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Brothers in Arms - for Over 20 Years, Cuba Helped Africa's Freedom Struggle

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Fidel Castro says Cuba's contribution to the independence struggle in Africa has never been properly acknowledged. Soon, Cuba will open its archives to researchers and historians working on the history of Africa. 

Cuba sent over 350,000 soldiers, civilians and doctors in the 1970s and 1980s to support liberation struggles in Algeria, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, Congo, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe.

With Cuban help, apartheid in South Africa was dismantled. In total, 2,077 Cubans died fighting for Africa.

And the story of valour spreads to Latin America and Asia.

In his memoirs, Castro recalls in detail the momentous events of his half a century rule.

In 1961, a Cuban ship took weapons to Algerians fighting for independence from France.

On its return to Cuba, it took back about 100 orphans and wounded civilians.

"No one knows the hundreds of thousands of Algerian lives lost. And, to date, the French have still not sent to Algeria the maps of the fields where millions of landmines were laid."

In 1963, Cuban troops fought alongside Algerians against the invasion from Morocco, whose armed forces received logistical aid from the United States.

Cuba's collaboration with the independence struggle in Angola and Guinea-Bissau began in 1965.

It prepared the fighting units and sent in instructors and material aid.

Guinea-Bissau was a Portuguese colony, and a fierce struggle for independence had been going on since 1956.

It was led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, under Amilcar Cabral. Finally, in September 1974, Guinea-Bissau gained independence.

About 600 Cubans, among them 70 doctors, had been with the guerrillas for 10 years.

In July 1975, the Cape Verde islands and the Sao Tome and Principe archipelago also gained full independence from Portugal.

And mid that year, the Mozambique Liberation Front and its leader Samora Machel also gained independence.

But Mozambique, after independence, was often invaded by South African troops.

The last of the Portuguese colonies to win independence was East Timor, in 1999.

"We were able to help that country at a very difficult moment. It was so far away. And Cuba was, at the time, isolated from the rest of the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp," Castro recollects.

The leader of the newly independent Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, received Cuban political aid.

When he was assassinated by colonial powers in 1961, "we helped his followers. Four years later, in 1965, Cuban blood was spilt in the western area of Lake Tanganyika, where Che, with over 100 instructors, supported Congolese rebels in their fight against white mercenaries led by the West's puppet Mobutu (Sese Seko)"

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1964, Che Guevara, denounced American and Belgian aggression in the Congo, saying: "Every free man in the world must be ready to avenge the crime committed (there)."

"I tried at the time to calm his impatience... while conditions were being created for a freedom struggle," Castro reveals. Finally, Castro let Che go to Africa with a group of companeros.

On April 24, 1965, Che arrived with a large group of Cuban combatants at Kibamba, near Fizi, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
The area was controlled by Laurent-Desire Kabila's guerrillas.

Kabila had received his political and military training in China.

"But his guerrillas were in deep crisis then -- disorganised and under attack by battle-hardened white South Africans, Rhodesians and Germans... commanded by Belgian and African officers," Castro says in his memoirs.

In July 1965, Cuba sent 250 fighters to Congo Brazzaville "to defend the nationalist government of Massamba Debat and, from Brazzaville, to provide help to Che, who was on the eastern border of the other Congo."

Cuba's best known intervention in Africa was in Angola, where the United States played a major part.

"The US implemented a covert plan to crush the legitimate interests of Angolan people and impose a puppet government. A key point was (a US) alliance with South Africa to train and equip certain organisations created by the Portuguese colonial regime to frustrate Angola's independence and turn it into a condominium for Mobutu."

The Angolan Popular Liberation Movement (MPLA) was led by Agostinho Neto, who had asked for Cuba's help.

The US made arrangements to transfer to South Africa of several atomic bombs... We took all precautions, (under the assumption that) the South Africans were going to drop a nuclear weapon on our troops."

In mid-October 1975, the Zaireian army and mercenary troops, bolstered by South African military advisers, were getting ready to launch new attacks from northern Angola, and in fact were already in the vicinity of the capital, Luanda. The greatest danger was in the south.

South African troops had crossed the southern border of the country and were advancing quickly into the heart of the country.

"The objective was to meet Mobutu's mercenaries from the north and occupy Luanda before Angola proclaimed its independence, which was scheduled for November 11, 1975. Those were difficult days!" Castro says.

In the face of the two-pronged invasion of Angola, Cuban soldiers joined the combat.

"For the first time, in that remote part of the continent, the blood of Cubans and Angolans joined to nourish the freedom of that long-suffering land."

By late November 1975 the enemy aggression had been halted in both the north and south.

After that victory, Cuba withdrew from Angola in 1976.

"In March 1977, I was finally able to visit Angola and congratulate its people and Cuban combatants on their victory. By then about 12,000 internationalists had already gone back to Cuba - that is, about a third of our troops. Up to that point, the withdrawal plan was being followed to the letter."

In 1977, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power in Ethiopia, at a time when the country had been invaded by Somalia.

Somali President Mohamed Said Barre had taken over Ogaden in his ambition of a Greater Somalia, which would bring together all ethnic Somalis in one nation.

To do this, it was necessary to annex Djibouti, the Somali region of Kenya and the Ogaden.

The Soviet Union provided aid to Ethiopia, and Cuba sent in an expeditionary force.

In 1978 the Cuban and Ethiopian forces, fighting together, won an important victory over the Somali army, which was forced to withdraw from Ogaden.
© Ecoterra -

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