- A Friendship Forged with Blood: Cuban Literature of the Angolan War
In September of 2007, Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos made a state visit to Havana to meet with Cuban president Raúl Castro in order to renew the official ties that had been established between the two nations after 1975. While Cuban troops saw the birth of the modern Angolan state at its independence from colonial Portuguese control in 1975, Angola also serves as a historical point of reference to Cuba’s history of slavery and a metonymic source for Afro-Cuban culture. Dos Santos’ remark that “la amistad [entre Cuba y Angola] ha sido forjada con sangre” (“Presidente de Angola” n/p) evokes not only Cuba’s military, technical and humanitarian assistance to Angola’s MPLA party from 1975–1991, but also recalls the renewed importance of African diasporic heritage and resulting creolized cultures in both Cuban and Angolan national narratives after their respective revolutions.
The long fight for African decolonization and its intersections with the polarizing ideological and rhetorical divides of the Cold War converged in the Angolan war. As might be expected, this period of ideological agreement and close political ties between Cuba and Angola during the conflict of 1975–1991 resulted in more than a military exchange. Cuba sponsored thousands of African students on the island and sent teachers, engineers and doctors to Angola to fill the technical voids left when Portuguese personnel abandoned the country in 1975. Angola’s politicians and intellectuals expressed their gratitude publicly, and the two writers unions signed an agreement of mutual publication in 1976. Cuba officially exited Angola triumphantly in 1991 leaving in place a cease-fire agreement that outlined the process to presidential and parliamentary elections in 1992. The outbreak of violence and return to armed [End Page 325] civil conflict that continued until 2002, however, points to a host of simmering undercurrents that disrupt the official Cuban narrative of revolutionary triumph.
In a 1984 article on revolutionary poetry from Angola and Mozambique, critic Russell Hamilton identifies “posturing” – a careful combination of affect and politics evoked through poetic arrangement – as an essential element of revolutionary literature, “particularly the sort that harbingers a new, presumably more socially progressive economic and political order” (158). However, how do aspects of “posturing” as Hamilton defines it appear in literary works by authors who criticize, ironize or part from revolutionary orthodoxy? This article discusses Cuban literature of the Angolan War, looking at two modes. First, it traces patterns in “orthodox” literature written about the war that characterizes both the Cuban and Angolan revolutions as situated at the crossroads of discursive decolonization and trans-African alliance, evidenced in war memorials, poetry such as Waldo Leyva’s “Reencuentro” and films such as Rogelio París’s 2005 war epic Kangamba. However, there is a second, parallel critical mode of literature that indirectly criticizes Cuba’s fifteen-year military presence in Angola. I argue that as revolutionary euphoria subsides, Cuban literature of the Angolan war begins to reflect a growing ironic distance from their contemporary political polemics in order to negotiate the social problems (racism, poverty, underdevelopment, displacement) that remain unacknowledged within the polarizing rhetoric of patriotic sacrifice and revolutionary duty. This second mode of literature counteracts the triumphal narrative of Angolan assistance, where the realities of wartime violence point to fissures in these trans-Atlantic alliances and a familial dissolution that serves as a symptom of a parallel critical strain of Cuban literature of disappointment.
The sociopolitical break that the Cuban Revolution and Angolan independence initiated in the two nations’ respective histories presented the opportunity in both locales for a reformulation of the old relationships to the West in terms of a new culture unhinged from decadent Western (step)-ancestors. In Rafael Rojas’ discussion of the multiple ways that Western inheritance were debated and denounced in the first decade following the Revolution, the official priority of leaving the West behind in order to emphasize 1959 as a moment of decolonization is solidified by 1971, at which time [End Page 326]
Desarrollarse y descolonizarse implicará, entonces, romper con el humanismo occidental y con la izquierda democrática del Primer Mundo. …[A]quella localizaci...