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Vol. 74/No. 48      December 20, 2010

Internationalism in Africa:
‘A duty fulfilled’
Cuba’s proletarian internationalist role in supporting national liberation struggles is nowhere more pronounced than in Africa. In the following excerpt, three leaders of the Cuban Revolution, generals who served as volunteers helping repel a South African invasion of Angola, talk about Cuba’s internationalist missions in that country and elsewhere in Africa. They explain the significance of Cuba’s role in helping the Angolans to defeat South African troops at the decisive battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988. The excerpt is from the book Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution, a collection of interviews with Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong. Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press, conducted the interview. Copyright © 2005 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

CHUI: Throughout our history there were many internationalists who fought for our freedom. We have been true to their legacy … We lent assistance to the Congo, for example, and to the Republic of Guinea when Sékou Touré was president. At various times we also aided Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Somalia, Ethiopia, Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Oman, Sierra Leone, São Tomé and Príncipe, Benin, Equatorial Guinea, and other nations in Africa and the Middle East.

In terms of the Americas, there’s Nicaragua, Grenada, and Guyana, among others, including Venezuela today.

We should stress that this aid has been of every type. It includes medical, construction, educational, and cultural assistance as well as military missions.

SíO WONG: Our people hold socialist and internationalist ideas. That’s how we’ve been educated. What other country can provide four or five thousand doctors for voluntary internationalist work when asked for help? But not only doctors. Our soldiers. The 375,000 Cuban combatants who served in Angola between 1975 and 1991 were all volunteers. That may not be well known, but it’s a fact… .

WATERS: Nelson Mandela called the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1987-88 “a turning point in the history of Africa.” Yet outside Cuba—and much of Africa—this battle is largely unknown.

SíO WONG: In late 1987 the enemy almost completely surrounded a group of Cuban and Angolan troops at Cuito Cuanavale. And the decisive battle took place there. The battle lasted more than four months, and in March 1988 the South African army was defeated. That defeat marked the beginning of the end… . And their defeat had a whole series of consequences—including the independence of Namibia and the release of Mandela after twenty-seven years in prison.

CHUI: It “broke the back of the South African army,” to use Fidel’s words… .

The case of Angola merits special attention. Our troops remained there fighting together with the Angolan people for more than fifteen years. Not only did we help defeat the South African army, but we also helped bring about the elimination of apartheid and the independence of Namibia. From our efforts in Africa, the Cubans brought back nothing material for Cuba. Only our wounded and dead, and the satisfaction of a duty fulfilled… .

WATERS: What was the impact on Cuba itself? Not everyone agreed with expending such resources, with staying the course for so many years. How did the anti-imperialist struggle in Africa strengthen the Cuban Revolution?

CHOY: Well, it really strengthened us from an ideological standpoint. All of us who went had studied slavery, the exploitation of man by man, the exploitation of the countries in southern Africa. We had studied the evils that colonialism had wrought and was still creating. But we’d merely read about it in books. In my own case—and I’m sure the same thing happened to other Cubans—I got there and could see with my own eyes what the colonial system really was. A complete differentiation between the whites, the Europeans—in this case the Portuguese—and the native population. We saw how these countries were exploited. We saw a country that was so rich, yet Angolans were living in what we saw as subhuman conditions. Because their country’s riches were being stolen. Because the colonialists had not preserved the forests or the land.

Sometimes we’d be traveling in vehicles, and people walking along the road would run when they heard us coming. We learned why. Under Portuguese rule, if the native inhabitants didn’t get out of the way, the colonialists would sometimes run them over. This went on for generations. So whenever they heard a vehicle coming, they’d run. And not just off to the shoulder of the road either. They ran because they’d been mistreated like this for years, for centuries.

The main lesson I learned from this mission was to fully appreciate colonialism’s cruelty toward the native population, and the naked theft of their natural resources. To see a country with great natural wealth like Angola, yet with a population facing needs of the most basic type!
Related articles:
Cubans lead campaign to fight cholera in Haiti
Call to widen fight to free Cuban Five
Washington’s underestimation of Cuban Revolution  
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