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   Vol.66/No.15            April 15, 2002 
'Conflicting Missions' documents truth of
Cuban role in African freedom struggle
(feature article)
"From Old Files, a New Story of U.S. Role in Angolan War" was the headline on a prominently featured news article by senior New York Times correspondent Howard French in the March 31 issue of the paper. The International Herald Tribune featured the same article April 2 under the headline "Angola intervention/New evidence: Old files contradict U.S. account of war."

The story virtually overshadowed the news that on March 30 a preliminary cease-fire was signed between top military commanders from the Angolan government and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA as it is widely known. Long backed by the U.S. government and earlier the South African apartheid regime, UNITA has been waging a civil war to overthrow the Angolan government ever since 1975. Neither elections held in 1992 nor a previous accord signed in 1994 brought an end to the war to overthrow--or at least weaken--the Angolan government, in which an estimated half a million people have died. The new cease-fire came barely a month after Jonas Savimbi, the central leader of UNITA for more than three decades, was killed in an ambush by government forces.

The "new evidence" cited by the Times reporter is the extensive documentary record painstakingly assembled by Johns Hopkins University professor Piero Gleijeses refuting two lies put forward by Washington and its apologists for over a quarter century. One is that Washington intervened in Angola in 1975 only after large numbers of Cuban troops had been sent to that country to support the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) when the country was on the eve of independence from Portugal. The other is the myth that there was no collaboration between the U. S. government and the apartheid regime of South Africa, which was also engaged in a massive operation to block the victory of the MPLA forces. Gleijeses's work is published in Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959–1976, recently released by the University of North Carolina Press.  
Imperialist interventions
On Nov.11, 1975, after more than a decade of intensifying wars of national liberation in all of the Portuguese colonies of Africa, which had hastened the downfall of the decomposing fascist dictatorship in Portugal itself, a defeated Portuguese imperialism conceded independence to its former African possession of Angola. The strongest of the national liberation forces, the MPLA, held the capital city of Luanda and was poised to form the new government. On July 18 of that year U.S. president Gerald Ford, assuming that an MPLA-dominated government would not be sufficiently subservient to U.S. imperialist interests in the region, authorized a program of covert action to support anti-Portuguese forces in the country that had proven themselves more willing to accommodate Washington and its allies.

Cuba's decision to send some 480 military instructors, in response to a request for help from the MPLA's leadership, came more than a month later. Only in October did the first volunteers arrive.

The Zairean-based National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), led by Holden Roberto, was the chief beneficiary of the expanded U.S. operations, but the weaker UNITA forces with whom the FNLA was then allied were also included.

"The odd men in this company," Gleijeses notes, "were the Chinese, who had about 200 military instructors training the FNLA in Zaire." Maneuvering to counter Soviet influence in the region and to demonstrate their bonafides to Washington, they also supplied arms to both the FNLA and UNITA.

The U.S. rulers simultaneously stepped up covert collaboration with the South African apartheid regime, which had selected UNITA as its partner of choice. From arms shipments to advisers and training missions, and small scale operations in southern Angola, South Africa's intervention grew rapidly after mid-1975, in tandem with U.S. moves. On October 14 the South African Defense Forces (SADF), trying to disguise themselves as mercenaries, sent column "Zulu" driving northward across Angola toward the capital of Luanda in an attempt to take the capital city before the November 11 independence deadline. At the same time the U.S.-backed forces of the FNLA were advancing south from Zaire with the same objective.

The imperialist-backed FNLA troops were decisively defeated by the combined forces of the MPLA's military arm reinforced by several hundred Cuban volunteers who had begun arriving in Luanda barely 72 hours before the decisive battle of Quifangondo. The FNLA's advance was stopped there only a few miles outside Luanda on November 10, even as the Portuguese flag was being lowered for the last time over the governor's palace. At midnight that same day, Agostinho Neto, central leader of the MPLA, proclaimed the independence of Angola.

By the end of December, after several stinging defeats spearheaded by the Cuban volunteers, the South African troops had been forced into retreat. On March 27, 1976, the final South African military vehicles withdrew across the border into Namibia. That was the same day that the UN Security Council by a vote of 9-0, with South Africa's U.S. ally abstaining, condemned the "act of aggression committed by South Africa against the People's Republic of Angola," and demanded compensation to Angola for war damages.

The war was hardly over. Only twelve years later was South Africa forced to withdraw for good, after countless battles and the most crushing defeat of all inflicted on the SADF in 1988 at Cuito Cuanavale by the combined forces of the Angolan government and Cuban volunteers. Namibia gained its independence, and the death rattle of the apartheid regime was heard around the world.  
The 'news'
The "news" reported by the New York Times was that these facts, many of them long denied by Washington's preeminent spokespersons, are now accepted as the established truth. "Historians and former diplomats who have studied the documents say they show conclusively that the United States intervened in Angola weeks before the arrival of any Cubans, not afterward as Washington claimed. Moveover, though a connection between Washington and South Africa ...was strongly denied at the time, the documents appear to demonstrate their broad collaboration," French reports.

"The Cuban intervention came in response to a CIA-financed covert invasion via neighboring Zaire, now known as Congo, and South Africa's simultaneous drive on the capital, using troops who posed as Western mercenaries," French notes. Moreover, "research documents significant coordination between the United States and South Africa, from joint training missions to airlifts, and bluntly contradicts the Congressional testimony of the era and memoirs of Henry A. Kissinger" who was then President Gerald Ford's secretary of state.

Kissinger testified before Congress in January 1976 that "in August [1975] intelligence reports indicated the presence of Soviet and Cuban military advisers, trainers and troops, including the first Cuban combat troops." This was in flat contradiction to the now declassified CIA and other intelligence reports of the time, Gleijeses notes. Kissinger "was rewriting history."

Robert Hultslander, CIA station chief in Luanda from August to November 1975, after reading the chapter on these events written by Gleijeses, sent him a letter, cited by the author in the pages of Conflicting Missions, saying: "I agree with the history as you present it, and with your conclusion regarding the assistance provided by Cuban forces, which I believe did not arrive in any numbers until we departed [on November 3]... Although we desperately wanted to find Cubans under every bush, during my tenure their presence was invisible, and undoubtedly limited to a few advisors." Hultslander had cleared his letter with the CIA before sending it, Gleijeses says.  
Cuba alone decided
Conflicting Missions also challenges the view promoted by Washington's apologists that Cuban troops in Africa were acting as surrogates for the Soviet Union, French notes. Gleijeses documents the fact that the Cuban leadership made the decision to send troops to aid the MPLA forces on the eve of independence without consulting the Soviet government, and informed it of that decision only as the first planeload of volunteers were within hours of departure. "Eager not to derail an easing of tensions with Washington," French writes, "the Soviets limited themselves to providing 10 charter flights to transport Cubans to Angola in January 1976. The next year, Havana and Moscow supported opposite sides in an attempted coup in Angola," when MPLA forces seeking closer ties with the Soviet Union attempted to overthrow the government of Agostinho Neto. "The Cubans played a decisive role in defeating the revolt," Gleijeses writes.

In preparing Conflicting Missions, Gleijeses was the first non-Cuban scholar to gain access to the closed archives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba. He obtained extensive U.S. documentation through the Freedom of Information Act, and worked in the government archives of Belgium, Great Britain, and West and East Germany. He conducted countless interviews with the principle protagonists in the United States, Angola, Cuba, and elsewhere, from Jorge Risquet, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba centrally involved in Africa policies from 1965 to the present; to MPLA leader Lúcio Lara; to Joseph Sisco, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs in 1974–76.  
One of the Cuban leaders Gleijeses talked with on numerous occasions and came to deeply respect was Víctor Dreke. In 1965 Dreke was second in command to Ernesto Che Guevara in the Congo during Cuba's first internationalist mission in sub-Saharan Africa. In 1966–67 he was chief of Cuba's military mission to Guinea-Bissau and the Republic of Guinea, fighting alongside the national liberation forces of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde prior to independence from Portugal. Conflicting Missions documents Cuba's contribution to both those struggles. Pathfinder's newly released title From the Escambray to the Congo covers much of this same history, up through the internationalist mission with Che Guevara, in a firsthand account by Víctor Dreke himself. Dreke's book is a good place to start for Militant readers who want a sound political introduction not only to the Cuban revolution and the men and women who made it, but to the breadth and scope of Cuba's commitment to the national liberation struggle in Africa. Those who want more will find Conflicting Missions rewarding reading. It is not only devastatingly well researched and exceptionally clearly written. It reads like an adventure story.


Author of 'Conflicting Missions' comments
on 'From the Escambray to the Congo'

Che Guevara paid Víctor Dreke, his lieutenant in Zaire, a handsome compliment: "He was, throughout our stay, one of the pillars on which I relied. The only reason I am not recommending that he be promoted is that he already holds the highest rank."

From the Escambray to the Congo is Dreke's story. With his characteristic honesty and intelligence, he offers a fascinating glimpse of years full of hope and pain, and of the Cubans who fought to create a better future--for Cuba and for the world.

Piero Gleijeses
January 2002  
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