Whatever rationale Henry Kissinger might have conjured up to — as he put it — “clobber” Cuba, that mad, inscrutable mess of a civil war in Angola would have been a peculiar choice.
Newly declassified documents posted Wednesday by the National Security Archive revealed that back in 1976, then-Secretary of State Kissinger was hot to punish Cuba for intervening in the Angolan civil war. He oversaw plans to bomb Cuban military installations and ports. Apparently President Gerald Ford’s failure to win re-election ruined Henry’s chance to get us into another war.
Fidel Castro had indeed sent a big chunk of the Cuban army to Africa on behalf of a shaky, new government that was feigning a commie philosophy (Though when I spent a couple of weeks in the capitol city of Luanda, a government flunky angrily denied that the rulers had been “communists.” He demanded that reporters use the term “Marxist.”).
Except it wasn’t just Cuba that was intervening in Angola. China, the Soviet Union and the U.S. were messing about. Zaire (as the Democratic Republic of Congo was called under the terrible, autocratic reign of Mobutu Sese Seko) was trying to steal the oil province of Cabinda from Angola. And South Africa had invaded, worried that a leftie Angola might undermine apartheid and give upstart Namibians unwelcome notions about independence.
Of course, what really mattered — much more than Cuban interference — was Angola’s oil.
The Herald dispatched me to Angola in 1986. All I could find were a confounding tangle of contractions. Cuban soldiers were doing a fine job guarding American oil workers who had been imported to build and operate Angola’s offshore wells. Drillers, with Texas and Cajun accents, told me how Cuban troops protected them from rebel fighters and South African frogmen (who were fond of dynamiting offshore oil rigs).
Cubans kept Angolan oil pumping. Most of it was shipped off to U.S. refineries, making us Marxist Angola’s largest trading partner. Oil proceeds, in turn, went to pay Castro for his troops. Fidel was running a kind of international security guard enterprise meant to pump a little cash into his moribund economy.
Our main man in Angola was a lunatic rebel megalomaniac named Jonas Savimbi, who had been trained in communist China and was financed by the CIA and supported by apartheid South Africa.
Savimbi called himself a “New Testament socialist,” but mostly he based his rebel philosophy on racial differences with lots of talk about the need for “Negritude” instead of those racially mixed Mestizo Marxists who were running the show in Luanda. Best I could tell, the whole damn fight had little to do with governing philosophies and everything to do with ethnic warfare.
So what we had, as I reported back in 1986, was simple: “Just another nice, typical little Marxist-dependent-on-American-capitalism totalitarian state, where damn-right Texas oil roughnecks are protected from Reagan-backed rebels by Cuban troops paid for by American money.”
We needed those Cuban soldiers to keep our oil flowing. Bombing Cuba would have just messed up the works.
The Cuban troops (about 37,000) finally limped home in 1991, though the Angolan civil war continued, off and on, for another decade, with terrible atrocities committed by both sides until Savimbi was killed in 2002. Which allowed Angola to dispense with the masquerade of socialism and re-make itself into the full-blown oil-and-diamond-laden kleptocracy it is today — which is to say, our kind of place.
Angola’s untidy history may not have done much to validate Henry Kissinger’s 1976 war rationale, but these newly declassified documents will no doubt resonate in Miami-Dade County, where lots of folks think that Angola would have been as good a reason as any to clobber Cuba.
Back in 1996, several Metro-Dade County commissioners walked out of a ceremony honoring former United Nations ambassador and civil right hero Andrew Young over a remark he had made 19 years earlier. Young had suggested that Cuba’s rent-an-army was a “stabilizing” influence in the bloody craziness of the Angolan civil war.
Not sure stabilizing was quite the right word. But Castro’s soldiers did what mattered most. They kept Angola’s oil flowing our way.