Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991

Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991

Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991

Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991

Synopsis

During the final fifteen years of the Cold War, southern Africa underwent a period of upheaval, with dramatic twists and turns in relations between the superpowers. Americans, Cubans, Soviets, and Africans fought over the future of Angola, where tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers were stationed, and over the decolonization of Namibia, Africa's last colony. Beyond lay the great prize: South Africa. Piero Gleijeses uses archival sources, particularly from the United States, South Africa, and the closed Cuban archives, to provide an unprecedented international history of this important theater of the late Cold War.
These sources all point to one conclusion: by humiliating the United States and defying the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro changed the course of history in southern Africa. It was Cuba's victory in Angola in 1988 that forced Pretoria to set Namibia free and helped break the back of apartheid South Africa. In the words of Nelson Mandela, the Cubans "destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor... [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa."

Excerpt

Until 1974 southern Africa was a backwater of the Cold War. the guerrillas who fought against Portuguese rule in Angola and Mozambique, against white minority rule in Rhodesia, against Pretoria’s rule in Namibia, and against apartheid in South Africa seemed impotent. the stage was dominated by Washington’s friends—apartheid South Africa and Portugal.

The collapse of the Portuguese dictatorship in April 1974 opened the first fissures in the dam that protected white rule, but Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was confident that the damage could be contained. He zeroed in on Angola, where Pretoria and Washington worked together to crush the left-wing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and install instead friendly leaders. They almost succeeded.

Between November 1975 and April 1976, 36,000 Cuban soldiers poured into Angola. They were proxies of the Soviet Union, the outraged Ford administration proclaimed. Fidel Castro countered that they were internationalists helping the Angolans repel the South African troops who had invaded the country with Washington’s collusion.

By April 1976 the Cubans had pushed the South Africans out of Angola. the mpla ruled the country. Southern Africa had been hurled into the vortex of the Cold War. For the next fifteen years—until 1991—tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers remained in Angola. Their number peaked at 55,000 in 1988.

The Cuban role in Angola is without precedent. No other Third World country has projected its military power beyond its immediate neighborhood. Brazil’s mighty generals had gone as far as the Caribbean, sending a small troop to the Dominican Republic in 1965 as the United States’ junior partner; Argentina’s generals briefly helped Anastasio Somoza’s defeated cohorts in 1980–81 as they sought to regain a foothold in Nicaragua. Vietnam’s soldiers never ventured beyond Indochina; China’s military activities outside Asia were limited . . .

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