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Conflicting Missions is a compelling and dramatic account of Cuban policy in Africa and of its escalating clash with US policy and later its direct military clashes with the South African Defence Force in Angola.

It is the other side of a conflict that South Africans have not been told about until now.

Gleijeses' narrative gallops from Cuba's first hesitant steps in rendering assistance to Algerian rebels fighting France in 1961, to the war in the Congo (later Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1964-65, when 100 Cubans led by Che Guevara, acting in support of the Simba rebels, were confronted by white mercenaries from South Africa, Rhodesia, Britain and elsewhere - supported and controlled by America's Central Intelligence Agency.

Gleijeses writes about the dramatic dispatch to Angola of Cuban troops to aid the communist-backed rebel MPLA movement in 1975. And how, being the rainy season, their destruction of the major river bridges in Angola's north contributed to halting the rapid and victorious advance of the seemingly unstoppable Battle Group Zulu of South Africa's SADF.

The blocking of Battle Group Zulu from reaching Luanda led to political decisions by the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, to call off the CIA's future operations in support of UNITA and the FNLA and to South African Prime Minister John Vorster withdrawing all South African forces from Angola. This left the MPLA and its Cuban and other communist allies in control.

This was undoubtedly the most significant domino that would soon lead to the fall of white Rhodesia and ultimately to the handover of Namibia to SWAPO and finally to black rule in the Republic South Africa.

Piero Gleijeses analysis is clear, rigorous and balanced; the archival research supporting it is unprecedented. Not only is he the first historian to have gained access to closed Cuban archives, he also worked extensively in the archives of the United States, Belgium, Great Britain and East and West Germany.

In addition he interviewed many of the protagonists in the United States, Cuba and Africa - from the head of the CIA station in Luanda to Che Guevara's second-in-command in the Congo - and analysed the American, European, South African and other African press. The result is a remarkably comprehensive document that sheds new light on the history of those times. It revolutionizes our view of Cuba's international role, challenges conventional beliefs about the Soviet Union in directing Cuba's action in Africa and provides, for the first time, a look from the inside of Cuba's foreign policy during the Cold War

Hardcover, 490 pages. Published August 2005


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