Monday, 29 December 2014

Cuba’s Future? It’s Up To The Cubans

The US and Britain are not in a position to lecture Cuba on the nature of ‘democracy,’ writes Bernard Regan.

Following President Barack Obama’s release of Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero, the remaining three of the Miami Five, to join Rene Gonzalez and Fernando Gonzalez back in Cuba there has bee much speculation about the future of Cuba-United States relations.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Miami Five are free, now we must end the Blockade!

CSC welcomes the return of Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Gerardo Hernández to Cuba to join Fernando González and René González.

We celebrate along with their families, the people of Cuba, and the international “Jury of Millions” who have fought successfully for the release of these unjustly imprisoned men. CSC is proud to have played a role in publicising the case and winning widespread support here in Britain for the campaign for freedom and justice.

We want to thank all those who gave their support and worked tirelessly for this victory, including our members and affiliates, the international coalition Voices for the Five, and the Trade Union movement whose contribution to this struggle has been exemplary.

Unjustly imprisoned for acting to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Florida against the people of Cuba, the Five were given draconian sentences by the US courts and were locked up for 16 years, with Gerardo facing a double life sentence and the prospect of dying inside prison

On Wednesday 17 December President Obama said that, “Today America chooses to cut lose the shackles of the past” and that a “new chapter” was being opened that would see changes in US-Cuba relations. “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests.”

Whilst this will lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations, a general increase in visitors, increased remittance limits and a variety of exchanges it does NOT mean the end of the blockade.

Some US politicians have already declared their opposition to Obama’s modest amendments. Some are threatening to block the appointment of an Ambassador to Cuba. The Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will still be empowered to fine third country companies that trade with Cuba. And the pillars of the blockade – the Helms-Burton Law and the Torricelli Act can only be repealed by Congress, where Obama has no majority.

A White House press statement issued on the same day revealed some of the thinking behind the shift in US policies. Fundamentally the statement conceded that the blockade had failed to bring about any of the US desired changes inside Cuba. On the contrary this “Long standing US policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners.”

It makes clear that the policy changes are ones of tactics rather than goals – the objective remains the same, to turn Cuba into an economic satellite of United States’ big business and a pawn of Washington.

Indeed it is clear from the press statement that the intention of some of the changes is precisely to seek the erosion of the social gains that have been made in Cuba looking to restore the means of exploitation that existed under Fulgencio Batista, the dictator overthrown by the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

At the core of the question of the Cuba-United States relationship must be mutual respect for the sovereignty of the other. As President Raul Castro said on Wednesday, “we must learn the art of coexisting with our differences in a civilised manner.”

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign commits to redoubling our efforts to ensure that the British Government moves forward to develop strong diplomatic, trade, scientific and cultural relations between our two countries based on mutual respect and understanding.

We urge anyone who is not already a member, to help us fight to end the blockade once and for all, by joining the Cuba Solidarity Campaign today.

We celebrate the return of all the Five heroes to their families. We remain vigilant and continue to demand; “Hands off Cuba, End the blockade Now!”

Please help us to end the blockade by joining the Cuba Solidarity Campaign here today

Please make a donation to support our work

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Aleida Guevara: “Revolutions cannot be exported”

Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che, assures The Prisma that the communist regime will continue in Cuba, beyond the Castro family. She sees the formation of a United Latin American States as essential, and thinks that at times what we need are more radical revolutions. And to her, anti-immigration policies are absurd.

Monday, 15 December 2014

US embargo stalled payment to Cuban Ebola doctors

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba had to cover food and lodging expenses for dozens of its doctors fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone after the U.S. embargo delayed payments from the World Health Organization, an official at the U.N. agency said.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Ebola control: the Cuban approach

More than 160 Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Sierra Leone on Oct 2, 2014, to support local teams in controlling the Ebola epidemic. 300 more are being trained in Cuba at present and will be on their way to Liberia and Guinea in the coming weeks. The worldwide response to the Ebola epidemic has been slow and small. More nurses and doctors are certainly needed, not only from Cuba, but also from other countries.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Dr Aleida Guevara speaking at the University of Sheffield

Dr Aleida Guevara - paediatrician, medical mission veteran and daughter of Che - speaking at the University of Sheffield to Forge TV as part of her 2014 speaking tour organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. Watch her speak on issues such as education, the NHS, gender equality, ebola, internationalism and more below.

Dr Aleida Guevara speaking at University of Leicester

Dr Aleida Guevara - paediatrician, medical mission veteran and daughter of Che - speaking at the University of Leicester on 1 December 2014 as part of her speaking tour organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Cuban doctor Felix Baez returns home after Ebola treatment

A Cuban doctor who recovered from Ebola after receiving experimental treatment in Switzerland has been welcomed back to Havana by relatives and officials.

Felix Baez was the first of Cuba's contingent of 250 doctors and nurses to have contracted Ebola in West Africa.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Cuba’s extraordinary global medical record shames the US blockade

From Ebola to earthquakes, Havana’s doctors have saved millions. Obama must lift this embargo

Four months into the internationally declared Ebola emergency that has devastated west Africa, Cuba leads the world in direct medical support to fight the epidemic. The US and Britain have sent thousands of troops and, along with other countries, promised aid – most of which has yet to materialise. But, as the World Health Organisation has insisted, what’s most urgently needed are health workers. The Caribbean island, with a population of just 11m and official per capita income of $6,000 (£3,824), answered that call before it was made. It was first on the Ebola frontline and has sent the largest contingent of doctors and nurses – 256 are already in the field, with another 200 volunteers on their way.

The Greatest Story never told with Aleida Guevara March

Dr Aleida Guevara March was invited to our Students’ Union to address the student body and other guests about the Ebola crisis and Cuba’s position on the international stage.  She gave an informative and captivating speech which provided insight into Cuban internationalism and much more than just Cuba’s role in combatting Ebola.  Matthew Wilde and Polly Winn were able to interview Guevara March, and learn more about her perspective on Cuba, international healthcare, and the power of the media.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Hundreds make their voices heard in solidarity with the Miami Five

Chanting of “Free the Five!”, “Viva Cuba” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” were heard across West End of London after a crowd of over 300 people braved a cold December evening outside the US Embassy on Wednesday 3 December to attend a vigil organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) in Britain.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Aleida Guevara provides inspiration at 10th Latin America Conference

The daughter of Che may share his iconic name but she is a Cuban legend in her own right. She spoke about Latin American integration, Cuban internationalism the need for solidarity at four sessions during Latin America 2014 on Saturday 29 November, and her presence helped make it not only the most well-attended in the conference’s ten year history, but also one of the most inspirational.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

‘If The Blockade Was Lifted Today, The Cuban Economy Would Thrive Tomorrow’

The daughter of Che, Aleida Guevara, in London to address today the Latin America Conference, spoke to Ollie Hopkins about Cuba’s role in the developing world, the US obstacles to its development and the Miami Five anti-terrorists.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Cuban Health Workers in Liberia

This World Health Organisation film looks at the first of the Cuban health workers who arrived in Liberia in October to help fight the Ebola outbreak. The Cuban team consists of nurses, doctors, epidemiologists and intensive care specialists. Having received an initial Ebola training in Cuba, all team members received a second training in Liberia on how to work in an Ebola treatment unit.

Friday, 21 November 2014

How Ebola Could End the Cuban Embargo

When was last time in recent memory a top US official praised Cuba publicly? And since when has Cuba’s leadership offered to cooperate with Americans?

It’s rare for politicians from these two countries to stray from the narratives of suspicion and intransigence that have prevented productive collaboration for over half a century. Yet that’s just what has happened in the last few weeks, as Secretary of State John Kerry and US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke favorably of Cuba’s medical intervention in West Africa, and Cuban President Raúl Castro and former president Fidel Castro signaled their willingness to cooperate with US efforts to stem the epidemic.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

First Cuban doctor tests positive for Ebola in Sierra Leone

A Cuban doctor treating Ebola patients in West Africa is to be flown to Geneva after testing positive for the disease. The diagnosis comes after a seventh Sierra Leonean doctor died of the virus.

The doctor, identified by Cuban state media as Felix Baez, is part of the 165-member medical team Cuba sent to Sierra Leone in October to help fight Ebola. He is the first Cuban to contract the deadly virus.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of the U.S.

Secretary of State John Kerry and the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have praised the work of Cuban doctors dispatched to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent an official to a regional meeting the Cuban government convened in Havana to coordinate efforts to fight the disease. In Africa, Cuban doctors are working in American-built facilities. The epidemic has had the unexpected effect of injecting common sense into an unnecessarily poisonous relationship.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Cuba's health diplomacy in the age of Ebola

Amid the worst Ebola outbreak of our time, it has been the small island nation of Cuba that has provided arguably the most impressive policy response.

Instead of offering financial assistance to those West African nations most in need, the Cuban government has focused on providing skilled healthcare workers passionate about helping Ebola victims.

The Cuban response is based on a combination of pre-existing government commitments to the provision of universal healthcare, the establishment of a medical education system emphasizing service to others, and Cuba's efforts to bolster its international reputation.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Cuba’s Ebola Diplomacy

Even in this age of international coalitions, the one arrayed against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is impressive. In September, more than a hundred and thirty nations voted in favor of a United Nations Security Council resolution declaring the virus, which is rampant in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, a threat to international security and creating the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, devoted to fighting the virus. The mission was put under the control of Anthony Banbury, a veteran U.N. troubleshooter, who hoped to tackle the job without the red tape that often bogs down U.N. missions. Within a week, Banbury had assembled a team of international experts, selected from thousands volunteers from the U.N.’s myriad agencies, and headed off to kick-start operations at his new field headquarters, in Accra, Ghana.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Cubans First to Support Sierra Leone Fight

When the UN appealed to five world presidents for help fighting the deadly disease, Cuba was the first to respond. Bernard Regan reports

The Ebola virus is killing five people an hour in Sierra Leone according to Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive of Save the Children. Some 765 new cases were reported in the country in the last week in September and there were only 327 hospital beds in the whole country.

But this tragedy is not only unfolding in that nation.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

U.S. attends Ebola meeting in Cuba called by leftist bloc

U.S. government officials joined health experts from throughout the Americas at an Ebola conference in Cuba on Wednesday, the latest show of cooperation between the historic adversaries on fighting the disease.

The meeting organised by ALBA, a bloc of leftist-governed countries, aims to coordinate a regional strategy on the prevention and control of Ebola, which has killed about 5,000 people in West Africa but in the Americas has only reached the United States.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Cuba calling: what this small island can teach the world about disease control

West Africa needs what Cuba has: a well-trained, coordinated healthcare system. Anything less and Ebola wins

Guatemala, Pakistan, Indonesia, Haiti. Four different nations that share a common experience: in the past decade, they were all struck by natural disasters which overwhelmed their under-staffed and under-funded public health systems. Into the rubble, flooding, and chaos of these distinct cultures and contexts, Cuba dispatched a specialised disaster and epidemic control team to support local health providers. It was a story of unprecedented medical solidarity by a developing country which few media outlets picked up – until now.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Cuba leads the way in the fight against ebola

FORMER UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s “bitter disappointment” with the tardiness of the developed world in responding to the current Ebola epidemic will strike a chord with millions.

Who could deny that “if the crisis had hit some other region it probably would have been handled very differently?”

Margaret Chan Sends Message to ALBA Summit on Ebola

HAVANA, Cuba, Oct 20 (acn) The Director General World Health Organization (WHO) Margaret Chan, sent a message to the Heads of State and Government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Trade Treaty of the Peoples (ALBA-TCP) that gathered in Havana for a Special Summit on Ebola.

Cuban News Agency now reproduces the text of her message:

Cuba's war on Ebola

With free universal health care, Cuba has already racked up impressive medical achievements - why not take on the globe?

Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported: "In the medical response to Ebola, Cuba is punching far above its weight."

While the world stood accused of "dragging its feet" following the onset of the epidemic, the Post noted, the diminutive island had "emerged as a crucial provider of medical expertise in the West African nations hit by Ebola".

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola

Cuba is an impoverished island that remains largely cut off from the world and lies about 4,500 miles from the West African nations where Ebola is spreading at an alarming rate. Yet, having pledged to deploy hundreds of medical professionals to the front lines of the pandemic, Cuba stands to play the most robust role among the nations seeking to contain the virus.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Kerry acknowledges Cuba role in Ebola fight

Secretary of State John Kerry paid a rare US compliment to Cuba on Friday, acknowledging the communist island nation's role in the global fight against Ebola in West Africa.

"Already we are seeing nations large and small stepping up in impressive ways to make a contribution on the frontlines," Kerry told foreign diplomats in Washington as he pleaded for a greater mobilization against the epidemic.

"Cuba, a country of just 11 million people, has sent 165 health professionals and it plans to send nearly 300 more."

On 17 October, former President of Cuba, Fidel Castro wrote an article saying that Cuba was willing to cooperate with the US in the fight against Ebola.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Cuba leads fight against Ebola in Africa as west frets about border security

The island nation has sent hundreds of health workers to help control the deadly infection while richer countries worry about their security – instead of heeding UN warnings that vastly increased resources are urgently needed.

As the official number of Ebola deaths in west Africa’s crisis topped 4,000 last week – experts say the actual figure is at least twice as high – the UN issued a stark call to arms. Even to simply slow down the rate of infection, the international humanitarian effort would have to increase massively, warned secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Cuba's Doctors Shame West Over Ebola Crisis

The island’s solidarity with West Africa is politically inconvenient and so ignored, writes John Wight

The tiny island nation of Cuba shames the world with its international medical missions, with the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa a case in point.

Something that has long gone unreported in the West for both geopolitical and ideological reasons is the remarkable role that Cuban doctors and medical personnel have played and are playing in dealing with the aftermath of disasters and crises, both natural and man-made, throughout the developing world.
The most recent example is Cuba’s response to the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Cuba Confirms Support in Fight Against Ebola at Security Council Debate

Cuba has sent over 300,000 health workers to 158 countries in the past half century.

Cuba confirmed the sending of 165 health workers to Sierra Leone to help fight the Ebola outbreak during a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting on Thursday.

This was only the second time the Security Council has ever discussed a public health emergency, with the first time being over the Aids epidemic.

Cuba's delegate in the Security Council, Abelardo Moreno, said that all countries must cooperate to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has killed at least 2,630 people in the region.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Cuba to send doctors to Ebola areas

Cuba is sending 165 health workers to help tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, officials say.

Doctors, nurses and infection control specialists will travel to Sierra Leone in October and stay for six months.

The announcement comes as the World Health Organization says new cases in West Africa are increasing faster than the capacity to manage them.

More than 2,400 people have died from the virus in recent months and some 4,700 people have been infected.

Ebola death toll rises as Cuba sends doctors

The World Health Organisation raises the alarm over a rapid jump in fatalities as Cuba become the largest contributor of doctors to Ebola crisis

Almost 2,500 people have now been killed in the deadliest ever outbreak of Ebola, the UN has said as Cuba becomes the largest contributor of foreign doctors to the west African pandemic.

The virus has continued to spread in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, claiming hundreds more lives in the last few weeks despite attempts to limit contamination, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

Friday, 31 January 2014

EU’s changing Cuba policy a wake-up call


By David Jessop

The President of the European Commission (EC), José Manuel Barroso, has confirmed that Europe is presently in the process of debating a significant change in its policy towards Cuba.

Speaking recently to journalists in Madrid, Mr Barroso, who is a former Portuguese Prime Minister, said that the European Union (EU) is discussing the possibility of modifications to its Cuba policy, and that this will require the blessing of all of Europe’s 28 member countries.

He also reaffirmed the EU’s long-standing wish for there to be change in Cuba in relation to human rights, and its continuing desire to see the adoption of western democratic norms

Although Mr Barroso did not elaborate, his reference was to the likely agreement when Europe’s Foreign Affairs Council meets on 10 February, to the Commission’s proposals that Europe negotiate a form of association agreement with Cuba.

While this will be welcome in Havana and in the Caribbean, taken together with the US’s slowly evolving policy on Cuba, it should be seen as a signal to Caribbean governments and the region’s private sector to begin to plan for the eventual end to the regional economic vacuum that Cuba has been placed in since 1960.

Since late 2012 a draft negotiating mandate has been under consideration and Cuban officials and the European Commission have with the support of EU members states been trying, at times with difficulty, to chart a way forward.

In late 2013 one final stumbling block arose that still has to be resolved. Then, EU permanent representatives postponed consideration of a recommendation from the European Commission to the Council to authorise a mandate that would allow the EC to open negotiations for a political dialogue and a co-operation agreement with Cuba.

The delay reflected concerns raised by some EU member states over a technical legal issue. This relates to whether negotiations, once begun, might under some circumstances be halted.

The delay meant that any decision on formal adoption by the Council of Ministers has had to wait until behind the scenes consensus could be achieved with a small number of concerned member states that are understood to include Germany and on the matters of principle involved.

Once agreement between member states has been reached, however, negotiations are expected to proceed.

The European Commission is expected to propose an arrangement in some respects similar to that signed between Europe and Central American states last year. It is expected to contain language on political, economic and development matters; will provide a framework for dialogue on issues of mutual concern; is expected to enable the provision of development assistance; and may possibly contain arrangements for asymmetric preferential trade.

Although liberalised trade has not been high on Cuba’s agenda, it is believed that this could become a component of a future association agreement as Cuban goods entering the EU have since the start of this year ceased to benefit from Europe’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), making them less competitive.
Separately, the EC is understood to have reserved sums in its development budget for future assistance for Cuba.

The high level confirmation of a change in Europe policy follows from recent positive statements on the need to improve relations by EU states previously regarded as taking a hard line on dialogue.

It also coincides with an increasing tendency by EU member states to bypass the EU’s common position by signing bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding with Havana that facilitate broad based exchanges on issues from trade to counter-narcotics interdiction and cultural exchange.

The EC President’s remarks follow comments in Havana in early January by the Dutch Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans. The visit, the first by a Dutch Foreign Minister since the Cuban revolution, involved two-days of high level exchanges during which he stressed the need for an improvement in the European Union’s relations with Cuba.

He also signed a broad based bilateral agreement that allows for the Netherlands and Cuba to engage in political and other consultations.

As such it was one of a small number of such documents signed recently or being negotiated by EU nations, and marks a further move away from the European Union’s  1996 Common Position on Cuba, which contains political conditions unacceptable to Cuba and that until recently, had all but halted exchanges between Cuba and most EU nations.

Mr Timmermans said that the Netherlands was now particularly interested in strengthening bilateral links noting the economic transformations underway in Cuba and the business opportunities this offered. A delegation of businessmen accompanied him.

He also praised Cuba’s efforts to bring an end to what he described as the last violent conflict in the region, a reference to Havana’s hosting of peace talks between the Colombian government and local rebels.

The visit was particularly striking as the Netherlands is a staunch advocate of human rights and democracy and actively supports dissident organisations in Cuba.

Mr Timmerman’s visit, like President Barroso’s remarks, coincide with changing US thinking on Cuba, although the pace at which US exchanges with Cuba on functional issues will move forward and their breadth is still far from certain.

Some Europeans suggest that Europe’s interest in an association agreement with Cuba is being driven by a desire to have an agreement in place before any improvement take place in US-Cuba relations.

Whether this is true or not, a formal association agreement with Europe would enable not only a much closer relationship with Cuba but also mean that the EU would have reached agreement with the only Latin American and Caribbean country with which it has no form of broad based political and economic arrangement.

Recent developments in Europe and the US in relation to Cuba point once again to the Caribbean needing to consider carefully how it will respond to the possibility that a neighbour and friend may slowly emerge as a competitor after a long period of economic isolation.

David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

This column orginally appeared in Previous columns can be found at

Friday, 24 January 2014

“The history of Africa will be written as before and after Cuito Cuanavale” – Fidel Castro

Twenty-five years ago, on 27 June 1988, the army of apartheid South Africa was forced to start withdrawing from Angola after 13 years’ intervention in that country’s civil war. The South Africans had been outmanoeuvred and outgunned by the Angolan defence forces (FAPLA – the People’s Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola), in combination with thousands of Cuban soldiers, and units from both the MK (uMkhonto weSizwe – the armed wing of the ANC) and PLAN (People’s Liberation Army of Namibia – the armed wing of the South West African People’s Organisation). 

The four-month battle between the SADF and the Cuban-Angolan force at Cuito Cuanavale was, to use the words of Nelson Mandela, “the turning point for the liberation of Africa from the scourge of apartheid.”

Cuba’s assistance to post-colonial Angola started in 1975, just a few days after the independence celebrations on 11 November (Angola won its independence from Portugal in the aftermath of the Portuguese Revolution of 1974). At the time, three different Angolan political-military movements were struggling for supremacy: the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) and the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola).

The most radical, most popular and best organised of these groups was the MPLA, which had the support of most of the socialist countries. The FNLA was allied with the pro-imperialist Mobutu dictatorship in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and UNITA was collaborating with the US, white-supremacist South Africa and the representatives of the old colonial order.

As Fidel Castro noted at the time: “The Soviet Union and all the countries of Eastern Europe support the MPLA; the revolutionary movements of Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau support the MPLA; the majority of the nonaligned nations support the MPLA. In Angola, the MPLA represents the progressive cause of the world.” (Speech given in Havana to the first contingent of military instructors leaving for Angola, 12 September 1975)

South Africa, faced with the prospect of pro-socialist, anti-racist, anti-colonial, independent states in Angola and Mozambique (plus a rising independence movement in its colony of South West Africa – now Namibia), decided to intervene militarily in Angola on the side of UNITA. The SADF entered Angola from Namibia on 14 October 1975, and the MPLA’s army, FAPLA, was in no position to stop its advance. It was, writes Piero Gleijeses, “a poor man’s war. South of Luanda there were only weak FAPLA units, badly armed and poorly trained. They were strong enough to defeat UNITA, but were no match for the South Africans” (‘Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976′).

South Africa’s invasion, along with the continued threat and provocations by Mobutu’s Zaire, caused Fidel Castro and the leading commanders in Cuba to understand that Angola needed urgent help. In mid-November 1975, several hundred Cuban soldiers boarded two planes for Angola. Over the course of the next 13 years, nearly 400,000 Cubans volunteered in Angola, mostly as soldiers but also as doctors, nurses, teachers and advisers.

With Cuban assistance (and with the help of Soviet advisers and weaponry), the Angolans drove the SADF troops back across the border, and for the next decade or so South Africa focused its efforts in Angola around destabilisation, providing significant financial and logistical support for UNITA, thereby extending a brutal civil war that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Angolan civilians.

The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale
As long as Angola was embroiled in bitter civil war, it was not a major threat to apartheid control of South Africa or Namibia. But in mid-1987, FAPLA – with the help of Soviet and Cuban forces – launched a major offensive against UNITA. This offensive had the potential to finally bring an end to the civil war – an outcome that neither South Africa nor the US could accept.

Therefore the SADF intervened again. “By early November”, writes Gleijeses, “the SADF had cornered elite Angolan units in Cuito Cuanavale and was poised to destroy them.”

Ronnie Kasrils notes that the situation “could not have been graver. Cuito could have been overrun then and there by the SADF, changing the strategic situation overnight. The interior of the country would have been opened up to domination by UNITA, with Angola being split in half.

This was something Pretoria and [UNITA leader Jonas] Savimbi had been aiming at for years.”

The Cubans moved decisively in support of their African allies. Fidel decided that more Cuban troops must be sent immediately, boosting the total number in Angola to over 50,000.

Cuito Cuanavale was defended by 6,000 Cuban and Angolan troops, using sophisticated Soviet weaponry that had been rushed to the front.

The SADF had been convinced that its 9,000 elite troops – in addition to several thousand UNITA fighters – would be able to conquer Cuito and thereby inflict a major defeat on MPLA, and indeed the progressive forces of the whole region. But Cuito held out over the course of four months, in what has been described as the biggest battle on African soil since World War II (Greg Mills and David Williams, Seven Battles that Shaped South Africa, 2006).

Kasrils notes: “All the South African attempts to advance were pushed back. Their sophisticated long-range artillery kept bombing day and night. But it didn’t frighten the Angolan-Cuban forces and turned out to be ineffective.”

With the South African stranglehold at Cuito Cuanavale broken by the end of March 1988, the Cuban-Angolan forces launched a major offensive in the south-west of the country. This offensive is what Castro had intended from the start: to tie South Africa down with pitched battles at Cuito (several hundred kilometres from its nearest bases in occupied Namibia) and then launch a ferocious, dynamic attack to drive South Africa out of Angola once and for all, “like a boxer who with his left hand blocks the blow and with his right – strikes“.

Castro noted: “While in Cuito Cuanavale the South African troops were bled, to the south-west 40,000 Cuban and 30,000 Angolan troops, supported by some 600 tanks, hundreds of pieces of artillery, a thousand anti-aircraft weapons and the daring MiG-23 units that secured air supremacy advanced towards the Namibian border, ready literally to sweep up the South African forces deployed along that main route.” (Cited in Vladimir Shubin ‘The Hot “Cold War”‘)

Kasrils writes: “The end for the SADF was signaled on June 27 1988. A squadron of MiGs bombed the Ruacana and Calueque installations, cutting the water supply to Ovamboland and its military bases and killing 11 young South African conscripts. A MiG-23 executed a neat victory roll over the Ruacana dam. The war was effectively over.”

The supposedly invincible South African Defence Force had been forced out of Angola. The apartheid regime was left with no choice but to sue for peace.

Turning point for southern Africa
Fidel stated that “the history of Africa will be written as before and after Cuito Cuanavale”. Nelson Mandela is on record as saying that Cuito Cuanavale was “the turning point for the liberation of Africa from the scourge of apartheid”. What made a battle in the Angolan war the major turning point for the wider southern African region?

Isaac Saney explains in his excellent book ‘Cuba: A Revolution in Motion’: “The defeat shattered the confidence of the South African military, and with the approach of Cuban forces toward Namibia, Pretoria sought a means by which to extricate their troops ‘without humiliation and alive’.

Thus, the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was instrumental in paving the path to negotiations. In December 1988, an agreement was reached between Cuba and Angola on one side and South Africa on the other, which provided for the gradual withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and the establishment of an independent Namibia”.

So, as part of the negotiation process resulting from the Cuban-Angolan victory, South Africa was forced to set a timetable for withdrawal from Namibia. Namibia became an independent state in March 1990. The victory in Angola also provided important impetus for the anti-apartheid forces within South Africa. In early 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 long years, the ANC and other liberation organisations were unbanned, and the negotiations towards a free South Africa were begun in earnest. UNITA suffered a series of major military reverses and Angola was able to start pursuing a course of peaceful progress.

These were all extraordinary developments that nobody could have predicted a few years’ earlier.

Not a proxy cold war but an epic battle between the forces of imperialism and the forces of progress
It has been suggested by several western historians that the war in Angola was, at heart, an extension of the so-called Cold War between the two superpowers of the day (the USA and the USSR) with South Africa acting on behalf of the USA and Cuba acting on behalf of the USSR. Such an analysis is wholly refuted by the facts; its only purpose is to place a moral equivalency between imperialism and socialism.

For one thing, Cuba has tended to maintain a high degree of political independence in spite of close relations with the Soviet Union. In Angola, it is well documented that the Soviets were surprised by the sudden arrival – in both 1975 and 1987 – of large numbers of Cuban soldiers. Kasrils writes that the US security services were “surprised to discover that the Soviet Union’s so-called proxy had not even consulted Moscow over Havana’s massive intervention. They were even more taken aback when sophisticated Soviet military equipment was rushed to Angola to supply the Cuban reinforcements.”

Even the arch-reactionary Henry Kissinger, who was among the leading ‘hawks’ in relation to US Angola policy at the time, admitted: “At the time, we thought Castro was operating as a Soviet surrogate. We could not imagine that he would act so provocatively so far from home unless he was pressured by Moscow to repay the Soviet Union for its military and economic support. Evidence now available suggests that the opposite was the case.” (Cited in ‘Conflicting Missions’)

The continuing relevance and necessity of revolutionary internationalism
Why is it important to remember Cuito Cuanavale? Because it represents a pinnacle of revolutionary internationalism, of solidarity between peoples struggling for freedom. As Nelson Mandela said, speaking at a huge rally in Havana in July 1991:

“The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character… We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us.”

Cuba’s actions in Angola were driven by a deep sense of social justice and revolutionary duty. One of the historical forces driving its actions was the depth of African roots in Cuban society. Fidel, speaking shortly after the departure of the first few hundred troops to Angola, explained: “African blood flows freely through our veins. Many of our ancestors came as slaves from Africa to this land. As slaves they struggled a great deal.

They fought as members of the Liberating Army of Cuba. We’re brothers and sisters of the people of Africa and we’re ready to fight on their behalf!” This dynamic is reflected in the name that was given to the operation: ‘Carlota’ – in honour of the heroic Afro-Cuban female slave who led an uprising near Matanzas in 1843 and who, upon her capture, was drawn and quartered by Spanish colonial troops.

Raúl Castro pointed out that Cuba had itself benefitted massively from revolutionary international solidarity and thus felt morally compelled to extend the same type of solidarity to others. “We must not forget another deep motivation. Cuba itself had already lived through the beautiful experience of the solidarity of other peoples, especially the people of the Soviet Union, who extended a friendly hand at crucial moments for the survival of the Cuban Revolution.

The solidarity, support, and fraternal collaboration that the consistent practice of internationalism brought us at decisive moments created a sincere feeling, a consciousness of our debt to other peoples who might find themselves in similar circumstances.” Fidel emphasises this point: “As we have said before, being internationalists is paying our debt to humanity.

Those who are incapable of fighting for others will never be capable of fighting for themselves. And the heroism shown by our forces, by our people in other lands, faraway lands, must also serve to let the imperialists know what awaits them if one day they force us to fight on this land here.”

Further Reading

How Far we slaves have come
Read the speeches that Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro gave when Mandela visited Cuba shortly after his release.  Available from the CSC shop priced £8.50 inc p&p
Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s freedom and our own (pictured above)Charts the Cuban involvement in helping Angola achieve independence with contributions from the Miami Five about their experiences there. Available from the CSC shop priced £10 including p&p