Review: “Cuba & Angola: The War for Freedom” – Harry “Pombo” Villegas

“Cuba & Angola: The War for Freedom” is a firsthand account of Cuba’s internationalist mission in Angola. Within months of achieving independence from Portugal after more than 400 years of colonial rule, Angola was attacked by Zairean and South African forces and mercenaries. Between 1975-91, in response to a call for assistance by Angola’s leaders, 425,000 Cubans volunteers served in Angola, to defend the country from imperialism.

Brigadier General Harry “Pombo” Villegas served as commander of Cuba’s Motorized Infantry Regiment in northeastern Angola from 1977-79. The descendant of African slaves, Villegas fought alongside Che Guevara in the Sierra Maestra, the Congo, and Bolivia. In collaboration with Angolan forces, Villegas’s regiment engaged in operations against Zairean-backed Holden Roberto’s FNLA in Angola’s northern region. In 1981, Villegas was assigned as liaison between Cuba’s Angola command and Havana, serving in this capacity until the withdrawal of Cuban forces in 1991. Villegas was involved in some of the most important battles in Angola, including the Battle of Cangamba and Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

This is not a ‘military memoir’. Villegas does describe, battles and military strategy, especially the inability of Soviet advisers to understand asymmetrical warfare (Fidel Castro himself criticized the Soviets for their grandiose “Battle of Berlin” strategies in Angola) — this is inevitable. However, the book is primarily about the politics and significance of Cuba’s mission in Angola: its role in strengthening the revolutionary consciousness of the Cuban people, in ending apartheid in South Africa, in helping the Namibian people achieve independence (from South Africa), etc.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in Angola, apartheid, and revolution.

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