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Historical research that reads like a novel, 2/7/03

Piero Gleijeses

Piero Gleijeses is professor of American foreign policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He is author of Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954 and Conflicting Missions, Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976.   Click below to order:

                              Hardcover: 576 pages ; (January 22, 2002)  ==>
576 pages; (March 2003)  ==>

Historical research that reads like a novel, 2/7/03

Author Piero Gleijeses donates the rights his book Conflicting Missions. Havana, Washington and Africa. 1959-1976 to Cuba · Published by the Ciences Sociales press • General Harry Villegas presents book at Havana Book Fair
BY MIREYA CASTAÑEDA —Granma International staff writer—

ITALIAN Piero Gleijeses is professor of Foreign Policy and Latin American Studies at John Hopkins University in the United States. He is also a researcher. These two aspects led the historian to ask himself several years ago why Cuba became involved in Africa; the answer to that question is Conflicting Missions. Havana, Washington y Africa. 1959-1976.

The book has been published in Spanish by Cuba’s Ciences Sociales press, thanks to the author’s generosity in donating the book rights to the island. Two editions have already been printed in the United States, and others are planned for Portugal and South Africa.


For General Harry Villegas — known among Che’s guerrilla as "El Pombo" — presenting Gleijeses’ book at the Havana Book Fair is an almost family event. "I’ve met half my guerrilla group, including Víctor Dreke, Urbano, and friends from the Congo and Angola because of this book."

Needless to say we must keep the opinion of Harry Villeges, one of the book’s main protagonists, in mind when reading Conflicting Missions... According to him, it represents the most complete history of its subject ever written in Cuba or anywhere else.

He referred to the author’s detailed research and his "solid documentation," noting that Gleijeses had access to archives in the United States, Cuba, Africa and Europe.

"The most important chapters are on Angola, motive of the research and the book, chapters which read like a novel and although we know what happened, the suspense is maintained until the very end."

Jorge Risquet, Gleijeses’ spokesperson in Havana and who wrote the Cuban edition’s long foreword, read several paragraphs aloud at the presentation. Culture Minister Abel Prieto, José Ramón Balaguer and Pedro Ross, all members of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Political Bureau; Iroel Sánchez, president of the Cuban Book Institute; Ciencias Sociales publications editor Ernesto Escobar; and a large audience attended the launch.


As well as being a researcher, Piero Gleijeses is a communicator. His way of explaining and commenting on his work is as enjoyable as the content of Conflicting Missions...itself.

He began by recalling that the search for information in Cuba took seven years, during which time "many people helped me and I’m personally and intellectually indebted to them." He then referred to Risquet, stating he could not have had a better spokesperson, praising his broad vision and sense of humor.

"We’ve been locked up for hours together, just imagine if he had been a disagreeable person!"

The professor explained that when he decided to write about the subject he understood that sources and documentation were especially important in this case. "I teach in the United States and write for a hostile public — and I should add that some people are very ignorant too — who are prejudiced against Cuba. If you write attacking Cuba, no evidence is necessary. However, if you write the truth, in favor of Cuba, then there has to be documentation."

The researcher reiterated that he was able to look through archives in Cuba, Africa, Europe and the United States; he was very "impressed by the quality of the CIA and State Department’s analytical reports. These analysts deserved a better government."

Regarding Gleijeses’ writing, the March 31, 2002 edition of The Washington Post decided Piero Gleijeses (...) argues persuasively that Africa would be better off today, relations between Washington and Havana might be warmer, and the United States would have less blood on its hands if U.S. leaders had assimilated the information provided by its own intelligence agencies. If Missions in Conflict...has a villain, it’s not Fidel Castro or Che Guevera, but Henry Kissinger." *

In order to satisfy his curiosity about Cuba’s presence in Angola, Gleijeses went back in time; he believes everything started with Cuban aid to Algeria in 1961: a ship from the island took arms to guerrilla fighters and returned with wounded people and orphans. "These are the two aspects of Cuban aid — military and humanitarian. Currently there are Cuban doctors in 21 countries."

As Harry Villegas commented, the book "begins with Cuba-Algeria relations and ends with the defeat of the South Africans," as Gleijeses journeys from Algeria, to Central Africa, to Che in Zaire, the Congo, Guinea Bissau, and finally to Angola.

On the way he finds reality, the true documentation, about Cuba’s presence in Africa. Conflicting Missions... by Piero Gleijeses, historical research written, as we now know, with the author’s great capacity for communication. •

Conflicting Missions, Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976

This is a compelling and dramatic account of Cuban policy in Africa from 1959 to 1976 and of its escalating clash with U.S. policy toward the continent. Piero Gleijeses's fast-paced narrative takes the reader from Cuba's first steps to assist Algerian rebels fighting France in 1961, to the secret war between Havana and Washington in Zaire in 1964-65--where 100 Cubans led by Che Guevara clashed with 1,000 mercenaries controlled by the CIA--and, finally, to the dramatic dispatch of 30,000 Cubans to Angola in 1975-76, which stopped the South African advance on Luanda and doomed Henry Kissinger's major covert operation there.

Based on unprecedented archival research and firsthand interviews in virtually all of the countries involved--Gleijeses was even able to gain extensive access to closed Cuban archives--this comprehensive and balanced work sheds new light on U.S. foreign policy and CIA covert operations. It revolutionizes our view of Cuba's international role, challenges conventional U.S. beliefs about the influence of the Soviet Union in directing Cuba's actions in Africa, and provides, for the first time ever, a look from the inside at Cuba's foreign policy during the Cold War.

"Fascinating . . . and often downright entertaining. . . . Gleijeses recounts the Cuban story with considerable flair, taking good advantage of rich material."--Washington Post Book World

"Gleijeses's research . . . bluntly contradicts the Congressional testimony of the era and the memoirs of Henry A. Kissinger. . . . After reviewing Dr. Gleijeses's work, several former senior United States diplomats who were involved in making policy toward Angola broadly endorsed its conclusions."--New York Times

"With the publication of Conflicting Missions, Piero Gleijeses establishes his reputation as the most impressive historian of the Cold War in the Third World. Drawing on previously unavailable Cuban and African as well as American sources, he tells a story that's full of fresh and surprising information. And best of all, he does this with a remarkable sensitivity to the perspectives of the protagonists. This book will become an instant classic."--John Lewis Gaddis, author of We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History

Based on unprecedented research in Cuban, American, and European archives, this is the compelling story of Cuban policy in Africa from 1959 to 1976 and of its escalating clash with U.S. policy toward the continent. Piero Gleijeses sheds new light on U.S. foreign policy and CIA covert operations, revolutionizes our view of Cuba's international role, and provides the first look from the inside at Cuba's foreign policy during the Cold War.




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