Why Fidel Castro ordered a massive presence of Cuban forces in Angola in 1975?
Thirty-four years later, that decision may seem inexplicable.
On 4th November 1975 Operation 'Carlota' was launched.
The situation was critical for the MPLA. The South African invasion had been launched during mid October, and had progressed with no major obstacles to the south of Luanda. The FNLA had launched a successful attack in Morro do Cal, forcing FAPLA and the Cuban forces to retreat to Quinfandongo. In Cabinda the head of the Cuban forces Ramón Espinosa Martín, was preparing for an attack by the FLEC and Zaire.
Everything looked disastrous for the Cubans and the MPLA. "It was a matter of political survival for Castro, the Cuban leader whose role as supreme and unofficial spokesman of the Third World would be threatened by a defeat in Angola," notes the historian George Edward.
On the other hand, a military disaster in Angola would have been difficult to deal with publicly at the 'First Congress of the Communist Party', which began on December 17, 1975.
Without Operation 'Carlota', Angola could have been a different story: Cubans went on to win the battle of Cabinda. Quinfandongo destroyed the FNLA in advance and held in South Africa. In April 1976 almost the entire Angolan territory was controlled by the MPLA and Cubans.
When Fidel Castro visited Angola in March 1977 he was received and greeted as a hero, as you can see in this excerpt from a BBC documentary:
Havana had the opportunity to complete and successfully get out of Angola, but instead opted for a phased withdrawal that was quickly reversed by Fidel Castro himself, probably obsessed with the threat of defeat to deliver "imperialist forces" thousands of miles from home.
In retrospect, the presence of Cuban troops in Angola (it is believed that at one time to be almost one hundred thousand soldiers), reveals the falsity of the official propaganda, which instilled fear and even paranoia in generations of Cubans, who still insist there was a constant threat of a "Yankee invasion." If such a threat had been real, Cuba would not have sent the bulk of its troops to Africa.