November 28, 2015 - TML - A lively and successful public event to mark the 40th Anniversary of Operación Carlota -- Cuba's mission to Angola from 1975 to 1988, as well as Cuba's other contributions to Africa, took place November 13-14 in Toronto. The event, "Africa's Children Return!," was held at the Steelworkers' Hall and organized by the Canadian Network on Cuba, the Chair of Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University, the Canada-Cuba Friendship Association (Toronto), A Different Booklist bookstore and others. The Cuban Consul General in Toronto Mr. Javier Dómokos Ruiz was also present at the event.
The opening session of the program began with a tribute to Jorge Risquet, an historic personality and member of Cuba's revolutionary leadership who played a key role in supporting the anti-colonial struggles in Africa from the early 1960s. Professor Isaac Saney, a Cuba specialist, author and lecturer at Dalhousie University, paid a moving tribute to the life and work of Risquet, highlighting his important contributions as Cuba's main diplomat and negotiator during the period Cuba was assisting the Angolan people to secure their independence in the face of war with South Africa. A minute's silence was observed to honour this great Cuban revolutionary and internationalist who passed away on September 28.
The other presentation at the opening session was made by Nicolas Hernandez Guillen, the grandson of Cuba's National Poet, Nicholas Cristobal Guillen (1901-1989). Nicholas Hernandez Guillen is a noted scholar and president of the Nicolas Guillen Foundation which works to preserve and popularize the work of Cuba's National Poet. The main theme of the presentation highlighted the work of the great Afro-Cuban poet to render and champion the contributions of the Afro-Cuban people to nation-building in Cuba as well as of infusing African themes, songs and rhythms into literary form. It was noted in the presentation that Guillen always sympathized with the African peoples' anti-colonial struggles, particularly after he was exiled from Cuba as a result of his political activities in the 1950s. He subsequently wrote poems such as "Mau Mau" about the Kikuyu people's fight against colonialism in Kenya. Hernandez Guillen noted that when Cuba intervened to assist in Africa it was because Cubans in general, and especially Afro Cubans, identified with Africa, their motherland. He noted that his grandfather's life and work helped forge closer fraternal ties between Cuba and Africa.
The second day opened with the screening of a film depicting some of Cuba's contributions to the African people's independence struggles in the Congo and elsewhere. Professor Isaac Saney then outlined Cuba's decisive role in supporting the independence struggles of the peoples of southern Africa, in particular, the military and material assistance provided to the Angolan people to secure their independence in 1975. The new Angolan republic was under direct military threat from the South African apartheid state which saw the nascent black "communist" government as a threat. Professor Saney highlighted the importance of Operación Carlota (1975-1988), the 15-year campaign in which Cuba assisted Angola to defeat the South African military invasion which had resulted in over 1.5 million people killed and billions of dollars of lost revenues to Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other countries in the region. More than 330,000 Cubans served with Operación Carlota and 2,000 Cubans died defending Angolan independence and freedom. It was pointed out that Cuba bore the cost of this enormous act of solidarity entirely by themselves using their own resources and personnel.
Professor Saney drew particular attention to the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in which the combined Angolan and Cuban forces dealt a mortal blow to the South African army -- the nail in the coffin of the apartheid regime. The victory at Cuito Cuanavale raised the prestige of Cuba in the eyes of the African peoples and strengthened the movement to bring an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa. The victory also had the effect of consolidating the Cuban revolution itself. Professor Saney pointed out that the significance of the military victory at Cuito Cuanavale was acknowledged by Nelson Mandela, who in a speech in Havana in 1991, stated that it was the Cuban and Angolan victory in this epic battle that directly contributed to securing his freedom after 28 years in the prisons of South Africa and helped to bring down the apartheid system itself.
Professor John Kirk, another Cuba specialist at Dalhousie University and author of the newly-published Without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism, spoke on Cuba's enormous contribution in the sphere of public health and other forms of assistance to other nations and people around the world. He highlighted Cuba's exemplary work to confront and control the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014, as well as Cuba's overall contributions internationally in health care, literacy and other fields. While many of the so-called advanced countries were cringing at the thought of intervening in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Cuba simply took action as part of its social-responsibility to humanity, Professor Kirk noted. He paid tribute to the fearless Cuba health care workers who carried out their duties with skill and professionalism. He also noted that since that experience, Cuba has been providing training to large groups of people in various countries on how to contain Ebola based on their experience in Africa. Professor Kirk also noted Cuba's selfless efforts to educate and train without cost young people from around the world as doctors, surgeons and other medical professionals -- particularly those from countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean who are in need of medical professionals. Professor Kirk said that in his experience the Cuban medical system is one of the finest in the world and that Canada and other countries could learn much from how health care is guaranteed as a right in Cuba.
The final presentation of the program was an informative film about the popular mass movement in Burkina Faso that overthrew the corrupt 27-year rule of Blaise Compaoré in 2014. Compaoré took power after the assassination of President Thomas Sankara, the popular leader of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. Sankara, who defended the independence of Burkina Faso, brought in many social reforms modelled after the Cuban revolution, which he admired. The film, introduced by Amet Lo of the Justice Committee for Thomas Sankara and the Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa, shows the youth and students organizing to demand that Compaoré step down. It depicts their striving for political empowerment and a democratic government in Burkina Faso that reflects the aspirations of the people.