According to Crocker, "The Soviets and Cubans, with the active connivance of pro-Communist elements of the Portuguese government, effectively installed the MPLA regime." Crocker speaks of Soviet military hardware arriving by March 1975, and "the first contingent of Cuban combat troops" being seen in Luanda in mid-September. Stockwell says that 260 Cuban advisers arrived in the summer, and that 700 Cuban troops landed at Porto Amboim in early October.
Other sources disagree, including Ryszard Kapuscinski, the Polish writer who was one of the very few European eyewitnesses to the events of those days. Late in October he travelled to the south of Angola, and was one of the first to get word that the South Africans had gathered for an invasion. He raced back to Luanda to file the story, where he was approached by two Cuban military instructors who asked him what he had seen. The Cubans told him they were part of a small contingent of advisers -- earlier, in Benguela, Kapuscinski had noticed a few people in Cuban uniform -- and they speculated about whether combat troops were coming, and if they would come in time. According to his account in Another Day of Life, the first of the Cuban troops didn't arrive until November 5, when Kapuscinski was at the airport to see them. A day or two more might have been too late.
Even if we accept the contention that Cuban troops arrived as early as September or October of 1975, it cannot be said that they "installed" the MPLA, because the MPLA had already succeeded in driving its rivals out of the capital. The Cuban troops -- along with generous arms supplies from the Soviet Union -- did reinforce the MPLA's hold on power, and helped prevent South Africa from installing UNITA.
Why did the Cubans respond to the Angolans' call for help? According to Crocker, "The whole edifice of Cuban policy was based on the fierce pride of a small state whose leader has a grandiose sense of destiny.... Cuban policy contained a blend of old-fashioned military adventurism and a sort of Robin Hood Marxism based on solidarity among the underdogs." Kapuscinski points to another, more visceral reason. An Angolan guerrilla leader told him that of all African countries, Angola supplied more slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean than any other. "That's why they call our country the Black Mother of the New World. Half the Brazilian, Cuban, and Dominican peasants are descended from Angolans."
The CIA's stated purpose in arming UNITA was to balance the opposing forces in order to force the MPLA to establish a coalition government. But since the CIA's own estimates in August gave the MPLA 20,000 troops against UNITA's 4,000, a lot of interference would have been needed to achieve this balance, and even more to have enabled UNITA's leader Jonas Savimbi to conquer the whole country, as the hawks wanted. All the CIA's budget-juggling, deceptions of the State Department and Congress, cozy cooperation with Zaire and South Africa, and hiring of mercenaries were not enough to accomplish this.
In the battles that followed independence, Jonas Savimbi's UNITA was driven into the southeastern corner of Angola. The CIA's secret war in Angola was revealed as a fiasco, and the angry US Congress passed the Clark Amendment, banning further US aid to UNITA. John Stockwell left the CIA in disgust, believing that Savimbi was defeated and the war was over. It is hard to imagine Stockwell's reaction had he known that the disastrous US intervention in Angola would continue under Reagan, fueling another decade of war, and that in 1993 Chester Crocker would still be defending it so strenuously.
Over the next few years, Savimbi's forces, just over the border from Namibia, built themselves up with aid from South Africa and Zaire, raiding towns and sabotaging the strategic Benguela railway. South Africa meanwhile launched several major attacks and dozens of minor ones into Angola. Some, like the attack on Cassinga in 1978, when over 700 Namibian refugees were killed and two to three hundred captured, were meant to discourage the SWAPO guerrillas based in Angola, who were fighting for Namibian independence. Others were intended to clear the way for UNITA to make military advances. The South African Defence Force, for example, would bomb a town in order to enable UNITA to overrun it. South African troops themselves were based more or less permanently in southern Angola throughout much of the 1980s.
As the Reagan team formed its policy in Southern Africa, two goals were set: to gain Namibian independence and to get the Cuban troops out of Angola. Not on the formal agenda, but very much part of the plan, was the US desire to strengthen UNITA.
Namibian independence, it would seem, might have taken care of itself without US interference. South Africa's continued illegal occupation of the territory had become an embarrassment to the Western powers. The United Nations, the Organization of African Unity, the Front Line States (an alliance of South Africa's neighbors), and the Non-Aligned Movement were unanimous in pressing South Africa to get out of Namibia. South Africa, conscious of the growing costs of being an international pariah and of suppressing a liberation movement in Namibia as well as at home, appeared ready to comply.
The elections of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan changed all that. The South Africans, recognizing that Thatcher and Reagan would protect them from sanctions, felt the pressure ease. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe had won an overwhelming election victory over the South African-backed candidate, Bishop Abel Muzorewa. Suddenly, the South African plan to hand over Namibia to a tractable puppet regime looked much less secure. The South Africans began dragging their feet on the Namibian issue.
Crocker, seeing that progress had halted, decided that something must be done. Should we apply some pressure on the South Africans? Oh, no. Instead we would offer them a gift that both Washington and Pretoria wanted: a deal that would get the Cubans out of Angola.
Thus was the concept of "linkage" born. The US would no longer insist that South Africa free Namibia until the Angolan government had agreed to send home the Cuban troops. The Namibians' right to self-determination would be held hostage to the US fixation on the Cuban "threat." The South Africans eagerly adopted this idea. If the Cubans left Angola, then what Crocker fairly describes as the only serious military rival to the South African Defence Force would be gone from the region. If the Cubans didn't leave, then there was no reason for South Africa to get out of Namibia anytime soon -- especially with Reagan and Thatcher determined to resist the imposition of sanctions by the UN Security Council and their own governments.
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