Cubans to welcome soldiers home from `international duty' in Angola
Havana — It appears that a regional peace accord for southern Africa will now become a reality. (See story, page 7.) And Cubans - whose countrymen have been reinforcing the Marxist Angolan government's troops in that country since 1975 - seem ready to give their 40,000 soldiers a hero's welcome home.
While both the Reagan administration and Cuban exiles in Miami have insisted that Cubans are tired of the war and opposed to having their sons and husbands risk their lives in an overseas adventure, a surprisingly small number of Cubans voice such sentiments. And few seem to agree with predictions from Cuba-watchers in the United States that unemployment and other post-war problems will plague the country if all the troops are withdrawn.
Virtually all informed sources, ranging from economists and academics to church leaders and Western diplomats here in the capital, shrug off the employment question as a nonissue.
They point to several reasons:
40,000 people in a population of 10 million, says one observer, is a ``drop in the bucket,'' which should not be difficult to incorporate back into society.
Cuba is an underdeveloped country whose main employment needs are in labor-intensive areas such as agriculture, mining, and construction. Those are jobs the government has been having a hard time filling.
Military men will continue to go wherever they are sent, including into some of the agriculture and mining jobs, and so should any returning civilians who don't have other jobs waiting for them.
A phased withdrawal of troops from Angola, which Cuba is insisting on, will spread any impact on Cuba's economy over two or three years.
In an interview, Deputy Foreign Minister Raul Roa further dismissed speculations of economic hardship or massive unemployment among returned military or civilian workers. ``The majority of the men and women there are reservists who already finished school and military training and were working when they volunteered,'' Mr. Roa said. ``Their jobs are kept open for them when they return by a system of plus-trabajo,'' one person taking on two jobs at each workplace. ``Meanwhile, they or their families are paid full salary for their jobs while they are gone.'' In Angola they receive only room, board, and pocket money.
Cubans interviewed say that soldiers' jobs have been saved for them by the plus-trabajo system. To some extent the system seems to work because certain jobs are undemanding enough so that doubling an employee's workload is not an overwhelming strain.
But Cubans also mention working after hours and on weekends to get two jobs done.
While people frequently talk about how much they miss their relatives serving overseas, and occasionally express fear for their safety, this is almost always combined with the proud boast that they are performing their ``internationalist duty'' in Angola.
Roa says graduating students, workers, and even soldiers doing required military service only go to Angola if they volunteer. He did not deny, however, that there might be unofficial social pressures persuading people to volunteer.
A 35-year-old mechanic who recently returned from three years fighting in Angola said he had volunteered.
``It's not that something would happen to you if you didn't, ``like losing your job, or anything like that,'' he explained. ``But there is a certain social pressure. Who wants to be the only one in your school, your workplace, your neighborhood who doesn't raise his hand and step forward when they call for volunteers? Afterward everyone looks at you like you're a coward or a shirker. It hurts your self-esteem, your prestige, and popularity.''
Having an unpopular enemy also helps. ``When our people fight South Africans,'' Roa stated, ``they are also fighting an ally of imperialism, one which has the most terrible system of racial discrimination known to date: apartheid. A country which has illegally taken over Namibia, and attacks other independent African states.''
Most Cubans interviewed say they understand and support the government's decision to send troops and civilian personnel to Angola - and that they are ready to stay there longer if necessary. Those who are less enthusiastic rarely speak out.
Some say this is due to government repression. Others say the reasons are more complicated.
The mother of a 23-year-old medical post-graduate student who has not been sent to Angola said: ``If Arturo had to go to Angola, that would be the worst thing that ever happened in my life. But he signed a pledge when he went to medical school, saying he would use the education that the society gave him to serve the people, anywhere the revolution needed him. How could he go back on that? How could I, a supporter of this revolution, speak out against his going?''
Going to Angola can also help one's future career.
``Since it appears on a person's curricula vitae for the rest of his life,'' explained a young librarian, ``it certainly helps. It's a plus whenever you are applying for a job or promotion or running for public office.''