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Cuba's Operation Carlotta, 1975
by Russ Stayanoff, Small Wars Journal
On December 2, 2005, Cuba's aging Fidel Castro addressed his nation's armed forces in his last personally delivered Revolutionary Armed Forces Day speech in Havana. The speech commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Cuban army's Angolan intervention. The speech was the archetypal "Castronic" socialist diatribe long-time Fidel watchers have come to expect. However, during this speech Fidel, for the first time, shed some light on the history of the secret deployment of 36,000 Cuban troops, sent in 1975, to defend the newly declared independent Marxist government of Angola. "Never before," declared Fidel, "had a Third World country acted to support another people in armed conflict beyond its geographical neighborhood." The Cuban leader declared that contemporary historical assessments of the region consistently omit the contributions of the Cuban expeditionary forces. Castro called the contributions of the Cuban army "decisive in consolidating Angola's independence and achieving the independence of Namibia."
What was Operation Carlotta and, more importantly, what will be its legacy to a people soon to have their history re-examined in the post-Castro era? What are the assessments of those who fought this bloody war some 30 years later? Pragmatic Cuban veterans consider the long official silence concerning Operation Carlotta an admission of failure in another of Fidel's many botched programs of "Leninist internationalism." Yet, others regard participation in Fidel's African adventures, a patriotic duty proudly performed. A retired Cuban military doctor explained, "Well, you have to give credit to Fidel, he was one to back his words with deeds, and the deed was our presence in Angola. Most were quite proud to have participated. Remember, that at the time, the South Africans were a nasty bunch that never merited a lot of international sympathy."