Cuban Doctors in Guinea-Bissau

Hope Meets Reality in Africa

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.”

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).

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.

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.

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.

Cuba also played minor roles in Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and possibly other countries.

However, this article concentrates on Zaire, the Congo, and Guinea-Bissau, which were, by far, its major arenas.

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.

For the full report click here

Aristides Mandinga