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Cuito Cuanavale and the liberation of the Americas

Cuito Cuanavale and the liberation of the Americas

by Toni Solo

Cuito Cuanavale is located in southern Angola where two rivers meet. In 1987 it was a strategic point where the Angolan armed forces and their allies regrouped following a failed offensive. They were besieged there by forces of the South African apartheid regime and its local allies. The battle lasted from October 1987 until June 1988. In Western Bloc countries, Cuito Cuanavale and its meaning have almost disappeared from the record.

In the West, two accounts of the battle tend to prevail. One is the ridiculous version of the forces who supported the apartheid regime. This version argues that the apartheid army never sought to capture Cuito Cuanavale. They suffered very few casualties and little loss of material. They were undefeated.

Another more sophisticated version drops the absurd idea that the forces of the apartheid regime did not suffer a serious reverse at Cuito Cuanavale. They argue the battle was a stalemate. Neither side got what they wanted. Both sides exhausted themselves and, as a result, negotiations took place, nobly facilitated by the Western powers.

Among all that has been written on Cuito Cuanavale, the most impressive thing is the general silence about how this complex event signalled the final defeat of apartheid in South Africa. The battle's most important aspect was its strategic context. The apartheid forces and their backers in Washington and London knew that if they broke the Angolan and Cuban forces at Cuito Cuanavale it would be a catastrophic defeat not just for the Angolan government, but also for the Cuban Revolution and their Soviet allies, comparable to the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan.

But it was the forces of apartheid and their allies in the governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who lost. They failed to break the Angolan and Cuban forces at Cuito Cuanavale. While the apartheid military forces wore themselves out there, Cuban and Angolan forces with Soviet and East German advisers and troops of the Namibian South West Africa People's Organization regrouped and advanced towards Angola's frontier with Namibia, then illegally occupied by the apartheid rgime in Pretoria.

That advance created a front of more than 400km, impossible for the apartheid forces to defend without unacceptable levels of casualties and material losses. It threw into crisis the hypocritical policy of President Reagan and his foreign policy team. It forced the apartheid rgime in Pretoria to negotiate an end to its occupation of Namibia. Beaten strategically, the apartheid regime's military high command had to make concessions to civilian leaders, effectively losing their grip on policy and power. It was a decisive moment towards the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Cuito Cuanavale - Banquo at the neocolonial feast

It is worth remembering this important point in recent history. During times of world crisis, mainstream European and North American media always present the Western Bloc and its allies as bulwarks of order and justice in an irrational world, forced to defend themselves against malign forces. One never reads in these media that the Western Bloc is, before anything else right now, an ancien rgime in decline. Nor do these media explain that Western Bloc foreign policy is, in a very important sense, a desperate effort to maintain positions of dominance, privilege and influence in a world where the majority of people find those countries' foreign and trade policies insupportable.

Those omissions are a key part of the media war Emir Sader mentioned recently in an interview, "One is dealing with a dictatorship that homogenizes the information it disseminates. Processes as important as Operation Miracle, Latin American doctors, from poor families, who received their training in Cuba, people who represent elements of de-commercialization, of democratization - democratizing signifies de-commercializing - these people are hidden, not spoken about. We live a lie by silence. The worst lies are those that deny the existence of what is not desired to be known. That is what people do who monopolize words. And combating that monopoly is central." (1)

At the time of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, international capitalism was recovering from the financial collapse of 1987. Now, politicians of the European and United States elites face the collapse of the credit bubble in their economies that they have kept going for almost a decade. This collapse takes place before they have managed to achieve their objective of making irreversible, and without alternative, the deep globalization of corporate capitalism.

The response of the political representatives of those elites, both at home and overseas, has interlinking components. At home, they have fomented an atmosphere of repression through the use of fear and the abuse of "anti-terrorist" laws. Their domestic economic policies have deliberately tried to promote a general acceptance of corporate globalization against their own people's fundamental interests.

They kept up a financial policy of cheap credit hoping that the effects of the bust at the end of the cycle would not arrive before the policy had achieved the aims of its true beneficiaries, the major multinational companies and financial giants. They failed. Now their peoples will suffer a significant drop in living standards while facing the use of a repressive "anti-terrorist" apparatus to intimidate criticism and to control protest.

Overseas, the political representatives of the corporate elites launched wars and coups against entire peoples, as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and Lebanon. They supported fraud and covert action electoral tricks in countries of the former Soviet Union and in important local US allies like Mexico, Colombia and Peru. They continue to support repressive countries in many parts of the world so as to guarantee their strategic interests.

They shamelessly exploit the unjustifiable, obsolete rules of the UN Security Council. Doing so, they have stripped that organization of its legitimacy. By means of blackmail and bribery they strongarm unjust policies through the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and their various subsidiary and associated bodies.

Varieties of resistance

The fundamental inhumanity of Western Bloc governments and their allies is on plain view in Palestine, where they support Israel's colonialist rgime in its occupation and piecemeal annexation of Palestinian land. There, a racist apartheid system is reproduced to oppress and harrass the Palestinians. The parallels with what the Western Bloc powers tried to do in southern Africa at the time of Cuito Cuanavale are strong.

Only time will tell whether the second Lebanese war will have a similar significance in south-west Asia to that of Cuito Cuanavale in southern Africa. The resistance of Hizbollah, of Hamas, of Syria and Iran to the military, economic and diplomatic aggression of the US government, Israel and the governments of the European Union, operates in a context even more dangerous than the one confronting the revolutionary governments of Angola and Cuba at the end of the 1980s in southern Africa.

On the other side of the world, in the Americas, Western Bloc imperialism has encountered another kind of resistance but one equal in its popular reach to the resistance in south-west Asia. It too is a resistance that has suffered many setbacks along with indisputable achievements. It is impossible to view positively the inherent asymmetry in the imposition of neoliberal "free trade" deals on the peoples of Central America and the Dominican Republic. The bilateral investment treaty between the US and Uruguay also shows the vulnerability of small countries' economies up against powerful markets.

The collaboration of the governments of Chile, Bolivia and Brazil in the military occupation of Haiti in support of the imperialist coup against the country's democratically elected President, Jean Baptiste Aristide, is shameful. The electoral fraud in Mexico and the murderous repression in Atenco and Oaxaca demonstrate the hypocrisy of offical "democratic" discourse from the Organization of American States template. In some countries, for example Chilean government policy against the Mapuche, the repression of indigenous groups perpetuates 500 years of colonialism.

Against all that, one can celebrate the survival by Cuba's socialist government of 50 years of US terrorism and economic boycott, as well as the unbreakable spirit of popular resistance in Mexico and of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. The defeat of Plan Colombia by the FARC and the recent series of scandals have confirmed what everyone knew already about the intimate links between President Uribe's narco-terror government and drugs-dealing, mass-murdering paramilitary gangs. Progressive electoral victories in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela through 2005 and 2006 also confirmed widespread recognition by broad sectors of Latin America's peoples of the catastrophic effects of Washington Consensus style "free trade".

Towards solidarity-based integration

When one looks back over the news of recent weeks, it is hard not to believe that anti-imperialist resistance in Latin America is now too strong to be rolled back. The progress of the countries working together to develop the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) has surprised people by its reach. (2) Argentina and Ecuador recently signed several agreements on economic and technical cooperation. (3) Venezuela continues to reduce its dependency on North American markets by means of bilateral projects with China, Iran and other countries.

Despite the delays and differences about its objectives, the foundation of Bancosur places a foundation stone for the construction of a common South American currency. (4) Ecuador's request to rejoin the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is another initiative that helps consolidate South-South cooperation to protect those countries' interests against the Western Bloc and its allies. (5) The recent historic visit by Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to Havana confirms to categorical failure of US policy towards Cuba.
Among all these developments, the theme of integration is inescapable. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa notes about integration, "It is fundamental. We have a common destiny and we ought to seek a common future. The integration of the 21st Century so as to raise the productivity of small countries, like those in Latin America, is a necessity for survival. We don't want this cruel neoliberal globalization that is crushing us. Only together can we confront it and sustain a presence in the global context. For that reason, I think integration is inescapable and necessary, fundamental; but, I repeat, not the neoliberal integration that wants to convert us into one big market, rather an integration in the spirit of Bolvar and in accord with the vision shared by the region's current presidents. An integration that turns us into a great nation, into citizens of Latin America, not just Latin American consumers." (6)

The empire's tool box

To block this integration (which is perhaps the first effective combination by countries of the South to defend themselves against the imperialist powers), the Western Bloc and its Pacific allies are deploying their usual toolkit. Via their private transnational corporations they use bribery and corruption to weaken governments. They apply extortion of all kinds through heavily conditioned "aid" and debt and also through their multilateral progeny, the World Bank, the IMF, the Inter-American Development Bank, the WTO and adjuncts of these outfits like the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, a pendant of the World Bank.

As they have always done in the past, they abuse their power and influence in international forums like the UN and the Organization of American States. They manipulate certain kinds of non-governmental organizations to intervene in electoral processes. They organize and fund rallying-points of opposition disguised as "civil society". They support corporate media wars featuring constant, disingenuous manipulation of the "freedom of expression" motif.

In appropriate regions, like Santa Cruz in Bolivia, Guayaquil in Ecuador or Zulia in Venezuela, they foment spurious separatist movements. They harrass and bully vulnerable countries to approve extortionate trade and investment agreements. By means of fixed bases, joint manoeuvres, anti-narcotics cooperation and specialised training programmes, they consolidate and strengthen their military presence.

From Americanism to opportunism

The media war occupies an especially prominent place in the ancien rgime's campaign to deny self-determination to Latin America's peoples. The process of constructing false beliefs and pseudo-knowledge is probably the most critical part of the war against participative, democratic integration in Latin America. Those most opposed to that process are always multinational corporate capitalism's local allies. Many of these are still submerged intellectually and culturally in an Americanism that sees everything from the racist ideological perspective of the United States elites. They are sisters and brothers in spirit of the Unita and Renamo leaders who allied with the racist apartheid South African regime in the 1980s.

They produce quasi-news retailed to media outlets in Western Bloc and allied countries as a reliable account of events in Latin America. That transaction strengthens Americanist ideology in the imperial centres. Later, the same ideological production line recycles the quasi-news, returning the modified product to its origins as commentary and analysis. Once back home again, the product serves to consolidate, justify and feed the process that produced the original quasi-news in the first place. That is perhaps the most important way the imperialist media stitch-up of Latin American affairs happens, all neatly pressed and apparently seamless.

Another segment of those opposed to participative integration in Latin America and the Caribbean recognise that the economic power of Brazil, China, India and Russia changes the contemporary equation of global geo-politics. In the context of a broad offensive to protect their influence by the United States, the European Union and their allies, whose outcome is at best uncertain, they follow the global corporate elite and hedge their bets. They know very well Western Bloc leaders are likely to manage the collapse of their own economies' credit bubble to engender economic and political crisis in countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua before Latin America's next electoral round.

For the global corporate elites, economic crisis presents useful opportunities to make even more money and to accumulate even more unaccountable power. In order to face the electoral challenges between 2009 and 2011 from a position of strength, progressive and popular forces in Latin America and their leaders will need to show great coherence and consistency. As an inspirational symbol, Cuito Cuanavale is as relevant as ever because it marked the definitive defeat of racist elitism. It showed that revolutionary organization and solidarity can force the imperialist powers to negotiate. In the face of contemporary challenges, its context and sequel are worth remembering.

1. "America Latina, rumbo al posneoliberalismo", Entrevista a Emir Sader, secretario ejecutivo del consejo latinoamericano de ciencias sociales, Luis Hernandez Navarro, La Jornada, en Rebelion 13-10-2007
2. "Naciones del ALBA acuerdan seis nuevos proyectos de integracion" Ora/VTV/PL , Aporrea 21/09/07
3. "Presidentes de Argentina y Ecuador firman acuerdos bilaterales", Prensa Latina 20/9/2007
4. "Correa: Banco del Sur sera la antesala para una moneda comun suramericana" Carolina Bonell/VTV, Aporrea, 12/10/07
5. " Ecuador pide oficialmente su regreso a la OPEP", Agencias, Aporrea 18/10/07
6. "Un dialogo con Rafael Correa, Presidente del Ecuador", Rebelion, 19-09-2007


toni solo is an activist based in Central America - contact via

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