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Vol. 72/No. 48      December 8, 2008

Cuban revolutionary: ‘Angola made me grow’
René González, from U.S. prison, recalls
experience opposing apartheid invasion
(feature article)
René González Sehwerert, 52, is one of five Cuban revolutionaries who have been jailed in the United States for 10 years. He was sentenced to 15 years on charges of “general conspiracy” and “failure to register as a foreign agent” as part of the U.S. government’s frame-up accusations that the Cuban Five—as they are known internationally—were part of a “spy ring” in Miami.

Born in Chicago Aug. 13, 1956, González returned with his family to Cuba in 1961. Starting in 1977 he spent two years in Angola as one of the Cuban volunteers who helped defeat the invasions of that country by the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.

The following interview with González was printed in the June 13, 2005, edition of Trabajadores, a daily newspaper in Cuba, under the title “Angola made me grow.”

When González mentions the crime in Barbados he is referring to the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner, killing all 73 aboard, moments after taking off from the Barbados airport. The bombing was organized by CIA-trained Cuban counterrevolutionaries Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch.

In April 1974 the dictatorship in Portugal was overthrown in the “Carnation Revolution,” a coup by young military officers that sparked a mass popular upsurge.

Translation from Spanish is by the Militant.


René González Sehwerert’s youthful spirit and internationalist sentiment came together in his life as a soldier during Angola’s war of liberation. Trabajadores reveals the feelings and motivations that brought one of our antiterrorist heroes to the African continent.

“I don’t know if in the mid-70s I would have needed too many reasons for carrying out an internationalist mission. It was in the air. Che’s legacy was germinating. The empire’s crimes wounded Cubans’ collective sensibility with each news story of new aggression or of the latest military dictatorship making its debut or by directly wounding our own flesh with crimes like the one in Barbados.

“Under those circumstances, the Carnation Revolution shook the Portuguese colonial empire like a breath of fresh air and opened up the doors to sovereignty for parts of Africa with which we were joined through centuries of exploitation.

“When once again they turned to crime with the support and complicity of those who today try to give us lessons about human rights—apartheid South Africa had attacked the beginnings of a nation just starting to crawl in Angola—the Cuban people shook with anger. Trembling with anger myself and thanks to the help of some officials I managed to be included in the unit of my regiment that was assigned to carry out a mission. That’s how I joined a tank battalion, as a gunner in an artillery crew, a day after having finished my three years of General Military Service.  
Two years in Cabinda
“After two months of training, the T-34 Tank Battalion arrived on the coast of Cabinda in March 1977. Our unit did not participate in combat activities; we were only a part of a defensive line shortly before returning, when the initial enthusiasm for the war on the part of the young troops had calmed down a bit, faced with the imminence of returning home.

“Our initial amazement seeing the lush African landscape was followed by contact with an unknown culture and way of life. I was struck by the nobility, humility, and lack of malice of the Angolans, whom centuries of misery and exploitation had not managed to turn into predators. The word of any one of those peasants was worth more than the constitutions of all of the “superior” countries that had gone to “civilize” that continent.

“An experience that had a big impact on me was seeing the hunger in the faces and bodies of the children. The look on their faces made you shiver. Through some tacit and silent agreement, each one of our two hundred combatants agreed, from the first day, to give up a portion of their meager rations to feed a dozen children who would wait for us by the side of the road three times a day as we were taking food to a small group of troops deployed near their village.

“There are two juxtaposed moments that will forever be etched in my memory: those happy faces returning to their village and witnessing how a neighboring family was making a small coffin.

“In the absence of combat, my stay in Angola coincided with the battle for the ninth grade. This task was taken on with enthusiasm; rustic classrooms were built in each company’s area. I’m thankful to this assignment for my reconciliation with the lessons of mathematics, which I was able to teach. I had the satisfaction of seeing a group of officers and soldiers return to the homeland with a certificate showing the grade level they had conquered.

“After two years of vigilance and intense preparation for combat, in March 1979 the last members of the T-34 Battalion of the Motorized Infantry Regiment of Cabinda boarded the ships that returned us to Cuba, with the satisfaction of having done our job and gone through a unique experience.

“On the Zenda hillock we left behind a renewed unit and a mountain of life experiences.

“ I never imagined that another experience—like the one I’m living now—would be able to go beyond the intensity and weight of the Angolan one in my upbringing and my life. That’s the value that I see in my two years in Cabinda.  
The work of imperfect men
“That internationalist mission was the realization of a longing that made me grow as a human being. It wasn’t all rose-colored. I had positive and negative experiences under difficult conditions. There I lived moments of tremendous joy and others of profound sadness; camaraderie was mixed with conflicts, I disagreed and I was in agreement, I got along with some and not with others, I made good friends or, simply, compañeros.

“But each and every one of these experiences taught me something new and made me grow. I have gone back to that experience to resolve later problems, and each one of those combatants—perhaps like me at that moment without fully recognizing it—was a part of something much bigger than any one of us or even of our battalion.

“The Angolan experience taught me that the most beautiful works are accomplished by imperfect men, each one of us a short impulse in history: that continual righting of wrongs that began with the first human injustice.

“However, the role of Cuba in this epic poem was more than a short impulse. The push that the fight for Angola’s sovereignty gave to the struggle against colonialism—that social cancer upon which opulence was built that today passes itself off as the civilized world—didn’t stop until it reached the Cape of Good Hope, completely destroying the myth that was invented to enable them to carry out their policies of subjugation.

“I think that it will be some time before humanity understands Cuba’s altruism in Angola. In the individualistic world that is imposed on us, what someone has called “sarcastic skepticism” corrodes and immobilizes the collective consciousness forged in the masses, as a means of domination by those who build their fortunes on them.

“But history is already written, at least up to this point, and the epic deed of our people in Africa is part of that. As it will be when all of the peoples united as one have sunk the bourgeois empire, erasing, at last, hunger from the face of the last child who has suffered from it.”
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