The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 1           January 9, 2006  

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

Angola became stronghold for
African liberation struggles
Fidel Castro speaks on 30th anniversary
of Cuban fighters’ arrival in Angola
Reprinted below is the second 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.

This is part of a series of articles and documents the Militant is publishing 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.

In the first part of this speech, Castro outlines how the Cuban government responded to the initial request for assistance by Angolan leader Agostinho Neto when, on the eve of Angola’s proclamation of independence in November 1975, it was invaded by troops of the apartheid regime and the pro-imperialist Mobutu regime in Zaire (Congo), backed by pro-imperialist Angolan forces headed by Jonas Savimbi.

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.


We now know much more than we did then about how Washington thought and acted, based on official documents declassified in recent years.

At no time did the U.S. president [Gerald Ford], or his powerful Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, or the U.S. intelligence services, even imagine the possibility of participation by Cuba. Never before had a Third World country acted to support another people in an armed conflict beyond its geographical neighborhood.

By the end of November [1975], enemy aggression had been halted in the north and in the south. Complete heavy armored units, substantial land and anti-aircraft artillery, armored infantry units up to brigade strength, transported by our merchant fleet, accumulated rapidly in Angola, where 36,000 Cuban troops launched a furious offensive. Attacking the main enemy in the south, they drove South Africa’s racist army 1,000 kilometers back to where it came from, Angola’s border with Namibia, the racist’s colonial enclave. The last South African soldier left Angolan territory on March 27. In the north, Mobutu’s regular troops and the mercenaries were driven back across the border with Zaire.

The truth is that Cuba was in favor of exacting a heavy price from South Africa for its adventure: the application of UN Resolution 435 and the independence of Namibia.

On the other hand, the Soviets, worried about possible U.S. reaction, were putting strong pressure on us to make a rapid withdrawal.

After raising strong objections, we were obliged to accede, at least partially, to the Soviet demands. Although not consulted about our decision to send troops to the Republic of Angola, the Soviet Union had subsequently decided to supply arms for the emerging Angolan army and had agreed to some of our requests for material aid during the hostilities. Angola’s post-victory prospects without the political and logistic support of the USSR were non-existent.

In the difficult situation created in 1976, Comrade Raúl [Castro], Cuba’s defense minister, traveled to Angola for talks with President Neto about the unavoidable need to start a progressive withdrawal of 36,000 Cuban troops over a three-year period, the time Cuba and Angola agreed would be needed to establish a strong Angolan army.

Meanwhile, we would maintain robust combat units in the uplands of the Angolan plateau, some 250 kilometers from the Namibian border.

Neto understood our concerns and nobly agreed to schedule the withdrawal of Cuba’s forces.

Less than a year later, in March 1977 when I was finally able to visit Angola and personally congratulate the Angolan and Cuban fighters on their victory, 12,000 internationalists, one-third of our force, had already returned to Cuba, withdrawal operations having gone according to plan up to that point. But, America and South Africa weren’t satisfied, and negotiations between Pretoria and secretive Washington were followed in the 1980s by publication of the plot, in the form of [U.S. president Ronald] Reagan’s “constructive engagement” and “linkage.” The stubbornness of the two powers, coupled with its painful and dramatic consequences, made necessary direct Cuban support for the Angolan people for over 15 years, regardless of the agreed timetable for withdrawal.

Very few people believed we would withstand the U.S.-South African onslaughts for so many years.

That decade saw intensification of the struggles by the peoples of Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa against the colonial yoke and apartheid. Angola became a stronghold for those peoples, whom Cuba also supported. The Pretoria government’s actions were invariably treacherous.  
Heroism in face of assault on Sumbe
Kassinga, Boma, Novo Katengue, and Sumbe are scenes of crimes committed by apartheid against the peoples of Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Angola, and at the same time shining examples of our solidarity in combating the common enemy.

The attack on Sumbe is a particularly eloquent example of their criminal intentions. There were no Cuban or Angolan troops there, only doctors, teachers, construction workers and other civilian collaborators, who the enemy tried to kidnap. But these men and women resisted with their militia rifles, beside their Angolan comrades, until the arrival of reinforcements put the aggressors to flight. Seven Cubans were killed in this unequal battle.

This is just one example, of many that could be cited, of the bravery and self-sacrifice spirit of our internationalists, both military and civilian, ready to offer their sweat or their blood, whenever the need arises, beside their Angolan, Namibian, Zimbabwean or South African comrades, or from the whole African continent, since Algeria, the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, and Ethiopia can also be added to the list.

It was an extraordinary achievement by our people, especially our young people; the tens of thousands on active service and those in the reserves who volunteered to do their internationalist duty alongside the career officers and regular troops.

They add up to millions, the men and women on the home front who supported those successful missions, working overtime to stand in for the absentees and making sure the families of the soldiers and civilian collaborators never went short.

The families of our internationalists deserve special mention. With remarkable stoicism, they bore absence, sent words of encouragement with every letter and kept any difficulties or worries to themselves.

Prime examples include the mothers, sons, brothers and sisters and spouses of our fallen compatriots. All, without exception, have come to terms with their loss. They have been able to transform their profound grief, which was echoed throughout the nation during Operation Tribute, into greater love of the homeland, into stronger loyalty and respect for the cause for which their loved one willingly risked his life.

A people willing to perform such a feat: what would it be capable of if called on to defend its own land!

This is not the right time to discuss the differing strategic and tactical conceptions of the Cubans and the Soviets.

We trained tens of thousands of Angolan soldiers and acted as advisers in the instruction and combat operations of Angolan troops. The Soviets advised the military high command and provided ample supplies of weaponry to the Angolan armed forces. Actions based on the advice given at the top level caused us quite a few headaches. Nonetheless, great respect and strong feelings of solidarity and understanding always prevailed between the Cuban and Soviet military.

The end of 1987 saw the well-publicized last major invasion of Angolan territory by South African forces, in circumstances that threatened the nation’s stability.

On that date, South Africa and the United States launched the last and most dangerous attack on a strong contingent of Angolan troops that was advancing through sandy terrain towards Jamba, on the southeast edge of the Angolan border, presumed location of Savimbi’s command post. We had always opposed, if not actually prevented, 11th-hour attacks by South Africa’s air force, its heavy artillery, and armored forces.  
Historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale
History repeated itself. The enemy, greatly emboldened, advanced strongly, towards Cuito Cuanavale, an old NATO airbase. Here it prepared to deliver a mortal blow against Angola.

Desperate calls were received from the Angolan government appealing to the Cuban troops for support in fending off presumed disaster; it was unquestionably the biggest threat from a military operation in which we, as on other occasions, had no responsibility whatever.

Titanic efforts by the Cuban political and military high command, despite the serious threat of hostilities which hung over us as well, resulted in assembling the forces needed to deliver a decisive blow against the South African forces. As in 1975, our homeland rose to the occasion. A flood of troops and weaponry rapidly crossed the Atlantic, landing on Angola’s south coast in order to attack in the southwest, in the direction of Namibia. At the same time, 800 kilometers to the east, special units advanced towards Cuito Cuanavale, where they joined up with retreating Angolan forces to set up a lethal trap for the powerful South African forces heading for that large airbase.

This time, Cuban troops in Angola numbered 55,000.

So while in Cuito Cuanavale the South African troops were bled, to the southwest 40,000 Cuban and 30,000 Angolan troops, supported by some 600 tanks, hundreds of pieces of artillery, 1,000 anti-aircraft weapons, and the daring MIG-23 units that secured air supremacy, advanced towards the Namibian border, ready to literally sweep up the South African forces deployed along that main route.

(The last part will appear in next issue.)

Cuba’s role in southern African freedom fight
Fidel Castro speaks on 30th anniversary of Cuban fighters’ arrival in Angola  
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