Cuba! Africa! Revolution!


Che Guevara’s foray into the Congo in 1965 ended badly, but Fidel Castro was playing a long game, and Cuba’s adventures in Africa reached critical mass in Angola during the mid-1980s.

Between Washington and Moscow: the cultural impact of the Cold War in Africa (The World Weekly)

Among many revelations in this excellent two-hour documentary is the USSR’s continuing annoyance with Castro’s tendency to slip the presumed leash. When Mikhail Gorbachev made negotiations with America his prime focus, Cuba became the leading exponent of Communism measured by troops on the ground.

The US Department of State knew how many Cuban troops were in Angola from the number of baseball diamonds as observed by satellite; Cuban army regulations stipulated a baseball field for every “x” number of soldiers, almost a half million of whom returned home after the 1988 peace accords. Castro justified it as anti-imperialism, and few Americans know the cross-currents in Angola in the 1980s.

Variables included the legacy of three separate armed Angolan forces, South Africa’s national security via power politics, independence for neighboring Namibia, Castro’s determination to bring about the end of apartheid, Gorbachev and the declining Soviet influence internationally, and of course Ronald Reagan’s aggressive determination to make life difficult for Soviets and Cubans wherever they were located.

The testimony of the principles is what sets this film apart. Many key players from all eras were alive to tell the tale in the early 2000s, although several have died since, including the Falstaffian character Jorge Risquet. His unlikely meeting with South Africa’s Pik Botha in a Cairo hotel bar provided an impetus to talks that led ultimately to agreement — and at least made a minor contribution to the freeing of Nelson Mandela two years later.

Risquet’s fondness for cigars is an amusing sidebar to the preceding. In summary, it’s like a Cold War diplomacy primer, perhaps no longer useful, but still instructive.

I’m unsure which of two titles is accurate. Strictly speaking, the videos are taken from the BBC4 program Storyville, and comprise Cuba! Africa! Revolution! Elsewhere they’re referred to as Cuba: An African Odyssey. The director is Jihan El Tahri, and the release date is 2007.