Visions of Freedom: New Documents from the Closed Cuban Archives

By
Piero Gleijeses
Poster of President Agostinho Neto and Fidel Castro after Angolan independence celebration
CWIHP e-Dossier No. 44
 

The Cuban archives for the post-1959 period are closed. I am the only foreign scholar who has been allowed to conduct research in them – after years of effort and failure. I began my research in these archives in 1994, and a first book using them, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976, was published in 2002 by the University of North Carolina Press. A second book, Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991, has just been published – in October 2013 – also by the University of North Carolina Press.

Over time, my access to the closed Cuban archives improved, in quantity and in quality. I gathered 3,500 pages of Cuban documents for Conflicting Missions, and 15,000 for Visions of Freedom, with more than 3,500 pages of conversations of Fidel Castro with his closest aides or with foreign leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev. I also gained access to two very important archives: that of the Consejo de Estado and the personal archive of Raúl Castro.

There is no established declassification process in Cuba. Mindful of the fact that the documents I cited would not be readily available to my readers, I decided from the outset that I would never use a document unless the Cubans gave me a photocopy of the original. I badgered Cuban officials relentlessly, arguing that in the United States their word has no credibility unless supported by documents. Jorge Risquet, a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist party who was assigned to the task of dealing with me, understood. His intelligence, sensitivity and courage made my research possible and enabled me to have photocopies of every Cuban document I use in Conflicting Missions and Visions of Freedom.

Initially the Cubans would deny me a document if it included a sentence or even one word they did not want to make public. Soon, however, they discovered the glory of redaction: they simply deleted the offending word or words and gave me the document. Since I was allowed to read the documents before they were sanitized, I know what was deleted: sentences or paragraphs that dealt with the domestic situation in Cuba or statements of a friendly leader about delicate internal problems in his own country. Thus, for example, 29 pages are deleted from the transcript of the January 26, 1979 conversation between Fidel Castro and the president of Angola, Agostinho Neto, because Neto began addressing internal issues of the government of Angola. But this is an extreme case. Overall, the Cubans sanitized very sparingly. The vast majority of documents were not sanitized at all.

When I began my research the declassification process was haphazard, but eventually it was systematized. The Cuban authorities created two commissions to review my requests. One was responsible for documents from the Consejo de Estado and the Oficina Secreta 2do Sec CC PCC – Raúl Castro’s archive – and the other for documents from the archives of the Armed Forces, the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, the Technical Assistance Program, and the Foreign Ministry. I would read documents, select those I wanted to have, which would then be reviewed by either of the two commissions. Sometimes the Cubans would tell me their decision in one day; at other times, I would wait for weeks or months. On extremely rare occasions, I would be told I could not have the document at all. (The only instances I recall were a few documents about military measures taken by Cuba in the 1980s to defend against a US attack.)

This collection includes approximately 3,400 pages of documents I gathered for Visions of Freedom. In selecting the documents I was guided by several criteria: I privileged the years 1986-1988, which are the most important to my story, and I privileged documents of key protagonists, particularly Fidel Castro and his conversations (or exchanges of messages) with people such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Angolan Presidents Agostinho Neto and José Eduardo dos Santos. Furthermore, I sought to provide a sense of the extent of the redaction of the documents – this sample contains the two most heavily redacted documents in my possession. Finally, I wanted to provide a representative spread of the Cuban archives I use in Visions of Freedom. I have included documents from all the archives except the Foreign Ministry, which did not have any highly sensitive files; in Visions of Freedom I use very few documents from it.

I could not have written Conflicting Missions and Visions of Freedom without the Cuban documents, but neither could I have written either book with only the Cuban documents. Visions of Freedom is based not only on Cuban but also on US and South African archives. Additional documents from Yugoslavia, the former German Democratic Republic, the former Soviet Union, Poland, Britain, France, Italy, Zambia, Angola and Canada supplement them.

One of the joys of multi-archival research is to see how documents from countries that are hostile to one another support and reinforce each other. This was frequently true when I compared the Cuban documents with those from the US, South African and other archives. For example, the US and South African archives eloquently confirm the Cuban version of the military developments in Angola in 1988: the Cuban troops gained the upper hand over the South Africans.    

 

I thank Dr. Christian Ostermann, Professor James Hershberg, and Laura Deal for making this collection possible.

 
Piero Gleijeses is professor of American foreign policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He uses archival sources, particularly from the United States, South Africa, and the closed Cuban archives, to provide an unprecedented international history of this important theater of the late Cold War in his latest book, Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991.
 
 
Key abbreviations

 

ACC - Archives of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, Havana (Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba)

ANC - African National Congress of South Africa

CECE - Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation, Havana  (Ministerio para la Inversión Extranjera y la Colaboración Económica)

CF - Archive of the Cuban Armed Forces, Havana (Centro de Información de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias)

FAPLA - People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola

MPLA - Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola 

OS - Secret Bureau of the 2nd Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Havana (Oficina Secreta 2do Sec CC PCC)

SWAPO - South West Africa People's Organization

UNITA - National Union for the Total Independence of Angola

 
 
List of Documents

 

View the Complete Collection on the Digital Archive

 

Note: Unless relevant I list only the two major interlocutors of a memorandum of conversation.

1976

Cuba’s minister of defense Raúl Castro recommends granting technical assistance to Angola

Cuba’s minister of defense Raúl Castro reports on his visit to Angola, the USSR, Congo Brazzaville and Guinea Conakry, 19 April - 7 June 1976

Jorge Risquet was the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola

 

1977

General Senén Casas was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense; General Abelardo Colomé was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola

Agostinho Neto was the president of Angola           

General Abelardo Colomé was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Senén Casas was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense

Raúl Castro was Cuba’s minister of defense

Jorge Risquet was the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola

Levy Farah was a senior Cuban aid official; Carlos Rocha (code name Dilolwa) was a member of the political bureau of the MPLA

Jorge Risquet was the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola; Sam Nujoma was the president of SWAPO

Raúl Castro was Cuba’s minister of defense; Samora Machel was the president of Mozambique

 

1978

Jorge Risquet was the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola; Agostinho Neto was the president of Angola

Jorge Risquet was the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola

Agostinho Neto was the president of Angola; Jorge Risquet was the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola

Jorge Risquet was the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola; Sam Nujoma was the president of SWAPO

General Senén Casas was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense; Agostinho Neto was the president of Angola

Jorge Risquet was the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola; Sam Nujoma was the president of SWAPO

Jorge Risquet was the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola; Sam Nujoma was the president of SWAPO

 

1979

Agostinho Neto was the president of Angola. The Cuban government redacted from the transcript 29 pages in which Neto addressed internal issues of the government of Angola

General Raúl Menéndez Tomassevich was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; Agostinho Neto was the president of Angola

Agostinho Neto was the president of Angola; General Senén Casas was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense

General Senén Casas was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense; General Pedro García Peláez was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola

General Pedro García Peláez was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Senén Casas was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense

The MPLA was Angola’s ruling party

Oliver Tambo was the president of the ANC

Jaime Crombet was the Cuban ambassador to Angola

General Pedro García Peláez was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; Raúl Castro was Cuba's defense minister

The Cuban Ministry of Armed Forces lists and summarizes conversations with Angola’s President Neto and Neto’s defense minister about withdrawing some Cuban troops from Angola

 

1980

General Pedro García Peláez was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

General Pedro García Peláez was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola;  José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

 

1981

General Senén Casas was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense; Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov was the chief of the Soviet General Staff

General Senén Casas was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense; Marshal Dmitri  Ustinov was the Soviet minister of defense

General Senén Casas was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense; Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov was the chief of the Soviet General Staff

Marshal Dmitri Ustinov was the Soviet minister of defense; Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov was the chief of the Soviet General Staff

 

1982

Marshal Dmitri Ustinov was the Soviet minister of defense; General Abelardo Colomé had been the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola in 1975-77

Samora Machel was the president of Mozambique; Jorge Risquet had been the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola in 1975-79 and was subsequently Castro’s point man for Angola in the 1980s

Jorge Risquet had been the head of the Cuban Civilian Mission in Angola in 1975-79 and was subsequently Castro’s point man for Angola; Julius Nyerere was the president of Tanzania

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Major António José Maria was a close aide to Angola’s president dos Santos

Raúl Castro was Cuba's defense minister; Yuri Andropov was the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

 

1983

Oliver Tambo was the president of the ANC

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola

Raúl Castro was Cuba’s minister of defense; Rodolfo Puente Ferro was Cuba’s ambassador to Angola

Rodolfo Puente Ferro was Cuba’s ambassador to Angola; Raúl Castro was Cuba’s minister of defense

Rodolfo Puente Ferro was Cuba’s ambassador to Angola; Raúl Castro was Cuba’s minister of defense

General Ulises Rosales was Cuba’s first deputy minister of defense; General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola

Raúl Castro was Cuba’s defense minister

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; General Abelardo Colomé had been the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola in 1975-77; José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

Protocol on Cuba's technical assistance to Angola

General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Ulises Rosales was Cuba's first deputy minister of defense

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

Petr Demichev was a nonvoting member of the Soviet Politburo

Cuban general Abelardo Colomé followed Angolan affairs closely; Marshal Dmitri Ustinov was the Soviet minister of defense

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; General Valentin Varennikov was the third highest ranking officer of the Soviet Army

Cuban general Abelardo Colomé followed Angolan affairs closely; General Ulises Rosales was Cuba’s first deputy defense minister; General Konstantin Kurochkin was the head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola

General Víctor Schueg of the Ministry of Defense in Havana and General Elio Avila Trujillo of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola discuss the 25 March battle of Sumbe in Angola.

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Konstantin Kurochkin was the head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; General Konstantin Kurochkin was the head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola; José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

General Valentin Varennikov was the third highest ranking officer of the Soviet Army

General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Valentin Varennikov was the third highest ranking officer of the Soviet Army

General Konstantin Kurochkin was the head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola; General Elio Avila was a senior member of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola

Pedro Maria Tonha "Pedalé" was the defense minister of Angola; General Konstantin Kurochkin was the head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the President of Angola; General Konstantin Kurochkin was the head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola

General Konstantin Kurochkin was the head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola. Conversation held in the car after leaving a meeting with Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos

General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Konstantin Kurochkin was the head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola

Conversation between US and Angolan officials about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

General Konstantin Kurochkin was the head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola

Conversation between US and Angolan officials about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

 

1985

Raúl Castro was Cuba’s defense minister; Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union

General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Ulises Rosales was Cuba's first deputy minister of defense

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

Report of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola on the FAPLA offensive in southeast Angola against the UNITA rebel forces led by Jonas Savimbi

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

Eduard Shevardnadze was the Soviet foreign minister

Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

           

1986

Oliver Tambo was the president of the ANC

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Oliver Tambo was the president of the ANC

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Joe Slovo was the general secretary of the South African Communist Party and the chief of staff of Umkontho We Sizwe , the military wing of the ANC

Raúl Castro was Cuba’s defense minister; Jorge Risquet was Fidel Castro’s point man for Angola           

General Arnaldo Ochoa was Cuba’s deputy minister of defense in charge of military missions abroad; General Konstantin Kurochkin was first deputy head of the Main Directorate of Personnel of the Soviet General Staff and a former head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola

General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Konstantin Kurochkin was first deputy head of the Main Directorate of Personnel of the Soviet General Staff and a former head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola

General Arnaldo Ochoa was Cuba’s deputy minister of defense in charge of military missions abroad; General Polo Cintra Frías was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Konstantin Kurochkin was first deputy head of the Main Directorate of Personnel of the Soviet General Staff and a former head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola

Oliver Tambo was the president of the ANC; Angel Dalmau was a senior staff member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party working on southern Africa

Oliver Tambo was the president of the ANC; Angel Dalmau was a senior staff member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party working on southern Africa.

General Arnaldo Ochoa, Cuba’s deputy minister of defense in charge of military missions abroad, reports on his visit to Angola in late June 1986

General Konstantin Kurochkin was first deputy head of the Main Directorate of Personnel of the Soviet General Staff and a former head of the Soviet Military Mission in Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

 

1987

Raúl Castro was Cuba’s minister of defense; Sam Nujoma was the president of SWAPO

Meeting between Angolan and US delegations to the talks about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola. 

Meeting between Angolan and US delegations to the talks about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola..

Memo by the Angolan delegation to the US delegation

Meeting between Angolan and US delegations to the talks about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

Meeting between Angolan and US delegations to the talks about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

Meeting between Angolan and US delegations to the talks about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Alejandro was Fidel Castro’s code name

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Anatoly Dobrynin was the head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Meeting between Angolan and US delegations to the talks about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

Memo by Jorge Risquet, Castro’s point man for Angola. Afonso Van-Dúnem "M’Binda" was Angola’s foreign minister; António dos Santos França “Ndalu” was the FAPLA Chief of Staff   

Afonso Van-Dúnem "M’Binda" was Angola’s foreign minister.

Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

 

1988

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola; Martín Mora was Cuba’s ambassador to Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

Meeting between Angolan and US delegations to the talks about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

Meeting between Angolan and US delegations to the talks about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Alejandro was Fidel Castro’s code name

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola; Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Unio

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

Meeting between US, Cuban and Angolan officials about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

Meeting between US, Cuban and Angolan officials about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

Meeting between US, Cuban and Angolan officials about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

 Jorge Risquet, who was code-named Alvaro, was Castro’s point man for Angola 

Meeting between US, Cuban and Angolan officials about the withdrawal of the Cuban troops from Angola

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Alejandro was Castro’s code name

Anatoly Adamishin was Soviet deputy foreign minister for Africa

Fidel Castro’s instructions for the Cuban delegation to the 3-4 May 1988 London meeting of the delegations of Angola, Cuba, South Africa and the United States to discuss the future of Angola and Namibia.

Fidel Castro’s instructions for the Cuban delegation to the 3-4 May 1988 London meeting of the delegations of Angola, Cuba, South Africa and the United States to discuss the future of Angola and Namibia.

Anatoly Dobrynin was the head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

General Arnaldo Ochoa, code-named Rubén, was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; Alejandro was Castro’s code name

General Arnaldo Ochoa, code-named Rubén, was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the commander of the Cuban troops in southern Angola; Alejandro was Castro’s code name

General Alexei Zaitsev was the head of the Soviet Military Advisory Group in Cuba

Meeting between delegations of Angola, Cuba, South Africa and the United States about the future of Angola and Namibia.

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Chester Crocker was US assistant secretary of state for Africa

General Arnaldo Ochoa was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the commander of the Cuban troops in southern Angola

General Arnaldo Ochoa was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the commander of the Cuban troops in southern Angola

General Arnaldo Ochoa was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the commander of the Cuban troops in southern Angola

General Arnaldo Ochoa was the head of the Cuban Military Mission in Angola; General Polo Cintra Frías was the commander of the Cuban troops in southern Angola

Carlos Aldana headed the Cuban delegation at the 11-13 July 1988, New York meeting between delegations of Angola, Cuba, South Africa and the United States about the future of Angola and Namibia

Cables exchanged between Havana and the Cuban delegation at the meeting in Cape Verde between South African, Angolan and Cuban officers, and US Department of Defense officials about the withdrawal of the South African troops from Angola

Meeting between delegations of Angola, Cuba, South Africa and the United States about the future of Angola and Namibia

Meetings between delegations of Angola, Cuba, South Africa and the United States about the future of Angola and Namibia: Geneva, 2-5 August 1988; Brazzaville, 24-26 August 1988; Brazzaville 7-9 September 1988; Brazzaville 26-29 September 1988; New York, 6-9 October 1988

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola  

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Alexander Yakovlev was a member of the Soviet Politburo and the Central Committee secretary in charge of foreign relations

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola

 

1989

Jorge Risquet was Castro’s point man for Angola; Alexander Yakovlev was a member of the Soviet Politburo and the Central Committee secretary in charge of foreign relations

 

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