[Part 1 of this two-part series addresses the need for Cuba’s participation in conflicts in Zaire, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau during the 1960s to remain concealed for over three decades. It covers the background to the struggles, what Cubans found in Africa, the role of race relations in Cuba’s campaigns, and the recruitment of doctors. Part 2 will explore the working conditions of revolutionary military doctors, physical and emotional consequences for participating physicians, interactions with African civilians, Cuba’s first large medical scholarship program, the first mass vaccination effort in Africa, and how Cuba’s military and medical efforts affected Africa.]
Cuba’s deployment of military doctors to Africa in the 1960s was secret, known only at the highest level of government. Accounts of these hidden efforts were not published until the beginning of the 21st century.
Multiple forces during that decade pulled Cuba toward struggles in sub-Saharan Africa. First was the mushrooming of popular movements across the globe. The US civil rights movement was joined by millions opposing the war on Viet Nam. Zaire won independence from Belgium in June 1960 and the popular Patrice Lumumba became its first prime minister. After leading the National Liberation Front to victory over French domination in 1962, Ahmed Ben Bella was elected as the first president of Algeria. In August, 1966 Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution…