The Cuban Government/Military’s Businesses in Angola

The Cuban Government/Military’s Businesses in Angola

22 / abril / 2024

Cuban doctor Emilio Arteaga remembers his time in Angola as the worst of the three international missions he was part of. He can’t forget the feeling of suffocation, an irreparable loss, and the “militarization of medical practice” as part of the operations of the Antillean Exporting Corporation S.A. (Antex), which hired him as a psychiatrist from 2013 to 2015.

Angola is the second-largest market for the export of human resources with strategic importance for Havana, after Venezuela. There, Cuba has managed to “project its political, ideological, and military influence in a crucial postcolonial struggle, while also gaining significant economic benefits from a state with substantial oil reserves and natural resources,” explains Maria Werlau, executive director of the NGO Archivo Cuba.

According to official data, in 2023, there were 2,056 Cubans working in the African country, 85% of whom were in the health and education sectors. These professionals, who are contracted by Antex, the operational arm of the business conglomerate Grupo de Administración Empresarial (Gaesa) of the Cuban Armed Forces, have brought in at least $1.808 billion to the island from professional services in the last 12 years.

Antex also has connections with at least eight state-owned Cuban companies registered in Angola. Through these, Cuba has provided services in over 30 sectors to the Angolan government. In total, Antex’s operations in Angola has generated approximately $6.755 billion in the last 25 years.

This investigación by El Toque with the support of CONNECTAS shows how the execution of these bilateral agreements and businesses has been characterized by violations of the labor and human rights of Cuban professionals who serve as operators of the commercial network in Angola. For example, the Cuban government controls access to their wages and prohibits them from associating with people who hold values different from those of the Cuban revolution or going anywhere without a superior’s permission in their free time. The contract even restricts the possibility of marriage or recognition of children in this country.

For this investigation, we spoke with more than a dozen professionals who were in Angola, accessed guidelines issued by Antex leadership, and reviewed contracts, regulations, and bilateral agreements during the period of peak activity to corroborate the abuse Cuban workers are subjected to.

“In Angola, I felt suffocated,” says Arteaga today. “I was drowning; it was a state of oppression that made me ask myself ‘what am I doing here’.” The psychiatrist, like several colleagues, teachers, and engineers consulted for this investigation, recount what Cuban professionals suffer in the African country: workplace harassment, continuous surveillance, and punishments for how they use their free time; restrictions on the use of their salary, of which they receive less than one-sixth of what Angola pays for them (the rest goes to the Cuban state), among other abuses that some NGOs have documented and that the United Nations has classified as “forced labor” or “contemporary forms of slavery.”

“Forget about your titles and academic degrees… Everyone will earn the same here and will be reassigned according to the interests of Antex leadership. You are civilian workers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba and must obey as such,” Arteaga recalls a female Antex official telling him on the day he arrived in Angola.

The Cuban bosses “took their passports at the airport itself,” remembers Elier Plana, hired as an IT teacher at the Moxico Higher Institute from 2014 to 2018, though other testimonies suggest that they only took the passport when they were going on vacation to the island to prevent them from abandoning the mission. Regarding living conditions, the engineer recounts that he was “without electricity and running water for more than 47 continuous days” because local authorities, responsible for “rent, electricity, water, and other expenses of the collaborators,” diverted resources “for personal uses.”

Other professionals recount that they were forced to do extra work without pay. “They make you do tasks that are not included in the work contract, like sports games, and ‘voluntary work’ as if you were in Cuba,” recounts Sergio, a former worker at the private clinic Meditex. Sergio was forced to act as a security guard at the clinic during the days following the anti-government protests in Cuba on July 11, 2021, “in case there were any demonstrations by independent Cubans,” he noted.

In the end, this level of dedication does not compensate —according to the professionals consulted— for the money they receive. “One always leaves the island with the need to save money. Thinking they were going to pay us more, they never tell you how much the salary is until you receive the first one,” comments Jose, another doctor who went on a mission to Angola and requested anonymity.

Maritza, a former health collaborator in Angola, also decided to travel to Angola because there, healthcare professionals like her are (on paper) paid between 10 and 16 times more than their salary on the island. “We see it as an opportunity to make money and acquire, at the expense of sacrificing our family and ourselves, what in Cuba you can’t have even by working your entire life.” However, she recounts that she also felt cheated when she received her first salary. At the end of the mission, she didn’t manage to gather even 40% of what she expected.

The presence of the Cuban army in a country with immense resources and an impoverished population is not new. It has evolved since the 1960s, consolidating with the military intervention in the Angolan civil war from 1975 to 1991. For Fidel Castro, the African continent was then “the weakest link of imperialism,” due to the absence of a robust bourgeoisie to face the transition from quasi-tribalism to communism.

In 16 years, Cuba deployed about 300,000 military personnel and 100,000 civilian collaborators, of whom more than two thousand died in the African conflict, according to official data. Thanks to this intervention in support of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a party that has remained in power since Angola’s independence in 1975, the Cuban military leadership has been consolidating its economic presence in the country through the execution of agreements and contracts with the state.

Cuban influence in Angola is so significant that Cuban professionals participate in various key areas of public service. From university faculty leadership and the examination of the Angolan professional succession, to state intelligence and the president’s security.

At least four Cuban PCC members were in charge of security for the current president of Angola, Joao Laurencio, in the Casa de Seguridad (now Casa Militar), with salaries of $450 to $550, according to payrolls issued in 2018 by the Cuban military corporation, which this investigation accessed. Another source from the corporation confirmed that, at least until 2020, there were Cuban personnel in charge of the president’s security.

There are also Cuban citizens in the ranks of Angola’s External Intelligence Service, according to contractual data. Additionally, 214 Cubans have been employed in SIMPORTEX-E.P., a public company of Angola’s Ministry of Defense dedicated to the commercialization of equipment and material resources for import and export.

Moreover, there are 45 contracted individuals in the country’s Ministry of Interior (44 as teachers and one as a forensic doctor), totaling 272 contracted individuals in the Angolan government’s machinery, including four Cubans employed as advisors in the State Secretariat of Waters, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health.

“The soldiers will retire one day, but the doctors will not retire, nor the teachers, nor the collaborators in construction and various spheres of Angola’s economy and services,” said Fidel Castro in 1986, the architect of the “business of solidarity.”

What is little known is that this “solidarity” has meant, according to the testimony of more than a dozen Cuban professionals consulted for this investigation, an immense human cost for them. “I have always been very revolutionary, although at the moment I think I was part of a revolution that didn’t exist,” laments Maritza. “There were many things I agreed with, defended, and wanted, but on the mission, I realized that they used me and that things weren’t as I thought. It was like stepping out of a bubble.”

If you are interested in learning more about the stories of Cuban workers in Angola, you can read the full report here.

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