of the South African armed forces that altered the balance of power in the region and heralded the demise of racist rule in South Africa. Cuito Cuanavale decisively thwarted Pretoria’s objective of establishing regional hegemony, a strategy which was vital to defending and preserving apartheid; directly led to the independence of Namibia; and accelerated the dismantling of apartheid. The battle is often referred to as the African Stalingrad of apartheid. Cuba’s contribution was crucial as it provided the essential reinforcements, material and planning.”
“The Cuban commitment was immense. Fidel Castro stated that the Cuban Revolution had ‘put its own existence at stake, it risked a huge battle against one of the strongest powers located in the area of the Third World, against one of the richest powers, with significant industrial and technological development, armed to the teeth, at such a great distance from our small country and with our own resources, our own arms. We even ran the risk of weakening our defenses, and we did so. We used our ships and ours alone, and we used our equipment to change the relationship of forces, which made success possible in that battle. We put everything at stake in that action …’
“The Cuban government viewed preventing the fall of Cuito Cuanavale as imperative. A South African victory would have meant not only the capture of the town and the destruction of the best Angolan military formations, but, quite possibly, the end of Angola’s existence as an independent country. The Cuban revolutionary leadership also decided to go further than the defense of Cuito Cuanavale. They decided to deploy the necessary forces and employ a plan that would both put an end once and for all to South African aggression against Angola and deliver a decisive blow against the racist state.”
“South Africa’s efforts to seize Cuito Cuanavale were stymied by the Cubans and Angolans. With the South Africans preoccupied at Cuito Cuanavale, the Cubans achieved a strategic coup by carrying out an outflanking maneuver. To the west of Cuito Cuanavale and along the Angolan/Namibian border, Havana deployed 40,000 Cuban troops, supported by 30,000 Angolans and 3,000 SWAPO troops. Pretoria had become so focused on seizing Cuito Cuanavale that they had left themselves exposed to a major military counterstroke.”
“This defeat on the ground forced South Africa to the negotiating table, resulting in Namibian independence and dramatically hastening the end of apartheid. The regional balance of power had been fundamentally transformed. The respected scholar Victoria Brittan observed that Cuito Cuanavale became ‘a symbol across the continent that apartheid and its army were no longer invincible.’
“In a July 1991 speech delivered in Havana, Nelson Mandela underscored Cuito Cuanavale’s and Cuba’s vital role: ‘The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character. We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defense of one of us. The defeat of the apartheid army was an inspiration to the struggling people in South Africa! Without the defeat of Cuito Cuanavale our organizations would not have been unbanned! The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here today! Cuito Cuanavale was a milestone in the history of the struggle for southern African liberation!’
“In 1994, Mandela further declared: ‘If today all South Africans enjoy the rights of democracy; if they are able at last to address the grinding poverty of a system that denied them even the most basic amenities of life, it is also because of Cuba’s selfless support for the struggle to free all of South Africa’s people and the countries of our region from the inhumane and destructive system of apartheid. For that, we thank the Cuban people from the bottom of our heart.’’