This Day in International Law: November 11th

By: Dina Ljekperic

On November 11, 1975, Angola declared independence from Portugal after 14 years of armed resistance and over 400 years of colonial rule. Angola’s three main guerrilla groups agreed to form a transitional government, but promptly started infighting and thrust the nation into a civil war that did not end until 2002.

Political differences between the two groups pushed the Angolan revolution to the forefront of the Cold War. The United States backed South African troops, while Cuba intervened on behalf of the Movimiento Popular de Liberación de Angola (MPLA). Between November and April 1976, 36,000 Cuban soldiers were sent to Angola and successfully forced apartheid South African troops out of the country.  

Cuba’s role in backing the liberation movement has been hailed an “outstanding example of principled anti-imperialist internationalism in the last decades of the twentieth century” and is considered the start of Cuba’s contribution to the liberation of South Africa. Not only was it the first time the apartheid army was forced to retreated, but it was forced to do so because of a non-white army. Cuban forces remained in Angola and in that time cultivated a relationship with the Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. South Africa’s continuing attempts to overthrow liberation troops in Angola prompted the United Nations Security Council to pass Resolution 435 (later ensured by the New York Peace Accords) calling for South Africa’s withdrawal from South-West Africa and for free elections to be held there.