Friday, May 6, 2011

Why Africa should commemorate the 50th anniversary of the defeat of the U.S forces by Cuba, at the Bay of Pigs

On the 17th April 1961, at 1:15am, under the authorization of President J.F. Kennedy and the C.I.A, about 1,500 U.S trained Mercenaries landed on Cuban Soil, at the Bay of Pigs on five Landing Crafts (LCVPs, similar to those used at the WWII Normandy landings) with one clear intention: To overthrow Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime, which was barely two years old.
Two days before the Bay of Pigs invasion, American B-26 Bombers painted in Cuban Air Force colours struck Cuba’s three military airbases where almost half of Cuba’s then small air force was destroyed, and several Cuban Nationals killed. (it was at the funeral of the killed Cubans that Fidel announced the Socialist Characteristic of the Revolution.)
Fidel Castro Inside a Tank at the Bay of Pigs
As the mercenaries landed, they were met by local people (Campesinos) who defended their motherland armed only with Czech M-52 rifles, until the first battalion of cadet troops arrived in the area. As the War raged on, Castro went and set up a command centre at a nearby sugar mill, from where he was directing the Cuban attacks. Fidel showed remarkable control of events, including when he himself engaged in combat when he had to get into Cuban Military tanks. As more Cuban reinforcements arrived, the rest of the Island was also put on alert, with Raul Castro commanding the Eastern side, Juan Almeida Commanding the Centre, and Che Guevara would be in charge of the Occidental parts.
Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and Che Guevara at the Bay of pigs

The invaders (from the 2506th Brigade) were escorted by aircraft Carrier USS Essex, five destroyers and six freighters, all which moved with radio silence.  On standby were U.S marines, who were waiting for the Mercenaries to succeed and set up a provisional government which would “invite” them over to the “Free” Cuban state.
The B-26 Bombers continued causing havoc, until four of them were shot down by the Cuban fighters. In the meantime, two American supply ships containing ammunition and communications equipments (the Houston and Rio Escondido) were sunk by the Cuban fighter jets, forcing two other ships to flee back to the U.S, and by 20th of April (only two days later) the American destroyers picked up the few mercenaries who had made it to the Sea and fled back to the U.S, signaling the end of an invasion which had been planned for over one year. (the planning began during President Eisenhower’s leadership)
Over 1, 200 Captured U.S Mercenaries
Fidel, Raul and the Cuban Combatants Celebrate the Victory at the Bay of Pigs
Cuba lost 161 fighters, while the U.S lost 114 men. Over 1, 200 American Combatants were taken prisoner, all of whom Fidel gave back to the U.S administration, in exchange for medical supplies for children and Agricultural equipment, which, were more of Moral punishments than anything else.
After the Americans were humiliated by this unimaginable defeat, they resorted to using terrorist tactics such as bombing Cuban trade ships, sending terrorists to bomb Cuban passenger planes and tourist hotels, assassinations and above all, imposing the murderous blockade which to date is still in effect, despite persistent U.N condemnation (every year all the countries in the U.N, except Israel and the U.S, vote against the blockade at the U.N general assembly)
It was after the triumph at the Bay of Pigs that Cuba’s first brotherly assistance to Africa came about.
Cuba in Africa-Algeria
In 1961, the African continent was violently rising up against the Colonialists, and one of the bloodiest anti-colonial wars was fought in Algeria, under the leadership of the National Liberation Front (FLN) against the French. Ahmed Ben Bella, who was one of the FLN leaders called for Cuba’s support. Cuba did not hesitate and it sent a ship load of Weapons and tens of doctors to the freedom fighters, the ship then returned to Cuba with over a hundred Algerian children who had been wounded and orphaned by the French forces. One year later, the Algerian people won their independence from France.
In 1963, Morocco, through its Monarchy claimed a large mineral-rich Algerian territory, and decided to take it by force, in a war now known as the Sand War. At this time, the Moroccan Army received logistical aid from the U.S, and arms from France, while Algeria’s rebel army was still recuperating from its long and unequal war with the French Colonialists. After some period of fighting(Deep inside Algerian territory), the Algerian government again called for help from Cuba, and again Cuba did not hesitate, in fact, it sent a battalion of state of the art tanks, together with over seven hundred internationalist soldiers. After the arrival of the Cuban troops, the war did not last for long, and the Moroccans had to retreat from the Algerian-Cuban forces, and finally a peace deal was negotiated by the O.A.U.
It is very important to note here that Morocco, under it Monarch, has been occupying the Western Sahara republic since the departure of their Spanish colonialists.
After meeting stiff resistance from the Saharawi people under the Polisario Front, Spain did not allow for Saharawi independence but instead divided its territory between Mauritania and Morocco in 1975, while it (Spain) controlled Saharawi’s maritime resources. The Saharawi continued with their war against their new Colonizers, and in 1979, they managed to defeat the French backed Mauritania forces. It was after this victory that the O.A.U officially recognized Western Sahara Republic, and because of this, Morocco quit the O.A.U. Since then, the Saharawi have been fighting for independence from Morocco, which receives support from Spain, France, the U.S. and even indirectly from the U.N through the U.N.S.C.
It is quite clear that if the Cubans had not intervened for Algeria in 1963, then probably we could have had two colonies in Africa today.

Cuba in Africa-Congo
In 1964, at the U.N general assembly, Ernesto Che Guevara admonished the U.S and Belgian aggressions against the Congo (DRC) where he said that “every free man in the world must be ready to avenge for the crimes committed against Congo.” Shortly after his speech, the Congolese rebellion was crushed by the Belgian Paratroopers, Rhodesian and South African mercenaries, and the U.S transport planes.
Che Guevara alias Tatu, with Congolese Fighters in Eastern Congo
In 1965, Che Guevara first arrived in Congo with two handpicked Cuban Battalions (all, except four soldiers were black) through Tanzania. Unfortunately, as Ben Bella would later say, the intervention in Congo arrived too late, and several months later, the mission had to be terminated.

Cuba in Africa-Portuguese Colonies
In 1965, after withdrawing from Congo, Che Guevara met other African leaders, and in Algiers he met movement leaders of countries which were still under Portuguese Colonialism, leaders of MPLA (Aghostinho Neto), PAIGC (Amilcar Cabral) and FRELIMO (Samora Machel). A relationship between these movements and Cuba thus began, and the Cubans began preparing fighting units, sending instructors and financial assistance. Finally Guinea-Bissau won its independence in 1974, under the leadership of the revolutionary and visionary leader, Amilcar Cabral(who by that time had been assassinated by the Portuguese).
By then Cuba had over 600 internationalists, among them tens of doctors, all who had stayed in Guinea-Bissau for close to ten years. The rest of the Portuguese colonies(Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Mozambique) would fall in 1975.

Fidel Castro and Samora Machel-First President of Mozambique and leader of FRELIMO

Fidel Castro and Agostinho Neto-First President of Angola and leader of MPLA

Fidel Castro and Amilcar Cabral-leader of PAIGC
"The Cuban combatants are ready to sacrifice their lives to free our countries, and in exchange to that aid to our freedom and the progress of our peoples, the only thing that they will take away with them are the Cuban combatants that fell in the fight for freedom"-Amilcar Cabral

Cuba in Africa-Ethiopia
In 1977, over 15, 000 Cuban combatants participated in the defense of Ethiopia, against the Somali invasion for the annexation of Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. In three years, the Derg(Military Council), under the leadership of Mengistu Haile Miriam had overthrown Emperor Haile Selasie, and Ethiopia had fallen into instability, where internal wrangles had risen, political unrests erupted and secessionist groups emerged from many regions of the country. One of these regions was Ogaden, whose secessionist uprising was supported by Somalia (under Said Barre). Then in 1977, the Somali Army, which had far much superior military and air force strength (after receiving a lot of assistance over the years from the U.S.S.R and Egypt) invaded Ethiopia. Due to superior military hardware (now coming from the U.S and the U.S.S.R), the Somalis managed to seize the Ogaden region in one month, and were still on the offensive. The U.S.S.R then changed sides and began giving military hardware to Ethiopia, and it was at this moment that the Cuban troops landed and began fighting alongside the Ethiopian Soldiers. Strategies were developed and eventually Ethiopia managed to regain her territory in 1978. Again, many of the orphaned and wounded children were taken to Cuba, where they were educated and taken care of until they were old enough to go back and serve their mother country.
Raul, Fidel and Mengistu in Ethiopia

 Cuba in Africa-Angola
But it is the 1975 and later 1987 interventions in Angola and Southern Africa that witnessed the most massive combat involvements by Cuba in Africa.
In the period when Angola was in the process of gaining its independence in 1975, there were around five hundred Cuban Military instructors in Angola.
Of all the Portuguese colonies, Angola was the biggest and the richest, so as the Portuguese colonialism was being kicked out, the American Imperialism was forcing its way in (as was the case in whole of Africa), and America hatched a plan to divide Angola and own it via proxy of Zaire (under Mobutu) and South Africa (under the S.A Fascists.) The two countries were to simultaneously invade Angola before it proclaimed its independence, and the attacks would come from the North (Zaire) and from the South, and in no time, the first battle was waged in Benguela. It was here that Agostinho Neto, leader of MPLA asked for support from Cuba. Over the next few days, Cuba sent over 36, 000 FARs (Revolutionary Armed Forces), complete with the air cover of MiG-17s, MiG-21s and MiG 23s. With these soldiers plus the Angolan Compatriots, the Cubans launched “Operation Carlota” (Named after a woman slave who in 1843 led an uprising against Slavery, and died in the struggle.) In addition to it being the most powerful country on the continent, South Africa also had nuclear bombs, which were delivered to them by the U.S after the Cubans made their presence there.
This notwithstanding, the Cuban-Angolan forces managed to push the South African Forces      1, 000 kilometers, up to the Namibian border. The two countries held some peace talks, but Cuba refused to withdraw its forces, unless Namibia was granted its independence. After some push from the U.S and U.S.S.R, Cuban finally agreed to leave in a timetabled manner, and it, together with the U.S.S.R agreed to train and arm the Angolan Army.
Small intermittent aggressions continued from the South Africans, but that was until 1987, when the SADF(South African Defense Forces) decided to launch a full attack (the last) on Angola.
In 1987, the U.S and South Africa launched a major attack using Jonas Savimbi (leader of UNITA) as a front, and Angola, now under Eduardo Dos Santos called for help from Cuba.
 This time round, Cuba was reluctant to send any support, since their advisers in Angola had always warned the MPLA against attacking the Savimbi outposts in the far South, something that was unnecessary, and dangerous, but the MPLA didn’t take the advice, hence the moment that they attacked Savimbi in the South, the South Africans counter attacked and killed very many Angolan soldiers, destroyed brand new equipments and they continued to surge forward towards the capital. The Angolans had taken the bait.
After more distress calls from the brother nation, Cuba agreed to take the risk and help Angola, but they (the Cubans) had decided that they would fight hard, and end the South African aggressions in Southern Africa, once and for all.
Over 55, 000 soldiers were sent to Angola and the positioned themselves at two fronts, one in the South Western regions of Angola, and another behind the Cuito and Canavale Rivers. The South Western attack included 40, 000 Cuban soldiers, 30, 000 Angolan troops and 3, 000 Namibian guerilla fighters from SWAPO, who were under the leadership of Sam Nujoma (Since 1975, Angola had training bases for Namibia, Zimbabwe and South African freedom fighters). They were covered above by the MiG-23s, and they had over 1, 000 anti-air artillery and around 600 tanks. This, together with the famous thunderous defeat at Cuito Canavale, made the South Africans flee deep into their territory.

A meeting of old Comrades-Fidel and Mandela

Fidel Castro and Sam Nujoma-First President of Namibia and leader of SWAPO
Cuban-Angolan Fighters in Angola

Cuba in Africa-Namibia, South Africa
This time round, the Cubans vowed not to stop the war, until South West Africa, Now Namibia was given its independence. Peace talks were then initiated by the U.N, where South Africans sat on one side, and Cubans and the Angolans on the other side. Ironically, the U.S was acting as the mediator. Namibia finally won its independence in 1990, where Sam Nujoma was elected as the first President of that Nation. South Africa became free four years later.

In the whole involvement in Angola since 1974, over 300, 000 volunteer Cuban internationalists had participated in the Angolan struggle. 2, 077 Cubans had lost their lives. Unlike the U.S, France, Britain and the whole NATO alliance who intervene in other countries because of their selfish interests, Cuba agreed to intervene in all these countries out of fraternal love.
How Cuba is working with Africa Today
Last year, I had the privilege of attending the 3rd African Meeting of Solidarity Networks with Cuba, which was held in Luanda, Angola and had been organised by Government of Angola, Angolan League of Friendship and Solidarity with the people (LAASP), Association for Angola-Cuba Friendship (ASAC) and the Cuban Institute of friendship with the Peoples (ICAP and was attended by delegations from over 14 African countries.
While Sam Nujoma(81), first president of Namibia remembered how they used to be happy when they, as Guerilla Freedom Fighters used to see the Cuban MiG-23s flying above them; a Ghanaian delegate in his mid 20s told the meeting of how Cuban volunteer doctors are offering medical service in remote regions of Ghana, regions where even Ghanaian doctors avoid to tread.
This trend is not only seen in Ghana, but it is there in many African countries, and other countries in the world. When Fidel was taking over in 1959, Cuba had a total of 6, 000 doctors half of whom were lured over to the U.S after the triumph of the revolution. Since then, Cuba, under the great leadership of Fidel Castro has managed to train over 80, 000 Cuban doctors, and has trained an equivalent number of doctors from other countries.
In a span of less than 10 years, over 30 Kenyan students have studied medicine in Cuba for free, and are now practicing in Kenya, while another 30 have had full University scholarships in other disciplines.

Henry Reeve Contingent
Cuban Doctors Put on stand by to help after Hurricane Catrina-U.S rejected the offer, and many lives were lost

Some Cuban Doctors in Haiti after the devastating Earthquake
Cuba has the Henry Reeve Contingent, which is an army of doctors who largely deal with disasters situations and disease epidemics in all corners of the world. They have intervened in Guatemala during Hurricane Mitch, they were there during the Pakistani earthquake, there were there before, during and after the Haiti earthquake. Even in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Cuba offered 1, 600 doctors, but the American pride could not allow them to accept the offer. As a result, many people (mainly blacks) had to die of salvageable conditions. Fidel Castro while speaking about the U.S reactions to the Haiti earthquake disaster said that Cuba does not send Soldiers, it sends doctors: The Cuban doctors who were in Haiti saved many lives, while the U.S army used the disaster to occupy Haiti militarily. They also prevented many deaths, and saved many during the Cholera outbreak later in that country.
The Cuban doctors have solved millions of medical cases in Africa alone, and all this they do out of the internationalist spirit of love.

Africa in Cuba
Out of all this, Africa has also reciprocated this love through small but firm deeds, for instance, after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, Cubans went through a very difficult period (Special Period). A period of hunger, a period of intensified terrorist attacks and a period of blurred future. But Africans stood and stuck with them, giving them moral physical support in the form of food aids and other materials.
Since the mid 1990s, Africa has always voted for the abolishment of the murderous U.S Blockade on Cuba, without fearing reprisals from the U.S. Despite this resolution being passed by over 180 countries at the U.N every year, the U.S continues ignoring these calls and even President Obama, whose father was an African and in whom we earlier had a lot of faith in has continued with these unjustified killing of innocent Cuban people.
African people have also being at the forefront of pushing for the release of the Five Cuban Antiterrorist heroes, who are unfairly held in the U.S jails because of unearthing terrorism in the U.S.A.
These kind acts are so many and they include last year’s Cuban debt cancellation (1$ Billion) by South Africa, which was followed by awarding another loan to Cuba.

Not Enough

Though Africa’s reciprocation has been seen, it is clearly not enough. Whereas Cuba went to great lengths, including risking sending its Army thousands of miles away when it always had an imminent aggression from its neighbor just 100 miles away;
Whereas Cuban internationalists lost their lives in the process of fighting for freedom in Africa;
Whereas Cuba has had to face more difficult times because of the costs involved in these interventions;
Whereas Cuba has always told off imperialism and imperialist advances from this great continent of ours;
Whereas we can never forget what Cuba under the leadership of Comrade Fidel Castro has done and is doing o this continent;
We must also ask ourselves as Africans what we are doing to develop conditions; A Socialist environment, which allowed and is allowing Cuba to have the heart of being in solidarity with us.
We must question, challenge and expose the African leadership that was still in leadership when Cuba’s internationalism was at its peak, but who today have are not walking the progressive and revolutionary talk that they had back in the days.
We must work harder amongst our people, inform them of the Cuban Blockade, the Cuban 5, Guantanamo bay and other Cuban struggles (which in most cases receive no media coverage) so that together we may fight against these injustices in a louder voice, and in stronger action.
In as much as the African countries vote with Cuba on the issue of the blockade every year, in my view this is not enough. We need visible and militant action from our leaders in these U.N meetings, and directly with Cuba that will end this madness once and for all.
Even though our Cuban brothers did and continue doing the positives in Africa out of Socialist internationalism and out of love, Africans must reciprocate this love in equal and even in higher measure.

Cuba, just like all the African countries is a developing nation, but it has managed to build a literacy rate of 99.8% (whereas the U.S has over 40 million illiterate adults), it has managed to become the medical superpower of the world, it has a life expectancy of 79 years (in fact, the oldest person alive is a Cuban, she is 126 years old!), among many other major achievements.
It has made these serious strides in human development due to their patriotism to their country, fostering true friendship with other nations, practicing Socialism, opposing imperialism, revolutionary visionary leadership, and goodwill from the rest of the world.
It is from these, and many other Africa-Cuba relationship that Africa should celebrate with Cuba, as they mark the 50th Anniversary of the defeat of the U.S forces at the Bay of Pigs: No one knows where the world would be, if victory was never to be.

Viva Cuba!
Viva Africa!

Benedict Wachira
Secretary, Kenya-Cuba Friendship Society
6th May 2011
Recommended book: My Life-Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet Penguin Books, 2007