|Panel at launching of Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own, Havana book fair, Feb. 18. From right: Jorge Sutil, Union of Young Communists leader; Mary-Alice Waters, book’s editor; Martín Koppel, chair; Cuban generals Harry Villegas and Gustavo Chui.|
The new book is published by Pathfinder Press in English and Spanish. It tells the story of how Cuba’s working people and their revolutionary leadership responded to the request by the government of Angola, which had just won its independence from Portugal, for help in defeating a U.S.-backed invasion by South Africa’s white-supremacist regime. More than 425,000 Cuban volunteers took part in that nearly 16-year-long internationalist mission, whose victory assured Angola’s sovereignty, won Namibia’s independence, and hastened the collapse of apartheid in South Africa.
The event was one of dozens of book presentations, roundtable discussions, and literature and poetry readings related to Angola during the Havana International Book Fair here February 14-24. Angola was the country honored this year at this huge annual cultural festival.
Along with Villegas, other speakers at the Cuba and Angola event were Brig. Gen. Gustavo Chui (both Villegas and Chui were frontline officers in the battles fought in Angola); Jorge Sutil, a member of the national leadership of the Union of Young Communists (UJC); and Mary-Alice Waters, the book’s editor and a member of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. The meeting was chaired by Martín Koppel, who was responsible for the preparation of the book in Spanish.
Among the 80 people attending were numerous other Cuban internationalists who had served in Angola or other African countries. One was Víctor Dreke, second in command in the 1965 mission led by Che Guevara in the Congo. The next year Dreke led the first column of Cuban combatants who joined those battling Portuguese colonial rule in Guinea-Bissau. He is today executive vice president of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution.
Also participating were leadership delegations from the Union of Young Communists and of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples, including its president, Kenia Serrano. The audience also included a number of young people, some whose parents served in Angola.
Cuba and Angola, Waters said, brings the example of the Cuban Revolution to life for working people and youth around the world. Today, in face of the spreading international capitalist crisis of production and trade, she said, workers and farmers in the U.S. and elsewhere “are becoming more open to seeing that example in all its rich detail than at any time in the last 60 years. More open because of their own experiences.” (See Waters’ remarks on page 8.)
The contribution made by Cuban internationalists in Angola “was not a favor to others,” said UJC National Bureau member Sutil, citing the book’s introduction. “Also at stake was the Cuban Revolution itself and the strength of its proletarian core.” Sutil is responsible for the communist youth organization’s work among young workers, farmers and soldiers.
He recalled how, as a child growing up in a sugar-mill town in Camagüey province, the activities sending off internationalist volunteers to Angola and welcoming them home had a deep impact on him.
Among the young Cubans “whose lives were transformed as they fought shoulder to shoulder with the people of Angola,” Sutil said, were Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González, and René González—“three of our five heroes and brothers who are unjustly locked up in the prisons of the empire.”
Sutil singled out an observation by Fidel Castro from a 1975 speech in the book: “A man’s attitude to war depends on his cultural level and political development.” That statement, Sutil told the meeting, underscores the importance of the UJC’s work to advance the political understanding of young combatants in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces today.
Fighting for Angola’s independenceBrig. Gen. Chui spoke about Fidel Castro’s leadership as commander-in-chief of the Cuban troops during the initial battles in Angola in late 1975. South African and other pro-imperialist forces were rapidly advancing on Luanda, the capital, seeking to install Angolan groups beholden to them as the government before Portugal’s rulers surrendered their nearly 500-year-long colonial domination on Nov. 11, 1975, and Angola became independent.
In response, explained Chui, hundreds and later thousands of Cuban volunteers crossed the Atlantic Ocean, in old Britannia turboprops and converted passenger and cargo ships. An interview with Chui is contained in the new book.
Chui said he and other officers in the Havana headquarters of the Cuban general staff of the mission initially “had doubts we’d be able to save Angola. Our commander-in-chief would always tell us not to be daunted, that we were going to win the war. And I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God! Our commander has gone mad!’”
But Fidel was right, Chui said. They did win. And Castro’s strategic vision, confidence in the combatants and the Cuban and Angolan people, and day-to-day involvement directing troop operations made a decisive difference.
The main speaker at the Cuba and Angola event was Brig. Gen. Villegas, who like Chui was a Rebel Army combatant in the revolutionary war that brought down Cuba’s U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in 1959. Known here as Pombo, his nom de guerre, Villegas served in internationalist combat missions led by Che Guevara in the Congo in 1965 and Bolivia in 1966-67. He volunteered for multiple missions in Angola, serving during the war’s decisive final period as liaison with the high command in Cuba. (Major excerpts from Villegas’ and Chui’s talks will be featured in a coming issue.)
Decisive role of Cuban leadershipCuba’s combat mission in Angola, Villegas said, drew on previous internationalist actions in Africa. It began in early 1963 with aid to the national liberation movement against French colonialism in Algeria, “where we sent doctors before we sent soldiers,” he said. “Our cooperation in Africa really began in Algeria.”
Villegas pointed to the Cuban volunteers who had fought together with anti-imperialist forces in the Congo and then in Guinea-Bissau’s independence war against Portuguese colonialism. The anti-colonial victory in Guinea-Bissau in September 1974 helped accelerate the end of the Portuguese empire in Cape Verde, Mozambique, and finally in Angola, Pombo noted.
He outlined the political-military strategy of Cuba’s revolutionary leadership that led to victory in Angola—13 years after the beginning of the mission—when the South African army launched a second major invasion. That assault ended in March 1988 with the crushing defeat of Pretoria’s military forces in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.
“We weren’t going to let Angolan forces be defeated at the hands of the South Africans,” said Villegas.
The Cuban leadership was determined never to risk a single life needlessly, Villegas emphasized—never to initiate a combat in which they didn’t have the forces necessary to win.
He concluded by quoting a 1991 speech by Raúl Castro—then minister of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces and today Cuba’s president—that appears in Cuba and Angola. When the Cuban people “face new and unexpected challenges,” Castro said, “we will always be able to recall the epic of Angola with gratitude, because without Angola we would not be as strong as we are today.”
Over the course of the book fair and related events, more than 500 copies of Cuba and Angola were sold or distributed.
Bringing Cuban Revolution to life for workers in the US and worldwide
‘Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own’ presented
by editor at international book fair event in Havana
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