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Fidel Castro’s meta-narrative of Cuban history emphasizes the struggle – and eventual triumph – of the oppressed over their oppressors. This was epitomized in Nelson Mandela’s 1991 visit to the island, when his host took him to the northwestern city of Matanzas, and the pair gave speeches titled “Look How Far We Slaves Have Come!” The use of Matanzas as a site of public political memory began in 1843, and the memory of slavery soon became a surrogate for Cuba’s flawed liberation movement. One-hundred and fifty years after the execution of Carlota, one of the enslaved leaders of the Triumvirato Rebellion in Matanzas, Cuba began Operation Black Carlota in Angola. Castro had come to power 20 years earlier and publicized his own storming of a former slave – and by then prison and Army – barracks at Moncada in Santiago. The naming of the mission, and the subsequent emphasis on slaves overcoming their neocolonial “masters,” illustrates the vividness of Cuban memories of slavery, as well as its emotional resonance as a rallying point. This paper summarizes this general memory of slavery and asks how Castro and his comrades used it to legitimize their African sojourns to their fellow Cubans and to international leaders. It examines how military victories such as that at Cuito Cuanavale served to some as a vindication of these earlier rebellions, resulting in the victory that Carlota and her comrades did not attain. Using speeches, memoirs, pamphlets, and existing literature on Cuba and Africa, it outlines how the memory of slavery deeply impacted both Cuba’s revolution and its subsequent foreign policy.

Publication Title

Atlantic Studies: Global Currents

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Copyright 2015 by Atlantic Studies: Global Currents, published by Taylor & Francis





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