Saturday, December 7, 2013

Communist Fidel Castro with Nelson Mandela in South Africa

The more I read around on this, I'm increasingly astonished at the intense complexity of Nelson Mandela's legacy, and especially how his leadership in South Africa overlapped with some of the most important conflicts of the Cold War. When leftists uncritically supported South Africa's black liberation movement against apartheid, it's simply a fact that such solidarity placed them in alliance with Cuba and the Soviets against U.S. strategic interests in Africa.

Here's Pamela Falk, at Foreign Affairs, "Cuba in Africa":

The strategic importance of Africa, politically and economically, should not be underestimated. The 51 nations of Africa comprise the second-largest continent in the world, with over twice the population of the United States. The value of mineral and oil resources is estimated at several trillion dollars. The Horn of Africa provides easy access via the Red Sea to the Middle East; the Ethiopian ports of Assab and Massawa allow Cuba and the Soviet Union access to the Gulf of Aden and the ports of South Yemen. In addition, the Red Sea passage to the Suez Canal is of vital importance for transporting Soviet goods. North Africa gives Cuba proximity to U.S. bases around the Mediterranean as well as to critical sea lanes. The southeast African states such as Mozambique and Tanzania afford the Cubans access to the Indian Ocean. Off the coast of southern Africa are the "choke points" of the Cape of Good Hope and the Channel of Mozambique. Thus, Cuba’s early support of the MPLA’s quick victory in Angola was fortuitous, giving Havana an ideal staging ground for the entire Cape region of Africa.

In geopolitical terms, Angola is a bull’s-eye. Angola’s strategic importance in southern Africa is the key attraction to the Cubans. Angola has over 1,000 miles of coastline south of the Congo River, which serves as part of its northern border. This extensive access to the South Atlantic makes Angola a significant outlet for iron ore, diamonds and coffee, in addition to minerals from the central African nations. Angola’s border abuts Zaïre on the northeast, Zambia on the east, and Namibia (South West Africa) to the south. Cabinda, an enclave of Angola to the north which is not contiguous to Angolan territory, borders Congo and Zaïre.

Angola’s area is almost one-half million square miles, roughly equal to the size of South Africa. Luanda is the principal port city in the north; Lobito and Benguela are the two major central Angolan port cities, and Namibe is the southern port. Major railroad lines run eastward from these Atlantic ports to the interior. Though these lines have only functioned sporadically during the civil war they are important links even to nonborder nations such as Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. Angola’s rail connections are thus a vital, even though largely potential, part of an Atlantic-to-Indian Ocean route bypassing the South African transit system.

Angola’s southern border with the former South African "mandate" territory of Namibia gives Angola additional strategic weight in East-West relations. The Namibian group opposing continued South African control, the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO), established its headquarters in Angola, and Angolan involvement in Namibia’s fight for independence has inextricably linked the political fates of South Africa and Angola. If SWAPO were to win power, the South African government believes that the government on its northern border would be unfriendly, and South Africa would be susceptible to invasion by the Cubans from Angola through Namibia. Consequently, South Africa unswervingly demands the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola as a condition for Namibia’s independence. To force such a withdrawal, South Africa has repeatedly invaded Angolan territory, thereby increasing the perceived importance of Angola, and thus Cuba, in the geopolitics of the turbulent Cape of Good Hope....

Cuba has small amounts of troops, military advisers and technical advisers in several other sub-Saharan African nations, including: Zambia (200 troops), Uganda (250 troops), Tanzania (100 military advisers), Congo (3,000 troops and advisers), Equatorial Guinea (240 troops), São Tomé e Príncipe (500 military security personnel) and Lesotho, where seven Cuban military training officers represent a goodwill gesture rather than a military outpost. In northern Africa, Cuba has 3,500 troops stationed mainly in Libya and Algeria, giving Havana Mediterranean access. It also provides support to the Polisario rebels fighting for Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco. In the former colonies of French, British and Portuguese West Africa, Cuba has stationed civilian advisers in Benin (50), Sierra Leone (150), and Guinea-Bissau (125).

Far more important to Cuba are the ties it has successfully forged with the opposition movements of two nations in the turbulent Cape region: Namibia’s SWAPO and South Africa’s African National Congress. SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma makes frequent trips to Cuba and has met with Cuban Politburo member Jorge Risquet in Angola. The ANC’s Oliver Tambo, while more cautious, continues to maintain strong ties of solidarity with Cuba. Though they know it may take years, Cuban leaders are banking on an eventual change of government that will bring these groups to power in their respective nations.
Here's the summary of the chapter by Hedelberto López Blanch, "Cuba: The little giant against apartheid," in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 3, International Solidarity:
From the very start, after the triumph of the Revolution in January 1959, Cuba supported the anti-apartheid struggle, including at different international events, where its representatives condemned the racist policies and racial segregation of that system institutionalized by Pretoria; at the same time, they urged support for the South African people's fight for national liberation. That support increased continually, and is the subject of Chapter 15, written by Hedelberto Lopez Blanch. Cuban troops, sometimes numbering up to 50,000, fought together with Angolan forces against South Africa's troops, until then described as "invincible." Intense military combat took place in Angola from 1975 to 1988, culminating in the disaster for the racist South Africans at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. Given the constant threats against Cuba by various administrations of the United States - a staunch enemy that in 1960 imposed an unending, ferocious blockade against the small Caribbean island - and the modesty that has characterized leaders of the Cuban Revolution, many of the events and information narrated in this chapter appear for the first time, given that author Hedelberto López Blanch was given access to recently declassified documents.

The tripartite talks between Cuba, the ANC and the Soviet Union; the holding of the Seventh Congress of the South African Communist Party in Cuba; the training of ANC guerrilla fighters in Cuba and other African countries; the combats against racist forces in Angola, and the discussions that opened the way to Namibia's independence and subsequently, the first free elections in South Africa, as well as comments by high-ranking leaders of the ANC and outstanding South Africans, are included in this chapter, which is also a reflection of the Cuban people's lofty spirit of humanism and internationalism.
And here's a couple of pieces from the Trotskyite Militant on Mandela's alliance with Communist Cuba, "'Internationalism Contributed to Victory': South Africa President Nelson Mandela Addresses Cuba Solidarity Conference," and "Fidel Castro Gets Hero's Welcome in South Africa."