Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Setting the record straight on Cuito Cuanavale, General Arnaldo Ochoa, and how South African democrats overcame and defeated Apartheid in 1991

Revisiting the nonviolent victory over Apartheid, Castro's genocidal crimes in Africa, and the show trial of the Cuban general that spent months battling the South African Defence forces. 

UDF boycotted elections

Communists reject nonviolence as a means to achieve lasting change, because civil disobedience to them is incompatible with Karl Marx's theory of class struggle. This is why they demonize and misrepresent Mohandas Gandhi, downplay the real events that brought an end to Apartheid in South Africa, highlight a dubious military victory in 1988 involving Cuban troops and falsely celebrate it as the agent of change.

Today the communist networks led by their Cuban allies are celebrating the "victory" at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale on March 23, 1988. This presents a great opportunity to reflect on the role played by the Castro regime in South Africa, and what happened to the Cuban general who headed the Cuban military mission in Angola and prosecuted the battles against the South African Defence Forces, and their allies.

General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez walking with Fidel Castro

General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, who organized and led Cuban troop build ups in Angola (1976) and Ethiopia (1977), led Sandinista and Cuban troops in Nicaragua against Contra forces in the early 1980s,  and distinguished himself in Southern Africa in a months long military campaign against the Apartheid regime's army in Angola from August 1987 to March 1988. Unfortunately for General Ochoa, it is believed that he had grown too popular among the troops, and had the mistaken idea that he had the right to an opinion.  

Arturo J. Cruz's article in the November 1989 issue of Commentary Magazine titled "Anatomy of an Execution" outlined what cost General Ochoa his life. 

"On Wednesday night, June 14, Raul Castro addressed the nation on radio and television. He spoke for two hours, at times almost incoherently, and his words betrayed a barely suppressed hatred for Ochoa—an envious passion toward a colleague who was a senior general officer in the fullest, most professional military sense. Raul accused Ochoa of being irreverent; he complained about Ochoa’s jokes; he derided what he called Ochoa’s “populist deviations” with the troops (referring, evidently, to the one thing which Raul himself has never enjoyed with the Cuban enlisted man—genuine popularity)."

This was in a sensitive moment for the regime. Panamanian strong man Manuel Noriega, who had been involved, together with the Castro brothers, in drug trafficking has been indicted in U.S. courts and the American military invaded Panama captured him had been Others like Tony de la Guardia were executed because they could have testified to the direct involvement of the Castro brothers in the drug trade.  Bad luck for his twin brother Patricio, who ended up sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Antonio de la Guardia and Arnaldo Ochoa during their show trial in 1988. (CodigoAbierto)

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 (ANC) 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.

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.

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 Havana 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 older tradition 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.

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

Unfortunately abandoning nonviolence and embracing the false and violent narrative of Castroism is a recipe for endangering South African democracy. There lies the way of mass murder and genocide. This is not conjecture. General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez was sent to Ethiopia in 1977 to build up Cuba's military presence. Fidel and Raul Castro were both deeply and personally involved in sending 17,000 Cuban troops to Eastern Africa in order to assist Mengistu Haile Mariam consolidate his rule, eliminating actual and potential opposition. 

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. 

Cuban troops were complicit in Mengistu's engineered famine in Ethiopia. Also present was Ramiro Valdes, the founder of Castro's police state, who decades later would play an important role in Venezuela.

Meanwhile South African medical students in Cuba join those of other African nations in protesting their treatment by both African and Cuban officials. They have more rights in their home countries, and are in a relative position of privilege, compared to the average Cuban living in Cuba. This is thanks to South Africa's legacy of civic, nonviolent resistance that drove out Apartheid, and established an imperfect democratic order, but one that is far superior to the systems of terror visited upon Cubans and Ethiopians.

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