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Yesterday Nelson Mandela died, and you would think from all the gushing praises that the US government had supported him from the beginning. Nothing could be further from the truth. During Mandela's first visit to the US, it was leaked that the CIA had played a role in his capture. The US considered the ANC a "Communist" and "terrorist" organization. Of course everyone they didn't like got called at least one of these things.
In this book, as in its prequel Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976, Piero Gleijeses, a professor of American foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins, discusses the opposing roles played by the US and Cuba in the battle to free Southern Africa.
This is a work of careful research, the author using archives of the US, Cuba, South Africa, and Russia, as well as interviews with and quotes from memoires of key players in these countries and others. It will be impossible to refute, although we can be sure some will try.
The US supported Portuguese colonialism until revolution in Portugal forced an end to it. Then they supported the most pro-imperialist forces in the former colonies; those willing to collaborate with the apartheid regime to see that no radical change took place. UNITA in Angola was one such movement; their atrocities were glossed over, and their South African ties downplayed. While publically taking their distance from apartheid South Africa, the US government collaborated with them against the MPLA in Angola and SWAPO in Namibia (no country in the world publically opposed independence and free elections in the South African colony). South Africa was experiencing internal rebellion, and was desperately playing for time, not being willing to accept majority rule. The battles all over Southern Africa helped to determine its fate.
Cuba was on the other side, and contrary to what many believed, this book carefully documents that far from being Soviet puppets, it was Cuba who acted, forcing the conservative Soviet leaders to play a supporting role at best.
This book documents all the battles, diplomacy, and major media reporting surrounding these events. To make a long story short, the bad advice given to the Angolan army by the Soviet advisors led to a very dangerous situation in Angola. While UNITA did not pose a huge threat, South Africa did, and their air force dominated the skies. They also had a large presence of ground troops in Angola, both to do what UNITA couldn't, and to prevent a SWAPO victory in Namibia.
Cuba let down its own defenses to send thousands of ground troops, pilots, planes, and anti-aircraft weapons to Angola. In the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, South African forces were decisively defeated by the combined forces of Angola, Cuba, and SWAPO. Negotiations followed, which resulted in South Africa leaving Angola and Namibia. The handwriting was on the wall, and in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. After street battles, massive international support, and negotiations, he was the first democratically elected president in South Africa in 1994.
Gleijeses appropriately gives Mandela the final word, given during his 1991 trip to Cuba: "We come here with a sense of the great debt that is owed the people of Cuba. What other country can point to a greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations to Africa?"
Other suggested books: How Far We Slaves Have Come! South Africa and Cuba in Today's World; Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa's Freedom and Our Own; The Coming Revolution in South Africa (New International no. 5); From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution; The Struggle Is My Life; Nelson Mandela Speaks: Forging a Democratic, Nonracial South Africa; Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-87.