You are on page 1of 8

Prologue

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 Pretorias rule in Namibia, and against apartheid in South Africa seemed impotent. The stage was dominated by Washingtons friendsapartheid South Africa and Portugal. The collapse of the Portuguese dictatorship in April 1974 opened the rst ssures in the dam that protected white rule, but Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was condent 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 Washingtons 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 fteen yearsuntil 1991tens 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. Brazils 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; Argentinas generals briey helped Anastasio Somozas defeated cohorts in 198081 as they sought to regain a foothold in Nicaragua. Vietnams soldiers never ventured beyond Indochina; Chinas military activities outside Asia were limited
9

to the supply of weapons and the dispatch of a few hundred instructors to Africa. During the Cold War, extracontinental military interventions were the preserve of the two superpowers, a few West European countries, and Cuba. I studied the Angolan events of 197576 in an earlier book, Conicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 19591976. Now, in Visions of Freedom, I investigate what happened over the subsequent fteen years. These were the last years of the Cold War, a convulsed period with dramatic ups and downs in relations between the two superpowers. When the curtain opens, President Gerald Ford has frozen dtente with the Soviet Union, largely because of the Cuban intervention in Angola. President Jimmy Carter revives dtente, but it never blossoms, in part because of the presence of the Cuban troops in Angola. In 1979, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan plunges the Cold War into one of its most bitter phases. But several years later Ronald Reagan would preside over an epochal change in U.S. relations with the Soviet Unionfrom the evil empire of the rst term to the deepening dtente with Mikhail Gorbachev in 198788. Many have analyzed how these changes aected the high politics of superpower relations. But how did they aect events in those areas where the Cold War was actually being waged, where it was hot? As historian Nancy Mitchell writes, The Cold War was a contest that consisted of shadow-boxing in areas of marginal signicance because real war in places that really countedBerlin, Washington and Moscowwas unwinnable. After the Cubans arrival in Angola, that shadowboxing occurred in southern Africa. Africans, Americans, Cubans, and Soviets jostled in a confusing landscape. They fought over the future of Angola and the decolonization of Namibia, Africas last colony. Beyond lay the great prize: South Africa. In Angola, throughout this period, the MPLA government faced two enemies bent on its destruction: the charismatic rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, and the South African government. Pretoria was well aware of the MPLAs commitment to help those who fought for the eradication of apartheid; therefore, the MPLA had to be destroyed. The South Africans bolstered Savimbi with economic and military aid. We are working with South Africa to shape a common destiny, Savimbi pledged. He was brilliant, he was eloquent, and he was without scruple. He was, a British ambassador in Luanda explained, a monster whose lust for power had brought appalling misery to his people. The South Africans did more than help Savimbi: they waged war on Angola for longer than a decade, sending their troops at will into the south of the country. Sandwiched between Angola and South Africa is Namibia, a sprawling, underpopulated country. It had been a German colony before falling under a South African mandate at the close of the First World War. South Africa had ruled it as
10 Prologue

its fth province. In 1971 the International Court of Justice and the UN Security Council had decreed Pretorias occupation of the country illegal and ordered it to withdraw immediately. South African officials knew that if Namibia were ever truly independent, it would have an extremely negative impact on every front for the apartheid regime. It would encourage black militant groups in South Africa... [and] lead to a decline in white morale. They were willing to give Namibia independence, therefore, in name only. For its future leaders, they handpicked malleable men who scurried across the stage, eager for power and money but unable to garner popular support or legitimacy. Over them loomed the shadow of the South West Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO), the Namibian guerrilla movement that challenged Pretorias rule. SWAPO, a U.S. ambassador to South Africa wrote in 1977, has, over the years, in the mind of the [Namibian] population come to symbolize independence, equal rights, and freedom from South Africa. SWAPO, South African officials lamented, would win any free election; therefore, the UN-supervised elections that the international community demanded were a nonstarter. The war continued. Namibia and Angola were more than neighbors; their struggles in the last years of the Cold War were intimately related. The SWAPO guerrillas were based in Angola, where the MPLA government gave them what, a South African general wrote, is virtually a prerequisite for a successful insurgent campaign, namely a border that provided safe refuge. In Angola, the SWAPO guerrillas were trained by Cuban and Soviet instructors. South Africa, the regions powerhouse, was prepared to go to any length, break any promises, threaten any alliance in order to protect what she regards as her own legitimate interests, a conservative British newspaper commented. Among these interests one was paramount: apartheid. Beginning in 1984 the South African government faced the most prolonged and intensive black uprising in the countrys history. The protests and violence, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) noted, catapulted the African National Congress (ANC)... into the forefront of the antiapartheid movement. Like SWAPO, the ANC had its military camps in Angola where its ghters were trained by Cuban instructors and armed by the Soviet Union. South African officials agreed on the need to preserve apartheid, but they disagreed about the best way to do it. The doves within the South African governmentForeign Minister Pik Botha and his aideswere skeptical about the generals plans to install Savimbi in Luanda and maintain sway over Namibia, but they kept their misgivings to themselves because they were intimidated by the countrys strong-willed prime minister (then president) PW Botha, who shared the generals views. Furthermore, they had no alternative to oer: like
Prologue 11

the generals, they loathed the MPLA government in Luanda and opposed free elections in Namibia. They were simply more aware than the generals of the dangers lurking ahead. Thus there was a complex and deadly interplay between Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. The MPLA helped SWAPO and the ANC, which fought against South Africa. The South Africans, in turn, wanted to topple the MPLA and hold on to Namibia. Had these African protagonists been left to themselves, the South Africans would almost certainly have brought down the MPLA government and enthroned Savimbi in Luanda. Savimbi would have ejected SWAPO and the ANC from Angola, and South Africas control over Namibia would have been strengthened. This turn of events would have demoralized the black masses in South Africa and, Pretoria believed, strike a blow against the revolutionary onslaught against South Africa. Instead, the Cuban soldiers, armed by the Soviet Union, protected the MPLA government and thereby protected SWAPO and the ANC. Even the CIA acknowledged that the Cuban troops were necessary to preserve Angolan independence. Nevertheless, their presence there was intolerable to both the Carter and Reagan administrations. It was, simply, an aront. Both Carter and Reagan faced two interrelated challenges in southern Africa. The rst was a Cold War problem: how to pry the Cubans out of Angola and reduce Soviet inuence in the region. The second had domestic implications: how to deal with South Africa. In the United States, racial segregation Americas own brand of apartheidwas not long past, and racial tensions simmered. Should apartheid South Africa be a partner in the U.S. eorts to force Cuba out of Angola? And how should the United States deal with Pretorias ally, Jonas Savimbi, Angolas rebel chieftain? Figuring out how to address these two challenges opened schisms in each administration. Nancy Mitchells study, Race and the Cold War: Jimmy Carter in Africa, demonstrates that Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski could work harmoniously on some important foreign policy questions. But on Angola, Namibia, and Cuba they were far apart, and their dierences reected contrasting visions of what U.S. foreign policy should be. Carter did not waver between them, unable to reach a decision, as happened in other instances (notably during the agony of the Shahs regime). He sided with Brzezinski, because he shared his viewsand also because, unlike Vance, the national security adviser spiced his recommendations with an eye to electoral politics. Deep divisions also rent the Reagan administration. They pitted the prag12 Prologue

matists, led by Secretary of State George Shultz, against the true Reaganites, who claimed to represent the presidents instincts. Southern Africa was one of their major battlegrounds. How tightly should the administration embrace South Africa? Should it simply push the Cubans out of Angola, or should it help South Africa bring Savimbi to power? And should the United States defy the international community, including its West European allies, and oppose free elections in Namibia? Reagan, after all, had deemed SWAPO a Marxist terrorist band. In answer to all these questions, Shultz and the pragmatists advocated moderation; the true Reaganites, on the other hand, brooked no compromise. By Reagans second term, the clash reverberated loudly in Congress and in the press. Mr President: Why Is [Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs] Chester Crocker Trying to Sell 20 Million Black Africans into Communist Slavery? the leaders of the countrys most prominent conservative organizations inquired in a December 1984 open letter to Reagan. Chester Crocker, their bte noire, was the most inuential assistant secretary of state for Africa during the Cold War. He enjoyed Shultzs trust, and he ably led the pragmatists on African issues. I think he sympathizes with the communist government [of Angola], Howard Phillips, chair of the Conservative Caucus, grouseda demented statement that reected the views of an important segment of the Republican establishment. Angola was, by far, the most important foreign policy initiative of the Cuban revolution. It illuminates the aims and the motivations of Cuban foreign policy. It is also a rich laboratory to study the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union. Documents from the Cuban archives, complemented by the memoirs of former Soviet officials and the testimony of senior Angolan military ofcers, reveal an authoritative inside view of Cuban-Soviet relations during the last fteen years of the Cold War. The interaction between the two countries took place at two levels: among top government officials in Havana and Moscow, and between the Cuban and the Soviet military missions in Angola. The Cubans knew very well that they were dependent on the Soviet Union. They were keen to avoid quarrels, but when necessary, they stood up to the Kremlin. In Angola, the Cuban generals challenged the recommendations of the Soviets, often vehemently. No one who reads the minutes of the exchanges between General Polo Cintra Fras, head of the Cuban military mission in Angola, and his Soviet counterpart, General Konstantin Kurochkin, can have any doubt about how obstreperous the Cubans could be. Fidel Castro had deed Leonid Brezhnev by sending troops to Angola in November 1975, and he deed Gorbachev in November 1987 when he decided to
Prologue 13

send important reinforcements to Angola to push the South Africans out of the country once and for allat the very moment Gorbachev wanted desperately to foster dtente with Washington. You know that our General Secretary will soon go [to Washington] to sign the INF [Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces] treaty, Soviet defense minister Dmitry Yazov complained to the chief of the Cuban General Sta. Havanas escalation in Angola was undesirable from the political point of view.... We dont want to do anything that the Americans can use against the Soviet Union and Cuba. In his memoirs Gorbachev writes that the Cuban government got us involved in, to put it mildly, difficult situations, such as Angola. In Moscow, opinions about Havanas African ventures were divided. Our military was interested in establishing a reliable bridgehead in Africa, and so it supported Cubas involvement in Angola... with enthusiasm. At the same time, Cubas excessive engagement, which dragged in the Soviet Union, provoked serious objections in our political circles. In our corridors of power many said openly that the Cubans were saddling us with a second Afghanistan. The doubts increased as Gorbachev engaged in a search for dtente with the United States. Nonetheless, Moscow loyally supported the Cuban engagement in Angola, even when it disagreed with Castros decisions. What did the Soviet Union gain from its long involvement in Angola? The CIA summed it up: Moscow got a reliable supporter of Soviet positions in international forums and the use of naval and air facilities in Luanda. It sold vast amounts of weapons to Angolaapproximately $6 billion between 1976 and 1988but the Angolans paid in cash only for 10 to 15 percent of the amount; the rest was given on credit, and the debt was not paid during the lifetime of the Soviet Union. Far from being a source of prot, the sale of weapons was, Soviet deputy foreign minister Anatoly Adamishin writes, a black hole. In their memoirs, most former Soviet officials are critical of Moscows involvement in Angola because it hurt relations with the United States and diverted resources that should have been used at home. It was a serious mistake, wrote Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev. It did not . . . serve the national interest of the Soviet Union, stressed Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Kornienko. Why, with all our problems, did we have to get involved? Adamishin asked. Whether it was just or not, we could not aord it, we had too many problems of our own. Vladimir Shubin, a former Soviet official and now a prominent scholar, offers a rare contrast to this litany of lamentations. He is proud of what the Soviet Union did in southern Africa. The achievements justied the costsMoscow helped protect Angola from South Africa and lent crucial assistance to the lib14 Prologue

eration movements of southern Africa. Armed struggle was a key element in the collapse of white rule in southern Africa, he argues, and it would not have been possible without the weapons provided by the Soviet Union. Without Moscow, Cuba could not have kept tens of thousands of soldiers in Angola for more than a decade. Without Moscow, the Angolan army would have been virtually without weapons. The two great achievements of the USSR in Angola, a senior Angolan officer remarked, were to give the weapons to our army and to aid Cuba. Angolan president Jos Eduardo dos Santos told Castro in December 1988, The Soviet Union helped Angola and helped Cuba to help Angola. The engine was Cuba. It was the Cubans who pushed the Soviets to help Angola. It was they who stood guard in Angola for many long years, thousands of miles from home, to prevent the South Africans from overthrowing the MPLA government. It was they who in 1988, with the reinforcements Castro sent against Gorbachevs wishes, forced the South African army out of Angola. It was they who forced Pretoria to abandon Savimbi and hold free elections in Namibiawhich SWAPO won. In the words of Nelson Mandela, the Cuban victory over the South African army in southern Angola in 1988 destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor... [and] inspired the ghting masses of South Africa. This was Cubas contribution to what Castro has called the most beautiful causethe struggle against racial oppression in southern Africa. Humiliating one superpower and repeatedly defying the other, Cuba changed the course of history in southern Africa.

My Sources
Visions of Freedom is the rst international history of the conict in southern Africa based on archival sources. It relies primarily on a triptych of documents: from Cuba, from the United States, and from South Africa. The Cuban archives for the post-1959 period are closed. I am the only foreign scholar who has been allowed to enter themafter years of eort and failure. Over time, my access has improved, in quantity and in quality. I gathered 3,500 pages of Cuban documents for Conicting Missions, but 15,000 for Visions of Freedom, including more than 3,500 pages of conversations of Fidel Castro with his closest aides or with foreign leaders, among them Gorbachev. The same rules that governed my research in Cuba for Conicting Missions applied for this book. I never used a document unless I was given a photocopy of the original. Therefore, I have photocopies of all the Cuban documents I use in Visions of Freedom.
Prologue 15

Christian Ostermann, the Director of the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has created a website on which I have posted a large selection of the Cuban documents I use in this book. This will allow scholars, wherever they are, to have access to them. It is available at digitalarchive.org. I want to thank Christian Ostermann, James Hershberg and Laura Deal for making this possible. The U.S. archives are, without question, the best-organized and richest that I have used in my professional career. But the pickings get slimmer when the researcher ventures into the Reagan years, because fewer documents have been declassied. Fortunately for my research, there was a powerful remedy: the South African archives. They are brimming with documents that shed light on U.S. policy in the region. For example, they include the minutes of a great many meetings between U.S. and South African officials that are still under lock and key in the United States. Other archives add insight and information, especially on the 1970s. Yugoslavia was a close friend of the MPLA; the Yugoslav documents shed light on Angolas relations with Cuba and the Soviet Union at critical moments in the 1970s. British documents are particularly helpful in understanding U.S. policy toward Namibia in the Carter years. The archives of the Communist Party of the former German Democratic Republic are open through the 1980s and provide important information about Angola, as well as about Cuban and Soviet policy toward southern Africa. The Zambian archives include useful dispatches from Zambian diplomats, and the French archives house the reports of the French charg in Luanda in the late 1970s; he was an intelligent and knowledgeable observer. The Canadian archives include little relevant to this book. I had hoped to nd valuable documents on southern Africa in the archives of the Italian Communist Party, but I had overestimated the partys interest in the region. I was also disappointed in my hope that the Polish archives would provide an interesting window on developments in Angolaonly two documents rewarded the eort. The Angolan archives are closed, but I managed to collect several documents from private collections in Luanda. The Russian government has declassied very little relevant for this book, but the Gorbachev Foundation has released useful documents. Former Soviet protagonistsamong them two former ambassadors to Cuba, as well as several generals and senior party officialshave written memoirs with valuable information. I have also interviewed more than 150 protagonists from South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Cuba, and the United States. Interviews add color and texture; they complement the documents.
16 Prologue