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Professor Piero Gleijeses, of John Hopkins University:
The Italian, Professor Piero Gleijeses, of John Hopkins University in Washington, did not stop after publishing his masterly book Conflicting Missions, Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976, instead he continued researching to write a bigger work because, "there is no other country in modern history that has maintained an altruistic and brave foreign policy for as long as Revolutionary Cuba".

Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba said recently that the book Conflicting Missions is "an exceptional work where the rigor of a historical treatise is combined with the passion of an adventure novel, where hundreds of thousands of Cuban play the main character".

The outstanding researcher, who participated in the International Book Fair 2008, where the third edition of his work was presented, assures that "to look seriously at anything that has to do with Cuban politics one has to do it with documents". His book was a success in the United States, with three editions, one in South Africa and three in Cuba. In 2003, he was awarded the prize for the best book by the Association of Historians of Foreign Policy of the United States, which was a success because such an organization is not precisely characterized for being progressive.

According to Remirez de Estenoz, Piero "achieved what was probably the most difficult thing: the access and support of Cuba that is not used to publicize its international support to other people. The inclusion of all sources and angles, its fair and balanced treatment, give an exceptionally objective character to this work...

This modest, unassuming, profound and persistent researcher, with the purpose of following Cubas exploits in Africa up to 1988, has continued searching for years for documents, archives and libraries of several countries: Cuba, Germany, Russia, the United States, Angola, South Africa and Namibia, to mention just a few.

His professional devotion motivated him to learn two more languages, besides the five he already knows (Spanish, German, Portuguese, English and French). In an autodidactic way and using dictionaries he studied Russian and Afrikaans to read the ex-soviet archives and to analyze all available information on the South Africans aggressors, who up to their defeat in Angola, were the heirs of the 300 year myth of the alleged invincibility of the white men in Africa.

It would have been impossible for Piero to carry out his research without "the support, brilliance and understanding of Jorge Risquet Valdes" member of the Central Committee, with whom he has worked very closely since 1993, when he first met him.

- Why did you decide to work on a second book?

When I began my research, I had a very positive opinion about Cuban foreign policy and when I finished I had an even better vision. This is not very usual. Generally, when one studies a subject deeply, there are stains and negative aspects that come up which tinge, at least to a certain extent, the first impression. In this case, it was the contrary.

"So I decided to keep on writing and take the exploits from 1976, where Conflicting Missions finishes to 1988, with the New York Agreements that gave independence to Namibia and stopped the South African aggression on Angola.

"In the last three years, I have written a number of essays for US and European publications based on the book I am writing.

"Frequently, those who asked for an essay write to me a very delicate email, somehow hurtful; telling me to please, understand that the essay would be stronger if I were to tinge the conclusions, that is to say, if I were to talk less favorably about Cuba. I take this criticism seriously and add pages of documents strengthening my arguments and none of my articles has ever been rejected, I have never had to tinge my conclusions".

- You travelled for this research to Namibia, Angola and South Africa in search of documents. What were your experiences?

The trip was professionally a great success with the support of Cuba. I had three pillars from Havana who paved the way and opened doors: Fernando Remirez, Jorge Risquet and Rodolfo Puente Ferro.

"Thanks to this support and also to the Namibian Ambassador to Cuba, Grace Claudia Uushona, I was able to make 27 interviews in 8 days in that country.

"At the Ministry of Defense in Windhoek I spoke to a survivor of the Cassinga Massacre. She was eight years old when she arrived in Cuba in 1978 with a group of 61 Namibian youngsters who studied in the Isle of Youth. At the beginning, we had a rather cold conversation until I asked her if she would rather speak in Spanish. She smiled. She speaks better Spanish than I do with a beautiful Cuban accent. She stayed in Cuba until 1994 when she graduated as a medical doctor. Today she is a General of the Namibian Armed Forces and Head of its Medical Services.

My first day there, I was walking around the halls of the Ministry of Defense with a Major that would help me arrange all the interviews, when he stopped to greet another officer. He introduced me as Professor Piero Gleijeses and his interlocutor paid little attention to me. But the major added, he is a Cuban professor and the man embraced me and talked to me in Spanish. He had been the liaison between SWAPO and Cubans for the Chibia School near Lubango, which was created by Cuba in 1977 for the Namibian students to learn Spanish before travelling to the Island. He had, like many other officers and soldiers I interviewed, an immense gratitude and love for Cuba".

- What did you find out in Angola?

This country was a very important because I wanted the voices of Angolans to be heard in my book. There were two big offensives that FAPLA launched in the summer of 1985 and for a second time in 1987 in South East Angola to reach the General headquarter of Jonas Savimbi. In both cases, Cubans opposed saying the operation would be a disaster and emphasized that the South African Air Forces would intervene.

The Angolans allowed themselves to be carried by the advice of Soviet advisors who favored the operation and launched the offensive.

"I have in the manuscript 15 pages on the first of these two offensives, the one in 1985. They are based mainly on Cuban documents. You can see how Cuba opposed and how Angolans let themselves be influenced by the Soviet advisors and how Cuba urged FAPLA to withdraw to avoid a disaster when the South Africans began to strike. These pages show the mistakes made by the FAPLAs High Command and the admiration of Cuba for the courage of the Angolan soldiers.

"I read these pages in separate interviews to four high ranking Angolan officers who were involved in the operation: General Ndalu, who was the Chief of Staff of FAPLA; General Ngongo, deputy chief of staff who headed the operation; General Foguetao, Head of the Operations Department and Coronel Barros, Head of Operations of the Offensive.

"They all confirmed it was like that. They were the Angolan voices confirming the versions in the Cuban documents, convincing evidence that would be difficult to avoid even by a hostile reader".

- What benefits did your stay in South Africa bring to your book?

In South Africa, I was interested to interview the lords of Apartheid, the military chiefs, the heads of diplomacy and gather all the documents possible. My longest interview was with Coronel Breytenbach and it lasted for a week end. He is an assassin, a war criminal who headed the parachute troops that perpetrated the Cassinga Massacre in 1978. I had read his book and knew that he had strong rivalry with the South African Generals and hated UNITA, not for moral reasons. He agreed to receive me. It was important to be a professor of a prestigious US university to achieve it.

"The following Saturday I was with him for 6 hours at the Hotel where I was staying, and I learned quite a number of valuable things for my manuscript.

"I had another long interview, seven hours, with Pik Botha, Foreign Minister of Apartheid, one of the most repugnant people I have ever talked to in my life. He agreed to receive me on the Saturday morning. He had read a long article about Cuito Cuanavale that I had written for the Cape Town Mail & Guardian.

"He began by berating me, saying that he did not know whether it was worth while to talk to me. Luckily, Pik Botha wanted to talk and he did it with me for seven hours. Among all the lies he said, interesting and valuable things came out for my manuscript.

"But the fundamental thing in that country was that I managed to get out of it 4,000 pages of declassified material.

The South African archives were very important not only for what they could contribute about South African politics but also for what they could say about the United States policy. The gringos have not declassified many documents on the foreign policy of Reagan in Southern Africa. It is not convenient for them; they would be made to look bad.

"In the South African documents I could find texts that shed light on the conspiracy between Washington and Pretoria.

Piero emphasizes that these and other documents show what the lords of Apartheid and high ranking officials of the Reagan Administration desperately deny: Cuba had achieved military superiority and they knew it very well and adds that it is quite evident in the US documents that have been declassified: the South Africans bowed down to the Cuban military superiority, that is why they gave up the negotiations and were forced to stop their aggressions and withdrew from Angola and accepted the independence of Namibia.

-What do you expect to do after finishing this book?

There is a book I want to write. A US publishing house is going to publish a series of volumes on great statesmen of the 20th century. They have asked me to write a volume on the foreign policy of Fidel Castro. I would love to provide the evidence of a foreign policy that I admire so much, the performance of the man who was the architect of such a noble work and who rightfully led his people that followed and still follow him with courage and sacrifices.


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