Mandela, a Loyal Friend of Cuba’s Fidel

December 7, 2013 | Print Print |

By Isaac Risco (dpa)

Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela. Foto:

HAVANA TIMES — Admired around the world, Nelson Mandela also had a symbolic relationship with a Latin American country and, in particular, a man, Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

In his last open letter to Mandela in 2010, Castro called him an “old and revered friend.”

“In all my years in prison, Cuba was an inspiration and Fidel Castro a tower of strength,” once praised the late South African president.

One of the historical photos now circulating shows Mandela about to warmly embrace the old Latin American revolutionary, one of the few occasions in which Castro used a suit instead of his classic olive green military uniform during the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in 1998.

After becoming a global icon, “Madiba” never hid his allegiance to Cuba for its early support for his fight against apartheid, despite criticism that arose against Castro for the authoritarian excesses of his government.

“We profoundly respect and admire him, not only for what he did for his people, but also for his proven friendship to our country,” said the younger brother of Fidel, President Raul Castro, upon learning of Mandela’s death on Thursday.

A video also displays the affection Mandela and Fidel Castro professed, calling each other “brothers” during a visit by the South African to Havana in 1991. Cuba was the first Latin American country that he had visited. Mandela would later visit Argentina and Brazil, but his point of reference on the American continent would always Cuba.

In a dialogue recalled on Cuban TV on Thursday night, Mandela tells Fidel, “Before you say anything, you have to tell me when you are coming to South Africa. When are you coming?”

“I have not visited my South Africa homeland,” Castro responded, and he paid off his debt in 1994. Cuban television recalled that dialogue on Thursday night.

The revolution came to power in Cuba in 1959 led by a young Castro who electrified the world, including a militant activist in the far South. Especially in the Third World the bearded Cuban leader became a symbol of the struggle against colonialism.

For decades socialist Cuba tried to translate the spirit of their revolution to other struggles for emancipation, and also gave direct support to Africans. The Caribbean island sent troops to fight in Angola, a campaign considered in Cuba as one of the great “internationalist” deeds of Castro.

In the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, Cuban troops played a decisive role in stopping the advance of the Angolan insurgency operating with the support of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Cuito Cuanavale is considered today as a turning point for Africa, where the apartheid ended in 1992. Mandela never forgot the gesture.

“Our friend Cuba, who helped us train our people, who gave us resources that helped us so much in our struggle,” said the South African leader in his meeting with Castro in 1991.

Mandela also always ignored any criticism of his meetings with controversial leaders such as Castro or the old revolutionary and later Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

“We should not abandon those who helped us in the darkest hour in the history of this country,” Mandela told former US President Bill Clinton during a visit to Cape Town, to justify his ties with Castro and Gaddafi.

For Mandela, his vision of Latin America was always linked to Castro and Cuba.

What's your opinion?

  • Griffin

    The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 had nothing to do with ending apartheid in South Africa in 1992. It did force Castro to the negotiating table and led to the withdrawal of Cuban, Soviet and South African forces from Angola.

    Read the history at the link for an accurate and full account of the Cuban intervention in Angola.

    The Cuban intervention in Angola began a decade before the South Africa army invaded Angola. It should be noted, that while South Africa today is a democracy, Angola is a corrupt dictatorship ruled by the MPLA regime which Cuba helped install in power.

    • George

      That’s not what Mandela thought. Two quotes from the man himself:

      “Cuito Cuanavale was the turning point for the liberation of our continent – and of my people – from the scourge of apartheid.”


      “Without the defeat of Cuito Cuanavale our organizations would not have been unbanned!

      The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here today!”

      Unfortunately there are still some Whites who think they are so superior they cannot believe that they were defeated by the combined Angolan and Cuban forces.

  • John Goodrich

    It’s a rough time for the enemies of mankind who write into HT.
    Mandela who is revered around the world except by the racists always spoke of his friendship with Fidel and of how Cuba was always on his side especially when the hero of the imperialists, Ronald Reagan, vetoed sanctions against the apartheid regime in S.A. and declared Mandela a terrorist, a declaration that was lifted just a short 6-7 years ago by the (terrorist) U.S. .
    seen as hypocrites .
    On top of that the Pope, breaking with a long papal tradition of supporting capitalism, imperialism, Nazis and a general ignoring of the teachings of Christ vis a vis the poor, has come out against capitalism and especially the “trickle-down” version promoted by Reagan and other enemies of the poor.
    Opposing all that Mandela stood for and supporting feral capitalism is getting to be very difficult to justify in civilized and moral company but I’m sure that the usual crew will make the attempt. .

  • Kevin

    Will Cuba free their own political prisoners to attend the funeral as well?

  • Moses Patterson

    Mr. Jones, you have written “who have been caught up in this 50 year old war of hatred, division and sufferings” . It is appropriate to note while I believe it was Castro who cast the first stone in this war, it is undeniable that he had the chance to take the moral high ground, regardless of who started it, to allow those who opposed his dictatorship to live in peace in Cuba or to leave Cuba peaceably. He did neither. Failing to do so as Mandela did with his “Truth and Reconciliation’ hearings, Fidel instead fomented a climate of distrust and repudiation. He is credited with coining the term “gusano” or worm to describe those Cubans who, for a variety of reasons, simply wanted to live outside of Cuba. Your noble call to fellow Cubans such as my wife to reflect on their future and to the political leadership of the US to measure their actions is wisdom. But why do you fail to hold to account the Castros to DO ANYTHING with regards their role in this historical disaster? You always ask for constructive comments which will add to the debate. I hope you respond here.

  • Moses Patterson

    Thanks Griffin. This is at least the second or third time you have written such an accurate, balanced and concise synopsis of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. There is a version in cyberspace which distorts the facts that states that Castro decided to send troops to Angola on November 4, 1975, in response to the South African invasion of that country, rather than vice versa as the most historians have recorded. It is also said that Cuba made the decision to send troops without informing the Soviet Union and deployed them, contrary to what has been widely alleged, without any Soviet assistance for the first two months. It is alleged that Fidel reluctantly asked the USSR for logistical support because he knew that this was a Cold War struggle by proxy between the US and the Soviet Union. Another interesting sidebar is that because the CIA had infiltrated MPLA forces, they were able to supply SADF with intelligence reports as well as logistical support. The Chinese, who had their own agenda, pressured the US to back off in their support of SADF forces. This allowed the US to refocus efforts in eastern Europe. As you have written, this paid off soon thereafter in the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, the withering support of the CIA in southern Africa is said to have led to the stalemate reached at Cuito Cuanavale.

    • Griffin

      The exact nature if the Cuba-USSR relationship in Angola is still subject to debate. The account given by the book I linked to, by Edward George, says that the USSR arranged with the Angolan government to send military hardware. The Russians asked Cuba to send a couple thousand advisors to train the Angolans. Instead, Fidel sent 20,000 Cuban troops, which surprised the Russians. The Russians then sent more supplies to keep the larger Cuban force stocked.

      The crucial fact which the official Cuban account hides is that the Cuban intervention in Angola began long before the South Africans invaded southern Angola. The Cubans began training MPLA guerrillas in 1962, before Angolan independence from Portugal. The first Cuban troops entered Angolan territory in 1966, fighting in support on one rebel group, the MPLA. The spent more time fighting the FLNA, supported by China at the time, than they did fighting the Portuguese. When Portugal suddenly withdrew from Angola in 1975, the MPLA and their Cuban allies rushed to seize control of the capital city. Fighting between the FLNA and the MPLA broke out into full scale civil war. Cuba backed one rebel faction and helped them defeat their rivals. The claim by Havana that they responded to a request for help from the government of Angola is false. The Cubans installed the pro-Soviet rebel group, the MPLA into power by force of arms.

  • Walter Teague

    None of us are “gods,” and few of us are as effective in helping our fellow humans as those leaders who seek and find the ability to make things better for the most they can. Too often, these comments are clearly coming from people who are consumed with their unproductive and usually ill-informed beliefs. What is revealing is that they seem unaware of of little they persuade anyone to their views. Besides the emotional distortions, some seem to believe that simply repeating “facts” makes them true, much less verifiable. Then there is the larger issue which both Mandela and Castro share, they tried and to an amazing extent, considering what they were up against, succeeded. Of course they were different men in different circumstances and yet, while there is much disagreement about details and what might have been, those who simply throw out insults and insist it could have been done more humanely, with better outcomes, need to show how, not just by words, but by deeds. I have tried for 70 years to prevent or reduce a number of terrible things that happen still in different forms in my country; brutality to children, racism, sickening poverty, imperial wars, etc., and I admit I have had much less success than I wish. So I applaud those who have dared, tried, persevered, tried to do it both with success and humanity, and sometimes to some degree have succeeded. What is inspiring is that so many, particularly the younger among us, seem to be learning this. In spite of old and diseased ideas that still infect us all.

  • George

    If this crock of half-truths and spin is not from the perspective of racist South Africa then I don’t know what is. But let us be generous and say it is an attempt to re-write history from the perspective of the imperialist U.S.A.

    “The USSR also armed the Angolan army with several billions of dollars worth of advanced weapons, as well as arming the Cuban army in Angola.”

    What were the racist South African’s fighting with, toy guns?! In fact it was they who were armed with the most advanced weaponry in the world supplied by the U.S., U.K. and Israel. They even had nuclear weapons.

    “Instead, he ordered his army to stand at Cuito, sending reinforcements. When the SADF attacked, they were unable to defeat the Cubans.”

    The Cubans objective was to hold Cuito, the SADF’s was to take it. Cuba held, and the SADF failed to take it. A clear defeat for the SADF.

    “So when the peace negotiations sponsored by the US began again, the USSR pushed hard at Fidel to accept a compromise solution.”

    The U.S. was South Africa’s biggest backer, why would they start peace negotiations if they weren’t losing? The U.S. and South Africa were forced to negotiate.

    Griffin’s take makes the pretense of being objective by appealing to the wider political landscape. It is true that global politics played their role in the eventual transition to democracy. No one is denying that, but as Mandela said, Cuito was “the turning point”.

    History is written by the victors. As I said previously, it is unfortunate that some Whites refuse to believe they lost.