A Brief History of Fidel Castro’s Support for African Liberation in Angola and South Africa

 Fidel Castro was supportive of many black revolutionary, anti-imperialist and anti-colonial groups which was one of the many reasons the West hated him.
Fidel Castro was supportive of many black revolutionary, anti-imperialist and anti-colonial groups which was one of the many reasons the West hated him.

Five days ago the decades-long leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, died at the age of 90. He had a complicated legacy to say the least as some see him as a brutal dictator, whereas others see him as a rebel leader who stood up to the imperialist powers of the world.

What cannot be placed into doubt is his support for black liberation movements both in America and abroad...especially in Africa. For his entire political career, Fidel Castro stood opposite the United States on the global stage which saw him often times allying with the Soviet Union and Russian interests. This can be seen perfectly when you look at the Angolan Civil War (1975 - 2002).

 Map of Angola
Map of Angola

The modern day government of Angola owes a lot of its existence to Fidel Castro's Cuba. The Angolan Civil War was a war fought between two separate anti-imperialist independence movements that had different goals (and were supported by different superpowers). On one side you had the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The MPLA was based out of the capitol city of Luanda and was composed of mostly people of the Mbundu ethnic group. The MPLA started as a guerrilla movement with the express agenda of driving the Portuguese out of Angola. When they came into power, during the first official Congressional meeting of party leaders...they officially adopted Marxism-Leninism in 1975 and have been the ruling party of Angola ever since.

However the rise of the MPLA wasn't easy. They faced considerable opposition from two other anti-colonial, anti-imperialist forces that they used to fight side-by-side with during the war for independence. Both of whom were backed by the United States and the apartheid regime of South Africa. One group was known as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the other was known as the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA). 

In 1975, after the overthrow of the Portuguese regime (mostly due to a leftist coup that took place is Portugal a year earlier in 1974), a power vacuum was created between the various anti-colonial forces. So at the request of the first President of Angola (and leader of the MPLA), Agostinho Neto, Fidel Castro sent 230 military advisers into Angola. The objective was to aid the leftist forces in their struggle against remnants of the Portuguese army and the governments of apartheid South Africa and Zaire both of which were US-backed and supportive of the UNITA and FNLA forces. Over time, those 230 military advisers turned into over 18,000 Cuban soldiers. By the end of 1975, Cuba had over 25,000 "boots on the ground" in Angola to support their leftist allies.  Cuba would remain a major player in the Angolan Civil War until around 1991. 

It wouldn't be until the signing of the New York Accords in 1988 that both Cuban and South African forces would agree to withdraw from Angola. The New York Accords also saw the formation of the country of Namibia which was freed from the rule of apartheid South Africa (which previously controlled the country). To this day, Cuba contends that their major military intervention into Angola and successive military victories against the apartheid regime in South Africa is what forced South Africa to come to the negotiating table in the first place.

The relationship between the MPLA and Cuba went back to the 1950's when MPLA guerrilla's were trained by Cuban forces in Algiers in 1963. Even famed hero of the Cuban revolution, Che Guevara, met with the future President of Angola Agostinho Neto (mentioned above) in 1965 to discuss military plans involving Cuban intervention in Angola.

It should be noted that South Africa during the apartheid years was completely and totally allied with colonial forces seeking to maintain their grip on the necks of various African states including, but not excluded to, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and other countries. Apartheid South Africa backed a coup of the Lesotho government in 1986 and since the 1960's was involved in many acts of economic sabotage and counter-revolutionary plots in an attempt to quash the black anti-colonial movements. It cannot be understated that the United States was supportive of the apartheid regime all throughout the Cold War era.

The Cuban Role in the Fall of Apartheid South Africa

In 1991, Nelson Mandela met with Fidel Castro after he was released from prison. He publicly thanked Castro for helping to train black South African anti-apartheid ANC forces in their struggle against the white supremacist regime that oppressed them for so many decades. Castro responded by calling South Africa his "homeland" and accepted Mandela's request to visit.

Mandela made this visit because, as mentioned above, Cuba's role in fighting the apartheid army of South Africa was instrumental in the regime's eventual downfall. Cuba was the only nation in the world that sent troops to fight the apartheid state, preventing them from putting a pro-apartheid, pro-Western puppet into power in Angola and elsewhere. 

The MPLA, with the aid of Cuban forces, defeated the army of apartheid in two major military battles. Nelson Mandela literally said that the Cuban victory over the South African white supremacists destroyed the myth of the "invincible" white oppressor.

It all came to a head in August of 1987 around the town of Cuito Cuanavale through a series of military engagements between Cuban-backed Angolan forces and Western-backed forces. It is remembered as the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale and is considered a turning point in the Angolan Civil War which directly led to the fall of apartheid. It was the largest land battle on the entire African continent since World War II!

The leftist government of Angola (MPLA) received a significant amount of aid from the Soviet Union which included over 100 Soviet T-62 tanks and aeriel strike aircraft. The Cubans also came with their own armored vehicles and aircraft even though overall the FAPLA (the armed forces of Angola controlled by the MPLA) army was outnumbered throughout the engagement and took heavy losses.

On paper, the apartheid forces "won" because they took fewer losses. However Cuba and Angola also considers this battle a victory because it forced the South Africans to the negotiating table and made the apartheid regime realize that it didn't want to further escalate its rivalry with Cuba. So after the battle was fought, South Africa began withdrawing its soldiers and falling back.

What is clear after learning all of this is that Fidel Castro's legacy is mixed. However anyone trying to claim he was only a brutal dictator is honestly pushing anti-Castro propaganda. He did many good things for black revolutionary movements, some that I haven't even gone into such as his sending of troops to aid the overwhelmed Ethiopians in the Ethio-Somali war in 1977. However the fact that he helped Black people, often times against the wishes of the global white elite, is even more of a reason many don't like him. As stated above, he was often at odds and on the opposite side of U.S. foreign policy.

However unlike other revolutionaries that came before him, and even among many of his contemporary revolutionaries, Fidel Castro lived to tell the tale so to speak. He outlived many of the people who attempted to kill him to prevent him from interfering in global Western affairs. While other leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara, Malcolm X,  etc were assassinated, Castro lived to the old age of 90 and died on his own terms. Now that is quite the accomplishment if you ask me.

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