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Castro merely sent a telex to President Eduardo dos Santos informing him that he had ordered his
generals "to place all forces on a state of maximum alert, to take all security measures and to have our
aircraft ready to take off and repel the attack."
If he was less than candid with Dos Santos, Castro was equally determined that all other parties should
be aware of his plans. "We notified the Soviets… we were warning everyone of the danger of the
possibility that we might have to launch a strong attack in northern Namibia."
The South African air attack did not materialise. Instead, on July 26, South African long-range artillery
bombarded Cuban units near Chipa. Castro decided that the shelling was not sufficient to merit a strike
on Ruacana.
He cabled Ochoa: "The first step must be a strong air attack against the camp, military installations and
South African personnel in Calueque and its environs…if the enemy’s artillery can be located, strike it
Eleven South Africans died in the attack, the dam was hit and Pretoria "raised a big fuss." But the South
Africans also "restrained themselves militarily" – just as Castro hoped they would.
He cabled again: "We have given them our initial response. Now it is up to them to decide what to do
and if they should continue the escalation." Five weeks later all parties accepted the New York
This was the climax of the war. From Calueque on the negotiators took charge. There were hiccups to be
sure. Castro informed Ochoa as late as October 10 that an "impasse" had been reached and that there
might have to be another demonstration.
But this, it seems, was designed less to frighten the South Africans than to sober up the Angolans, who
were waiting for the outcome of the US presidential election before they finally committed to the
tripartite agreement.
The Ruacana and Calueque dams would once again be the targets, but – as Castro told his commanders:
"I do not think the South Africans want to resume the hostilities."
This is not the story of a South African defeat. It is the story of an Angolan defeat and how, with
considerable nerve and panache, the Cubans extricated themselves from it.
When I visited the Museum of the Revolution in Havana last Match, it struck me as odd that the exhibit
commemorating the "glorious victory" at Cuito Cuanavale should have been secreted away from public
view in a side corridor.
Now there seems to be an explanation. Fidel Castro had yet to decide who should be credited. The
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