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Africa: Cuban And Soviet Involvement

Volume 415: debated on Tuesday 9 December 1980

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their latest assessment of the number of Soviet-sponsored Cuban military and civil personnel in Africa and whether they have any plans to demonstrate their continuing opposition to this foreign interference in African affairs.

My Lords, we estimate that there are more than 40,000 Cubans in Africa, of whom about three-quarters are military personnel. We have made clear to Cuba and the Soviet Union our concern about the involvement of their forces in Africa and we shall continue to take opportunities to put this message across.

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask whether he can say whether the severe threat of world conflagration caused by one of these irresponsible rulers of small states in Africa, with their excessive army training and supply of weapons, has been, or will be, raised in particular at the conference in Madrid?

My Lords, I do not think that Madrid is perhaps quite the right place for that, but it has certainly been raised on a number of occasions by the previous Government and also by the present Government. We shall certainly continue to do so. I do not think that the presence of these Cuban troops in Africa helps the cause of world peace at all.

My Lords, is it a fact that these figures—30,000 actual military personnel and another 10,000 or so in support—represent a remarkable escalation over the past year or so? As I recall, and perhaps the House may also recall, we were all concerned about a year ago because 12,000 Cuban military personnel were present, mostly in Angola. I should also like to ask the noble Lord this: Is the concentration mostly in southern Angola, and has he reason to think that this will exacerbate the position in Namibia, which is now hopefully moving slowly towards a solution?

My Lords, my recollection—I may be at fault and I shall have to look it up—is that the figures have not changed very much over the past 18 months. The noble Lord's recollection may be correct, but I do not think it has changed very much during my period in this office. The figures for Angola are that in total there are about 25,000, of whom some 6,500 are civilians. The rest are in the form of garrison troops rather than front-line troops, as I think the noble Lord will agree. This is an added reason why a settlement in Namibia would be of the greatest possible value, because the Angolan Government have made it clear that when the Namibian situation is settled they will ask for the recall of the Cuban troops.

My Lords, arising from that answer, is the Minister aware that those of us who want self-determination in Africa are absolutely opposed to either Soviet or Cuban troops being there? However, is it not also the case that South African troops are in other African countries, and French troops are in other African countries? Should not that be balanced by a demand for the withdrawal of all foreign troops?

My Lords, I think the circumstances in which troops are in various countries vary from place to place. I do not think one can necessarily say in all cases that this is a bad thing. I am afraid I do not know of any case where South African troops are stationed outside South Africa, but if the noble Lord has any instance of it I shall be very interested to know.

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether any significant number of these Cuban troops are in Abyssinia or the Horn of Africa?

Yes, my Lords, there are some in Abyssinia and there are some Soviet troops in Ethiopia as well. I think there are probably something like 12,000 Cubans in Ethiopia.

My Lords, would the Government agree that this form of imperialist aggression by using satellite troops from Cuba and other countries—the East Germans in Aden, for instance—is really a very dangerous development? Is it not true that a great many people regret very much that none of us was able to do anything at the time in order to stop it happening?