The departure of the first batch of Cuban medical personnel to fight the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone rekindles in the mind of Fidel Castro memories of Cuba’s military support for the liberation struggle in Angola. It is continuation of the Black revolutionary tradition
There is much to say about the difficult times humanity is experiencing. Today, however, is a day of special interest for us and perhaps for many other people. Throughout our short revolutionary history, since the insidious coup, carried out by the empire on March 10, 1952 against our small country, we have often been faced with the need to take important decisions.
When there was no other alternative, other young people, from any other nation faced with our complicated situation, did, or intended to do the same as us, although, in the particular case of Cuba, fate, as on so many other occasions throughout history, played a decisive role.
Due to the scenes created in our country by the United States at that time, with no other objective than to curtail the risk of limited social advances which could inspire future radical changes in the Yankee property that Cuba had become, our Socialist Revolution was conceived.
The Second World War, which ended in 1945, consolidated the dominance of the United States as the principal economic and military power, and turned the country – which itself lay far from the battle fields – into the most powerful on the planet.
The crushing victory of 1959 - this we can assert without a shadow of chauvinism - became an example of what a small nation, fighting for itself, can also do for others. Latin American countries, with a minority of honorable exceptions, leaped upon the crumbs offered up by the United States; for example, Cuba’s sugar quota which, for almost a century and half, had supplied this country during its most critical years, was divided up among producers eager to enter world markets.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the illustrious U.S. General who governed the country at the time, had led allied troops in the war in which they liberated, despite their own powerful means, just a small part of Europe occupied by the Nazis. The substitute for President Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, turned out to be the traditional conservative who usually assumes such political responsibilities in the United States during difficult times.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – which, until the end of the 20th century was the greatest nation in the history of the struggle against the ruthless exploitation of human beings – was dissolved and replaced with a Federation which reduced the area of that great multinational State by no less than 5.5 million square kilometers.
There was something, however, that could not be dissolved: the heroic spirit of the Russian people who, together with their brothers from the rest of the USSR, have managed to preserve a force powerful enough that, in addition to the People’s Republic of China and countries such as Brazil, India and South Africa, they constitute a group with the necessary power to curb the attempts to recolonize the planet.
We experienced two illustrative examples of these realities in the People’s Republic of Angola. Cuba, like many other socialist countries and liberation movements, collaborated with Angola and others who were fighting against Portuguese control in Africa. This control was exercised through direct rule with the support of its allies.
Solidarity with Angola was one of the key issues for the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries and the Socialist Camp. The country’s independence was inevitable and was accepted by the international community.
The racist State of South Africa and the corrupt government of the former Belgium Congo, with the support of European allies, carefully prepared to conquer and divide up Angola. Cuba, who had been supporting the nation’s struggle for many years, received a request from Agostinho Neto to train the Angolan armed forces which, stationed in Luanda, the country’s capital, should be ready by November 11, 1975, when Neto would officially take office. The soviets, faithful to their commitments, had supplied military equipment and were only awaiting the day of independence to send instructors. Cuba, for its part, agreed to send the instructors requested by Neto.
The racist regime of South Africa, globally condemned and despised, decided to advance its plans and send forces in armored vehicles, equipped with powerful weaponry which, having advanced 100 kilometers from its border, attacked the first training camp, where various Cuban instructors died following heroic resistance. After several days of fighting by those valiant instructors and Angolans, they managed to halt the South African advance towards Luanda, the capital of Angola, to where a battalion of Special Troops from the Ministry of the Interior had been transported from Havana, in the Cuban airline’s old Britannia fleet.
That was how the epic struggle in that sub-Saharan African country began, terrorized by the racists whites, in which motorized infantry battalions and tank brigades, armored artillery and other fighting means, repelled the racist South African forces, forcing them to retreat back to the same border from which they had come.
It was not in 1975 that the most dangerous period of struggle occurred. That would come approximately 12 years later, in southern Angola.
Thus what seemed like the end of the racist escapade in southern Angola was only the beginning, but at least they had learnt that the revolutionary forces of white, mulato and black Cubans, together with the Angolan soldiers, were able to make the supposedly invincible racists swallow the dust of defeat. Perhaps they relied too heavily on their technology, wealth and the support of the dominant empire.
Although it was never our intention, the sovereign attitude of our country was not without conflict with the USSR, which itself did so much for us in truly difficult times, when cutting the fuel supplies to Cuba from the United States could have led to a prolonged and costly conflict with the dominant Northern power. Whether this danger existed or not, the dilemma we faced was deciding whether to be free or to resign ourselves to being slaves to the powerful neighboring empire.
In a situation as complicated as that of Angolan independence, in the direct fight against neocolonialism, it was impossible for differences regarding some aspects not to arise, which could have had serious consequences on the planned objectives, which in Cuba’s case, as part of this struggle, had the right and duty to lead it to success. Whenever we believed that any aspect of our foreign policy could be at odds with the strategic policy of the USSR, we did everything possible to avoid it. The common objectives required that each respect the merits and experience of the other. Modesty is not incompatible with the serious analysis of the complexity and importance of each situation, although in our policy we were always very strict with everything relating to solidarity with the Soviet Union.
At decisive moments of the struggle in Angola against imperialism and racism, such a situation occurred, which stemmed from our direct participation in the fight and the fact that our forces not only fought, but also trained thousands of Angolan combatants, who we supported in their struggle against the pro-Yankee and pro-racist forces of South Africa. A soviet soldier was the government advisor and directed the Angolan forces. We disagreed, however, on an important point: the reiterated frequency with which he defended the erroneous measure of stationing the best trained Angolan troops more than 5,500 kilometers from the capital of Luanda, an idea relating to a different kind of warfare, nothing like the subversive and guerilla character of the Angolan counterrevolutionaries.
In reality the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola didn’t have a base, nor did Savimbi have a point from which to resist, it was a trap by the South African racists which served only to lure the best and most well equipped Angolan troops there, to strike them at will. We therefore opposed the strategy - which was applied more than once – until the end when it was demanded that we hit the enemy with our own forces which led to the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. I would say that the prolonged military confrontation against the South African army was the result of the last offensive against Savimbi´s supposed "capital" – in a distant corner of the border between Angola, South Africa and occupied Namibia -, toward which the valiant Angolan forces, departing from Cuito Cuanavale, a former NATO military base, well equipped with the newest armored cars, tanks and other combat means, began their 100 kilometer march to the supposed counterrevolutionary capital. Our bold fighter pilots supported them with Mig-23s whilst they remained still within their combat radius.
Once they passed those limits, the enemy launched a heavy attack against the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola soldiers with their combat planes, heavy artillery and well equipped ground forces, resulting in heavy casualties of dead and injured. But this time, in their pursuit of the battered Angolan brigades, they headed towards the former NATO military base.
The Angolan units retreated in a front several miles wide separated by gaps of a few kilometers. Given the severity of the losses and the dangers which could result from them, employing the usual means, a request was sent to the President of Angola to appeal to Cuba for support, and that’s what he did. The firm response this time was that the request would only be accepted if all Angolan forces and means of combat on the Southern Front were subordinated to Cuban military command. This condition was immediately accepted.
Forces were quickly mobilized for the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, where the South African invaders and their sophisticated arms clashed with armored units, conventional artillery and the Mig-23s flown by our brave pilots. The Angolan artillery, tanks, and other means in the area which lacked personnel were made ready for combat by Cubans. The Angolan tanks which during their retreat could not overcome the obstacle of the mighty Queve River, to the east of the former NATO base – the bridge over which had been destroyed weeks before by an unmanned South African plane laden with explosives – were buried and surrounded by anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. The advancing South African troops came up against an insurmountable barrier against which they crashed. In this way, with a minimal number of casualties and advantageous conditions, the South African forces were decisively defeated on Angolan soil.
But the fight was not over; the complicity of Israeli imperialism had turned South Africa into a nuclear country. Once again our army was faced with the risk of becoming the target of such weapons. But this point, with all the relevant facts, requires further elaboration, which can perhaps be written in the coming months.
What happened last night which led to this lengthy analysis? Two things, I consider to be of singular significance: The departure of the first Cuban Medical Brigade to Africa to fight against Ebola. The brutal murder in Caracas, Venezuela, of the young revolutionary Member of Parliament, Robert Serra.
Both events reflect the heroic spirit and potential of the revolutionary processes taking place in the homeland of José Martí and the birthplace of the liberation of Latin America, the heroic Venezuela of Simón Bolívar and Hugo Chávez.
How many shocking lessons can be learnt from these actions! Words can hardly express the moral value of such events, which occurred almost simultaneously. I will never be able to believe that the murder of the young parliamentarian was the work of chance. It would be really inconceivable if the repugnant act, comparable to those orchestrated by the worst Yankee intelligence organizations, had not been committed intentionally, even when it absolutely fits the plans and actions of the enemies of the Venezuelan Revolution.
Anyway, the position of the Venezuelan authorities to emphasize the need to thoroughly investigate the nature of the crime seems absolutely correct to me. The people, however, have expressed their deep conviction regarding the nature of the brutal and bloody act.
The departure of the first Medical Brigade to Sierra Leone, noted as one of the areas most seriously affected by the cruel Ebola epidemic, is an example which the country can be proud of; as in this instance it is not possible to reach a higher place of honor and glory. Just as nobody had the slightest doubt that the hundreds of thousands of combatants who went to Angola and other African countries, had provided humanity with an example which will never be able to be erased from human history; nor can it be denied that the heroic action of the army of white coats will occupy one of the highest places of honor in this history.
It won’t be the producers of lethal weapons who receive this deserved honor. May the example of the Cubans heading to Africa also capture the hearts and minds of other doctors around the world, especially those who posses resources, practice a religion or have the deepest conviction to fulfill the duty of human solidarity.
Those heading to fight against Ebola and for the survival of other human beings have a difficult task ahead of them, even risking their own lives. We must not cease in our efforts to ensure that those who fulfill such duties count on the maximum safety in the tasks they undertake and the measures they must take to protect themselves and our own country from this and another illnesses and epidemics.
The personnel heading to Africa are also protecting those who remain here, because the worst that can happen is that this epidemic or other more serious illnesses reach our continent, or the heart of any community in any county in the world, where a child, mother or human being could die. There are enough doctors on the planet to ensure that no one has to die due to lack of medical attention. This is what I wish to express.
Honor and glory to our valiant fighters for health and life!
Honor and glory to the young revolutionary Robert Serra and his partner María Herrera!
I wrote these ideas on October 2 when I learnt of both pieces of news, but I preferred to wait another day in order for public opinion to form and ask Granma to publish it on Saturday.
Fidel Castro Ruz
* This article was published by Granma
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