Cover image for Conflicting missions : Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976
Conflicting missions : Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976
Gleijeses, Piero.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xix, 552 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.
Reading Level:
1470 Lexile.
Format :


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DT38.9.C9 G57 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This is a compelling and dramatic account of Cuban policy in Africa from 1959 to 1976 and of its escalating clash with U.S. policy toward the continent. Piero Gleijeses's fast-paced narrative takes the reader from Cuba's first steps to assist Algerian rebels fighting France in 1961, to the secret war between Havana and Washington in Zaire in 1964-65--where 100 Cubans led by Che Guevara clashed with 1,000 mercenaries controlled by the CIA--and, finally, to the dramatic dispatch of 30,000 Cubans to Angola in 1975-76, which stopped the South African advance on Luanda and doomed Henry Kissinger's major covert operation there.

Based on unprecedented archival research and firsthand interviews in virtually all of the countries involved--Gleijeses was even able to gain extensive access to closed Cuban archives--this comprehensive and balanced work sheds new light on U.S. foreign policy and CIA covert operations. It revolutionizes our view of Cuba's international role, challenges conventional U.S. beliefs about the influence of the Soviet Union in directing Cuba's actions in Africa, and provides, for the first time ever, a look from the inside at Cuba's foreign policy during the Cold War.

"Fascinating . . . and often downright entertaining. . . . Gleijeses recounts the Cuban story with considerable flair, taking good advantage of rich material.-- Washington Post Book World

"Gleijeses's research . . . bluntly contradicts the Congressional testimony of the era and the memoirs of Henry A. Kissinger. . . . After reviewing Dr. Gleijeses's work, several former senior United States diplomats who were involved in making policy toward Angola broadly endorsed its conclusions.-- New York Times

"With the publication of Conflicting Missions , Piero Gleijeses establishes his reputation as the most impressive historian of the Cold War in the Third World. Drawing on previously unavailable Cuban and African as well as American sources, he tells a story that's full of fresh and surprising information. And best of all, he does this with a remarkable sensitivity to the perspectives of the protagonists. This book will become an instant classic.--John Lewis Gaddis, author of We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History

Based on unprecedented research in Cuban, American, and European archives, this is the compelling story of Cuban policy in Africa from 1959 to 1976 and of its escalating clash with U.S. policy toward the continent. Piero Gleijeses sheds new light on U.S. foreign policy and CIA covert operations, revolutionizes our view of Cuba's international role, and provides the first look from the inside at Cuba's foreign policy during the Cold War.


Author Notes

Piero Gleijeses is professor of American foreign policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Gleijeses (Sch. of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins Univ.; Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954) offers a Cold War study not of two superpowers but of Third World policy in Third World countries. This book looks at U.S. and Cuban foreign policies in Africa, a continent generally ignored by American foreign policymakers but highly important to Castro's Cuba. In examining small engagements in Algeria and Guinea-Bissau, as well as larger engagements in Zaire and Angola, Gleijeses argues that, contrary to American belief, Cuba did not merely act as a Soviet pawn in Africa but pursued its own interests. Castro viewed Africa as an important battleground to combat "capitalist imperialism," usually contrary to Soviet policies. Gleijeses conducted extensive research in writing this book, including gaining unprecedented access to Cuban archival material and oral histories. There is little material available on Cuban-African relations, and nothing this comprehensive. Recommended for academic libraries.-Mike Miller, Dallas P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Gleijeses (foreign policy, Johns Hopkins Univ.) analyzes Cuban involvement in turbulent African political affairs, ranging from assistance to Algerian nationalists in 1961 to dispatching thousands of troops to fight in Angola during the 1970s. He draws his comprehensive narrative primarily from extensive interviews, contemporary journalistic accounts, and archival sources in Cuba, the US, and former African colonial powers. His careful and convincing analysis illuminates Cuban motivations in Africa, while challenging standard interpretations of US and Soviet responses to Fidel Castro's decisions to intervene in African upheavals. Gleijeses contends that for Castro, sub-Saharan Africa represented a battleground for the underdeveloped Third World to achieve liberation success against the dominant West. Demonstrating that Cuba acted independently, he revises the often-repeated assertion that Castro served as the puppet of Soviet Cold War foreign policy in Africa, showing that US policy makers generally accepted this view because of their preoccupation with Vietnam and the Middle East and because of the miscalculations of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Thorough documentation, a detailed bibliography, maps, photographs, and a useful abbreviation list add to the value of this important Cold War study. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. A. Gagliano emeritus, Loyola University of Chicago



Chapter 1 Castro's Cuba, 1959-1964 The United States did not hesitate to recognize the government established by Fidel Castro. On January 7, 1959, just six days after Fulgencio Batista had fled Cuba, the Eisenhower administration extended the hand of friendship to the victorious guerrillas. To signal its goodwill, the State Department replaced the ambassador to Cuba, Earl Smith, a wealthy political appointee who had been close to Batista, with Philip Bonsal, a career diplomat known to work well with left-of-center governments. Within a year, however, Eisenhower had decided that Castro had to go. It was not Castro's record on human rights and political democracy that bothered Eisenhower. As historian Stephen Rabe has noted, "During much of the decade [1950s], U.S. officials were busy hugging and bestowing medals on sordid, often ruthless [Latin American] tyrants." U.S. presidents--even Woodrow Wilson, his rhetoric notwithstanding--had consistently maintained good relations with the worst dictators of the hemisphere, so long as they accepted U.S. hegemony.[1] Castro, however, was not willing to bow to the United States. "He is clearly a strong personality and a born leader of great personal courage and conviction," U.S. officials noted in April 1959. "He is inspired by a messianic sense of mission to aid his people," a National Intelligence Estimate reported two months later. Even though he did not have a clear blueprint of the Cuba he wanted to create, Castro dreamed of a sweeping revolution that would uproot his country's oppressive socioeconomic structure. He dreamed of a Cuba that would be free of the United States.[2] The Burden of the Past It was President Thomas Jefferson who first cast his gaze toward Cuba, strategically situated and rich in sugar and slaves. In 1809 he counseled his successor, James Madison, to propose a deal to Napoleon, who had occupied Spain: the United States would give France a free hand in Spanish America, if France would give Cuba to the United States. "That would be a price," he wrote, "and I would immediately erect a column on the southernmost limit of Cuba, and inscribe on it a ne plus ultra as to us in that direction."[3] England, however, had made it clear that it would not tolerate Cuba's annexation to the United States, and the Royal Navy dominated the waves. The United States would have to wait until the fruit was ripe, but time was in America's favor. In John Quincy Adams's words, "there are laws of political as well as of physical gravitation; and if an apple severed by the tempest from its native tree cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its own unnatural connection with Spain and incapable of self-support, can gravitate only towards the North American Union, which by the same law of nature cannot cast her off from its bosom."[4] Through the administrations of Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Adams, U.S. officials opposed the liberation of Cuba because they feared it would create an opportunity for other powers, particularly England, or lead to a successful slave revolt on the island, or, at a minimum, establish a republic that abolished slavery and promoted equal rights for blacks and whites. The fruit would never have ripened, because such a Cuba would have bitterly resisted annexation to Jeffersonian America, where the blacks were slaves or outcasts. Cuba became the "ever faithful island"--a rich Spanish colony dotted with great landed estates worked by a mass of black slaves. A ten-year war of independence, which erupted in 1868, failed to dislodge the Spanish. But in 1895 Jose Marti raised again the standard of revolt. He wanted independence and reform, and he was deeply suspicious of the United States. "What I have done, and shall continue to do," he wrote in May 1895, "is to . . . block with our blood . . . the annexation of the peoples of our America to the turbulent and brutal North that despises them. . . . I lived in the monster [the United States], and know its entrails--and my sling is that of David's."[5] In 1898, as the Cuban revolt entered its fourth year, the United States joined the war, ostensibly to free Cuba. After Spain surrendered, Washington forced the Platt amendment on the Cubans. The amendment granted the United States the right to intervene and to have naval bases on Cuban soil. (Even today, the Platt amendment lives, with the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo.) Cuba became, more than any other Latin American country, in Tad Szulc's words, "an American fiefdom."[6] And when a group of men who were determined to bring about social reform and national independence finally seized power in Cuba in September 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused to recognize their new government and urged the Cuban army to seize power. And so it did, and the era of Batista began. When Fidel Castro began fighting against Batista in 1956, the United States supplied arms to the dictator. Castro took note. In a letter of June 5, 1958, he wrote: "The Americans are going to pay dearly for what they're doing. When this war is over, I'll start a much longer and bigger war of my own: the war I'm going to fight against them. That will be my true destiny."[7] Many of the opponents of Batista's regime wanted to accommodate the United States, either because they admired its culture or had a fatalistic respect for its power. Castro, on the other hand, represented the views of those anti-Batista youths who were repulsed by Washington's domination and paternalism. This, however, baffled Eisenhower and most Americans, who believed that America had always been the Cubans' truest friend, fighting Spain in 1898 to give them their independence. "Here is a country that you would believe, on the basis of our history, would be one of our real friends," Eisenhower marveled. As American historian Nancy Mitchell has pointed out, "Our selective recall not only serves a purpose; it also has repercussions. It creates a chasm between us and the Cubans: we share a past, but we have no shared memories."[8] Read the complete chapter. Excerpted from Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 by Piero Gleijeses All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Note on Citationsp. xv
Abbreviationsp. xvii
Prologuep. 5
1 Castro's Cuba, 1959-1964p. 12
2 Cuba's First Venture in Africa: Algeriap. 30
3 Flee! The White Giants Are Coming!p. 57
4 Castro Turns to Central Africap. 77
5 Che in Zairep. 101
6 A Successful Covert Operationp. 124
7 American Victoryp. 137
8 Cubans in the Congop. 160
9 Guerrillas in Guinea-Bissaup. 185
10 Castro's Cuba, 1965-1975p. 214
11 The Collapse of the Portuguese Empirep. 230
12 The Gathering Storm: Angola, January-October 1975p. 246
13 South Africa's Friendsp. 273
14 Pretoria Meets Havanap. 300
15 Cuban Victoryp. 328
16 Repercussionsp. 347
17 Looking Backp. 373
Appendixp. 397
Notesp. 399
Bibliographyp. 503
Indexp. 539