Gustavo Costa

Cuba threatens to abandon Angola

Thousands of Cubans working in Angola feel let down after the government of José Eduardo dos Santos has failed to pay a debt of 300 million Euros to their country. The money was meant to cover the salaries of the skilled workforce who worked in the African country as doctors, university professors and technicians in the water and energy sectors. But, with oil prices falling, Angola's state coffers are empty and water plants and hospitals, once staffed by Cuban comrades, have been abandoned.

Having not been paid for months, the seconded expats have been flocking to Antex, the Cuban state export company that operates as their employment agency in Angola, demanding to be assisted and Cuba has threatened an exodus of all its staff from the country. This would mean a tragic end to the strong relationship between two historical socialist allies.

Cuito Cuanavale

The two countries have had strong ties ever since Angola achieved independence from Portugal and the socialist MPLA came to power in 1975. Throughout the seventies and eighties Cubans helped the Angolans host and train the South African ANC -then a liberation movement fighting apartheid. Cuban soldiers helped Angola win a historical victory over the South African Defence Force at Cuito Cuanavale in 1987.

A Cuban exodus now will without doubt lead to the collapse of vital institutions and systems in Angola. Three water plants in the country have already been closed after the Cuban engineers who managed them left their posts. Prenda Hospital in Luanda has been in dire straits after Cuban nurses and doctors stopped working. In the rural areas -where Angolan doctors often refuse to work because of the poor facilities-, an increase in cases of dehydration and other child ailments has been reported. Here and there, Cuban staff has been replaced by Vietnamese and Chinese health personnel, who do not speak any Portuguese. "It's a big headache," in the words of pediatrician Horacio Jeremias.

With the air bridge between Luanda and Havana temporarily frozen and the trade relations strained, the memory of an old 'struggle' friendship seems to be petering out.