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   Vol. 69/No. 50           December 26, 2005  

30 Years Since ‘Operation Carlota,’ Cuba’s Internationalist Mission in Angola   

Cuba’s role in southern African freedom fight
Fidel Castro speaks on 30th anniversary
of Cuban fighters’ arrival in Angola
This is the first of several articles and documents the Militant is publishing over the coming weeks to mark the 30th anniversary of Cuba’s internationalist response to Angola’s request for help in defeating the invading armed forces of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Between 1975, when Angola won independence from Portugal, and 1991, some 300,000 Cuban volunteers fought alongside Angolan soldiers to beat back assaults by the apartheid forces. This led to the defeat of the South African army in the 1987-88 battle of Cuito Cuanavale and contributed to the demise of the apartheid regime and the independence of Namibia, a South African colony.

We reprint below the first part of a speech given by Cuban president Fidel Castro at a meeting held in Havana on Dec. 2, 2005, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Cuba’s internationalist mission in Angola. Joining him on the platform were José Condesse de Carvalho, Thenjiwe Mtintso, and Claudia Grace Vushoma, ambassadors to Cuba from Angola, South Africa, and Namibia, respectively.

The event also commemorated the 49th anniversary of the landing in southeastern Cuba by a group of revolutionaries on the boat Granma. That action launched the 1956-58 revolutionary war, led by the Rebel Army and the July 26 Movement, against the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship.

The English translation of this speech is available at, the web site of the Cuban daily Granma. Subtitles, material in brackets, and minor translation and stylistic changes are by the Militant.


Distinguished guests, internationalist combatants, compañeros:

Forty-nine years ago today, the Granma yacht arrived on the coast of our homeland. Thus today marks the beginning of the 50th year in the life of the Rebel Army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

As is well known, in the wake of the landing and despite early setbacks, the fight spread rapidly to every corner of our fields and towns. There was not a moment’s truce until the resounding people’s victory of 1st January 1959, in the fight to the death against the oppressors who tortured and murdered tens of thousands of Cubans and drained the nation’s monetary reserves.

This magnificent triumph, however, would not be the end of the armed struggle, because imperialist treachery, aggravated by every measure of public benefit or which consolidated national independence, kept us constantly on guard. Many comrades had to continue risking their lives in defense of the revolution, both in Cuba and abroad, in the fulfillment of sacred duties.

Exactly 19 years after the Granma landing, in November 1975, a small group of Cubans in Angola fought the first combats in a battle that would last many years.

The history of imperialist and neocolonial plunder and pillage by Europe in Africa, backed to the hilt by the United States and NATO, as well as the heroic Cuban solidarity with its sister nations, have not been fully known, if only as well-deserved recognition for the hundreds of thousands of men and women who wrote that glorious page of history, which should be an eternal example to present and future generations. That is not to say it does not still need wider dissemination.

In recent days, the subject has also received much attention by television and the rest of the media, and at the ceremonies up and down the country paying homage to the internationalist fighters. Accordingly, for reasons of time in moments of hard revolutionary work, I shall confine myself to a brief review of certain key events in the writing of that glorious page of our revolutionary history.  
First internationalist Africa mission
As early as 1961, when the Algerian people were engaged in an astonishing struggle for their independence [from France], a Cuban vessel carried arms to the heroic Algerian patriots and returned with some one hundred children, orphaned or wounded in the war. Two years later, when Algeria gained its independence, it was threatened by foreign aggression that drained the country of important natural resources. For the first time, Cuban troops crossed the ocean, and without asking anyone’s permission, went to the aid of our Algerian brothers.

It was at this time also, when imperialism had robbed the nation of half its doctors, leaving us with just 3,000, that some dozens of Cuban doctors were sent to Algeria to aid its people.

That marked the beginning, 44 years ago, of what is today the greatest medical mission in history to the peoples of the Third World.

This period, from 1965 onward, was also the setting for our participation in the independence struggles in Angola and Guinea-Bissau, basically consisting in officer training and dispatch of instructors and supplies.

The disintegration of that nation’s colonial empire, weakened by economic ruin and the ravages of war, had begun after the “Revolution of the Carnations” in Portugal, when Guinea-Bissau won independence in September 1974.

Around 60 Cuban internationalists, including some ten doctors, had stayed with the guerrillas for ten years, since 1964. Mozambique, after a fierce struggle by its people under the leadership of FRELIMO [the Mozambique Liberation Front] and its chief, the unforgettable brother and comrade Samora Machel, achieved final independence in mid-1975. In July of that year, Cape Verde and São Tome also reached that goal.

In the case of Angola, the largest and richest of the Portuguese colonies, the situation was totally different. Washington launched a covert plan to rob the Angolan people of its legitimate rights and install a puppet government. Its main lever was its alliance with South Africa, involving joint training and equipping of the organizations set up by Portuguese colonialism to thwart Angolan independence and turn the country into a condominium of the corrupt Mobutu and fascist South Africa, whose troops it did not hesitate to use to invade Angola.

Dictators, terrorists, thieves and self-confessed racists, without the slightest qualms, swelled the ranks of the so-called “free world.” A few years later, U.S. president Ronald Reagan, in a particularly cynical gesture, dignified them with the designation “freedom fighters.”

In mid-1975, the Zaire army and mercenary forces reinforced with South African heavy weapons and military advisers launched fresh attacks in northern Angola, reaching the outskirts of Luanda. However, the major threat was in the south: South African armored columns in the south were advancing rapidly deep into the territory, with the aim of occupying Luanda with a combined force of racist South African and Mobutu’s mercenary troops, before the proclamation of independence on November 11.

At that time, there were only 480 Cuban military instructors in Angola, sent some weeks earlier in response to a request from MPLA [Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola] president Agostinho Neto, a renowned, prestigious leader who organized and directed his people’s struggle for many years, with the support of all the African peoples and with recognition by the world at large. He asked us simply for cooperation in training the battalions that made up the newly-independent state’s army. The instructors were only lightly armed.

In early November, a small group of these together with new recruits from the Benguela Revolutionary Instruction Center valiantly fought against the racist army. In the surprise attack by outnumbering South Africans on dozens of young Angolans, eight Cuban instructors were killed and seven wounded.

The South Africans lost six armored cars and other vehicles. They never revealed the numbers of the heavy casualties they sustained.  
Cuban and Angolan blood shed
For the first time, in this remote corner of Africa, Cuban and Angolan blood was shed in the struggle to free that troubled land.

It was at this point that Cuba, in consultation with President Neto, decided to send Interior Ministry special troops and regular members of the Cuban army by air and sea, as fully-equipped fighting troops to confront the aggression by the forces of apartheid.

We took up the challenge without hesitation. Our instructors would not be abandoned to their fate; neither would those selfless Angolan fighters, much less their homeland’s independence after 20 years of heroic struggle. Ten thousand kilometers from home, Cuban troops—heirs of the glorious Rebel Army—engaged in combat with the armies of South Africa, the continent’s richest and most powerful nation, and of Zaire, Europe’s and America’s richest and well-armed puppet state.

Then, the campaign started known as Operation Carlota, code name for the most just, lengthy, large scale and successful internationalist campaign undertaken by Cuba.

The empire could not achieve its aim of dismembering Angola and robbing it of its independence. The long, heroic struggle of the Angolan and Cuban peoples stopped them in their tracks.

(To be continued next week.)
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