Saturday, April 27, 2019

Cuba's problematic legacy in Africa: A look back to Ethiopia and South Africa

 Revisiting the nonviolent end of the Apartheid regime, and Castro's genocidal crimes in Ethiopia
Castro with war criminal Mengistu in 1970s and Nelson Mandela in 1990s
April 27th is recognized as Freedom Day in South Africa. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the first post-apartheid elections held on that day in 1994. This presents a great opportunity to reflect on the role played by the Castro regime in Africa.

Nationalist narratives tend to glorify violent narratives, at the expense of successful nonviolent initiatives. In India for example, the 3,000 nationalists who joined ranks with Hitler and the Third Reich to fight the British get credit with speeding up Indian Independence.  However the millions who took part in nonviolent actions in Gandhi's movement get short shrift as the Hindu nationalists grow in power in India.

The same holds true in South Africa. Piero Gleijeses. a professor of American foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies writing in The National Interest in 2014 gives a positive assessment of the Cuban intervention in Angola quoting Nelson Mandela that their victory “destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor ... [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa ... Cuito Cuanavale was the turning point for the liberation of our continent—and of my people—from the scourge of apartheid.”  For the record both sides claimed victory in the battle of Cuito Canavale.

Professor Gleijeses failed to look at the historical context, and Nelson Mandela's commitment to the violent overthrow of the Apartheid regime. In the case of South Africa the decision of the African National Congress to adopt violence as a means to end Apartheid in 1961 may in fact have prolonged the life of the racist regime by decades. It also led to Nelson Mandela spending decades in prison refusing to renounce his violent stand.

Sean Jacobs writing in The Guardian in 2016 repeats the same narrative portraying the Castro regime's agenda in Africa as anti-colonial and noble, but left out a massive Cuban intervention in Ethiopia that abetted war crimes and genocide.

Left to right: Ramiro Valdes, Raul Castro, Fidel Castro and Mengistu Haile Mariam

Fidel and Raul Castro were both deeply involved in sending 17,000 Cuban troops to Eastern Africa in order to assist Mengistu in consolidating his rule and eliminating actual and potential opposition. The last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until 1989 and were present and complicit in the engineered famine that took place there. Also present was Ramiro Valdes, the founder of the Cuban secret police, who decades later would play an important role in Venezuela.

Human Rights Watch in their 2008 report on Ethiopia titled outlined "Collective Punishment War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region" some of the practices carried out by Cuban troops sent there by Fidel and Raul Castro excerpted below
In December 1979, a new Ethiopian military offensive, this time including Soviet advisors and Cuban troops, “was more specifically directed against the population’s means of survival, including poisoning and bombing waterholes and machine gunning herds of cattle.”24 Militarily, the counter-insurgency operations succeeded in greatly weakening the insurgents or driving them across the border into Somalia.
Charles Lane of The Washington Post raised the issue of the Cuban role in Ethiopia's famine:
The last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until September 1989; they were still on hand as hundreds of thousands died during the 1983-1985 famine exacerbated by Mengistu’s collectivization of agriculture. 
Mandela became a symbol of resistance, and later an agent of national reconciliation, but he was not the agent of regime change in South Africa.

UDF boycotted elections
It was not the armed struggle of the ANC that brought the Apartheid regime to the negotiating table but the United Democratic Front (UDF).  The history of how the Apartheid regime was brought to an end is often overlooked. This is the history of the UDF and the successful nonviolent struggle it carried out that is documented in A Force More Powerful:

 In the city of Port Elizabeth, Mkhuseli Jack, a charismatic 27-year-old youth leader, understands that violence is no match for the state's awesome arsenal. Jack stresses the primacy of cohesion and coordination, forming street committees and recruiting neighborhood leaders to represent their interests and settle disputes. Nationally, a fledgling umbrella party, the United Democratic Front (UDF), asserts itself through a series of low-key acts of defiance, such as rent boycotts, labor strikes, and school stay aways. 
Advocating nonviolent action appeals to black parents who are tired of chaos in their neighborhoods. The blacks of Port Elizabeth agree to launch an economic boycott of the city's white-owned businesses. Extending the struggle to the white community is a calculated maneuver designed to sensitize white citizens to the blacks' suffering. Beneath their appeal to conscience, the blacks' underlying message is that businesses cannot operate against a backdrop of societal chaos and instability. 
Confronted by this and other resistance in the country, the government declares a state of emergency, the intent of which is to splinter black leadership through arbitrary arrests and curfews. Jack and his compatriots, however, receive an entirely different message: the country is fast becoming ungovernable. Apartheid has been cracked. 
Undaunted by government reprisals, the UDF continues to press its demands, particularly for the removal of security forces and the release of jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela. White retailers, whose business districts have become moribund, demand an end to the stalemate. The movement also succeeds in turning world opinion against apartheid, and more sanctions are imposed on South Africa as foreign corporations begin to pull out many investments. In June 1986, the South African government declares a second state of emergency to repress the mass action that has paralyzed the regime.
End of the Cold War coincides with End of Apartheid
The negotiations to end Apartheid began in 1990 after the collapse of the East Bloc and ended in 1991 the year the Soviet Union peacefully dissolved. The ANC no longer had the weapons and financial support provided by the Castro regime and Soviets from the 1960s into the early 1980s. There are those in South Africa who in 1989 mourned the passing of the Berlin Wall but if not for the end of the Cold War things may not have changed. Paul Trewhela in politicsweb offered the following analysis:
On 9 November 1989, twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall cracked open, the Cold War in Europe came to an end, the Soviet empire tottered to its grave and the ANC military option lost whatever teeth it might have had. The military/security state erected by the National Party never lost a centimeter squared of its soil. Umkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC and the South African Communist Party, never won a centimeter squared of soil. True, the repeated mass mobilizations and popular uprisings within South Africa through the Seventies and the Eighties placed a colossal strain upon the regime, and, true, the economic strain upon the state - especially in conditions of attrition exercised against it by the US banking system - placed it under further serious pressures. Nevertheless, honest accounting must say that, given the continuation of the Cold War system in Africa, this nuclear-armed state at its southern tip was nowhere near collapse.
The international situation that undermined the ANC's armed struggle combined with the successful nonviolent campaigns of the United Democratic Front (UDF) facilitated the end of Apartheid in South Africa.

In South Africa there was a far older tradition of nonviolence going back to 1893 - 1914 with Mohandas Gandhi's experiments with nonviolence against anti-Indian racism there. It was in South Africa on September 11, 1906 that the word Satyagraha came into existence. It is this legacy of nonviolence that has endured and gives hope for the future unfortunately abandoning it and embracing the false and violent narrative of Castroism and the ANC is a recipe for endangering South African democracy.

Meanwhile today in South Africa medical students join those of other African nations in protesting their treatment by both African and Cuban officials.

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