Category Archives: Africa

Capitalist Society Under the One Party of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

The delay of the socialist revolution engenders the indubitable phenomena of barbarism — chronic unemployment, pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road.

— Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism

While the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm, the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives…. We are drifting into a world of ‘adaptation apartheid.

— South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, United Nations Human Development Report 2007-2008

That puking up barbarism phenomena in this enclave of genocide and perpetual war, resource theft and global toxification come in a coat of many colors. In the simplest terms I see it daily in my job as underpaid and spat upon social worker jiggering with the penury, punishment and putrefying systems of bureaucratic hell and legal rape exemplified in the schizophrenic American version of capitalism.

In no way am I ever NOT entertained by the magical thinking and retrograde beliefs of those I serve – homeless veterans who in some cases decry welfare for the masses while picking up their welfare checks and benefits from the Veterans Administration. On top of that, they feel entitled because they ended up in the economic draft of the US Military Industrial Complex. These are not the ones who saw “battle” overseas, but the ones who were snookered into thinking a tour here or there, in a non-combatant role would get them somewhere in life.

Broken people come to the military, and the military breaks them again, and, the gift that keeps on giving are the systems of oppression and criminalization of living life in Trump’s “MAGA, MAGA über alles, über alles in der Welt.”

Reality is that this thing called America, united snakes one in all, was running on that manifest destruction at the moment those Puritanical misanthropes ended up on the east coast with their fears, dark perversions, warped criminal religiosity and white DNA primed for a taking, eminent domain and killings far and wide.

On the one hand, my clients with mental strains beyond repair and hobbled with a truck-load of PTSD, and another container ship full of physical ailments believe their “service” was honorable, somehow divorced from the huge welfare trough that is the military-private contractor complex, and more so, suspended from the reality that their own kind — fellow soldiers ranging from the likes of a Private Gomer Pyle to Gen Schwarzkopf — screwed them in every which way possible inside the human frame of exploitation and downright pathological assault on every front.

Screwed them with shitty equipment, shittier intel, rampant rotten orders, and a million environmental assaults that have rendered millions of men and women who individually barely served a few years into the walking-wheelchaired-vegetative state wounded.

There have been a million battles and skirmishes that were set up as suicide assaults.

Then on the other hand, some of the clients who are self-declared  deplorables — who believe in Trump as something more than a rotten, lying, wimp of a man with his self-anointed Six Star General’s Bully Epaulets and Bone Spurs Yellow Streak Academy Jumpsuit — are not limited to a bunch of uneducated cretins, but also those who thought time served would be a touchstone in their lives.

Constantly, I have to wrestle with my clients’ reprobate ideas that anything about the government sucks and everything about private capital shines. It’s a reverse ideology of anti-Americanism: against teachers, against librarians, against the postman, against scientists and doctors and others from the so-called Great American Democracy as products of state schools, state governments, municipalities, and the like. They’ll root for these pathetic sports teams, both college and the pros, rendering stupid their concept of where those facilities are and where the billionaire owners get their sports gladiators.

Delusional, really, as my clients shudder with spiritual epiphany at those millionaire preachers like the Billy-Frank Graham Klan and hyper-millionaires running the retail show and all those attendant systems of destruction in the Big Pharma-Big Prison-Big Energy-Big Mining-Big Ag-Big Construction Complex they so often defend as the Defenders of Democracy in Private enterprise.

Here’s a common link to the duality of systems of oppression, that structural violence that leads communities and entire classes and races of people into more and more dungeons of despair and destruction:

One fellow, 62, homeless because the apartment management tossed him out as the maintenance man, with the free apartment in the mix. Out of a job and no longer making the dough to pay rent, he was forced to squat for a while before the iron jaws of the sheriff department came in and served him eviction papers.

Lapsed car insurance, lapsed driver’s license, and, alas, a speeding ticket in a school zone. And, now, 8 years later after eight years on the road and homeless, this little shithole town of King City has him in their vise for $1700. The original ticket was $700 with the add on’s of court fees, administrative costs and other highway robbery checks and balances. So, this fellow is in need of a driver’s license, but these cities have been colonized by those PRIVATIZERS – in this case some multi-millionaire outfit out of Gig Harbor, Washington, which takes on the collections. Imagine, we want to set up a payment plan, even though this fine has passed the statute of limitations. But the City of King City, OR, puts a hold on releasing licenses until every red-blooded Yankee cent is paid off.

We can only imagine what the cut is for this Little Eichmann outfit collecting fines from hundreds of cities, maybe thousands. The interest of a thousand bucks might be waived, but still, the $700 is probably only pennies on the dollar for the city as the Collection Agency (AKA mob in MBA clothing) racks up the largess of the original out of wack fine as profit running their boiler rooms of collection workers.

Punishment, boomerang retribution. Name one place and one job where a personal vehicle can easily be pushed aside as part of the work routine, discounted as a necessity of getting to and from work, or the fact that blue collar work never requires a driver’s license for using company vehicles. Right! A driver’s license is a right, not a privilege, in this bunkered society!

The great American rah-rah, fighting for one’s country, fighting for these evil punks like a Trump, just doesn’t cut it when the ex-soldiers start adding up the contradictions and outright lies of the elite class, which a Trump and his cronies signify and exemplify.

The core of these systems of pain and recurring punishment generates hate, fear, resentment, anger and violence – of the mind, violence of the soul and possible violence exacted on the innocents and not so innocents around them.

These characters I work with mostly never look at the concurrency of pathological serial shooters and these racist, homophobic anti-tolerance military experience, or how these synagogue attackers were subliminally and overtly recruited into the Armed Services with the true blue Yankee Doodle Dandy and Johnny Comes Marching Home Again glee perpetrated again by the neo-fascist army of Republicans and Trump Lagoon Monsters, all of which the Democrats simultaneously hide from and deal with.

Colonized With Hive and Mob Mentalities Simultaneously

I’ve signed permission passes (we force adults to sign and ask for permission to leave a homeless facility!) for overnight stays away from the shelter where I work for people who have brokered this idea of “anomie” into their very existence, a lack of meaningful and structuralized social life in return for Black Friday, the height of meaningless self-gratification at the expense of not only the planet but the faceless and nameless people charged with running this engine of Retailapithecus restlessness. As Émile Durkheim the sociologist stated, we are a modern culture where the individual follows an increasingly “restless movement, a planless self-development, an aim of living which has no criterion of value and in which happiness lies always in the future, and never in the present achievement.”

More and more of the clients I work with have as their end goal individualized happiness, their 40 acres and a mule dream, for me myself and I. They come from a hive of military brainwashing and propaganda, one where leaders are followed and hated at the same time, one where the broken system of war, empire, manifest destiny, nation invasions and nation building (sic) is their ultimate plan of self-gratification – I joined to protect the flag, our way of life and to protect our borders from savages and invaders. Except the borders, as anyone knowing the history of these here United Snakes of America, is all about Norte Americanos encroaching and breaking the borders of others.

As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz states in the Boston Review:

Even during the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies continued to war against the nations of the Diné and Apache, the Cheyenne and the Dakota, inflicting hideous massacres upon civilians and forcing their relocations. Yet when considering the history of U.S. imperialism and militarism, few historians trace their genesis to this period of internal empire-building. They should. The origin of the United States in settler colonialism—as an empire born from the violent acquisition of indigenous lands and the ruthless devaluation of indigenous lives—lends the country unique characteristics that matter when considering questions of how to unhitch its future from its violent DNA.

So, when I speak to the veterans and their families I work with on this matter of America’s soul wrapped in the banner of decimating other peoples who were here first, there is bloviating, knee-jerk proclamations that the victors enjoy the spoils, and that there is a god-given right to the American (white) ideal of moving the world toward His image.

This calculus I deploy for the homeless, those who have been screwed-blued-and-tattooed by the systems of oppression, by those debt collectors, those police and sheriff departments, by the judges and lawyers, top and bottom feeders all: I remind them that the so-called victors in their America are the One percent, including cretins from Hollywood, all the way to former generals/lobbyists/ contractors, and to include their sacred religious snake oil men like Graham. I remind them the wars they maybe have participated in were wars of oppression and wars of profits, completely tied to the ideals of screwing and stealing from your neighbor. That karmic doozy comes boomeranging back in the form of the victors on Wall Street, in the Boardrooms, and at the corporate tables of the Military-Pharma-Med-Prison-Education-Real Estate-Chemical-IT-Retail Complex. These too are the American ideals they supposedly signed up to protect with their lives in someone else’s country.

Again, what are we fighting for, sir?

This country’s leaders have always been Bill-Barak-Donald; Bezos-Adelson-Walton; CNN-FOX-Breitbart. “Money talks and money rules” is not some new Mar-a-Lago printed saying on Trump Condoms! As I continually told my 32-year military veteran father, his “work” in Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, et al was work for-by-and-because of the elites, the ones making two-bit Tin Soldiers jump through burning buildings and forced marches up another Pork Chop-Hamburger-Gizzard Hill. Marching orders by these bastions of money power and debt dread have been the history of these Un-united States.

Of course, the soldiers who are of color rarely jump on this Sherman Tank towed “bandwagon,” but to be sure, we talk about their own dire circumstances enveloped in the same sort of so-called “The Victors Enjoying the Spoils” mentality. The spoils include a complete but suppressed history of theft, lynchings, treaty breaking, incarcerations, land despoilments, eminent domain.

Black men and women fighting against black men and women from their mothership — Africa. AFRICOM. Imagine, a Black Alliance for Peace, and a movement to stop US military involvement in Africa, and again these disruptions of the narrative of white supremacy get flummoxed, and the irony of brown and black and red soldiers fighting for what, who knows, but definitely part of the system of oppression of their own people.

So, again, I go for the jugular, the fact that my old man and I argued much about the military’s legitimacy while on the same hand he agreed in my pursuit of journalism, writing, teaching, and education:

Not only does there need to be a mass movement in the U.S. to shut down AFRICOM, this mass movement needs to become inseparably bound with the movement that has swept this country to end murderous police brutality against Black and Brown people. The whole world must begin to see AFRICOM and the militarization of police departments as counterparts.

 Netfa Freeman, of Pan-African Community Action (PACA) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Freeman represents PACA, a BAP member organization, on BAP’s Coordinating Committee.

It cost $267 million to fund AFRICOM in 2018. Probably a lot more in dark money and secret budgets; let alone the billions coming from the Economic Hit Men:

That money is stolen from Africans/Black people in the U.S. to terrorize and steal resources from our sisters and brothers on the African continent. Instead, that money should be put toward meeting our human needs in the U.S. and toward reparations for people in every African nation affected by U.S. imperialism.

—  Vanessa Beck, BAP research team lead and Coordinating Committee member.

So, them’s fighting words, as the white damaged veterans reach for words, epithets, rejoinders, and false dichotomies in the form of, Might Makes Right. There is a greater good in what us mere mortals see. Money Talks, of course, as many of them believe this irreligious, woman thumper, chubby bully, inconceivably smut-riddled man is THEIR commander in chief.

This ground truthing isn’t a hot commodity on the lefty or progressive or socialist web sites, for sure, where their own respective tidy thinking is vaunted over messy shit coming from the mouths of people scratching for a living doing this dirty work of counseling assuredly lost, wounded, broken and in many cases, mean as cuss souls.

That 35,000-foot Noam Chomsky view is heralded over the gutter view, and it’s no deep search for meaning to understand the hive and the mob mentality colonizing those Democratic Socialists of America folk, those pro-Israel-at-any-cost Bernie folk, those Pried from My Cold Dead Hand NRA folk. You got the Godfather Cuomo in Albany getting some robed lion of repression judge to legally change his name to Mario Amazon Direct Cuomo, with all the dildos and vibrators free for life!

Trump or Biden, Adelson or Soros, Chris Wallace or Rachel Maddow, Daryl Hannah or Caitlyn Jenner. Charmin or Cottenelle. Coke or Pepsi. Prozac or Zoloft. Raytheon or Northrup Grumman. Mad dog Mattis or Old Blood and Guts Patton. Steelers or Florida State. A Star is Born or Bohemian Rhapsody.

The trenches are rarely delineated or written about, just these huge “investigative research white papers” on the power of the elite to powerfully corrupt all systems that were supposed to be set up to help-aid-assist-protect-empower-develop we the people’s communities. However, there are no more communities, just chaos (controlled chaos), disruptive technologies-economies-structural systems of repressions. Just Madison Avenue, Just Manufactured Narratives, Just Fallen Anti-Heroes, Just Entertainment.

Feeding the dopamine hits as the marketers of disaster-demented-demolition capitalism control all markets, all psychologies, all media, all armies.

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.

— Eric Fromm, The Sane Society

Cuba’s First Military Doctors (Part 2)

[Part 1 of this article addressed the need for Cuba’s participation in conflicts in Zaire, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau during the 1960s to remain concealed for over three decades. It covered the background to the struggles, what Cubans found in Africa, the role of race relations in Cuba’s campaigns, and the recruitment of doctors. Part 2 explores the working conditions of revolutionary military doctors, physical and emotional consequences on participating physicians, interactions with African civilians, Cuba’s first large medical scholarship program, the first mass vaccination effort in Africa, and how Cuba’s military and medical efforts affected Africa.]

Military Doctors at Work

Physicians found working conditions to be quite different from Cuban polyclinics.  It was very clear to Virgilio Camacho that “although I was a doctor, I was armed because at any moment I might have to participate in combat.”1 The Cuban doctors practiced in small groups.  In the Congo, the group of Rodrigo Álvarez included a surgeon, an orthopedic, and two pediatricians.  Later, they were joined by an anesthesiologist nurse and dentists.2 In 1966, Domingo Díaz traveled toward Guinea-Bissau as 1 of 9 physicians.  Once there, he was assigned to Saará in the northern region where there were “the only three doctors and there were no Cuban nurses.”  They worked closely with several young Guineans and trained them as nurses.3

Since the Cuban staff rotated and PAIGC policy was to understate the extent of their involvement, some writers are not aware of the more than 40 Cuban doctors who served in Guinea-Bissau between 1966 and 1974 as historian Piero Gleijeses carefully documents.4

The physicians were forced to minimize their use of modest resources.  When Amado Alfonso Delgado reached his assigned eastern front in Guinea-Bissau he found the hospital grounds consisted of “four huts: one for the wounded; one was a kitchen; one for supplies; and one, a little further away, for the doctor.”5

Juan Antonio Sánchez “was in Tanzania for a military mission from 1969 to 1970.  I was a medical internist at Pemba Island.  Cuba had permission from Tanzanian government as long as their presence was secret.  There were no Cuban troops, only three doctors.”  Their “operating room had been a garage.”6

The priority for Cuban doctors was always the health of combatants.  They were treated for bullet wounds, fractures and health issues such as hernias and tropical diseases.  There were many surgeries including the one in which Héctor Vera participated:

Four men who had been injured by a grenade arrived.  The one who was seriously injured was operated on at night and survived.  We put him on a table; Che held a lantern; Oliva gave him anesthesia; Tabito operated; Lagomasino worked as an assistant; and I observed.7

Virgilio Camacho was in the southern front of Guinea-Bissau where the Portuguese frequently ambushed civilians who helped supply the military.  Several Cubans died or were injured in these attacks.8 Amado Alfonso Delgado illustrates the difficulties of surgery during combat:

We operated whenever there were battles. Small reconnaissance planes passed overhead frequently, and when they returned multiple times we moved the camp because an attack was almost certain to follow.  The hospital was burned four times.  Every time a plane flew overhead two times they attacked us … We were between two rivers.  Planes and boats kept coming by and destroyed almost all the canoes we could use to flee … Most of the time we operated in places where we could set up a tiny hospital.  They brought us people who had stepped on a mine or were wounded in an ambush.  Almost always the wounded arrived at night and we had to operate by the light of bundles of grass.  I did about 50 operations like this including several amputations.  We cut dry grass, folded it over, and tied it with straw, and used it as a candle.  Sometimes we couldn’t see what we were operating on, even with 8 or 10 wicks like this.9

Other than Military Medicine

Cubans felt obligated to treat civilians injured in attacks which meant that there was an overlap between military and non-military medicine.  Amado Alfonso Delgado became acutely aware that a lack of specialists had its costs.  He describes an event in Guinea-Bissau:

…a bomb fell very close to a woman and injured her in the abdomen.  Since I didn’t have my assistant with me, I had to read from a booklet to find out how to apply anesthesia.  I had to open her abdomen to see if she had peritonitis.  I gave her a local anesthetic, and just as I was about to give the general, a plane dropped a bomb very close to us.  The woman jumped up with her wound half open and ran away.  I never saw her again.  Later I learned that she had been found dead four kilometers from the tiny hospital.10

Domingo Díaz had a more positive experience in the northern front:

One day in Saará they brought us a boy about four years old named Kumba who had a large wound in his left leg.  His good spirit impressed us; he didn’t have a tear or expression of pain.  A few hours before the Portuguese attacked a nearby village that had no combatants and no protection.  Luckily, they were able to bring this little boy to our small rural hospital.  We cleaned the very dirty wound and partially sutured it because we didn’t want future complications such as gangrene.   During all the treatment without anesthesia, Kumba continued as before, without a tear or expression of pain.11

Cuban officials knew that the behavior of doctors toward civilians was as important for diplomatic relationships as troop discipline was for military advances.  When Cuban physicians first went to Algeria in 1963, Raúl Castro issued a strict code of conduct that included a prohibition of alcohol and intimate relations with women, and demanded absolute respect for Algerian traditions.  Che spoke to physicians in Zaire of the moral aspect of their mission: “I don’t want any scandal.  Anyone who is undisciplined will have to be counseled or sent back to Cuba.”  A couple of years later, the Cuban command in Guinea-Bissau replaced a doctor accused of not showing respect for local customs.12

The importance of this respect grew as contact between Cubans and Africans became closer.  Unlike Catholic and Protestant missionary doctors who stayed at fixed locations and required Africans to come to them, Cubans went on long walks to isolated villages to provide care.  As Zaireans learned of the arrival of Cuban doctors, “peasants from the surrounding area flocked in.”  Before the Cubans arrived, only nine doctors had provided care for 850,000 Congolese.  Hugo Spadafora, a Panamanian who was the only foreign doctor with the PAIGC, wrote that when the Cuban physicians arrived with medicine and equipment, “the quality of the hospital’s care increase exponentially.”13

The guidelines laid out by Raúl and Che served Cuban efforts well.  While their military allies in Zaire were often accused of mistreating local people, there were “no reports of the Cubans perpetrating any crimes or acts of violence against the population.”14

Instead, the Cubans won people’s trust by doing countless simple procedures.  These included tooth extractions, operations for hernias and cataracts, and treatments for high fever, diarrhea, confusion and stomach and shoulder pain.  In Tanzania, Justo Piñero recalled that “most patients were civilian and a few were military.  The most frequent problems were malnutrition, malaria, pneumonia and parasites.”15

Amado Alfonso Delgado learned to treat parasitic diseases he had never seen in Cuba:

I saw whole villages with trachoma, an infection of the eyes and eyelids that leaves people blind.  I visited villages where almost everyone was blind.  I saw people with advanced leprosy without fingers. There was a sickness, miasis, produced by a fly bite that causes an abscess from which worms grow.  Another produces boils on the body, called oncocerciasis, that is a type of filaria.  This disease has a special treatment.  There is a worm that gets under the skin and the Guineans use a little stick to which they fasten a palm thread and put it in the boil and roll it around until they pull out an enormous worm called ‘the worm of Guinea.’  There are many parasites and harmful insects such as the jigger flea (nigua), that gets under people’s skin in dry weather and causes a boil.  You have to extract the parasite, which looks like a tick.16

Perhaps the most unexpected tragedy was a Cuban soldier dying from eating a strawberry.  They had no idea of how acidic the fruit could be and he had a perforated ulcer.  “By the time he reached me” Domingo Díaz remembers, “he was in agony.  We did all we could to stop the bleeding, and since we didn’t have surgical instruments, we tried to move him to the small hospital in Boké.  But he died on the road.”17

Though the Cubans tried to attend to civilian medical needs, operations had to be authorized by the PAIGC zone director due to shortage of materials.  This required creative searches for alternative materials, such as using coconut water (which is sterile) in intravenous fluids.  On multiple occasions, Dr. Camacho “had to suture patients with domestic sewing thread,” which led to deal-making with local thread vendors.18

Truly International Medicine

The riches of Africa were being drained out as its people lay crippled or dying from totally curable diseases which did not peak the interest of wealthy Western investors.  This was the case with polio.  When Rodrigo Álvarez arrived in the Congo, he saw that:

Many suffered from polio.  I visited an asylum attended by a single nun which was full of children with this disease.  The children were crawling across the floor in very bare surroundings.  The nun didn’t have supplies or staff to deal with them.  I operated on dozens of these children … The French had left nothing of the infrastructure; there were no lawyers or engineers; and only two native doctors.2

Rodolfo Puente was the manager and one of the principle advocates for a polio vaccination campaign.  He ran into two Soviet medical staff who were vaccinating as one of their duties.  He asked for 5000 doses, which they happily gave him, and made arrangements with the mayor to vaccinate students.   Realizing the seriousness of the situation and knowing that Cuba had recently conducted its own polio vaccination campaign, Dr. Puente called MINSAP in Havana for permission to take on a similar endeavor.  MINSAP director Machado approved and assigned Dr. Helenio Ferrer, Cuba’s Director of Epidemiology, to fly to Moscow for the vaccines.  The Soviets agreed to provide 200,000 doses to the Congo for about $4000.  Following appeals by the Cubans, they agreed to donate the vaccines, which arrived in June 1966.19

There were too few doctors and nurses to administer the vaccines; but, since they were in a caramel, it was possible to train others to distribute them.  In cooperation with the Congolese government, its militia, the Federation of Women, and Cuban troops, Dr. Ferrer coordinated the vaccination of over 61,000 children in the first such campaign in Africa.20

However, the attempted coup of June 27 blocked administration of the second dose.  Since accounts tend to be vague regarding whether this would prevent the first dose from being effective, I asked that question directly to Dr. Justo Piñero, who was in the Congo from September 1966 to November 1967.  He explained that, “as a result of not getting the second dose, there would be the same rate of polio.”  He returned to the Congo in May 1969 and witnessed the Congolese Ministry of Public Health administering both doses, which were provided by the Soviets.  He strongly believed that the earlier joint experience with the Cubans was critical in making the 1969 effort successful.21

In Guinea-Bissau, Domingo Díaz’ group found themselves with no Cuban nurses, so they trained several local youth.  They were so impressed with the work of the Guineans that they obtained permission from Cabral to bring four back to attend Cuban nursing school, from which they graduated.3

A much larger venture happened earlier in the Congo when Cuban doctors noticed dedicated young people studying at night under street lights.  They asked the Congolese government about sending some of them to Cuba to study.  It agreed, and, on January 24, 1966, 254 youth boarded a ship for Havana.  This was the first time a significant number of foreign scholarship students went to Cuba.  Nevertheless, there were problems.  Rather than choosing students strictly on the basis of academic performance, many were selected according to personal connections or bribes.  By late 1967 more than 100 had returned home, at the request of themselves or Cuba.  Despite this, by 1978, 25 had Cuban medical degrees and others graduated as lab technicians or engineers.22

Cuban authorities soon decided that its military forces would leave Africa.  Yet medical personnel would continue with replacement teams of “pediatricians, orthopedics, surgeons, and ear-nose-throat specialists who would be civilians rather than military doctors.”23

Physicians, Heal Each Other

Cuban doctors provided preventive care and treatment not only to troops and civilians but also to themselves.  The most famous example was Che.  With him in Zaire, Rafaél Zerquera remembered the day Che’s malaria was complicated by an asthma attack.  Zerquera worried “How can I tell Fidel that I let Che die here?”  Che was not an exception.  Amado Alfonso Delgado, for example, treated himself three times for malaria.24

Virgilio Camacho spoke about how, soon after his arrival, acute jaundice caused another doctor, Jesús Pérez, to return to Cuba, leaving him with only one other doctor at their medical post.  A year later he was transferred to head the military hospital in Guinea-Bissau’s southern front because a doctor there was ill.25

The long walks and physical exhaustion of battlefield medicine took their toll.  When Domingo Díaz arrived in Guinea-Bissau he weighed 180 pounds.  He left 20 months later weighing 100 pounds.  He had experienced the unusual danger of disappearing shoes.

I returned to the base after it was completely destroyed, and I could not find any of my belongings, not even my tennis shoes.  This type of footwear was the best in the circumstances, since we had to cross many rivers, and they dried out much more rapidly than boots and were a lot lighter … during the first long walks, I lost all of my toenails…my feet were constantly wet and the hiking was forever…and in Cuba I had the habit of walking five kilometers every day.26

Some of their most unpleasant surprises awaited doctors upon completion of their African assignment.  Amado Alfonso Delgado recounted

The year that we returned almost all of us tested positive for filaria in the blood.  In the subtype Loa loa, it goes from vital organs to the eyes, leaving the person blind.  This was precisely the type we had.  Reading about it scared me a bit because it was said at that time, that there was not a guaranteed cure.  We were treated in a hospital for two months.27

Virgilio Camacho was also more than a little nervous:

I had filaria, which doesn’t exist in Cuba, and I had no idea until passing through the check point.  It required a double treatment: both for the adult and larva of the parasite.  They didn’t have the medicine in Conakry and had to look elsewhere.  Finally, I had both the intravenous injections and pills…We arrived in Cuba in January 1968.28

Impact, Reflection, Unanswered

By the end of the 1960s, when the Cuban revolutionary government had been in power for only 10 years, doctors had been through four different scenarios in Africa:

  1. In Algeria, they treated only civilians.
  2. In Zaire, the rebels showed little enthusiasm for victory.
  3. In the Congo, the militancy of the government proved to be empty rhetoric.
  4. In Guinea-Bissau, there was a successful military uprising with a strong commander and dedicated troops.

Cuba knew that US could invade at any time.  As a result of African expeditions and experience gained by military doctors, a new generation of physicians would be trained by those who had been through war and could teach others how to treat combat victims.

Perhaps the most lamentable irony of Cuba’s forays into Africa was that its most capable leader, Che Guevara, led guerrillas into the least promising front, Zaire.  Since no Cuban leader had been to sub-Saharan Africa for more than one day, the strategy of going to Zaire was based on misinformation, solidarity with Cuba’s own black population, and the defense of its revolution.  When Che ventured into his last battleground of Bolivia the following year, it was because he and Fidel agreed that Latin America must again occupy the foreground of Cuba’s participation in armed struggles.29

There had been very little connection between upheavals in the approach to medicine practiced on the island and what its doctors did overseas.30 Experiences of the polio campaign in Cuba were adopted in the campaign in the Congo.  The exposure to medical problems in Africa was invaluable for developing Cuban understanding of tropical and infectious diseases.  Nevertheless, nothing like Cuban polyclinics appeared in the battle conditions of Africa, where the necessity to provide emergency care was all-encompassing.

Cuban engagements in Africa left profound impacts, both on the host countries and on the Cubans who went.  Cuba learned that if students were to travel to the island for education, they must be screened for academic potential.  The Congo became prepared to complete its own vaccination campaign.  Guinea-Bissau recognized its debt to Cubans for its successful struggle for independence. “Many of our comrades are alive today only because of the Cuban medical assistance,” noted PAIGC official Francisco Pereira. “The Cuban doctors really performed a miracle.  I am eternally grateful to them: not only did they save lives, but they put their own lives at risk.  They were truly selfless.”31

White doctors who experienced the stressful conditions and parasitic diseases of Africa witnessed even greater sacrifice by black troops.  One reason that so many volunteered to serve in Africa was a feeling of urgency to spread the revolution.  Later, Olvaldo Cárdenas told Piero Gleijeses:

… we believed that at any moment they [the US] were going to strike us … and for us it was better to wage war abroad than in our own country.  This was the strategy of ‘Two or Three Vietnams;’ that is, distracting and dividing the enemy’s forces.  I never imagined then that I would be sitting here [in a living room in Havana] talking about it now—we all assumed that we were going to die young.32

When the volunteers returned to Cuba, they did not march in parades or receive any type of public praise.  There were no medals, decorations or material rewards.  Bound to secrecy, decades passed before they could share their stories.33 Yet the insights obtained by what they endured were essential for designing Cuban strategy, which is why Fidel grilled so many upon their quiet homecomings.

Before 1959, dedication to revolutionary medicine was expressed by students and doctors demanding full treatment for Cubans in poor urban and rural areas.  This became the foundation for doctors volunteering for international missions during the 1960s.  With the dawning of the 1970s, the question remained: Would sacrifices by the first doctors going to Africa come to fruition by medical staff playing a key role in toppling a major racist government on that continent?

A version of this article first appeared in Monthly Review.  The author thanks Rebecca Fitz for interview translation and John Kirk, Linda M. Whiteford and Steve Brouwer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of the article.

• Read Part 1 here

  1. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, Historias Secretas, 158.
  2. López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 78.
  3. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 123.
  4. Gleijeses, (2002), 202.
  5. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 142.
  6. Author’s interview with Dr. Juan Antonio Sánchez, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
  7. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 52.
  8. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 161.
  9. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 142-148.
  10. Ibid, 148.
  11. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 127.
  12. Gleijeses, (2002), 44, 201; López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 29.
  13. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 48; Gleijeses, (2002), 44, 168, 201.
  14. Gleijeses, (2002), 151.
  15. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 123; López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, 90; Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández,
  16. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 149-150.
  17. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 131-132.
  18. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 160.
  19. López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, 99. 102-103. 105; Gleijeses, (2002), 168.
  20. Gleijeses, (2002), 169; López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 84.
  21. López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 84; Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández.
  22. Gleijeses, (2002), 168, López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, 104-105.
  23. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, Historias Secretas, 93.
  24. López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 33-34; Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 150.
  25. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 158.
  26. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 130-133.
  27. López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, 150.
  28. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 162.
  29. Gleijeses, (2002), 216.
  30. Don Fitz, “The Birth of Cuban Polyclinics,” Monthly Review, in press.
  31. Gleijeses, (2002), 203.
  32. Gleijeses, (2002), 203.
  33. Ibid.

Cuba’s First Military Doctors (Part 1)

[Part 1 of this two-part series addresses the need for Cuba’s participation in conflicts in Zaire, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau during the 1960s to remain concealed for over three decades. It covers the background to the struggles, what Cubans found in Africa, the role of race relations in Cuba’s campaigns, and the recruitment of doctors. Part 2 will explore the working conditions of revolutionary military doctors, physical and emotional consequences for participating physicians, interactions with African civilians, Cuba’s first large medical scholarship program, the first mass vaccination effort in Africa, and how Cuba’s military and medical efforts affected Africa.]

*****

Cuba’s deployment of military doctors to Africa in the 1960s was secret, known only at the highest level of government.  Accounts of these hidden efforts were not published until the beginning of the 21st century.

Multiple forces during that decade pulled Cuba toward struggles in sub-Saharan Africa.  First was the mushrooming of popular movements across the globe.  The US civil rights movement was joined by millions opposing the war on Viet Nam.  Zaire won independence from Belgium in June 1960 and the popular Patrice Lumumba became its first prime minister.  After leading the National Liberation Front to victory over French domination in 1962, Ahmed Ben Bella was elected as the first president of Algeria.  In August, 1966 Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to thwart the growth of capitalism in China.  May 1968 saw a huge left upsurge in France going beyond the Communist Party.

A second force pushing Cuba’s foreign policy came from the US.  Its continuous violence gave a clear message that the best defense for the island would be an international offense.  Two decades earlier, the US had experimented with nuclear extermination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  During the previous decade, the US had slaughtered roughly 20% of the population of North Korea and the CIA engineered the overthrow of the progressive Jacobo Arbenz government in Guatemala.  Fresh on the mind of Cubans was the connivance of John and Bobby Kennedy in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 missile crisis.  The US began its series of efforts to kill Fidel Castro about the same time the CIA contemplated how to poison Lumumba.1 Asserting dominion over Latin America, Lyndon Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965.

In the meantime, the Soviet Union was not acting like a reliable ally.  The USSR had not sent troops to fight in Korea and did not do so in Viet Nam, even after the massive US build-up following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.  Nikita Khrushchev had settled the missile crisis without bothering to consult Fidel.  His successor, Leonid Brezhnev, was clear that Cuba should accept the subordinate status of sugar producer for the Soviet bloc.

Furthermore, Latin American Communist Parties (CPs) did not take kindly to Cuba’s “foco theory” of revolution.  Those CPs centered on urban working class movements while the Cuban leadership looked to a dedicated vanguard in the countryside, garnering support through armed struggle.  As Che Guevara wrote:

A small group of men who are determined, supported by the people, and not afraid of death…can overcome a regular army.  This was the lesson of the Cuban revolution.2

Unlike countries in Latin America, those in Africa did not have established Communist Parties hostile to guerrilla efforts.3   With at least a third of Cubans being of African heritage, Cuban leaders felt beckoned from across the Atlantic.

Hope Meets Reality in Africa

Despite efforts by the US to isolate Cuba, by 1964 it had embassies in the African countries of Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco and Tanzania.  Lumumba had been murdered in January 1961 by allies of Moise Tshombe.  The Simbas (lions), admirers of Lumumba, began a guerrilla struggle, routed government forces in 1964, and seemed to have strong revolutionary potential.4

In December 1964 Che began a three month trek to Algeria, Ghana, the Congo, Guinea, Mali, Benin, Tanzania, and Egypt.  Planning to lead an African initiative himself, Che went to develop strategies and agreements with liberation movements.  During his January 1965 meeting with leaders in Tanzania, Che emphasized the Simba upsurge and proposed Zaire as the location for centralized training.  They disagreed with him, each wanting training camps in their own country.5

The more Che came to know the heads of several organizations, the more skeptical he became.  He observed that they “live comfortably in hotels and have turned rebellion into a profession, at time lucrative…”6 Once on the battlefield, his doubts were confirmed:

Che had been told that he would find several thousand well-armed Simbas, eager to fight.  There were, in fact, some 1000 to 1500 widely dispersed rebels, who had no idea of how to maintain their modern weapons … they lacked a unified command.

The scouting teams … brought back grim reports from the fronts: idle rebels who … did not know how to use their firearms and showed no inclination to attack or to prepare to defend themselves. Everywhere chaos, disorganization, and lack of discipline.7

Cuban leaders, soldiers and doctors wrote of their frustration in Zaire.  In November 1965, after a governmental coup, a Simba leader notified Che that they wanted to end the war.  Che returned to Cuba with part of the unit he commanded, while others went to different African locations.8

The neighboring Congo was headed by Alphonse Massamba-Débat, whose socialist views were similar to those of the Chinese Communist Party.9 In August 1965, Fidel dispatched a unit to the Congo which joined the 50 or so Cubans already there.  The group was headed by Jorge Risquet, who was “the descendant of an African slave, her white master, a Chinese indentured servant, and a Spanish immigrant.”10

In the Congo the Cubans discovered that the rhetoric of the country’s leaders did not match their politics, which were based on opportunism and personal feuds.  Since Fidel had charged Risquet with defending the Congo, when an attempted coup broke out on June 27, 1966, the Cubans came to the defense of the government.  Wanting to resolve the dispute diplomatically rather than with force, Risquet appointed a doctor to lead the maneuvers. The rebels backed down when confronted by the determination of the smaller number of Cubans.  On July 6, the revolt ended with only one Congolese death.11

It soon appeared to the Cubans that their major task in the Congo was protecting one faction from another.  Risquet persuaded Havana that the best thing for them to do was to leave, which they soon did.  Two years later, a successful coup overthrew Massamba-Débat’s government.12

The uprising against the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau stood in sharp contrast.  Even US intelligence reports described it as having “Africa’s most successful liberation movement.”13 During his 1965 journey through Africa, Che spoke with Amílcar Cabral, who was head of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC, for its acronym in Portuguese).14

Fidel recognized the importance of the Non-Aligned Movement, which coalesced third world countries breaking from the yoke of imperialism.  He persuaded those organizing the Tricontinental Congress to meet in Havana on January 3, 1966 and invited Latin American groups dedicated to armed struggle.  It was there that Fidel and Amílcar Cabral first met and spoke extensively.  Fidel promised Cabral doctors, military instructors, and mechanics.15 Both made impressive speeches to the delegates and Fidel emerged as a champion of revolutionary movements.

For a critical year, Victor Dreke headed Cuba’s military undertaking in Guinea-Bissau.  Dreke was a black Commander who received extremely high praise from Che for his efforts in Zaire.  Dreke was impressed by the discipline of the PAIGC.  When he returned to Cuba in late 1968, Cabral’s forces had strengthened their position.  The Portuguese lost ground even while increasing their troops from 20,000 to 25,000.16

Cuba never had more than 60 soldiers in Guinea-Bissau.  This was one way Cabral kept the PAIGC in command, the other being the restriction of foreign military aid only to Cubans.  Yet, the Cubans’ roles as military advisers and teachers proved invaluable.  When Castro went to Africa in 1972, the PAIGC was the only force on the continent successfully fighting against a white regime.17

Cuba also played minor roles in Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and possibly other countries.18 However, this article concentrates on Zaire, the Congo, and Guinea-Bissau, which were, by far, its major arenas.19 Much of the information regarding experiences of Cuban physicians in Africa is from extensive interviews with military doctors deployed in the three countries, as well as Tanzania.

White Doctors, Black Soldiers

Cuban doctors going to Africa were almost all white while its troops were almost all black.  It was very rare for black people to become doctors before the revolution.  But they rose quickly to high positions in the revolutionary military.  Race was critical in every aspect of the African conflicts.

The US had strong advantages over Cuba in its influence of Africa: it could offer vastly more economic aid and wield the political power of its European allies, accrued by their history of conquest and ongoing domination.  But throughout the 1960s, the US was increasingly tied up in Viet Nam and its ongoing racism repulsed people around the globe.

Racism in the white regimes of Africa was blatant and horrific.  The London Observer reported that mercenaries paid to put down the Simba rebellion “not only shoot and hang prisoners after torturing them, but use them for target practice and gamble over the number of shots to kill them.”  One mercenary wrote in his memoirs of the “the White Giants—‘tall, vigorous Boers from South Africa; long-legged, slim and muscular Englishmen from Rhodesia’—who would restore, in Zaire, the white man to his proper place.”20

African resistance leaders realized that they could use the inability of racists to tell one group of black people from another to their advantage.  The revolutionaries in Zaire requested that the Cubans sent to their aid be black so they could pass undetected by US and Europe spies.  Cabral asked Cuban officials to send technicians who were “black or dark mulattoes so that they would blend in with his people.”  This fell into place with the PAIGC’s policy of denying that they involved any foreigners.21

When Fidel asked Dreke to select troops who would serve with Che in Zaire, he specified that he had to “choose a platoon of men who have shown their mettle, who are all volunteers and who are dark-skinned blacks.”  Both Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras and Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco did not know that Africa was their destination until they saw that almost all the combatants in training camps were black.22

This meant very different experiences for those traveling by ship to Africa.  Dr. Álvarez remembers Pavlovian conditioning when traveling aboard the Soviet ship Félix Dzerzhinsky:

Since the doctors were all white, there were no problems with anyone seeing us.  But the troops were all black, and, in order to make sure that none of the passengers or US spy planes would guess the purpose of the mission, they had to stay in the lower deck of the ship, which was hot and had poor ventilation.  Occasionally, they could come out for brief times at night.

Since the Russian food was very strong with disagreeable odors, the comrades who had to stay below without fresh air would get nauseated and vomit when they smelled it.  The captain had a gong that he hit in front of a microphone in order to announce that it was time to eat.  Some of the comrades started vomiting when they heard the gong.

At that point, I told Risquet that he had to tell the ship’s captain to stop banging the gong.  He replied that it was me, as a doctor, who had to have the conversation with the captain.  When I did so, that robust Russian failed to understand the situation and argued that it was a tradition that he could not violate.23

Though the white doctors could lean over the side of the ship to vomit, it must have been profoundly unpleasant for black troops confined to the lower deck.  In response, and to the outrage of the Russian captain, the Cubans stole the gong and heaved it into the Atlantic.24

How successful was the strategy of recruiting black troops?  It significantly slowed the ability of Western powers to detect Cuban involvement.  A British adviser in Zaire observed US agents looked “for whites and their eyes … passed over Cuban blacks or mulattoes.”  The same was true for the Congo, where bewildered officials from the US, France, West Germany and England “…were unable to ascertain how many Cubans were in the Congo.”  A Belgian ambassador could not tell if there were 100 or 800 Cubans since “they are difficult to pick out because they are all colored.”25 It was likely a serious affront to the dignity of white supremacists to see black Cubans so successfully bamboozling them.

Recruiting Doctors

Western observers could only be successfully confused about Cuban involvement if Cuba’s own recruits were in the dark concerning their destination.  Rodolfo Puente was the only one of nine physicians interviewed by Hedelberto López who was openly told where he was going (the Congo).26 Others were led to believe that they were going to Algeria, Viet Nam, or “other lands,” or that they should tell their families that they would be studying in the Soviet Union.27

The physicians were accustomed to disruption in their careers.  Of the 9 interviewed by López Blanch, 2 had to delay when they began medical school because Batista had closed it at the end of 1956.  The other seven started school before the 1956 closing but had to halt their studies and resume them after the 1959 revolution.

Waiting to discover exactly where they would be serving was only one indication of the vital importance of their mission.  Every one of the nine physicians interviewed in Historias Secretas met some combination of Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Che Guevara, MINSAP (the Cuban Health Department) head José Ramón Machado, Commander Jorge Risquet, Commander Victor Dreke, and Amílcar Cabral either before, during, and/or after their trip to Africa.

Preparing to leave for Zaire, Rafaél Zerquera recalled that “April 10, 1965 was the happiest day of my life when I was interviewed by Fidel Castro.”28 Shortly after arriving in Zaire, Diego Lagomasino “gave Che a suitcase with asthma medicine and bullets for a M-1 gun. Meeting someone like Che had a big impact on [him].”29 Héctor Vera spoke with Fidel upon returning from Zaire: “Fidel asked about sicknesses, malaria, how we were able to diagnose, and what treatments we used.  After chatting, he told us that we could not divulge anything about the mission.”30

Before departing for the Congo, Rodrigo Álvarez described having breakfast with Fidel.

[He] spoke to us of Africa in general without specifying the country.  He asked if we had pistols, and I said, yes, a P-38.  He told his assistant to find a better weapon and he brought a Stich of 20 shots.  Fidel saw that I wasn’t wearing a watch and told me that it was important for a doctor going to war to have one.  He took off one of the two watches he was wearing, a Longines, and gave it to me.”31

When Diego Lagomasino did his post graduate Rural Medical Service (RMS) in Santo Tomás, he worked alone and “had to be the doctor, nurse, distribute medications, and look for supplies.”32  This multi-tasking helped prepare him for Africa.  Rafaél Zerquera’s RMS was used as a screening to see if he was suitable for Zaire.  He explained that …

When I graduated, a document circulated asking where we would like to do our RMS and I wrote ‘wherever the revolution needs me.’  José Ramón Machado of MINSAP, called me to his office and said that there was a conflict zone in the Sierra Maestra, where a group had burned the medical post and killed the doctor.  He asked me if I was still disposed to going.33

Zerquera replied that he would go where Machado assigned him.  After a short stint in the Sierra Maestra, Machado called him back to let him know that an important but highly risky international mission awaited him and Zerquera was soon on his way to Zaire.

Once they learned of their destinations, the doctors still had little idea of what was in store for them. Luís Peraza recalled that all he “knew about Africa was the Tarzan movies.”  Impressions of their experiences differed sharply according to country, with Zaire being the gloomiest.  As the curtain was drawing to a close in Zaire, Che called a meeting of Communist Party members and asked who still thought that they could win.  Only 2 military leaders and 2 doctors raised their hands and Che concluded that they might have been showing him personal support.  Che then asked who would be willing to fight until death and all the hands went up.34

Rafaél Zerquera recollected that the Simbas did not seem interested in preparing for a guerrilla struggle.  “It was an experience but it wasn’t pleasant.  If it had been a sacrifice with a reward, I would have felt satisfied.  But it was not rewarding.”35

Justo Piñero had different feelings about the Congo.

The population identified with us.  We bought things from them.  We went to the same places and knew the local people from seeing them on the street.36

By far, the most positive memories were of Guinea-Bissau.  Domingo Díaz knew “many brave Guinean officers and soldiers who would have given their lives to prevent a Cuban from falling into the hands of the enemy.”37 Dr. Milton Hechevarría emphasized that when he got back to Cuba, he “couldn’t forget Guinea-Bissau.”38

Whatever country they went to, Cuban doctors faced a combination of stressful conditions that they were unlikely to have experienced at home: incredibly rough terrain, enemy fire, and unpleasant and dangerous animals.  Diego Lagomasino described arriving in Zaire: “We had to go to the base camp that was on the top of a high ridge.  We left at 6 in the morning and at 7 in the evening we were still climbing.  Never in my life had I seen a ridge that tall.  I thought I was going to die.”39

Looking back on the same walk, Héctor Vera felt like he could not bear the weight of his pistol, ammunition, medical supplies and personal belongings in his knapsack.  He was saved by a Zairean boy who motioned that he would carry it for him.40

In Guinea-Bissau, Domingo Díaz went on strenuous walks for 7 or 8 days, walks with deep holes that could not be seen after it rained. “In this region, we didn’t measure time with a watch,” Díaz recounted.  Instead, time was measured “with distance, which is to say one day’s walk, half a day walk.”  He concluded that the terrain was so rough that “in Cuba there was no possibility of training for this type of event.”41

The land intensified military dangers.  To avoid detection by the enemy, Héctor Vera’s group crossed Lake Tanganika with several Simbas who began lighting matches to see where they were going.  The Cubans in the boat told them not to because there was a gasoline motor that could catch on fire.  However, they replied that there was no other way to see and continued with the matches.  Upon arriving in Zaire, they had not gone 50 meters before they had to fall to the ground as enemy planes flew overhead.42

In Guinea-Bissau, the Portuguese attacked Amado Alfonso Delgado’s group with napalm while 15 helicopters landed to hunt them.  They survived by running from 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.43

The doctors encountered insects, reptiles and other creatures they had never seen before.  In an emergency military undertaking in the Congo, Rodrigo Álvarez saw anthills so tall that they prevented their plane from landing.44 Fleeing from the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau, Amado Alfonso Delgado bumped into an enormous beehive.

I had over 300 stings.  Only 10 are dangerous and can send a person into shock.  But I was under so much tension that my body was producing steroids, which is exactly the treatment used.  None of the stings became inflamed and the other six with me had the same luck.”45

While none of Cuba’s snakes are poisonous, many are in the Congo, where Julián Álvarez thought he ran across them everywhere.46

Waters in Guinea-Bissau were often inhospitable.  Domingo Díaz described walking through a lake for hours with water up to their chests.  “It was full of leeches and they advised me to tie my pants tight and walk with my arms up so they could not get in.  When we got out we were attacked by mosquitoes that bit through my coat.”  Another day, they found that:

The Corubal and Gaba Rivers met where they emptied into the sea.  It was like an arm of the sea where there were sharks, hippopotamuses, and crocodiles.  As we crossed in canoes made from tree trunks they told me to be careful because a man had recently fallen in and never reappeared.47

• A version of this article first appeared in Monthly Review. The author thanks Rebecca Fitz for interview translation and John Kirk, Linda M. Whiteford and Steve Brouwer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of the article.

  1. Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 61.
  2. Ibid, 22.
  3. Peter G. Bourne, Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1986), 255.
  4. Gleijeses, pp. 30, 60, 61.
  5. Bourne, 260; Gleijeses, 80, 85.
  6. Gleijeses, 87.
  7. Gleijeses, 111,114.
  8. Bourne, 261.
  9. Bourne, 260.
  10. Piero Gleijeses, (2006), Risquet, Jorge. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Cited in Helen Yaffe,
  11. Gleijeses, (2002) 161, 163, 170,171.
  12. Ibid, 183.
  13. Ibid, 185.
  14. Hedelberto López Blanch, Historias Secretas de Médicos Cubanos (Centro Cultural de la Torriente Brau: La Habana, Cuba, 2005), 113,114.
  15. Gleijeses, (2002), 187.
  16. Ibid, 190-191.
  17. Ibid, 191, 208.
  18. Ibid, 183-184, Author’s interview with Dr. Juan Antonio Sánchez, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
  19. Two Congos had revolutionary movements.  The “Belgian Congo” was sometimes referred to as Congo Leopoldville from the name of its capital city.  Upon independence in 1960, it took the name Kinshasa, became Zaire in 1971 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997.  The current article refers to it as Zaire.  The “French Congo” was sometimes referred to as Congo Brazzaville from the name of its capital, or the Congo. After independence in 1960 it became the Republic of the Congo, the People’s Republic of the Congo in 1969 and, after 1991 the Republic of the Congo again.  The current article refers to it as the Congo.
  20. Gleijeses, (2002), 71, 73.
  21. Ibid, 89, 188, 208.
  22. López, Historias Secretas, 67, 89.
  23. Ibid, 76-77.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Gleijeses, (2002), 136, 166.
  26. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, Historias Secretas, 101.
  27. Gleijeses, (2002); 199, Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, Historias Secretas, 115.
  28. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, Historias Secretas, 25.
  29. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, Historias Secretas, 60.
  30. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, Historias Secretas, 53.
  31. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, Historias Secretas, 75.
  32. López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, 56-57.
  33. López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 22-23.
  34. Gleijeses, (2002), 154, 200.
  35. López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 36-37.
  36. Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
  37. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 132.
  38. Gleijeses, (2002), 213.
  39. López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, 59-60.
  40. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 43.
  41. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 120.
  42. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 42.
  43. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 144-6.
  44. López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 80.
  45. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 144.
  46. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, Historias Secretas, 90.
  47. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 140.

Remembering Canada’s Military Support for Colonialism in Africa

Now that November 11 and the official “remembering” of our “heroes”, their “bravery” and “greatness” is over, it is a good time to take a deeper, more critical look at Canada’s participation in wars.

While on Remembrance Day we are told to  “thank a soldier for your freedoms” and the commemorations talk about “defending democracy”, the reality of wars’ connections to colonialism, imperialism, and oppression are ignored.

A Global News story about Nova Scotia university students visiting Canadian World War II soldiers’ graves in West Africa highlights the matter. The report ignored that The Gambia, where the Canadians were buried, was a British colony at the time and that Canadian forces legitimated European rule in Africa during the country’s only ‘morally justifiable’ war.

(Nazi expansionism’s threat to British interests, not opposition to fascism or anti-Semitism, led Ottawa to battle but WWII was ultimately justifiable.)

During the Second World War Canadians fought by land, sea and air in colonial Africa. Describing a support mission in 1943 a Hamilton Spectator headline noted: “Canada Supplied 29 Ships and 3000 of Her Sailors for North African Action”. Many Canadian fighter pilots also operated over the continent. “During the Second World War,” notes Canadian African studies scholar Douglas Anglin, “considerable numbers of Canadian airmen served in R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] squadrons in various parts of the continent, particularly North Africa.” More than a half-dozen Canadian pilots defended the important Royal Air Force base at Takoradi, Ghana, and others traveled there to follow the West African Reinforcement Route, which delivered thousands of fighter planes to the Middle East and North African theatre of the war.

After Germany invaded France part of the French government relocated to the south. The Vichy regime continued to control France’s colonies during WWII. In a bid to prod Philippe Pétain’s regime to re-enter the war alongside the Allies, Canadian diplomat Pierre Dupuy visited on three occasions between 1940 and 1941. Describing Dupuy’s mission and the thinking in Ottawa at the time, Robin Gendron notes, “for the Canadian government as for the Allies in general, the colonies had no separate existence outside of France. In practical terms, the colonies were France.” Later in the war Prime Minister Mackenzie King expressed a similar opinion regarding Britain’s colonies. “In December 1942,” Gendron reports, “King informed the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs that colonial policy must remain the responsibility of the colonial powers, and he reiterated this position in late 1944 when the British government asked for Canada’s input on the latest proposals for the postwar settlement of colonial issues.”

Without Canada’s major contribution to WWII Britain and France may not have held their African colonies. And during World War I, which is the origin of Remembrance Day, Canadians helped the British, French and Belgians expand their colonial possessions in Africa. As I detail in Canada and Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation, Canada was modestly involved in two African theatres of WWI.

In the lead-up to the Great War hundreds of Canadians, usually trained at Kingston’s Royal Military College, fought to help Britain (and the Belgian King) conquer various parts of the continent. Canadians led military expeditions, built rail lines and surveyed colonial borders across the continent in the late 1800s and early 1900s. More significantly, four hundred Canadians traveled halfway across the world to beat back anti-colonial resistance in the Sudan in 1884-85 while a decade and a half later thousands more fought in defence of British imperial interests in the southern part of the continent.

If we are going to learn anything from history, Remembrance Day commemorations should include discussion of Canadian military support for European colonialism in Africa and elsewhere. To really understand war and its causes, we must take a look at its victims as well as its victors.

International Conference Against US/NATO Bases Addresses Militarism

For the first time in the history of humanity, the technical means are at hand to eliminate poverty if resources were not diverted to making war. World hunger could be abolished with only a small diversion from military budgets. The only luxuries that so-called middle-class Americans would have to forego would be the Blue Angels air show and drone-bombing wedding parties in the Middle East. Yet, military spending is expanding, and with it global poverty.

On November 16-18, some 300 peace activists representing over 35 countries gathered in Dublin, Ireland for the first International Conference Against US/NATO Military Bases to address this tragic paradox of the technical ability to serve humanity and the political proclivity by the ruling circles in the West to do the opposite. Roger Cole of the Irish peace organization PANA identified the twin threats to humankind of global warming and global war, both driven by accelerating militarization.

Ajamu Baraka of the US-based Black Alliance for Peace highlighted the reactionary role of the US and its allies, which have by far the largest military expenditures in the world. The material basis for the absence of peace and the accelerating proliferation of military bases, in his words, is US imperialism.

Guantánamo was the first of the world network of US foreign military bases, according to keynote speaker Dr. Aleida Guevara from Cuba, daughter of Che. Cuba opposes this violation of national sovereignty. Today the US possesses some 1000 foreign military bases with troops stationed in over 170 countries.

Australian Annette Brownlie of IPAN warned of a new Cold War. The recent US National Security Strategy document, focusing on “great power confrontation,” signals open preparations for direct military confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia and China.

David Webb of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK explained that the US is the only nation with nuclear weapons based outside its soil. US policy is to develop “usable” nuclear weapons in an enhanced first-strike capacity. Missile defense, he reproved, is the shield for the sword of nuclear weapons. The purpose of missile defense is to protect the aggressor against the inevitable retaliation after a first nuclear strike.

Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance reported that the recent US midterm elections brought in more Congressional representatives with military or security state backgrounds. The duopoly of the two US “war parties” is united in supporting an accelerated arms race. Well over half of the US government’s discretionary budget now goes to the military.

Unlike so much liberal and progressive political discourse in the US, which is obsessed with the personality of President Trump, the international perspective of this conference penetrated that distracting fog and concentrated on the continuity of US militarism regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

The session on the environmental and health impacts featured testimony on the toxic effects of military bases in Okinawa, Czech Republic, and Turkey. The US Department of Defense is the world’s largest polluter.

National Coordinator of the Irish Trade Union Federation and Secretary of the People’s Movement, Frank Keoghan, described the transformation of the European Union (EU) into a war project with the recent rush to create a single EU army. Ilda Figueiredo from the Portuguese Council for Peace and Cooperation and another activist from France warned that the drive for an EU army would transform all national military bases into NATO bases and would in effect allow “nuclear bomb sharing.”

Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report chaired the Africa session. South African Chris Matlhako and Kenyan Ann Atambo discussed the dependency of African states on foreign aid, which is used as a tool to facilitate the occupation of Africa by foreign militaries.

Paul Pumphrey of Friends of the Congo described the development of US strategy in Africa, which has used African proxies to allow domination and extraction of valuable resources such as coltan from the Congo. Now the strategy also includes direct occupation by the US military. George W. Bush established AFRICOM in 2008 with just a single acknowledged US military base on the continent, followed by an explosion to some 50 bases and a military presence in practically every African nation under Obama.

The session on Latin America and the Caribbean outlined the immediate threat of military intervention in Venezuela, caught in the crosshairs of US imperialism. Veteran Cuban peace activist Silvio Platero of MOVPAZ condemned the continuing US blockade of Cuba and the colonial status of Puerto Rico. Speakers from Colombia (now a NATO partner), Argentina, and Brazil reported that their right-wing governments are cooperating militarily with the US.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire from Ireland made an impassioned plea for all-out support of WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange, “our hero of truth,” lest he die in a US prison.

The conference concluded on a high note of unity among the international peace forces. Conference coordinator Bahman Azad of the World Peace Council closed with a call to first educate and then mobilize.

Actions are being planned in Washington, D.C., around the 70th anniversary of NATO on April 4th. Coincidentally that is the date of the assassination of Martin Luther King and of his famous speech a year before when he presciently admonished, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.”

China: A New Philosophy of Economics

China’s economic philosophy is a far cry from that of the west.

The west consistently seeks to undermine the interests of their partners, be it for trade or political agreements; be it partners from the west, their smaller and weaker brothers; or from the east; or from the south, there is always an element of exploitation, of “one-upmanship”, of outdoing a partner, of domination. Equality and fairness are unknown by the west. Or, when the concept was once known, at least by some countries and some people, it has been erased by indoctrinated neoliberal thinking – egocentricity, “me first”, and the sheer, all-permeating doctrine of “maximizing profits”; short-term thinking, instant gratification or more extreme, making a killing today for a gamble or deal that takes place tomorrow. Futures trading – the epitome of manipulating economic values. Only in the capitalist world.

This has become a key feature of western commerce and trading. It’s manipulation and exploitation over ethics; it’s Profits Über Alles! Doesn’t it sound like fascism? Well it is. And if the partner doesn’t fall for the ruse, coercion becomes the name of the game, and if that doesn’t work the western military move in with bombs and tanks, seeking regime change, destroying the very country the west wants to dominate. That’s western brutal economics – full hegemony. No sharing.

China’s approach is quite different. It’s one of sharing, of participating, of mutual benefits. China invests trillions of dollars equivalent in developing countries – Asia, especially India and now also Pakistan, Africa, South America, largely for infrastructure projects, as well as mining of natural resources. Unlike the gains from western investments, the benefits of China’s investments are shared. China’s investment and mining concessions are not coerced, but fairly negotiated. China’s investment relationship with a partner country remains peaceful and is not ‘invasive’ and abusive, as are most of those of the west which uses threats and guns to get what they want.

Of course, the west complains about Chinese investments, lying how abusive they are, when in reality the west is upset about Chinese competition in Africa and South America, continents that are still considered part of the western domain, as they were colonized for about thousand years by western powers and empires, and as of today, African and Latin-American countries are neo-colonized, no longer (for now) with brute military force, but with even more ferocious financial strangulation, through sanctions, boycotts and embargos; all highly illegal by any international standards. But there aren’t any international laws that are upheld. International courts and judges are coerced to obey Washington’s dictates, or else… literally “or else”; and these are serious threats.

Take the case of West and Central Africa, former French colonies. The French West African zone includes eight countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo; and the French Central African area comprises six countries – Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. All 14 countries have a common currency, the CFA franc (CFA = Communauté financière africaine – African Financial Community).

They are two separate currencies, though always at parity and therefore interchangeable. The Western and Central African monetary union have separate central banks, the Banque Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, BCEAO, headquartered in Dakar, Senegal; and the Banque des États de l’Afrique Centrale, BEAC, in Yaoundé, Cameroun. Both currencies are guaranteed by the French treasury. This means, in fact, that the economy of these 14 countries not only depends on France, but setting the value of the currency (at present one € = 655 CFA francs) is entirely the prerogative of the Banque de France (French Central Bank). This ultra-complicated setup between the two groups of former and new French colonies is not only a matter of French accounting, but foremost a means to confuse and distract the mostly innocent observer from a flagrant abusive reality.

With the French control over the West and Central African currencies, the foreign trading capacity of these countries is reduced to what France will allow. France has a de facto monopoly on these countries’ production. Should France stop buying their “former-new” colonies’ goods, the countries go broke, as they have been unable to develop alternative markets under the French yoke. Thus, they are always at the mercy of France, the IMF, World Bank and the African Development Bank. From labor slaves up to the early 1960s, they have become debt slaves of the neoliberal age.

In addition, to back this French Treasury guarantee, 85% of the countries’ foreign exchange reserves are blocked by the French Central Bank and may only be used by the respective counties against specific permission and as a loan. Imagine! The “former” French colonies have to borrow their own money from the French Central Bank. Similar debt enslaving is going on in former British and Portuguese colonies, though, none of them is as abjectly abusive as are the French.

Big wonder that Chinese investors are highly welcome in Africa. And knowing western manipulating and deranged mindsets, no wonder that China is demonized by the west as exploiting Africa to the bones, when exactly the contrary is the case. But almighty western lie-propaganda media has the brainwashed western populace believe China is stealing African natural resources. Chinese fairness is indeed tough competition against the usual western trickery and deceit.

In Africa, China is not only focusing on buying and trading natural resources, but on training and using local African brainpower to convert Africa from a western slave into an equal partner. For example, to boost African autonomy, China is using an approach, Gaddafi intended to apply – entering the wireless phone system, conquering some of the market with efficient batteries, and providing cheaper and more efficient services than the west, hence directly competing with the western exploited African telephone market. Chinese phones also come with their own browsers, so that internet may eventually be accessed in the remotest places of Africa, providing a top tool for education. Challenging the EU and US dominated multi-billion-dollar market, is just one of the reasons Gaddafi was miserably murdered by French-led NATO forces. Of course, China’s presence is a bit more difficult to kick than was Gaddafi’s.

This is just one more signal that China is in Africa – and Asia and Latin America – not just for the legendary American Quick Buck, but for genuine investments in long-term economic development which involves developing transportation networks, efficient and independent financial systems which may escape the western SWIFT and FED / Wall Street banking system through which US sanctions are imposed. This may involve the creation of government controlled blockchain currencies – see also Venezuela’s hydrocarbon-backed Petro – and linking African currencies to the Yuan and the eastern SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) monetary system, freeing Africa from the dollar hegemony. With the help of China and Russia, Africa may, in fact, become the forerunner of crypto-currencies and, in the case of west-and central Africa, the 14 countries would be able to gain financial autonomy, and to the chagrin of the French Central Bank, manage their own financial resources, breaking loose from under the little-talked about French yoke. It is quite conceivable that with Chinese development assistance Africa will become an important trading partner for the east, leaving western exploiting and abusing business and banking magnates behind in the dust.

The Overseas Private Investment Cooperation (OPIC), a US private lending as well as investment guarantee agency, is upset about US investors losing out to Chinese and wants US corporations to compete more aggressively which is precisely what Africa rejects, America’s violent bombing approach to impose her trade and concession rules with the coercing help of the IMF and the World Bank. Africa is seeking – finally – sovereignty, deciding over her own financial and political destiny. This includes choosing investors and trading partners of their liking.

Many African and South American countries prefer China’s yuan-investments, rather than Washington’s US-dollar investments. It’s ‘softer’ money coming from the Chinese. For China it’s also a way of diverting the world from the US-dollar, providing incentives for countries to divest their dollar reserves into yuan reserves. That is already happening at accelerating speed.

China’s outlook at home and abroad is nothing less than spectacular. On the home front, they are building cutting-edge technology transport infrastructure, such as high-speed railways, for example, connecting Shanghai and Hangzhou, cutting travel time from one and a half hour in half. China’s high-speed bullet train connects for the first time Hong Kong with the mainland, cutting travel time Hong Kong to Beijing from 24 hours to 9 hours.

In October 2018, after nine years construction, President Xi Jinping opened the world’s longest sea crossing bridge, linking Hong Kong to Macau and the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai. The bridge is 55 km long, about 20 times the length of San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. In urban development, existing and new multi-million people cities are planned, expanded and stamped out of the ground in less than a generation.

China has just built a US$ 2.1 billion AI (Artificial Intelligence) industrial park, and is not sleeping either on the environmental protection and development front, investing billions in research and development of alternative clean energies, especially solar power and its storage potential, next generation beyond lithium batteries, ranging from lithium solid state to electrolyte materials to graphene batteries and eventually to copper foam substrate. And that’s not the end of the line. Each battery technology offers increased capacity, safety and charging and discharging speed.

On the domestic and international front, the Belt and Road (B and R) Initiative – the New Silk Road – is China’s President Xi’s phenomenal geo-economic initiative to connect the world from China with several transport routes and develop in a first step Western China, Eastern Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe – all the way to the frontiers of western Europe. This massive economic development program includes industrial parks, trade and cultural interchanges, research and development through existing universities and new science and learning centers. Maritime routes are also foreseen entering Africa through Kenya and Southern Europe and the Middle East via the Greek port of Piraeus and Iran. A southern route is also planned to enter the southern cone of Latin America.

The endeavor is so huge, it has recently been inscribed into the Chinese Constitution. It will mobilize in the coming decades and possibly century trillions of yuan and dollar-equivalent of investments, mostly from China, Russia, the other SCO countries, as well as European partners, and foremost the Beijing-based AIIB (Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank) which has already 70 member countries, among them Australia, Canada, Western European nations and close to 20 prospective new countries; but not the United States of America.

This giant project, is, of course, not without challenges. While the need for proof of “credit worthiness” by being tied to the IMF and World Bank of the eighties and nineties had since long faded into oblivion, China is still bound to the IMF and WB. Why?  In my opinion it proves two things, The People’s Bank of China – the Chinese Central Bank – is still controlled by the FED and BIS (Bank for International Settlement, alias, central bank of all central banks), and a strong Fifth Column that doesn’t yield an inch of their power. The Chinese leadership could implement the necessary changes towards full financial sovereignty but, why is that not happening? Western threats and their secret services have become ever more sophisticated abduction and “neutralizing” machines over the past 70 years.

The next question is what’s the Chinese lending limit to countries who have already or will subscribe to the Belt and Road Initiative to help them repay western debt and integrate into the new eastern economic model and monetary system? The question is relevant, because China’s money supply is based on China’s economic output; unlike western currencies which are purely fiat money (hot air).

Also, how will ownership of foreign assets; i.e., infrastructure funded and perhaps built, be dealt with? Will they become Chinese property, increasing China’s capital base and flow of money? Or would they be negotiated as long-term concessions, after which a country may repay to acquire sovereign ownership, or transfer part or all of the assets to China as a shareholder. These are relevant considerations, especially with regard to the huge B&R investments foreseen in the coming years. These decisions should be made autonomously by Chinese leadership, totally outside the influence of western monetary czars, like IMF and WB.

Another issue which is steadily and increasingly cropping up in the west, of course, to demonize China and discourage “western civilized” (sic) countries to associate themselves with socialist China is China’s concept of “Social Credits”. It is largely based on what the west calls a dictatorial, freedom-robbing surveillance state with cameras and face-recognition everywhere. Of course, totally ignoring the western own Orwellian Big Brother Surveillance and lie apparatus which calls itself democracy, and, in fact, is a democracy for then the elite of the plutocrats, gradually and by heavy propaganda brainwashing converting what’s left of ‘democracy’ into outright fascism, we, in the west, are almost there. And this, to the detriment of the “Silent Lambs” as per Rainer Mausfeld’s latest book, in German, “Why are Lambs Silent” (German Westend-Verlag). Yes, that’s what we have become: “Silent Lambs”.

It is too easy to demonize China for attempting to create a more harmonious, cohesive and peaceful society. Granted, this surveillance in China as in the west, demolishes to a large extent individualism, individual thinking, thereby limiting human creativeness and freedom. This is a topic which the Chinese socialist government, independent of western critique, may have to address soon to keep precisely one of the key principles of Chinese society alive – ‘social cohesiveness’ and a sense of equality and freedom.

What is the “Social Credit” system? It is a digital footprint of everything the Chinese do, as private citizens, as corporate managers in production as well as banking, workers, food sellers, in order to basically create an ambiance of full transparency (that’s the goal – far from having been reached), so as to establish citizens’ and corporations’ “creditworthiness”, in financial terms, but also assessing crime elements, political inclinations, radicalism, to prevent potential terror acts (interestingly, in the case of most western terror acts, officials say the ‘terrorists’ were known to the police which simply leaves you to conclude that they acted in connivance with the forces of order); and to enhance food safety in restaurants and by other food sellers.

In other words, the aim is to establish corporate and individual “score cards” which will work as a rewards and punishment system, a “carrot and stick” approach. Depending on the crime or deviation from the rule, you may be reprimanded and get ‘debits’ which you may wipe out by changing your behavior. Living under the spell of debits may limit, for example, your access to comfortable or speedy travel, better and speedier trains, air tickets, certain cultural events and more.

Yes, the idea of creating a stable domestic society has its drawbacks – surveillance – demolition of much of individualism, creativity, by implanting conformity. The government’s axiom is “we want a society where people don’t desire to break the rules, but the earliest stage is that they are afraid to break the rules.”

In the end, the question is, will the “Social Credits” approach to societal living, meaning a total surveillance state with every data recorded into a network of total control, be beneficial or detrimental for the Chinese goal to push ahead with her extraordinary and mostly egalitarian economic development approach, transport and industrial infrastructure, scientific research and cultural exchange – called Belt and Road, alias the New Silk Road? Only the future will tell; but the Chinese are not alone. They have solid partners in the SCO and long-term economic development endeavors never work in linear values, but with the unknown of dynamics to which humans are uniquely adapted to adjust.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

The Anti-War Autumn Is Here

Last weekend, we participated in the Women’s March on the Pentagon, a successful action designed to build on the women-led movement against militarism and imperialism. Cindy Sheehan, who called for the march, stated explicitly that this was not a get out the vote event, as the last Women’s March was, and condemned both major parties for their support of war and militarism. She explained that war is a women’s issue because of the rape, violence, displacement and murder of women in countries that are occupied by military forces.

We have been referring to this fall as the Antiwar Autumn as there have been and will be many activities opposing war. This is a critical time to rebuild the peace movement because US foreign policy is headed in a dangerous direction by antagonizing the great powers, Russia and China, as well as continuing military and economic war in the Middle East and Latin America and increased military presence in Africa and Asia. At some point the US and its allies may cross the line and incite a nuclear or world war. We must work to prevent that and guide the US toward a foreign policy grounded in respect for international law and the self-determination of peoples and nations.

Largest NATO Military Exercise Since End of Cold War Begins

As relations between the United States and Russia further deteriorate, the US and allies from 28 other countries begin a month-long military exercise near the Russian border, “Trident Juncture.” Billed as a test of NATO countries’ ability to respond rapidly, this exercise includes troops from Finland and Sweden, which are not NATO members. It is the largest mobilization of NATO troops since the end of the Cold War.

The location of the exercise is designed to send a message to both Russia and China. NATO Naval ships will enter the Baltic Sea, where Russian military planes fly, and be placed off the coast of Norway where they could cut off the transportation of goods between Russia and China and the European Union though the Arctic, called the Northern Passage.

Further antagonism of Russia exists in the push to expand NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia, which are both on the Russian border. The US is already conducting joint military exercises with the Ukrainian military and has stated support for adding Ukraine and Georgia to NATO despite concerns raised by NATO members France and Germany that this would be too provocative and might trigger a response from Russia. The US expanded NATO to Colombia, which borders Venezuela.

The new book, “The Russians are Coming Again,” chronicles the long history of US antagonism toward Russia. In his review of the book, Ron Ridenour points out that Russia has more to fear from the US than the US does from Russia and that historical amnesia results in successful demonization of Russia in the media. The authors write:

Russia helps to reaffirm US national identity and visions of exceptionalism and righteousness at a time of escalating domestic crises, and helps rationalize the expansion of NATO and maintenance of huge military budgets. The result is that we are again threatened with the outbreak of a Third World War, with the United States again bearing considerable responsibility.

Sarah Lazare points out the dangerous “Russiagate” rhetoric of the Democrats that is being used to justify their support for massive increases in military spending. Funds are included in the new budget to bolster militarization in countries along the Russian border and for more nuclear weapons. Trump’s support for withdrawal from the intermediate-range nuclear treaty with Russia could spark a new nuclear arms race.

Anniversary of AFRICOM and the Murder of Gaddafi

October marks the tenth anniversary of AFRICOM (the US Africa Command) and the seventh anniversary of the murder of Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. These are both manifestations of US imperialism. African countries are rich in resources that the United States seeks to control and to prevent China from having access to them.

Netfa Freeman, of Black Alliance for Peace, calls AFRICOM the modern colonization of Africa. Countries that sign military agreements with the US give up sovereignty over their land where the bases are located. Freeman also explains that AFRICOM exists to prevent the existence of “any independent African influence or force,” which is why Gaddafi was killed and why the US supported coups in Mali and Burkina Faso in recent years.

Black Alliance for Peace has a petition calling on the Congressional Black Caucus to investigate AFRICOM and for the closure of US bases in Africa. CLICK HERE TO SIGN IT.

We interviewed Ajamu Baraka, the national organizer for Black Alliance for Peace, about AFRICOM and why it is critical to understand and oppose US imperialism if we are to achieve peace on the Clearing the FOG podcast this week.

Protest the War Machine

There were multiple protests against militarism this week. In addition to the Women’s March on the Pentagon, seven people were arrested protesting the drone program at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The Stop Banking the Bomb campaign had actions outside PNC banks in three cities to call attention to the hundreds of millions of dollars they provide in loans for corporations that make weapons. And, hundreds of students protested Henry Kissinger’s speaking event at New York University.

There are upcoming opportunities to protest and to build the anti-war, anti-imperialist movement.

November 3 – Black is Back is holding a march to the White House to protest wars in Africa.

November 9 – 11Full weekend of events in Washington, DC and Philadelphia. The coalition that opposed the military parade is organizing a full weekend of events including veterans occupying the VA, concerts in McPherson Square, a Peace Congress to End US Wars at Home and Abroad, a veteran and military family-led march to reclaim Armistice Day and a vigil in Philadelphia where Joe Biden will give former president Bush an award.

November 16 to 18SOA Watch Border Encuentro in Nogales, Arizona/Sonora.

November 16 to 18No US NATO Bases conference in Dublin, Ireland.

November 17 – “Two Minutes to Midnight” – Conference to prevent nuclear war in Maryland.

We will participate in the No US NATO Bases conference in Ireland. Popular Resistance is a member of the No US Foreign Military Bases coalition. After that, we will head to the Netherlands to deliver a letter to the International Criminal Court calling for a full investigation of Israeli war crimes. Please sign the letter as an individual or organization. CLICK HERE TO SIGN.

On April 4, 2019, NATO will hold its 70th anniversary meeting in Washington, DC. Organizations are starting now to call for and plan actions. Here are calls to protest NATO by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and World Beyond War, which Popular Resistance has endorsed. We will keep you updated as plans unfold.

The anti-war movement is growing at a critical time. We can reverse this path towards war and build a peace economy and a peace culture. To do that, we must recognize the many connections between militarization at home and abroad and myriad aspects of our lives from oppression of Indigenous Peoples to police violence to militarization of children to climate change and ecological destruction to capitalism, colonization and austerity. We are committed to building a movement of movements to create transformative change.

As Dictator Kagame Unmasked, it is Time to Reveal Canadian Connection

Canada’s paper of record pulled another layer off the rotting onion of propaganda obscuring the Rwandan tragedy. But, the Globe and Mail has so far remained unwilling to challenge prominent Canadians who’ve crafted the fairy tale serving Africa’s most ruthless dictator.

Two weeks ago a front-page Globe article added to an abundance of evidence suggesting Paul Kagame’s RPF shot down the plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana, which sparked the mass killings of spring 1994. “New information supports claims Kagame forces were involved in assassination that sparked Rwandan genocide”, noted the headline. The Globe all but confirmed that the surface-to-air missiles used to assassinate the Rwandan and Burundian Hutu presidents came from Uganda, which backed the RPF’s bid to conquer its smaller neighbour. (A few thousand exiled Tutsi Ugandan troops, including the deputy minister of defence, “deserted” to invade Rwanda in 1990.) The new revelations strengthen those who argue that responsibility for the mass killings in spring 1994 largely rests with the Ugandan/RPF aggressors and their US/British/Canadian backers.

Despite publishing multiple stories over the past two years questioning the dominant narrative, the Globe has largely ignored the Canadians that shaped this Kagame-friendly storyline. I’ve written a number of articles detailing Roméo Dallaire’s important role in this sordid affair, but another widely regarded Canadian has offered significant ideological support to Kagame’s crimes in Rwanda and the Congo.

As Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF in the late 1990s Stephen Lewis was appointed to a Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and the Surrounding Events. Reportedly instigated by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and partly funded by Canada, the Organization of African Unity’s 2000 report, “The Preventable Genocide”, was largely written by Lewis recruit Gerald Caplan, who was dubbed Lewis’ “close friend and alter ego of nearly 50 years.”

While paying lip service to the complex interplay of ethnic, class and regional politics, as well as international pressures, that spurred the “Rwandan Genocide”, the 300-page report is premised on the unsubstantiated claim there was a high level plan by the Hutu government to kill all Tutsi. It ignores the overwhelming logic and evidence pointing to the RPF as the culprit in shooting down the plane carrying President Habyarimana and much of the army high command, which sparked the mass killings of spring 1994.

The report also rationalizes Rwanda’s repeated invasions of the Congo, including a 1,500 km march to topple the Mobutu regime in Kinshasa and subsequent re-invasion after the government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. That led to millions of deaths during an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003.

In a Democracy Now interview concerning the 2000 Eminent Personalities report Lewis mentioned “evidence of major human rights violations on the part of the present [Kagame] government of Rwanda, particularly post-genocide in the Kivus and in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But, he immediately justified the slaughter, which surpassed Rwanda’s 1994 casualty toll. “Now, let me say that the [Eminent Personalities] panel understands that until Rwanda’s borders are secure, there will always be these depredations. And another terrible failure of the international community was the failure to disarm the refugee camps in the then-Zaire, because it was an invitation to the génocidaires to continue to attack Rwanda from the base within the now- Congo. So we know that has to be resolved. That’s still what’s plaguing the whole Great Lakes region.”

An alternative explanation of “what’s plaguing the whole Great Lakes region” is US/UK/Canada backed Ugandan/RPF belligerence, which began with their invasion of Rwanda in 1990 and continued with their 1996, 1998 and subsequent invasions of the Congo. “An unprecedented 600-page investigation by the UN high commissioner for human rights”, reported a 2010 Guardian story, found Rwanda responsible for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide” in the Congo.

Fifteen years after the mass killing in Rwanda in 1994 Lewis was still repeating Kagame’s rationale for unleashing mayhem in the Congo. In 2009 he told a Washington D.C. audience that “just yesterday morning up to two thousand Rwandan troops crossed into the Eastern Region of the Congo to hunt down, it is said, the Hutu génocidaires.”

A year earlier Lewis blamed Rwandan Hutu militias for the violence in Eastern Congo. “What’s happening in eastern Congo is the continuation of the genocide in Rwanda … The Hutu militias that sought refuge in Congo in 1994, attracted by its wealth, are perpetrating rape, mutilation, cannibalism with impunity from world opinion.”

In 2009 the Rwanda News Agency described Lewis as “a very close friend to President Paul Kagame.” And for good reason. Lewis’ has sought to muzzle any questioning of the “RPF and U.S.-U.K.-Canadian party line” on the tragedy of 1994. In 2014 he signed an open letter condemning the BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story. The 1,266 word public letter refers to the BBC’s “genocide denial”, “genocide deniers” or “deniers” at least 13 times. Notwithstanding Lewis and his co-signers’ smears, which gave Kagame cover to ban the BBC’s Kinyarwanda station, Rwanda the Untold Story includes interviews with a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a former high-ranking member of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda and a number of former Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) associates of Kagame. In “The Kagame-Power Lobby’s Dishonest Attack on the BBC 2’s Documentary on Rwanda”, Edward S. Herman and David Peterson write:

[Lewis, Gerald Caplan, Romeo Dallaire et al.’s] cry of the immorality of ‘genocide denial’ provides a dishonest cover for Paul Kagame’s crimes in 1994 and for his even larger crimes in Zaire-DRC [Congo]. … [The letter signees are] apologists for Kagame Power, who now and in years past have served as intellectual enforcers of an RPF and U.S.-U.K.-Canadian party line.

Recipient of 37 honorary degrees from Canadian universities, Lewis has been dubbed a “spokesperson for Africa” and “one of the greatest Canadians ever”. On Africa no Canadian is more revered than Lewis. While he’s widely viewed as a champion of the continent, Lewis has backed Africa’s most bloodstained ruler.

It is now time for the Globe and Mail to peel back another layer of the rotting onion of propaganda and investigate Canadian connections to crimes against humanity in Rwanda, Congo and the wider Great Lakes region of Africa.

Outrage at Prince William’s “Racist” Conservation Video

A video about Prince William’s recent conservation trip to Africa has been criticised for only including non-Africans’ perspectives on conservation and promoting a “white saviour” stereotype.


Prince William’s video has been accused of perpetuating “white saviour” stereotypes. © Kensington Palace

The video was released on Twitter on October 11, 2018 by Kensington Palace.

Dr. Mordecai Ogada, Kenyan ecologist and author of The Big Conservation Lie, said today:

This is a diagram of the new British Colonial paradigm. The kingdom of “conservation”. This is the only arena where the heir to the Throne can go around touring the colonies, and telling his subjects how they should be taking care of their own resources.

HRH Prince William should not pontificate to us about wildlife trade while the UK is the world’s number one trader in ivory. Kenya banned ivory trade a full forty years before the UK. The Duke is most welcome to come visit as a tourist, but he should kindly let us conserve what is ours in the way that suits us best.

Only one black person is shown speaking to camera in the film. While all the other contributors share their expertise on conservation, her contribution in the video relates only to the Prince’s leadership abilities.

A response to the video posted by Kensington Palace, click here for original thread.

The people interviewed in the video are:

Charlie Mayhew, CEO of Tusk, who comments on tackling the illegal wildlife trade and later also on Tusk’s work in Africa.

Dr Naomi Doak, Head of Conservation Programmes at The Royal Foundation, who discusses engaging the private sector in conservation efforts and later on how important the Prince’s contribution is to the people he met on his visit.

Dr Antony Lynam, Regional Training Director at SMART for the Wildlife Conservation Society, who talks about the Prince’s support for the use of SMART technology for conservation.

Finally, Patricia Kayaga, the only black interviewee featured in the video, is a student at the College of African Wildlife Management, which the Prince visited on his tour.
The sea of white faces in Prince William’s “financial task force for United for Wildlife” has also been criticized. © Kensington Palace

Charles Nsonkali, a representative of a Baka indigenous community organization in Cameroon, earlier released an open letter to Prince William and Prince Harry which said: “Conservationists seem to think that outsiders are the only people who want to look after nature and can do it effectively but this makes no sense to me.”

Survival International has been highlighting the covert racism endemic in big conservation in an intensive social media campaign over several weeks in the run up to the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, taking place 11th-12th October in London. Its video comparing conservation to colonialism was released this week.

Even in “Revolutionary Countries” Mass Media is Still in the Hands of the Right

How could a country win her fight against Western imperialism?  How could it become truly independent, if its people are fully conditioned, through the mass media and education, by the North American and European doctrines and world view?

Wherever I work and struggle in this world, I am always amazed, even shocked, by how powerful the Western tools of indoctrination are, how effective its propaganda is.

Even in such countries like Vietnam, where one would think, Communism won at a tremendous cost of millions of lives, people are now increasingly indoctrinated by the West. They are apathetic and progressively ignorant about the world. Yes, of course, officially the country is in solidarity with so many struggling and oppressed parts of the world, but ask common people on the streets of Hanoi what they know about the horrific things that are being done by multi-nationals in Africa or even in Indonesia; the great majority would say that they know close to nothing. And if you press harder, chances are that you will be told that they do not really care. It is because the Western official narrative has already infiltrated, entered everything here, from social media to NGOs. It also began influencing arts, television and education.

Ideological war is on, and it is real. It is tough, ruthless and often more destructive than a war fought by conventional weapons.

The victims of this war are human brains, human minds, culture, and sometimes entire political systems.

Your country loses an ‘ideological battle’, then another one, and soon you can find yourself living in a system which is totally foreign to you and to your people; to their history, traditions and desires.

*****

I am writing this essay in the city of Puebla, in Mexico. You know, the people of Mexico just recently voted, and overwhelmingly, they elected the left-wing Presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

For three weeks I travelled all around the country. I spoke to hundreds of people. Most of them were hopeful; most of them were instinctively longing for socialism. Usually, they do not call it ‘socialism’, because for decades they were told not to use this word in any positive context, but what they describe when they dream, is clearly a form of socialism, nevertheless.

But how can they define the position of their country in the world, or even their own position inside their country? You turn on the television set, and all you see is CNN in Spanish (‘Mexican edition’), or the extreme right-wing FOX, or some corporate-owned local TV station. Almost all international news in Mexican newspapers is taken from the Western press agencies.

Can socialism be built like this, based on the Western indoctrination, disinformation system?

Telesur is not even available on most of the cable television systems, so how?

*****

Again, this is really nothing new. For instance, since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, the mainstream media outlets were firmly in the hands of the right-wing individuals, and big business. Not all, but definitely most of them.

It used to be truly grotesque, and it still is: while most of the journalists supported Chavez, and later Maduro, they were too scared to write anything positive about the government, fearing that they would lose their jobs.

The insults (and lies) they were paid to regurgitate against the revolutionary system, would easily land them in jail in the United States and definitely in the UK – a country with draconic defamation laws. In Venezuela, most of them were allowed to write – to write garbage and outright lies. The more uncensored the hostile outburst were, the more ‘unfree’ the West called the Venezuelan media environment. The usual stuff, the usual logic of the propaganda: black is white, and cats are rats. Repeat it thousand times, and millions will believe it.

Revolutionary Bolivia is facing the same problems, and so was Ecuador during the previous, socialist administration (now, there, it is ‘business as usual’, with the Western media openly operating in the country, almost unopposed).

Brazil is living through the aftermath of something that could be loosely described as a ‘constitutional coup’ perpetrated by the right-wing establishment, against Dilma and her highly successful PT (socialist) government. The coup was only possible, because the mass media of Brazil, fully backed and fueled from abroad, consistently smeared all the great achievements of the left-of-center administration, putting individuals under a microscope, while describing as ‘corruption’ things that would be absolutely acceptable in Europe or the United States, not to speak about the right-wing countries all over the Latin America.

The smear campaign against Cristina in Argentina, is another example of the right-wing madness which pays.

But how would people know all this, if almost all sources of information are coming exclusively from one – right-wing – camp?

They feel something is happening – they feel it intuitively – but they find it extremely difficult to formulate what they feel precisely.

I witness this all-over Latin America, all over Africa, Asia Pacific, India and the Middle East.

It is a confusion, an unhealthy confusion, manufactured somewhere else, somewhere far away.

*****

Let’s face it: this is a truly bizarre situation.

The Western public is ‘discovering’ new and powerful media outlets, which are coming from the non-Western countries. Many people in London or New York are now hooked on RT, CGTN, Press TV, or Telesur. Masses are reading magazines like NEO (New Eastern Outlook, edited in Russia), or Countercurrents (India).

But in those countries that are clearly victims of the Western interventions and brutal neo-colonialist policies, almost all information sources available come from the West – from the very centers of the present world order.

*****

What can be done?

Lately there was plenty of ‘poor us’, or ‘they are after all of us’ statements in the alternative press, at least in the West.

Of course, they are!

Well, Comrades, war is war, even an ideological one!

What did you expect? That after we start attacking the system that has been literally raping the planet for several centuries the system would quietly die, or go away? That is not realistic.

The news that is actually lately coming our way is very good:

Many powerful media outlets that are opposed to the official Western narrative are already in place, or emerging.

In the non-Western world, there are above mentioned RT, PressTV, CGTN, Al-Mayadeen, Telesur. There is New Eastern Outlook (NEO), Sputnik, TASS, Countercurrents, and hopefully soon, Prensa Latina will rejuvenate itself.

They are all on air, already running, fully functional and counting on some of the best writers and thinkers on this Planet, as their contributors.

So, what is next?

We have to, and this is absolutely essential, reach people in the non-Western countries.

Some new media, even if it is totally anti-imperialist and in support of the oppressed world, is still using ‘old methods’, like interviewing almost exclusively people with either British or US accents, as if this would be giving them some enhanced credibility.

Also, there is too much accent on covering the West, and too little on covering what is happening in Africa, Latin America, Asia or the Middle East.

The people of Africa have had enough of Europeans and North Americans telling them ‘what they really are’, and what they should do. They have plenty to say about their own lives and their own countries. The same goes for the Asians.

In order to reach Africans, we have to talk to the African thinkers, revolutionaries, and, of course, to their common people; to talk to them “on the record”, not to listen to ourselves preaching to them.

Our media outlets should be different – truly global but above all, ‘internationalist’.

Chinese CGTN has adopted precisely this philosophy, and it works wonders. People are watching – all over Africa and all over Asia. RT did a tremendous job through their Spanish language broadcast. NEO’s greatest strength is in its in-depth coverage of Asia – the biggest continent on Earth.

Above all, we have to reach as many people in the entire occupied and oppressed world. If some big television stations with substantial budgets (like RT or CGTV) can afford to advertise, they should. And if they cannot convince the cable or satellite providers in Latin America, Asia or Africa to carry their broadcasts, they should concentrate on convincing millions of individuals to watch their programs online, through the internet, as I am doing right now, in Mexico.

*****

Things can be turned around, when there is dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism.

Russia, China and Iran are great examples. Soviet media during Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras was totally humiliated and forced into submission. For several dark years, all that the West was saying and writing was expected to be considered as pure gold by millions in both Russia and the former Soviet republics. But the West did not come to Russia with an olive branch. Dependency on the Western narrative was most likely one of the main reasons why the Soviet Union, and then Russia itself, virtually collapsed. Western propaganda was aiming at bringing the Russian people to their knees. It was clearly a vehicle of hostility and destruction.

But Russia soon regrouped. It got back to its feet. And its media has completely and brilliantly reinvented itself. Now, it is strong, brave and intellectually superb.

China also went through a period when ‘everyone educated’ was expected to parrot Western dogmas. Chinese universities and media outlets got infiltrated from abroad. Hostility towards Communism was steadily injected into Chinese students who were graduating from the European and North American universities. The main goal of the West has always been to derail the Chinese socialist system, and to make China subservient to the West. In the end, it did not happen. China quickly identified the subversion, and since then, has been taking appropriate measures. Its media, too, reformed. The once out-of-date CCTV changed into a sleek, attractive, informative one, a clearly left-wing CGTN. Its newspapers have improved as well.

Now Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan and Iranian international (and internationalist) media outlets are on the correct track. They are broadcasting in various languages, offering non-Western, anti-imperialist alternatives. The distribution of the messages is, however, still limping behind the quality of the news bulletins.

I am working all over the world, often in such ‘corners of the planet’ where hardly any journalist goes. And this is my friendly ‘warning’: our interpretation of events, our worldview, our coverage of the world events in not reaching many of the places where such coverage is desperately needed.

Not everywhere, but often: the poorer the country, the more it is at the mercy of Western propaganda.

It is our obligation, our internationalist duty, to reach the people who are suffering the most.

We are slowly but surely winning the ideological war. Now let us reach out to our brothers and sisters in the poorest, most devastated, as well as the most indoctrinated parts of the world. If we don’t, then what are we fighting for? Therefore, we will.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook