|Cuba Followed U.S. into Angola, Secret Papers Reveal
The documents, released by the independent National Security Archive (NSA) also show that the Soviet Union only reluctantly backed Havana's intervention in Angola and tried to put strict limits on it. The papers were uncovered by Washington-based Cuban expert, Piero Gleijeses, during research for a new book.
Gleijeses is the first scholar to gain access to closed Cuban archives, including those of the Communist Party Central Committee, the armed forces, and the foreign ministry.
Together, the documents and Gleijeses' new book, "Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976," offer a version of that turbulent period much at odds with the official history provided by U.S. policy-makers, most notably then- secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
The latter have depicted the war in Angola as a major new challenge to U.S. power by an expansionist Moscow newly confident following communist military victories over U.S. clients in Indochina in the spring of 1975.
''My assessment was if the Soviet Union can interfere eight thousand miles from home in an undisputed way and control Zaire's and Zambia's access to the sea, then the Southern countries must conclude that the U.S. has abdicated in Southern Africa,'' Kissinger wrote in his memoirs.
But the new sources paint a much different picture of that time, establishing conclusively, for example, that:
- Cuban President Fidel Castro, who had sent military advisers to help the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the summer of 1975, decided to send troops to Angola on November 4, in response to South Africa's invasion of that country. Washington claimed at the time that South Africa invaded in order to prevent a Cuban take-over of the country.
- The United States knew of South Africa's covert invasion plans in advance and co-operated militarily with its forces, contrary to Kissinger's testimony to Congress at the time, as well as at odds with the version in his memoirs.
- Castro decided to send troops to Angola without informing the Soviet Union and deployed them at his own expense from November 1975, to January 1976, when Moscow agreed to arrange for a maximum of 10 flights.
Publication of the documents marks ''a significant step toward a fuller understanding of Cuba's place in the history of Africa and the cold War'', said Peter Kornbluh, director of the NSA's documentation project.
''Cuba has been an important actor on the stage of foreign affairs, and its documents are a missing link in fostering an understanding of numerous international episodes of the past.''
Cuba eventually deployed 30,000 troops to Angola and effectively defeated the ''secret'' invasion by South Africa at the outskirts of the capital, Luanda. Its intervention was credited with the MPLA's victory in the war, which included two other U.S. and China- backed Angolan factions, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) of Jonas Savimbi and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) headed by Holden Roberto.
South Africa continued to back UNITA after its defeat at the hands of the combined Cuban-MPLA forces. Seven years later, the administration of former president Ronald Reagan also resumed covert aid to Savimbi, which was finally cut off some 10 years ago.
Savimbi was killed in a MPLA ambush only last month, effectively ending one of Africa's longest and most ruinous wars. The MPLA government and UNITA signed a cease-fire agreement last weekend.
The documents and Gliejeses' book show that Cuba, rather than Moscow's vanguard in fostering revolution in Latin America and Africa, was sometimes a major headache for the Kremlin, particularly because of its overseas adventures.
A November 21, 1967 memorandum by an office of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) begins by asserting that "(Soviet leader Leonid) Brezhnev thinks that Castro is some sort of idiot, and Castro probably isn't too fond of Brezhnev either".
The paper, "Bolsheviks and Heroes: The USSR and Cuba", argued that Cuba was fomenting revolution against Latin governments with which Moscow was trying to improve political and trade relations.
The situation was similar eight years later, albeit on a different continent. In August, 1975, when Washington had already launched substantial covert aid programmes for UNITA and the FNLA, then MPLA chief, Agustinho Neto is quoted in a Cuban report complaining about Moscow's lacklustre support. He also expressed hope that the war in Angola would become ''a vital issue in the fight against imperialism and socialism". Only in the years later did Moscow increase its support for the MPLA.
A critical moment for U.S. strategy in Angola was a national security council meeting on June 27, 1975. Then-secretary of defense James Schlesinger suggested that Washington ''encourage the disintegration of Angola", implying that Wa