Cuba-Africa Relations under Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro - Author's collection
Though hated by the U.S., Fidel Casto remains a hero in the eyes of many Africans because of his assistance to the continent during the cold war and liberation struggle.
Castro’s Foreign Policy ObjectiveAfter overthrowing the American-backed Fulgencio Batista, Castro made the U.S his prime target and vowed to combat American expansionism and imperialism worldwide. Addressing a gathering of Third World revolutionaries in 1966, Castro had the following words for the United States:
We revolutionary Cubans understand our international obligations. Our people understand their obligation because they understand that we face a common enemy. The enemy that threatens Cuba is the same enemy that threatens everyone else. That is why we say and we proclaim that Cuban fighters will lend support to any revolutionary movement in any part of the world.
As the Cold war gathered steam, Castro directed his energy to Africa where conflicts where driven largely ideological struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. Castro’s first major experiment against America was in Angola.
Castro’s Role in the Angola Civil WarThe civil war in Angola was by far one of the most ferocious conflicts in Africa in the 1970s. It compared only with the liberation wars in Algeria and Zimbabwe, and all of these conflicts reflected the contours of the Cold War. The Angolan situation was a conflict between UNITA (Union for the total Liberation of Angola) backed by the U.S and apartheid South Africa, and the pro-Russian MPLA (Popular Movement for the liberation of Angola). Castro sided with Russia in support of the MPLA in 1975.
Fidel Castro’s involvement in Angola was very significant because it came at a time when the U.S attempted several peace overtures to Castro. This peace package included the end of a 15 year embargo and the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana. The U.S. threatened tougher sanctions if Castro failed to make use of this opportunity. Castro refused the American carrot and dared the stick. “What conditions does the imperialist U.S. think it can impose on our economy?” he lamented in fury. “We are in solidarity with Angola and we will continue to support the people of Angola.”
By January 1975, Castro’s troops numbered 1500 in Angola. This Cuban force played a decisive role in Angola’s bloody civil war which saw the triumph of the pro-communist MPLA. Castro’s fighters left their footprints on African soil in the historic battled of Cuito Cuanavale which saw the humiliating defeat of the SADF (South African Defence Forces) and their UNITA allies. The significance of this battle was conjured in the words of former South African President Nelson Mandela who insisted that it “was the turning point for the liberation of our continent ... and my people from the scourge of apartheid.”
From Angola to the Rest of Africa: Castro’s FootprintsThe success of the MPLA in the Angolan civil war was a great victory for Castro as it was a humiliation for the U.S and apartheid. Analysts have traced the reversal and subsequent demise of apartheid to the confrontation at Cuita Cunavale. From Angola, Castro spanned his revolutionary activities across the entire continent. After the Cold War, Castro remained a loyal ally to Africa, reaching out to the masses through non-military assistance.
Despite the crippling burden of U.S. embargo and sanctions, and abandoned by the Soviet Union, Castro continued to play a key role in the development of Africa. Cuban doctors, educators and technicians made a direct impact on the lives of millions of Africans. South Africa alone is still home to more than 400 Cuban doctors with many more scattered throughout Southern Africa.
Even after his retirement from office in February 2008, Castro has not ceased to voice concern for Africa. In one of his regular publications titled “Reflections of the Commander-in-Chief,” Castro lamented the plight of Africa. “I think of Africa and its almost one billion population” he said, “ the diseases flying at the speed of airplanes, proliferate at the speed of AIDS ... with not one of the former colonial powers being really capable of sending them doctors and scientist.”
See Also: The Cold War and Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle.
Bosch, Adriana. American “Experience: Fidel Castro” PBS.org, 2005.
Castro, Fidel. “We Don’t Hope for Favours from the Worst Empires” COUNTERPUNCH, 2007.
Castro, Fidel. “Reflections of the Commander-in-Chief,” Jan. 2008.