home | about | documents | news | publications | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list
Electronic Briefing
Books Main Index
Conflicting Missions
Washington, Havana, and Africa, 1959-1976
Former CIA Station Chief on Angola Conflict: Gleijeses interview with Robert Hultslander
Print this page
Jump to documents


April 1, 2002 For Further information Contact:
Piero Gleijeses - 202 363-3815 (h)
Piero Gleijeses - 202 663-5779 (w)
Peter Kornbluh - 202 994-7116


National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 67
Edited by Peter Kornbluh

NEW BOOK based on Unprecedented Access to Cuban Records;
True Story of U.S.-Cuba Cold fear Clash in Angola presented in Conflicting Missions

Washington D.C.: The National Security Archive today posted a selection of secret Cuban government documents detailing Cuba's policy and involvement in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. The records are a sample of dozens of internal reports, memorandum and communications obtained by Piero Gleijeses, a historian at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, for his new book, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (The University of North Carolina Press).

Peter Kornbluh, director of the Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project, called the publication of the documents “a significant step toward a fuller understanding Cuba’s place in the history of Africa and the Cold War,” and commended the Castro government’s decision to makes its long-secret archives accessible to scholars like Professor Gleijeses.  “Cuba has been an important actor on the stage of foreign affairs,” he said. “Cuban documents are a missing link in fostering an understanding of numerous international episodes of the past.”

Conflicting Missions provides the first comprehensive history of the Cuba's role in Africa and settles a longstanding controversy over why and when Fidel Castro decided to intervene in Angola in 1975. The book definitively resolves two central questions regarding Cuba's policy motivations and its relationship to the Soviet Union when Castro astounded and outraged Washington by sending thousands of soldiers into the Angolan civil conflict. Based on Cuban, U.S. and South African documents and interviews, the book concludes 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 Ford administration persistently claimed;

  • The United States knew about South Africa's covert invasion plans, and collaborated militarily with its troops, contrary to what Secretary of State Henry Kissinger testified before Congress and wrote in his memoirs.

  • 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.
  • Professor Gleijeses is the first scholar to gain access to closed Cuban archives—a process that took more than six years of research trips to Cuba—including those of the Communist Party Central Committee, the armed forces and the foreign ministry. Classified Cuban documents used in the book include: minutes of meetings with Fidel Castro, Che Guevara's handwritten correspondence from Zaire, military directives from Raul Castro, briefing papers from intelligence chieftain, Manuel Piniero, field commander reports, internal Cuban government memoranda, and Cuban-Soviet communications and military accords.

    In addition to research in Cuba, the author also worked extensively in the archives of the United States, Belgium, Great Britain, and West and East Germany, teaching himself to read Portuguese and Afrikaans so that he could evaluate primary documents written in those languages.

    Gleijeses also interviewed over one hundred fifty protagonists, among them the former CIA station chief in Luanda, Robert Hultslander who spoke on the record for the first time for this book. "History has shown," Hultslander noted, "that Kissinger's policy on Africa itself was shortsighted and flawed." He also commented on the forces of Jonas Savimbi, the rebel chief recently killed in Angola: "I was deeply concerned ... about UNITA's purported ties with South Africa, and the resulting political liability such carried. I was unaware at the time, of course, that the U.S. would eventually beg South Africa to directly intervene to pull its chestnuts out of the fire."

    In this first account of Cuba's policy in Africa based on documentary evidence, Gleijeses describes and analyzes Castro's dramatic dispatch of 30,000 Cubans to Angola in 1975-76, and he traces the roots of this policy—from Havana's assistance to the Algerian rebels fighting France in 1961 to the secret war between Havana and Washington in Zaire in 1964-65 and Cuba's decisive contribution to Guinea-Bissau's war of independence from 1966-1974.

    "Conflicting Missions is above all the story of a contest, staged in Africa, between Cuba and the United States," according to its author, which started in Zaire in 1964-65 and culminated in a major Cold War confrontation in Angola in 1975-76. Using Cuban and US documents, as well as the semi-official history of South Africa's 1975 covert operation in Angola (available only in Afrikaans), this book is the first to present the internationalized Angolan conflict from three sides—Cuba and the MPLA, the United States and the covert CIA operation codenamed IAFEATURE and South Africa, whose secret incursion prompted Castro's decision to commit Cuban troops.

    Conflicting Missions also argues that Secretary Kissinger's account of the US role in Angola, most recently repeated in the third volume of his memoirs, is misleading. Testifying before Congress in 1976, Kissinger stated "We had no foreknowledge of South Africa's intentions, and in no way cooperated militarily." In Years of Renewal Dr. Kissinger also denied that the United States and South Africa had collaborated in the Angolan conflict; Gleijeses' research strongly suggests that they did. The book quotes Kissinger aide Joseph Sisco conceding that the Ford administration "certainly did not discourage" South Africa's intervention, and presents evidence that the CIA helped the South Africans ferry arms to key battlefronts. The book also reproduces portions of a declassified memorandum of conversation between Kissinger and Chinese leader Teng Hsiao-p'ing which shows that Chinese officials raised concerns about South Africa's involvement in Angola in response to Ford and Kissinger's entreaties for Beijing's continuing support. The memcon quotes President Ford as telling the Chinese "we had nothing to do with the South African involvement." Drawing on the Cuban documents, the book challenges Kissinger's account in his memoirs about the arrival of Cubans in Angola. The first Cuban military advisers did not arrive in Angola until late August 1975, and the Cubans did not participate in the fighting until late October, after South Africa had invaded.

    In assessing the motivations of Cuba's foreign policy, Cuba's relations with the Soviet Union, and the nature of the Communist threat in Africa, Gleijeses shows that CIA and INR intelligence reports were often sophisticated and insightful, unlike the decisions of the policymakers in Washington.

    Summaries of the Cuban documents, and several declassified U.S. records relating to Cuba and Africa, follow:

    Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
    You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.
    Document 1
    January 13, 1976, Department of State Cable, “Cuban Military Intervention in Angola: Report Number 9.” (Document obtained from Department of State files through FOIA).
    The Department of State reports on the Soviet flights of Cubans to Angola. “Cuba may have begun to use 200 passenger capacity IL-62 aircrafts (Soviet) in its airlift support operations.” The document also makes estimates on the number of Cubans fighting in Angola, and speculates on possible military maneuvers to occur in the near future.
    Document 2
    January 6, 1976, Memorandum from Cuban Army, “Conversation with the Soviet Ambassador.” (Document from the Centro de Informacion de la Defensa de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, CIDFAR, [Center of Information of the Armed Forces]).
    English translation of this document
    In this memorandum a high ranking Cuban military official describes a meeting with Vitali Vorotnikov, Soviet Ambassador to Cuba, in which he informs Raúl Castro that Aeroflot will provide ten charter flights to fly Cubans into Angola. Most other countries had refused the Cubans landing rights under pressure from the United States. The Soviets offered these ten flights, but no more.
    Document 3
    December 18, 1975, Cable from Arquimides Columbié, [Political Situation in Angola]. (Document from the Centro de Informacion de la Defensa de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, CIDFAR, [Center of Information of the Armed Forces]).
    English translation of this document
    Arquimides Columbié, the highest ranking Cuban civilian in Africa during the Angolan war, cables Havana describing a meeting with a Soviet source that shows the USSR’s profound mistrust of the MPLA. The source tells Columbié that he is wary of Swedish and Brazilian recognition of the MPLA government because the Swedes could acquire “influence…over President Neto and other MPLA leaders.” The Brazilian action is seen by the Soviet source as possibly influenced by the United States, since the U.S. knows “it would be fairly easy for the Brazilians to manipulate MPLA leadership.” 
    Document 4
    December 3, 1975, White House Memorandum of Conversation with Chinese Officials, “The Soviet Union; Europe; the Middle East; South Asia; Angola” (Document obtained by National Security Archive, from National Archives Record Group 59. Records of the Department of State, Policy Planning Staff, Director’s Files (Winston Lord), 1969-1977, Box 373).
    This conversation between President Gerald Ford, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Chinese Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing demonstrates that high-ranking Chinese officials raised concerns about U.S. entreaties to continue their participation in Angola because of South Africa’s involvement. Vice Premier Teng states, “As I mentioned to you just now, the primary problem is the involvement of South Africa. If you can get South Africa out of Angola as soon as possible, or find some other means to replace South Africa on the southern front, this would be good.”
    Document 5
    August 11, 1975, Memorandum, “Report about my visit to Angola,” from Major Raúl Diaz Arguelles to Major Raúl Castro Ruz. (Document from the Centro de Informacion de la Defensa de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, CIDFAR, [Center of Information of the Armed Forces]).
    English translation of this document
    This memo describes meetings between the Cuban representatives and Angolan President Agostinho Neto. In his report to the head of the Cuban Army Raúl Castro, Raúl Diaz Arguelles talks about handing over 100,000 dollars to the MPLA as well as fielding their requests to train Angolans both in Cuba and Angola. Neto goes on to complain about lackluster Soviet aid and expresses his wish to turn Angola into a “vital issue in the fight between imperialism and socialism.” The Cubans agree, and Diaz Arguelles recommends helping the Angolans “directly or indirectly” in their cause.
    Document 6
    June 27, 1975, NSC Minutes, “Angola” (Document obtained from Gerald Ford Library, NSC Meetings File, Box 2)
    In a meeting including President Ford, Secretary of State Kissinger, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, and CIA Director William Colby among others, U.S. intervention in Angola's civil war is discussed.   In response to evidence of Soviet aid to the MPLA, Secretary Schlesinger says, “we might wish to encourage the disintegration of Angola.” Kissinger describes two meetings of the 40 Committee oversight group for clandestine operations in which covert operations were authorized: “The first meeting involved only money, but the second included some arms package.”
    Document 7
    November 22, 1972, Memorandum, “The Shipment of Comrades to Angola and Mozambique,” From Major Manuel Piñeiro Lozada to Major Raúl Castro Ruz.  (Document from the Centro de Informacion de la Defensa de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, CIDFAR, [Center of Information of the Armed Forces]).
    English translation of this document
    This document, written by Cuba's famous intelligence operative, Manuel Piñeiro, shows the early Cuban Government contacts with the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and original MPLA requests for low-level training and logistical assistance in Angola. The memo describes Cuban plans to send a delegation to Angola and Mozambique to ascertain what kind of support Cuba could give to independence struggles in those two nations.
    Document 8
    November 21, 1967, CIA Special Memorandum, “Bolsheviks and Heroes: The USSR and Cuba.” (Document obtained through FOIA)
    This report by the CIA's National Board of Estimates describes a low point in relations between Moscow and Havana shortly after Che Guevara’s death. The report begins by bluntly stating, “Brezhnev thinks that Castro is some sort of idiot, and Castro probably isn’t too fond of Brezhnev either.” Much of the tension between the two allies, according to this analysis, has been caused by Cuba’s encouragement of guerrilla warfare in many Latin American countries while the Soviets tried to expand both diplomatic and economic ties with those governments the Cubans were trying to overthrow.
    Document 9
    November 14, 1965, Letter, Che Guevara to Oscar Fernandez Padilla. (Document obtained from Archivo del Comite Central, [Archive of the Central Committee]).
    English translation of this document
    In this handwritten letter, Che Guevara, using his code name “Tatu,” the Swahili word for the number three, writes to Fernandez Padilla (code name "Rafael") who heads the Cuban intelligence operations in Dar-es-Salaam.  Padilla's unit is providing support for the Cuban presence in Zaire.   In his letter, Guevara describes some of the organizational problems that were common in this operation including carelessness with money, and the need for multivitamins and access to a grocery store to avoid malnutrition among Cuban personnel. A week after the letter was written, on November 21st, Cuban troops, including Che Guevara, withdrew from Zaire.
    Document 10
    October 20, 1963, Memorandum, Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cuba, Major Raúl Castro to Majors Flavio Bravo and Jorge Serguera. (Document from the Centro de Informacion de la Defensa de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, CIDFAR, [Center of Information of the Armed Forces]).
    English translation of this document
    On the eve of the first Cuban military mission to Algeria, Major Raúl Castro, head of the Cuban Armed Forces, writes a memorandum to two of the leaders of the mission with specific rules of conduct for the Cuban troops while in Algeria. Castro stresses extreme self-control amongst the troops, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, or intimate relationships with women; as well as humility, imploring the men to be modest and not “act like experts.” Along with the code of conduct, Castro encourages “complete and absolute” respect for Algerian customs and religion. While Che Guevara looked into possible Latin American operations, Raúl Castro supervised this early operation in Northern Africa.
    Contents of this website Copyright 1995-2017 National Security Archive. All rights reserved.
    Terms and conditions for use of materials found on this website.