The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.61/No.45           December 22, 1997 
Che In The Congo: `A Return To Our Internationalist Roots'  
This selection is part of a series marking the 30th anniversary of the death in combat of Ernesto Che Guevara. Argentine by birth, Guevara became one of the central leaders of the Cuban revolution that brought down the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in 1959 and, in response to mounting pressure from Washington, opened the socialist revolution in the Americas. Che, as he is popularly known, was one of the outstanding Marxist leaders of the 20th century.

In 1966 - 67, he led a nucleus of revolutionaries from Bolivia, Cuba, and Peru who fought to overthrow the military dictatorship in Bolivia. In the process, they sought to forge a Latin America-wide movement of workers and peasants that could lead the battle for land reform and against U.S. imperialist domination of the continent and advance the struggle for socialism. Guevara was wounded and captured on Oct. 8, 1967. He was shot the next day by the Bolivian military, after consultation with Washington.

As part of the commemoration of this anniversary in Cuba, dozens of articles, speeches, and interviews by those who worked with Che are being published, dealing with the Cuban revolution, its impact in world politics, and the actions of its leadership. Many of Guevara's collaborators and family members have spoken at conferences and other meetings, bringing Che to life for a new generation and explaining the importance of his rich political legacy today. These materials contain many valuable firsthand accounts and information, some of which are being written down and published for the first time. They are part of the broader discussion taking place in Cuba today on how to advance the revolution.

The Militant is reprinting a selection of these contributions, along with related material such as the article above, as a weekly feature, under the banner "Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution."

The article below appeared in the Nov. 20, 1995, issue of Trabajadores, the weekly publication of the Central Organization of Cuban Workers, reporting on a conference that had just concluded. Translation and footnotes are by the Militant.

Fifty of the 370 Cuban internationalists who were part of the two columns headed by Che toward the end of 1965 in what are today the African republics of Zaire(1) and the Congo participated in an extensive and reflective look back at those events, held this past Saturday at the Central House of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces [FAR]. At its conclusion, Division General Néstor López Cuba discussed the role of the FAR at present and said, "The mission today is the special period,(2) but without weakening defense." There were many key moments during this return to our internationalist roots.

A Latin-African people is how Fidel labeled us at the conclusion of the First Congress of the [Communist] Party at the Plaza of the Revolution in 1975. He was explaining the reasons for the Cuban internationalist mission in the People's Republic of Angola, which had just been proclaimed.(3)

Twenty years later one can better appreciate the relationship of that event to our heritage and also to the presence of Che's guerrilla unit in the Congo. Two columns of experienced Cuban combatants planted the seeds that later bore fruit on African soil.

Today we commemorate the 30th anniversary of that mission of solidarity, begun by the Heroic Guerrilla on April 24, 1965, in what was then Congo-Leopoldville, today the Republic of Zaire. On August 21 of that year, this mission was complemented by another column that aided the government of Congo-Brazzaville, today the Republic of the Congo. At the time, however, they were ready to reinforce Che's group.

Jorge Risquet Valdés, head of the political high command of that mission, recalled various circumstances of those events, together with some of the 50 participants in the seminar held last Saturday at the Central House of the FAR. The meeting commemorated the 30th anniversary of that act of solidarity with the struggle of Black Africa against colonial and neocolonial oppression, conceived by Che and the Cuban revolutionary leadership.

Brig. Gen. Harry Villegas, Hero of the Republic of Cuba and internationalist combatant in Column no. 1 in the Congo and in the Bolivian guerrilla movement, explained the adverse conditions they had to confront in an unfamiliar environment, with ethnic and cultural differences, a low level of development, and profound backwardness.

For Villegas, currently a member of the leadership of the Western Army, the mission that concluded Nov. 21, 1965, had proven to be effective in a brief period of time. It contributed to improving the medical care provided by the Cubans to the adult population and children, and was an important contribution to getting acquainted with one another.

In line with the seminar's reflective character, Jorge Risquet recalled that in Brazzaville, in early 1965, Che held "a meeting with the leadership of the MPLA, headed by Agostinho Neto," at which a commitment was made "at the request of the Angolan patriots" to aid their guerrilla movement in the fight against Portuguese colonialism, which led to deep and lasting internationalist cooperation.

Risquet, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, cited passages from the speech by General of the Army Raúl Castro, minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, at the event marking the 20th anniversary of both columns-the second of which concluded its mission in December 1966. In that speech Raúl highlighted the consequences of colonialism in Africa and America.

"Long before the aboriginal inhabitants in the Antilles were exterminated by the fire and lash of the conquistadores," Raúl said, "the Portuguese and Spaniards had already begun the shameful business of slave-trafficking, seizing ivory and rubber and especially the greatest wealth of all: African human beings."

He also pointed out how Che envisioned that in a "context of political ferment and increasing prominence by the African peoples . . . there was a need to offer solidarity to prevent the recolonization of Zaire and contribute to the armed struggle of the peoples of the Portuguese colonies. This was to be a starting point for the great and definitive battle: the liberation of the South African people from the abject yoke of apartheid and the independence of Namibia, also occupied by the white racists of Pretoria."

In his evaluation of that historic mission, the minister of the FAR hailed the intense combat activity of both columns, characterized by their member's daring and discipline. He also reviewed the numerous missions of Column no. 2, headed by Jorge Risquet and Brigadier General Rolando Kindelán Blez.

This column, in addition to constituting Che's reserve force to be incorporated when necessary and aiding the progressive government of the Congo, then threatened with aggression by the Kinshasa regime,(4) was also assigned to assist the Second Front of the MPLA in Cabinda, among other activities. The Cuban- Congolese-Angolan collaboration helped create the conditions for the struggle in Angola, in conquering and preserving that country's independence.

"In the difficult initial moments of Angola's second war of liberation," explained the second secretary of the party on the 20th anniversary of these columns, "Brazzaville served as a secure rear guard for one part of our troops. Its comradeship in arms with the MPLA-dating back to 1965-has become a factor of considerable importance in preserving the sovereignty and integrity of the People's Republic of Angola."

He then stated the following: "To spell things out, the course of history has confirmed .. the validity of that mission, which already figures among the outstanding precedents of our internationalist course of action, which we will never renounce. It also helped clear open a path for the struggles of the peoples of Africa, to which the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba has offered its determined support."

In his historical evaluation, Raúl stressed how those approximately 370 men have been "multiplied a thousand-fold in the noble endeavor of paying our debt of gratitude to humanity at the price of one's own life if necessary."(5) He stated that more than 120 carried out other internationalist missions, and several dozen of them participated in three, four, and even five missions. Of these combatants, more than 90 percent are members of the [Cuban Communist] party.

During the seminar, chaired by Division Generals Ulises Rosales del Toro, first deputy to the minister of the FAR and head of the general staff, and Néstor López Cuba, head of the Political Directorate of the FAR, a number of speakers made remarks reflecting the central importance of Cuba's collaboration in Africa.

In one very illustrative set of remarks, pediatrician Rodolfo Puentes Ferro explained the role of our doctors in Brazzaville, where infant mortality was very high. An incipient effort against poliomyelitis was begun; a hundred young people were selected to be trained in Cuba. In 1977, during his trip to the Congo, he was able to corroborate that 70 of them were doctors.

At the time of the 1960s mission, there was only one native- born doctor of medicine. Now there exists one for every 8,000 inhabitants, according to World Health Organization figures. In concluding his remarks, in which he referred to Doctors Rodrigo Alvarez Cambras, Luis Delgado, Manuel Jaca, and other doctors participating in the mission, he said that "the most important thing was the mark of our presence we left behind."

In contrast, the United States first ordered the assassination of Patrice Lumumba,(6) and later spent $45 million financing the white mercenaries in the Congo-located in the heart of Africa and possessing enormous mineral wealth. It equipped the repressive forces with arms and planes, and promoted massive crimes.

U.S. imperialism came to replace its Belgian and Portuguese peers. But it was unable to prevent the liberation of Angola, Namibia, Guinea-Bissau, or the defeat of apartheid in South Africa. All this was a result of those historic missions by the Cuban combatants in the Congo, headed by the Heroic Guerrilla.

It was a return to our Latin-African revolutionary roots.

1. Zaire was renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo following the overthrow of the regime of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997.

2. "Special Period" is the term Cubans use to describe the economic crisis precipitated by the collapse in aid and trade from the Soviet Union at the opening of the 1990s.

3. Shortly before the Angolan government was to celebrate its formal independence from Portuguese colonial rule in November 1975, the country was invaded by troops from South Africa and Zaire. When the new regime led by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) called for internationalist assistance, Cuban troops volunteered and turned back the invasion. Over the next 13 years, Cuban forces remained in Angola, helping defend the country's sovereignty against repeated attacks by the apartheid regime. A historic turning point in Africa came when Cuban volunteer troops, together with the Angolan army, defeated the South African forces at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988. This victory spurred an upsurge in South Africa that finally toppled the apartheid regime there. The last Cuban troops left Angola in 1991.

4. The dictatorship in Congo-Leopoldville.

5. More than 300,000 Cubans took part in the internationalist mission in Angola alone.

6. In January 1961 Patrice Lumumba, central leader of the Congo's independence movement, was murdered by imperialist- backed forces loyal to rightist figure Moise Tshombe.  
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