Geopolitics

Cuban Intervention Network in Algeria : A Brief Honeymoon

April 19, 2021

Iñigo Camilleri De Castanedo

The Castro regime, through Cuban Intelligence, provided weapons to nationalist movements in Algeria against French Colonisation. A Cuban intervention network began to take shape in Algeria through military and paramilitary support to both armed forces and non-state guerrillas.

 

 

Why Does This Matter?

 

The role of Cuba in the Cold War tends to be simplified to the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ and to guerrilla training across South America. Outside of the Americas, Angola is a favourite topic to discuss transatlantic Cuban intervention, while other foreign expeditions tend to be ignored. Briefly documented, and with only partly-declassified material, the Castro regime actively participated in Algeria from 1963-1965 providing social, military and paramilitary aid.

 

 

  • If Moroccan-Algerian tensions in 1963 escalated and not achieved a ceasefire, Cuba’s footprint in Africa during the Cold War would likely be higher. While cooperation with Algeria almost certainly established initial ground in Africa, the fall of Ben Bella reduced overt diplomatic capabilities which Cubans in the continent.

 

  • Despite propaganda and medical missions amongst the Cuban party, the Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI) almost certainly coordinated all activities in Algeria. The narrative of de-colonisation and opposing imperialism needed to be portrayed amongst all Cuban envoys in North Africa to achieve a Cuban intervention network.

 

  • The DGI likely used Algeria as a springboard to cooperate with guerrilla and insurgent organisations in Africa. The reduction of Cuban influence in 1965 still allowed the presence in Algeria to introduce Cuban paramilitaries and intelligence officers across the continent, creating a Cuban intervention network.

 

 

 

Why is This Important?

 

It is innacurate to portray Cuba as a proxy and puppet of the USSR during the Cold War. Although the Soviet Union likely was its main lifeline, Cuban foreign policy maintained autonomy at least until 1969 with the restructuring of the DGI and its head Manuel Piñeiras.

 

Cairo, traditionally sided with the USSR, pressured Ben Bella around the 2nd of November 1963 to reduce Cuban presence in Algeria, suggesting a pursue of ceasefire agreements. On the other hand, Cuban envoys in Algeria questioned Soviet military support to Algeria and Morocco simultaneously. It is likely that Cuba’s activities in Algeria were driven more by domestic considerations and the maintenance of a revolutionary narrative, than Cold War proxy confrontations.

 

Political dependencies ultimately led to a fall in influence of Cuba within Algeria. Cuba’s intervention network in Algeria was highly likely attached to Ben Bella, losing almost all military and soft-power capabilities after the fall of the Algerian president in 1965. During the 2-year honeymoon, Castro established permanent propaganda stations in Algiers, educational programs between two countries, as well as medical and overt military training services.

 

With covert and overt cooperation established, DGI officer and Cuban ambassador in Algiers, Jorge Serguera, fled to Congo after Ben Bella was deposed, while propaganda stations were shut. Despite maintaining a medical team in Algiers, the Castro regime likely depended on a heavy ideological link with the Algerian president to maintain a strong Cuban capability of influence within Africa.

 

 

Source: Pdxjmorris / Wikimedia Commons (link)

 

 

Tactics, Techniques & Procedures

 

Cuban foreign policy, particularly in areas of interest, was almost certainly under the control of the DGI. Being driven by anti-imperialistic policies, the Castro regime used the DGI along with foreign expeditions in Africa to create a Cuban intervention network, should paramilitary assistance be needed. Targets of intervention, like Algeria, depended on the likelihood of the country driving an insurgency force like Castro.

 

Cuba provided aid to third world countries in exchange for a perceived continuation of the revolutionary struggle. Although military was likely the most crucial aid provided, additional resources were complemented in an intention to establish a long-term presence within a specific country. It is likely that the DGI exploited the diversity in cooperation to establish intelligence networks in Algeria.

 

Ben Bella, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in La Havana. Source: Wikimedia (link)

 

 

De-escalation & Secrecy

 

The Special Intervention Group (GEI- Grupo Especial de Intervención), were the voluntary 686 recruits gathered by the GDI and Castro to intervene in the Sand War between Morocco and Algeria. Led by Flavio Bravo and Efijenio Ameijeiras, the group was instructed to train and lead Algerian forces in potential conflicts against the Moroccan Army. De-escalation attempts in Bamako led to a ceasefire and no combat action, likely reducing the impact of the Cuban intervention.

 

Despite having Cuban sponsorship, secrecy remained a driver to the GEI. All recruits travelled under cover identities, created cover deployments and were informed of the destination only once the journey departed by sea on the 22nd and 28th of October 1963. Other recruits, including Ameijeiras, boarded governmental flights which re-routed mid-flight from Madrid to Algiers on the 21st of October.

 

Raul Castro informed through a telegram of the low-profile that should be maintained amongst GEI members, prohibiting alcoholic beverages as well as intimate relationships. Apart from highlighting the secrecy and low-attention strategies, it is likely that Castro acknowledged the importance of long-term approval in achieving the Cuban intervention network.

 

 

Source: Ecured / Wikimedia Commons (link)

 

 

Paramilitary and Propaganda Capabilities

 

While not as prominent as in Congo, Angola, Ethiopia or Somalia, the Cuban mission established multiple contacts with insurgent and paramilitary parties in Algeria. Simultaneously, it demonstrated a capability to efficiently use the DGI to expand an international footprint and achieve the Cuban intervention network. According to the CIA, Ghana rejected “Cuban Propagandists disguised as cultural workers”.

 

The founder of Prensa Latina, Jorge Massetti, was a recruited agent of the DGI since 1961. Massetti was deployed to establish contact with the National Liberation Front (FLN), the political party leading the war against French colonisation. Eventually the Cuban government provided weapons to the FLN as well as treating injured combatants. Massetti, in turn, established a Radio Latina station in Algiers believed by the CIA to be an operational support base for the DGI.

 

It is likely that Che Guevara’s 3-month African tour, starting with Algeria, indicated a fixated intention of Cuba to intervene through non-state actors not only in Latin America but also in Africa. Che met with Abilio Duarte in December 1964, head of a guerrilla movement in Guinea, and arranged for a provision of weapons.

 

Despite the fall of Ben Bella, the capability of Cuba to provide insurgents with weapons and essential services further in the future likely indicates a success in establishing a Cuban intervention network. 

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