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Visions of Freedom

Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991

Piero Gleijeses

Publication Year: 2013

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."

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: The New Cold War History

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii-vii

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pp. xi-xii

Setsuko Ono has stimulated me along my journey with her probing and frank comments, and she has inspired me with her intelligence, her courage, and her art. Her sculptures adorn Havana, Washington, Baltimore, Tokyo, and Shibu-kawa. The paintings that she exhibited at the 2009 Bienal of Havana—For Our Beautiful Earth: Resistance to Overwhelming Force and Dreams of Peace—express ...

Abbreviations Used in Text

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 9-16

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 ...

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1. The Cuban Drumbeat

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pp. 17-36

Mikhail Gorbachev visited Cuba in April 1989. Some of his closest aides had urged him not to go: Fidel Castro was a political dinosaur, they argued, his policy in the Third World was reckless, and going to Cuba would irritate the United States. Other aides disagreed. In a memo to Gorbachev accompanying a draft of the speech the Soviet leader would deliver to the Cuban National ...

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2. Neto, Castro, and Carter: A New Beginning?

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pp. 37-64

Jimmy Carter assumed office in January 1977 determined to reestablish the prestige of the United States in Africa, shattered by the Angolan fiasco. The appointment of civil rights leader Andrew Young as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations with cabinet rank—the first African American to be appointed to a senior foreign policy position in the U.S. government—was a symbol to ...

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3. The Cubans in Angola

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pp. 65-97

Friend and foe alike acknowledged the intelligence and charisma of Jonas Savimbi. “Savimbi is an impressive figure,” the U.S. ambassador in Zambia reported after meeting him in January 1975. “Savimbi is very intelligent,” MPLA leader Lúcio Lara agreed. He was also a gifted military commander. Unlike Neto, who spent very little time with his guerrillas inside Angola during the ...

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4. Strained Relations: Cuba and Angola

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pp. 98-118

Carter “was of two minds about Angola,” Vance writes. “His instinct was to work with the Angolans to help them reduce the insecurity problems that had caused the introduction of the Cubans into Angola and that now served to justify their retention. . . . But politically Carter was sensitive to Cuban activities and the impact they would have at home if we appeared too soft in dealing ...

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5. The Fronts Harden: The United States and Cuba, 1978–1980

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pp. 119-138

Cuba’s intervention to defend Ethiopia from the Somali invasion ended the tentative rapprochement between Washington and Havana. Castro sought, however, to keep a channel of communication open. In February and March 1978, at the height of the crisis in the Horn, he proposed that the two countries hold informal talks.¹ Castro did not intend to make any concession about ...

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6. Carter and Southern Africa: A Balance Sheet

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pp. 139-165

In April 1980 Carter scored a major foreign policy success: the birth of Zimbabwe.¹ For three years, the administration had been trying to strong-arm Rhodesia’s Prime Minister Ian Smith into accepting free elections based on universal suffrage and with the participation of the country’s two guerrilla movements, Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU. Smith tried to dodge this ...

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7. Enter Reagan

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pp. 166-196

As he ran for the presidency, in 1976 and in 1980, Ronald Reagan sounded a simple theme: America was in decline, but this decline had subjective rather than objective roots. “Do we lack the power?” a prominent Reagan supporter asked. “Certainly not if power is measured in the brute terms of economic, technological and military capacity. . . . The issue boils down, in the end, to the ...

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8. The Wonders of Linkage

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pp. 197-212

In South Africa, PW Botha was engaged in a daring experiment: when he became prime minister in 1978, he decided to strengthen apartheid by co-opting important segments of the nonwhite population. He would amend the constitution to grant limited political rights to Coloreds and Indians, transforming the all-white parliament into a tricameral institution in which real power ...

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9. Angolan Travails

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pp. 213-241

UNITA began to gather strength in 1980, and its growth continued unabated in 1981 and 1982. By 1983, a senior FAPLA officer writes, “the situation was critical. In the last four months of 1982, UNITA had stepped up the tempo of its operations.” It was solidly entrenched in southeastern Angola, it was gaining strength in the central provinces of Huambo and Bie—densely populated ...

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10. The Failure of Lusaka

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pp. 242-278

The Lusaka agreement did not lead to peace. For the following fifteen months Angolan, South African, and U.S. officials met to discuss the implementation of Resolution 435 and the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola. On June 25, 1984, President dos Santos flew to Lusaka to speak with South African representatives (Cuba was informed post facto), and senior Angolan officials met ...

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11. The United States, South Africa, and Savimbi

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pp. 279-313

In late 1984, for the first time in U.S. history, South Africa became the subject of widespread debate in the United States. In his memoirs Chester Crocker writes, “With hindsight it is astounding that apartheid had never before burst upon the American public consciousness as a topic of mainstream media interest and public debate. Other Western nations . . . had experienced their own ...

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12. The View from Cuba, 1984–1986

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pp. 314-342

Reagan’s landslide in November 1984 deepened Cuba’s anxieties of a U.S. attack. Reagan’s rhetoric fanned these fears. He told the American Bar Association that five countries—“a confederation of terrorist states . . . a new, international version of Murder Incorporated”—were responsible for “the growth of terrorism in recent years.” They were Iran, Libya, North Korea, Nicaragua, ...

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13. Havana and Moscow: Conflicting Strategies

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pp. 343-378

By the mid-1980s, the Soviet military mission in Angola had grown to approximately 1,500 people (plus 500 family members).¹ As in the late 1970s, most of the Soviet military personnel served as instructors in the use of the weapons sent from the Soviet Union, and they helped maintain the equipment. Others were military instructors in a variety of academies, ranging from the Academy ...

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14. Negotiations in the Offing?

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pp. 379-392

In March 1986, the Angolans had broken off the talks with Washington about linkage—Cuban withdrawal and Namibian independence—to protest the Reagan administration’s announcement that it was extending military aid to UNITA. But in late 1986 they informed Washington that they were interested in resuming the talks. The Reagan administration responded favorably. In ...

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15. Cuito Cuanavale

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pp. 393-420

While Crocker and M’Binda skirmished at the negotiating table, the war continued in Angola. On July 12, 1987, the FAPLA launched a major offensive, Salute to October. Its purpose was “to capture UNITA’s headquarters [Jamba] and reach the border with Namibia,” explained the head of the Soviet military mission, General Petr Gusev. The plan of the operation, a Cuban military ...

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16. Maniobra XXXI Aniversario

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pp. 421-430

For the first eight months of 1988, Cuban ships and Cuban planes continued to ferry troops and war materiel to Angola. Before Castro decided to launch Maniobra XXXI Aniversario in November 1987, there were 38,000 Cuban soldiers in Angola. By August 1988, when the last reinforcements arrived, the number had increased to 55,000.¹ Even more than the additional ...

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17. Chester Crocker Meets Jorge Risquet: Talks about Talks

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pp. 431-449

Angolans and Americans had begun a new round of negotiations in July 1987. The talks were based on Luanda’s implicit acceptance of linkage—Namibian independence was linked to the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola. Americans and Angolans differed, however, on the timetable and scope of this withdrawal: Washington demanded that all the Cuban soldiers leave Angola; ...

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18. The Negotiations

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pp. 450-481

Nineteen eighty-eight was the year that Mikhail Gorbachev ceased being a Communist. Through his first three years as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union he had sought to reform the economy and the party to make the Soviet system more efficient and more humane. He was, as a scholar writes, “a within system reformer.” But “from the spring of 1988 ...

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19. The New York Agreements

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pp. 482-502

By August 30, the South African army had left Angola. What was there to negotiate? South Africa no longer demanded national reconciliation between the MPLA government and Savimbi, it no longer claimed that Resolution 435 should be placed on the backburner, and it agreed to end its aid to UNITA. Only one major issue remained, therefore: the timetable for the withdrawal of the ...

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20. Visions of Freedom

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pp. 503-526

The New York agreements of December 1988 led to the independence of Namibia and the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola. This was precisely what Chester Crocker had promised linkage would deliver. In the United States the liberal press lavished praise on the assistant secretary, whom it had criticized for many years. The Washington Post saluted his “splendid ...


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pp. 527-612


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pp. 613-639


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pp. 641-655

Further Reading

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p. 657-657

E-ISBN-13: 9781469612515
E-ISBN-10: 1469612518
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469609683
Print-ISBN-10: 1469609681

Page Count: 672
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The New Cold War History