On Thursday, a movie about the Cuban war in Angola was released across the island. Outside the movie theaters couples chose to change course and head to someplace dark because the Cuban campaign in Africa holds little interest for them. The film suffers from a couple decades delay and tackles a story, parts of which still have not been declassified. Kangamba would have generated long lines and impassioned comments at the end of the ‘80s but at this point very few want to remember what happened.
The Cuban contest in Angolan territory had been the longest war in Cuban history. Fifteen long years of fighting in another land, killing or being killed by people who barely knew where this Island was. Those were the times when the Kremlin was casting its shadow over Cuba and so strongly did we depend on them that our leaders did not hesitate to join in their campaign against UNITA. Geopolitics devises these difficult tests for the small countries that orbit great empires.
I notice that during the decade and a half conflict, no Cuban mothers staged protests in any public plaza against sending their sons to the front. No one launched, in the media, the question that we all whispered, “What are we doing in Angola?” or much less a peace movement filled with white doves in front of each recruiting station. We were more docile as citizens than we are today and they took us to perish and to kill without knowing what we did.
Today, we are informed about every loss suffered by the American army in Iraq but I remember the secrecy about the number of Cuban soldiers who fell during the Angolan War. We were told that a neighbor had lost a son, or that a colleague had returned without a leg, but the press only trumpeted the horn of victory. The dead were mourned in the privacy of their families, who did not understand very well what their children were doing on the other side of the Atlantic. The niches in the cemetery remained, the framed photos in the family rooms, the full vases of flowers on every anniversary and the long speeches of those who had seen the war from afar, but nobody knew how to respond with clarity to the question, “What were Cubans doing in Angola?”
An interesting account of Cuba’s involvement not only in Angola, but also in the Congo and Guinea-Bissau, is the two-part documentary Cuba! Africa! Revolution!, produced by Storyville and directed by Jihan El Tahri. It does not however, discuss the issues raised in this blog, but focuses instead on Che Guevara’s presence and role in shaping and training revolutionary movements in those countries. What the soldiers though of their presence in Africa, is not discussed.
Do you remember the old joke: “Q:What’s the biggest country in the world? A: Cuba, because it has its government in Moscow and its graveyard in Africa.”