This book considers Cuba’s role in Africa within the general framework of its foreign policy since the Revolution and, in particular, of its relations with the Soviet Union. Cuba in Africa takes the form of four major essays, each followed by commentaries, with Carmelo Mesa-Lago furnishing an introduction and a concluding chapter in which he summarizes and brings together the principal findings of the twelve other contributors, and adds some points of his own. It starts with the judgment that, through its successful military interventions in Africa and prominent role in the nonaligned movement, Cuba has become a significant actor in the world arena. Cuba’s participation in the wars in Angola and the Horn of Africa is analyzed in some detail, but the main concern of the book is with the broader issues. These include consideration of the extent to which Cuba has acted in pursuit of its own interests (ideological and national) rather than as a surrogate of the Soviet Union, and has, on balance, benefited from its involvement in Africa.
Not surprisingly, the contributors are not in complete agreement on all aspects of Cuba’s interventions in Africa. Cuba clearly could not have sustained its African role, however, without considerable Soviet support. Evidence produced in the book suggests that, while Cuba may have taken the initiative in Angola, it followed Soviet policy in the Horn of Africa, which is of much greater strategic interest to the Russians. Moreover, one contributor, William M. LeoGrande, concludes that Cuba’s involvement in Angola was on balance beneficial to Cuban interests while its policy in Ethiopia was not. Cuba’s overall African policy is adjudged to have enhanced its prestige among the socialist and Third World countries, and to have increased its leverage in securing economic concessions from the Soviet Union. Prominent upon the debit side of Cuba’s activities in Africa is the postponement of a normalization of relations with the United States.
Although it contains much valuable comment and analysis, Cuba in Africa does not provide firm answers to the main questions to which its subject gives rise. It would be unreasonable, though, to expect them in the absence of harder information than is currently available. The book is a useful addition to the growing literature on Cuba’s role in world affairs.