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A faded reminder on the wall of a derelict lighthouse. Lobito, Angola. Wikipedia

Fidel Castro’s bitter legacy in Angola

Fidel Castro, who survived 10 American presidents, has died at the age of 90. For five decades, Castro tirelessly promoted Communism, at a great cost to Cubans.

Published: November 27, 2016, 4:00 am

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    Despite Cuba’s eventual dependence on foreign dollars, the state-run economy failed to bring prosperity to his country. “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us any more,” Castro admitted in 2010 to the surprise of a visiting US journalist.

    Britain’s Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, however, expressed his great sadness at Castro’s passing. He called Castro “a massive figure in the history of the whole planet”. Corbyn lauded the “progress” in the country accepting LGBT rights, as well as the mending of relations with America under Barack Obama, which he called “historic”.

    Corbyn also applauded Castro’s foreign policy which extended to southern Africa in supporting Angola against the apartheid regime. Thousands of Cubans who were shipped to Angola, died in the war, making Castro’s legacy in Africa a particularly bitter one.

    Many Cuban Americans therefore don’t remember Castro very fondly. “Biggest liar, biggest ego, biggest bank account of any Cuban politician. He was a very smart psychopath and history will not absolve him,” Humberto Capiro, 54, a residential building designer told Aljazeera.

    Asked to sum up the Fidel Castro era of Cuba, Havana resident Vladimiro Roca told USA Today: “A disaster.”

    Roca, one of hundreds of Cubans imprisoned for voicing their disapproval of the regime, said Castro completely ignored the nation’s infrastructure, ruined it’s economy and created a system of internal monitoring that bred fear and oppression. That combination, he said, has forced Cubans to live their lives in fear of their neighbors and willing to do anything — including stealing and other illegalities — to survive.

    “The economic ruin he left can be fixed,” Roca said. “The moral ruin will be harder.”

    According to the fashionable view in mainstream media about the Angolan War, Pretoria agreed to withdraw from Angola and Namibia in full retreat, a spent force. In other words, sanctions and “the great” Fidel Castro won the day.

    This is not the analysis that emerges from Castro’s own version of events in his speech to the Cuban Council of State on July 9 1989, when it met to confirm the death sentence imposed on General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, chief of the Cuban military mission in Angola from November 1987 to January 1989.

    Instead, it became clear that by late 1987 Castro had concluded that the MPLA regime was an irredeemable military and economic basket case, whipped in the field and four years behind in the trifling $20m a year the Cubans claimed to be charging for their services. SA and Unita had effectively won. For Fidel, the only acceptable course was to stage Cuban military prowess and get out.

    So determined was Castro to get out of his self-inflicted Angolan quagmire, that he virtually abandoned all other duties, eager to finish the war from behind a microphone in Havana. And to ensure the MPLA would not prevaricate behind his back, he sought and obtained a Cuban seat at the negotiating table.

    The immediate purpose of the July 9 speech was to denigrate the role Ochoa played in the last, climactic year of the war by portraying him as lazy, incompetent, insubordinate and venal. To make this credible, Castro evidently felt it necessary to describe the defence of Cuito Cuanavale and Cuba’s subsequent flanking offensive towards the Namibian border in unprecedented detail. He even quoted from cables he sent Ochoa and his field commander, General Leopoldo Cintra Frias.

    Back home, Castro pretended to have defeated South Africa, but the cables told the story of an Angolan defeat and how, with considerable nerve and panache, the Communists extricated themselves from it, by killing a Cuban general.

    Ochoa, according to those who knew him, including diplomats involved in the Angola/Namibia settlement, knew his mission was to preside over Cuba’s vainglorious fraud, designed to cover a retreat that had already been decided.The 15 000 new troops who followed Ochoa came to save Cuban face, not the defeated MPLA.

    Defence Minister Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, quoted the general as saying: “I have been sent to a lost war so that I will be blamed for the defeat.”

    In the Museum of the Revolution in Havana, the exhibit commemorating the “glorious victory” at Cuito Cuanavale in Angola is oddly hidden from public view, in a side corridor. The explanation: The general to whose genius the glorious “victory” might logically have belonged to, had been shot at dawn instead of having a medal pinned to his chest.

    The “victory” of the MPLA and Fidel Castro was rather handed to him by US Secretary of State at the time, Henry Kissinger and machinations by the UN, which would also explain how Castro survived 638 assassination attempts.

    President-elect Donald Trump condemned the late Cuban leader.

    “The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” Trump said in a statement issued hours after Castro’s death. “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

    Trump, who has been critical of the Obama administration’s diplomatic fawning over Cuba, said the nation remains “a totalitarian island,” and that Castro’s death would auger well for the Cuban people, as “a move away from the horrors endured for too long” towards a “future of freedom they so richly deserve”.

    The Pope expressed his grief over the death of the professed atheist, educated by Jesuits, the religious order of which the pope is a member.

    karin@praag.org

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