U.S. Lied About Cuban Role in Angola

By Anthony Boadle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and South Africa intervened in Angola months before Cuban troops arrived in 1975, and not afterward as Washington claimed, according to a historian who recently wrote a book on the subject.

Piero Gleijeses, a professor at Johns Hopkins' School of International Studies, said that President Gerald Ford's administration lied about Cuban military presence to justify its covert operations against Marxist guerrillas. Angola was a Portuguese colony until 1975.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger denied then and in his memoirs later that the U.S. government knew that South African troops invaded Angola posing as mercenaries in 1975, he said.

He also required the Central Intelligence Agency (news - web sites) to rewrite a document on Angola to show an earlier Cuban presence than was accurate, Gleijeses said in an interview.

"Kissinger had the CIA (news - web sites) rewrite its report to serve the political aim of the administration, and so the poor CIA ended up lying," he said, speaking tongue-in-cheek.

Declassified CIA papers for August through October of 1975 talk of the presence of only a few Cubans in Angola trying to pass themselves off as tourists, the historian said.

The first academic to gain access to archives in Havana, Gleijeses has put together a almost day-to-day account of the arrival of Cuban troops in Angola.

With the departure of the Portuguese in 1975, Angola had a power vacuum that the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, and conservative UNITA sought to take advantage of. The fighting that marked the struggle for independence became a civil war.

A CIA-funded covert operation was launched from Zaire in July, at the same time as a South African operation from the south backed the UNITA rebel group, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, led by led by Jonas Savimbi, who died this year.

But by October 1975, the groups with U.S. and South African support were losing the war and white-ruled South Africa sent in regular troops.

Cuban President Fidel Castro (news - web sites) decided on Nov. 4, 1975, to send soldiers to Angola but did so without informing Moscow, which two months later halfheartedly provided Aeroflot IL-62 planes for an airlift.

The arrival of 30,000 Cubans tilted the civil war in favor of the MPLA which had controlled the capital of Luanda, Gleijeses said, and the South Africans withdrew in March 1976. The war stretched on for another 25 years, with the latest cease-fire deal signed just last weekend.


"The key element of the covert operation was cooperation with South Africa, and that was totally denied," Gleijeses said. "Kissinger went to the extreme of saying he only learned a couple of weeks later that South Africa had invaded."

In his book "Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington and Africa 1959-1976," based on U.S. documents and archival research in Cuba and Angola, Gleijeses maintains that Cuba dispatched troops as a result of the South African invasion.

He argues that Kissinger's account of the U.S. role in Angola was misleading, both in testimony to Congress in 1976 and more recently in the third volume of his memoirs "Years of Renewal."

The historian interviewed the then CIA station chief in Luanda, Robert Hultslander who, speaking on the record for the first time, criticized U.S. policy in Angola as "shortsighted and flawed."

The former CIA agent told Gleijeses that he was unaware at the time that "the U.S. would eventually beg South Africa to directly intervene to pull its chestnuts out of the fire."


Gleijeses also argues that Kissinger misled Americans by saying that an attempt to gain China's help in Angola was thwarted by the refusal of the U.S. Congress to approve funding for the covert operation.

In his memoirs, Kissinger recounts a meeting he and Ford had on Dec. 2, 1975, in Beijing with Chairman Mao Tse-tung in which Angola was discussed and Mao suggested China was willing to cooperate.

Gleijeses said Kissinger failed to mention a meeting held the following day with Deng Xiaoping in which, according to a White House memorandum, the Chinese president refused to help in Angola while South Africa was involved.

"The reason why China held back was not Congress' refusal to vote additional aid. It was because the South Africans were there," he said, adding that Mao was very ill by then and Deng was in charge of decisions of state.

"Kissinger ignores the other document which contradicts what he wants to say, and that is very dishonest," Gleijeses said.

The documents can be found at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB67/.

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