on 4 March 2012
This is a 400 page tone of impeccable scholarship relying on primary source material from both Cuba and the US, in the Cuban instance this is the first time the material has been opened up for inspection. The question that underlies the study is to what extent the Cubans were acting as Soviet proxies in a Cold War confrontation. Gleijeses demonstrates with forensic diligence that is later corroborated by citing evidence from US State Department archives, that Cuba operated according to its own internationalist/ anti imperialist strategic imperatives much to the annoyance of its Soviet allies who in the case of Angola were not consulted but rather presented with a fait accompli. The Soviets were then expected to supply the military hardware to see out the Cuban mission. The Soviets in fact were mistrustful if not hostile to the MPLA and its leader Augustino Neto, warning the Cubans to be careful of this unreliable and independent minded liberation leader. So in an ironic sort of way, it was the Cubans who led the Soviets into an indispensable supporting role of providing the equipment for the Cubans and Angolans to fight the South Africans and their FNLA and UNITA proxies who were supported by the US. What corroborates such a view is the fact that the US policy makers at the time never factored in a Cuban presence of any description in spite of the fact that they were fully aware of Cuba's contributions, of both military and non military aid to numerous liberation movements and newly independent African states, beginning with Algeria and the Congolese debacles in which Che featured prominently, through to its most successful support before Angola in Guinea Bissau. Gleijeses discusses the Cuban contribution to various nascent anti-imperialist liberation movements in Africa and US policy thinking about this in great detail. The US only viewed as a potential threat that of the Soviet Union and this was not considered very high in this part of the world. Plucky little Cuba confounded all their policy scenarios with regard to Angola, wrong footing them to the extent that they belatedly tried the Soviet proxy caper, no doubt panicked by the shattering news from the front line that the South Africans were being forced to retreat and its proxies effectively routed. This of course is the history of Angolan independence in 1975 and the preemption of another Congolese tragedy orchestrated by US Cold War paranoia that was prepared to interdict an imaginary Soviet presence with a coalition of the most criminal and brutal mercenary operatives imaginable supported by the apartheid regime in South Africa, while deceiving the US public with a pack of lies. Gleijeses lays bare the extent of US criminality in the Congo that has reduced the country to the pitiful mess it is today with millions of Congolese dead as a consequence. Cuba responded to the clarion call of the MPLA to provide the necessary military assistance that would preserve the integrity of Angola as a sovereign and independent state. Gleijeses' anticipated account of the second phase of Cuban international solidarity in Angola with the routing of apartheid South Africa's military machine at Cuito Cuanavale is much awaited. This promises to be another scholarly inquiry into an epochal moment in Southern African History, heralding the self doubt in the invincibility of the racist apartheid regime in the face of black African and Cuban resistance, that finally led to the crumbling of the apartheid system.
What emerges from Gleijeses current study, is a remarkable story of international solidarity for which the Cubans were at pains, almost deprecatory not to publicise their indispensable contribution to defending Angola against almost certain occupation and control by South Africa and its proxies, and, in the case of Guinea Bissau, to helping liberate the country from Portuguese colonialism, thereby setting in train the collapse of Portuguese fascism and the dissolution of its colonies. Cuba never asked for a penny in return. In fact Cuba continued to educate at its own expense many of the newly independent countries professionals, especially in health care. The tragedy is that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the extended hegemony of neo-liberalism, some of these countries that Cuba helped nurture to statehood have now turned their backs on Cuba, preferring to forget the Cuban contribution in favour of IMF and other loans, that unlike the Cuban help, has mortgaged these countries populations in perpetuity to poverty and dependence on those who condemn them to poverty. While Cuba spent millions of its own hard earned wealth and continues albeit at a much diminished level, due to its own relative poverty linked to the continuing US economic blockade and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the entire Eastern bloc, fortunately it is reckoned that Cuban casualties were fairly low amounting to a couple of hundred over all its African campaigns. Gleijeses reckons that some Cubans are not happy with this failure of recognition for their contribution and are ready and willing to tell their stories now. Cuba officially played down its contributions in order not to diminish what they considered the far more important narrative of these indigenous liberation struggles against imperialism. It is hard not to feel a poignant sense of admiration for the idealism of so many of these ordinary Cubans who volunteered to go live and fight in the harshest conditions imaginable, for many of them their families not even knowing where they were. I finished this book with a very deep sense of sadness for the lack of knowledge and appreciation of the sacrifices of ordinary Cubans in coming to the aid of others. At a time when the people of Greece, Spain and Italy are being offered the banksters 'helping hand' of the European Union and the IMF that strips them of their independence and sovereignty, condemning them to hardship and impoverishment, this book offers a different view of international aid and and solidarity that restores one's faith in the possibility of human cooperation among people's that puts the needs of people before the fraudulent machinations of finance and banks.