& East German Documents on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, 1977-78
of Meeting between East German leader Erich Honecker and Cuban leader Fidel
Castro, East Berlin, 3 April 1977
of the conversation between Comrade Erich Honecker and Comrade Fidel Castro,
Sunday, 3 April 1977 between 11:00 and 13:30 and 15:45 and 18:00, House of
the Central Committee, Berlin.
Comrades Hermann Axen, Werner Lamberz, Paul Verner, Paul Markowski (with Comrades
Edgar Fries and Karlheinz Mobus as interpreters), Carlos Rafael Rodriguez,
Osmany Cienfuegos, Raul Valdez Vivo, Jose Abrantes
Comrade Erich Honecker warmly welcomed Comrade
Fidel Castro and the Cuban Comrades accompanying him to this internal conversation
on behalf of the Central Committee.
We are very pleased about your visit to the GDR
and the opportunity to exchange views about the result of your visit to several
African and Arabian countries. On behalf of the Politburo I want to repeat
that we consider your visit to these countries as important. I ask Comrade
Fidel Castro to take the floor.
16 pages omitted--ed.]
Statements by Comrade Fidel Castro: [...] Before
my departure from Aden we discussed with the PDRY leadership the need to do
everything possible to arrive at an understanding between Somalia and Ethiopia.
I was well received in Somalia. I had asked them not to have any public
demonstrations. Siad Barre was very friendly during our first dinner.
Prior to my arrival, I had received his reply to a letter of mine regarding
the question of relations between Somalia and Ethiopia. I had also sent
an envoy to Somalia for discussions with Vice President Samantar and Interior
Minister Suleiman. Samantar held to leftist positions, while Suleiman
was a representative of the right wing. The discussion of our representative
with him was very severe. I had already received considerable information
in the PDRY regarding the situation in Somalia. The power and influence
of the rightist group continue to increase. The Interior Minister, Suleiman,
is doing everything possible to bring Somalia closer to Saudi Arabia and the
imperialist countries. Samantar is losing influence. Everything
seems to indicate that he is being driven into a corner by the right.
My first evening I wanted to clarify my thoughts
about Siad Barre and the Somali revolution. No serious political discussion
took place at this dinner; [Siad] Barre explained to me the evolution of the
Somali revolution. The next day, we had an extensive sight-seeing program.
We went to a Cuban-built militia training center, an agricultural school,
a school for nomad children, etc. We were taken around for hours, although
we had not yet had a political discussion, and a mass demonstration had been
scheduled at noon in the stadium. I understood that they wanted to avoid
such a conversation prior to the demonstration. As the demonstration
began, Siad Barre and I had still not had a private conversation, and because
of this I was very careful. Siad Barre was very arrogant and severe;
maybe he wanted to intimidate us.
In my speech to the mass meeting I talked about
imperialist policy in the Middle East, the reactionary role of Saudi Arabia,
and the actions of other reactionary powers. I did this even though
I knew that there was a considerable trend in the country in favor of closer
relations with these countries. I talked about the PLO's struggle, the
Ethiopian revolution, and the Libyan revolution, and of progressive Algeria
that they want to isolate. I talked about Mozambique, and only at the
end about how imperialism is doing everything to reverse the progressive order
in Somalia. Siad Barre introduced me to participants of the mass meeting
without saying a political word.
Before the mass meeting they had played half of
a soccer game. It is unknown whether the soccer game was simply an appendage
to the demonstration or vice versa. My speech went against the right
wing tendencies and supported the left wing. We observed that almost
all of the Central Committee members applauded, with the exception of Suleiman
and his people. Samantar was very satisfied, and even Siad Barre seemed
content. Nevertheless, the mass meeting was not broadcast live on radio
Only that evening did we begin to discuss specific
problems, at my residence. It was clear to me that we had to be careful
because surely the interior minister had installed bugs. This same evening
Siad Barre finally talked about Ethiopia. He compared it to the Tsarist
Empire and said that Ethiopia was the only surviving colonial power.
Thanks to Lenin's wisdom, the Tsarist Empire had disappeared, but it lived
on in Ethiopia. He had proposed to the Ethiopians, some time ago, to
establish a federation or even a unification of the two countries. Ethiopia
had not reacted then, but was now itself proposing this solution. He
spoke very enthusiastically about his efforts to reach a solution with Ethiopia.
I used the occasion to tell Siad Barre that I would travel to Ethiopia the
next day and asked him if he would be willing to meet with Mengistu.
The next day I flew on to Ethiopia. We had earlier
agreed that there would be no great reception for me, since at the time they
were still fighting the civil war. Shots constantly rang out. Mengistu took
me to the old Imperial Palace and the negotiations began on the spot. I found
the information that I already had to be confirmed. We continued our negotiations
on the following day. Naturally we had to take extensive security precautions.
The Ethiopians had come up with a division, and I had brought a company of
Cuban soldiers with me. The day of my arrival there were rumors of a coup.
It did not happen.
I developed the impression that there was a real
revolution taking place in Ethiopia. In this former feudal empire, lands were
being distributed to the peasants. Each farmer got 10 hectares. There were
also reforms in the cities. It was established that each citizen could only
own one house. Plots were made available for housing construction.
There is also a strong mass movement. In the capital,
500,000 people can be rapidly mobilized. In February, our study delegation,
after inspecting the army divisions, had determined that of the hundreds of
generals, all but two should be chased out. The officers and NCOs have taken
over the leadership of the country. Currently, the leadership is considering
creating a Party. There is a harsh class struggle against the feudalists in
the country. The petit bourgeois powers are mobilizing against the Revolution.
A strong separatist movement exists in Eritrea. Threats are coming from the
Sudan, while Somalia claims 50% of Ethiopia's territory. There have been border
clashes in this area for 500 years.
Mengistu strikes me as a quiet, serious, and sincere
leader who is aware of the power of the masses. He is an intellectual personality
who showed his wisdom on 3 February. The rightists wanted to do away with
the leftists on 3 February. The prelude to this was an exuberant speech by
the Ethiopian president in favor of nationalism. Mengistu preempted this coup.
He called the meeting of the Revolutionary Council one hour early and had
the rightist leaders arrested and shot. A very consequential decision was
taken on 3 February in Ethiopia. The political landscape of the country changed,
which has enabled them to take steps that were impossible before then. Before
it was only possible to support the leftist forces indirectly, now we can
do so without any constraints.
I asked Mengistu whether he was willing to meet
with Siad Barre in Aden. We agreed. After concluding my talks I flew on to
Siad Barre had arrived in Aden that morning. Mengistu
did not arrive until the afternoon. I had a conversation with Siad Barre in
which he bared his claws. He told me that if Mengistu was a real revolutionary
he should do as Lenin, and withdraw from his territory. Siad Barre took a
very hard position. I asked him whether he felt that there had been no real
revolution in Ethiopia and that Mengistu was not a real leftist leader. He
told me that there had been no revolution in Ethiopia. While in Mogadishu
he had shown me a map of Greater Somalia in which half of Ethiopia had been
After my talk with Siad Barre, I told Mengistu
about Barre's attitude, and asked him to remain calm. I already felt bad about
having invited Mengistu to Aden while there was still a powder keg situation
back in his country and that in such a tense situation he was to hear out
the Somalis' territorial demands.
With regards to my question about the situation
of the Ethiopian army, Mengistu said that there were still difficulties but
that he didn't think that there was an acute danger of a coup.
When the meeting started, Siad Barre immediately
began speaking. Siad Barre is a general who was educated under colonialism.
The revolution in Somalia is led by generals who all became powerful under
colonial times. I have made up my mind about Siad Barre, he is above all a
chauvinist. Chauvinism is the most important factor in him. Socialism is just
an outer shell that is supposed to make him more attractive. He has received
weapons from the socialist countries and his socialist doctrine is [only]
for the masses. The Party is there only to support his personal power.
In his case there is a bizarre symbiosis of rule
by military men who went through the school of colonialism and social appearances.
Something about socialism appeals to him, but overall there is still a lot
of inequality and unfairness in the country. His principal ideas are nationalism
and chauvinism, not socialism.
His goal is old fashioned politics: sweet, friendly
words. Siad Barre speaks like a wise man; only he speaks. He is different
from the many political leaders that I know. [Egyptian President Anwar]
Sadat, [Algerian President Houari] Boumedienne, [Mozambique President Samora]
Machel, [Angolan President Agostinho] Neto and many others are strong characters.
They can also listen and do not take a dogmatic attitude. One can speak with
them. Siad Barre really thinks that he is at the summit of wisdom. Until now
everything has gone smoothly for him. The Italians and the British made him
a general. The revolution was accomplished in a minute, with hardly a shot
fired. He put on a socialist face and got economic aid and weapons from the
Soviet Union. His country is important strategically, and he likes prestige.
Barre is very convinced of himself. His socialist rhetoric is unbearable.
He is the greatest socialist; he cannot say ten words without mentioning socialism.
With this tone he began to speak in the meeting
with Mengistu. He began giving a lecture on Ethiopia and demanded from Mengistu
to do as Lenin had done: do away with the Ethiopian Empire. Mengistu remained
quiet; he said that Ethiopia was ready and willing to find a solution and
that there needed to be the first concrete steps on both sides to achieve
Siad Barre theatrically responded that he was disappointed
with Mengistu and that he displayed the same attitude as the Ethiopian Emperor.
The Ethiopian revolutionary leadership had the same mentality as Haile Selassie.
The meeting had begun at 11 PM and a solution was not in sight.
[Cuban Vice President] Carlos Rafael Rodriguez
then proposed the establishment of a standing commission with representatives
from Ethiopia, Somalia and the PDRY to find ways to a solution. All the other
participants drafted us against our will into this commission.
Siad Barre carried on with his great wise man act,
as the great Socialist, the great Marxist. At the same time he spoke demagogically
as only one member of the "collective leadership" with a mandate
from the Politburo and the need to consult with them on all matters. After
a brief recess for consultations with his delegation he proposed direct talks
between Mengistu and himself.
Mengistu, who had already become more insulted
and mistrustful during Siad Barre's previous statements, said that he
was willing to do so, but not at this time. First the question of the commission
had to be resolved.
We continued the meeting at 3.15 in the morning.
Siad Barre had prepared the text of an agreement in which the idea of the
commission was accepted but which directed that its main purpose should be
to solve the outstanding territorial questions between Somalia and Ethiopia.
The commission would thus take this approach from the start. How were the
Ethiopians supposed to react to such a provocative proposal?
During the break I had spoken with Mengistu, who
did not hide his rejection of Siad Barre. I also spoke with Siad Barre and
asked him whether he was really interested in finding a solution. He
said that Mengistu would have to answer that. He went on with his revolutionary
rhetoric, about how real socialists, revolutionaries, and Marxists could not
deny realities. He said that Mengistu was in fact a drastic man, one who has
taken drastic measures: why could he not decide similarly drastically right
here and now to resolve the question?
In this setting I was faced with the complicated
question of either speaking my mind about Siad Barre's position or keeping
it to myself. I concluded that I had to speak out for the following reasons:
1. Keeping quiet would have meant endorsing the
chauvinistic policy of Somalia, and its consequences. It would also have meant
supporting the rightists in Somalia.
2. Not responding to Siad Barre would mean that
any subsequent aid from socialist countries to Ethiopia, no matter how small,
would be termed by Siad Barre as a betrayal.
3. In what kind of a situation would this put the
PDRY, about to support Ethiopia with tanks, trucks and artillery with the
help of a Soviet ship?
In addition, Siad Barre had not only been insulting,
he was resorting to subtle threats. At a certain point he said that one could
not know where all of this could lead.
Because of this, I spoke up. I explained that Siad
Barre did not believe that there had been a real revolution in Ethiopia, that
the events of 3 February had totally answered this question and that Mengistu
was a revolutionary leader. I went on to say that we considered the events
in Ethiopia as a revolution, that the events of 3 February were a turning
point, and that Mengistu is the leader of a profound transformation. I declared
that we could not possibly agree with Siad Barre's position. I said that Siad
Barre's position represented a danger to the revolution in Somalia, endangered
the revolution in Ethiopia, and that as a result there was a danger of isolating
the PDRY. In particular I emphasized that Siad Barre's policies were aiding
the right wing in Somalia itself in its efforts against socialism, and to
deliver Somalia into the arms of Saudi Arabia and Imperialism.
I said that these policies were weakening Somalia's
relations with the socialist countries and would have to lead to the collapse
of the revolution in Somalia. I appealed to Siad Barre's and the entire Somali
leadership's sense of historical responsibility. I said that I did not think
that this would come to a war between Somalia and Ethiopia but that I was
worried, since war would be a very serious thing. I do not believe that there
are people who would provoke a war between the peoples.
Immediately after my speaking so frankly, Siad
Barre took the floor. He said that he would never want war and that as a socialist
and revolutionary he would never take this path. If the socialist camp wanted
to cut itself off from Somalia then that was the affair of the socialist camp.
I had put pressure on him, Siad Barre, but not demanded from Mengistu, to
come to this meeting.
Now, I pointed out that I had supported the summit
between Siad Barre and Mengistu but did not talk about Siad Barre's insults
vis-a-vis Mengistu. I said that Cuba had no intention of cutting itself off
from the Somali Revolution, rather, we supported it. The whole meeting ended
without any results.
If we now give our aid to Ethiopia, Siad Barre
will have no moral right to accuse us of betrayal, etc. I told him very
clearly that there was a revolution in Ethiopia and that we had to help it.
In any case I had detected during my meetings with
Siad Barre a certain irritation on his part with the Soviet Union. He was
agitated that the Soviet Union was not delivering spare parts or tractors
and that oil came too late from the Soviet Union, in spite of repeated promises.
The Soviet ambassador has explained the state of affairs to us. The Somalis
were repeatedly changing their minds about their requests, which had delayed
the matter. In addition, unfortunately the Soviet oil tanker had sunk on its
way to Somalia.
As I told Siad Barre this, he called the Soviets
liars. He said this was not the position of the Soviet politburo, but rather
the result of sabotage by bureaucrats. His irritation and criticism of the
Soviet Union also showed in other cases. He went on to say that there was
not enough drinkable water in his country and that cattle were dying, the
bananas were ripening too late, all because the pumps provided by the Soviets
did not work.
Because of this attitude of Siad Barre I see a
great danger. That is why I considered it appropriate to give you my impressions
truthfully, without euphemisms.
I wanted to discuss my point of view frankly. The
socialist countries are faced with a problem. If they help Ethiopia, they
will lose Siad Barre's friendship. If they do not, the Ethiopian Revolution
will founder. That was the most important thing about these matters.
on southern Africa, omitted here, are printed earlier in this Bulletin--ed.]
There were several requests for military aid from
various sides: [Libyan Leader Moammar] Qadaffi, Mengistu, and the Congolese
leaders. During our stay in Africa we sent [Cuban Vice President] Carlos Rafael
Rodriguez to Moscow to confer with our Soviet comrades and to Havana for consultations
with our leadership. In order to find the best solution we must think through
this question calmly and thoroughly and consider it in terms of the overall
situation of the socialist camp. Above all we must do something for Mengistu.
Already we are collecting old weapons in Cuba for Ethiopia, principally French,
Belgian and Czech hand-held weapons. About 45,000 men must be supplied with
weapons. We are going to send military advisers to train the Ethiopian militia
in weapons-use. There are many people in Ethiopia who are qualified for the
army. We are supporting the training of the militia. Meanwhile the situation
in Eritrea is difficult. There are also progressive people in the liberation
movement, but, objectively, they are playing a reactionary role. The Eritrean
separatist movement is being supported by the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Ethiopia has good soldiers and a good military tradition, but they need time
to organize their army. Mengistu asked us for 100 trainers for the militia,
now he is also asking us for military advisers to build up regular units.
Our military advisory group is active at the staff level. The Ethiopians have
economic means and the personnel necessary to build up their army. Rumors
have been spread lately that the reactionaries will conquer Asmara in two
months. The revolution in Ethiopia is of great significance. With regard to
military aid for the PR Congo and the Libyans we have not yet come to a decision.
I had consultations with Boumedienne in Algeria
and asked for his opinion. He assured me that Algeria would never abandon
Libya. Algeria is very concerned with the situation in the Mediterranean because
of its security interests. It is in favor of supporting Libya, as long as
military aid is confined to the socialist camp. That is not only a question
between Cuba and Algeria. If we succeed in strengthening the revolution in
Libya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, the PDRY, and Angola, we have an integrated strategy
for the whole African continent.
Algeria would move closer to the socialist camp.
It bought 1.5 billion rubles of weapons from the Soviets. Boumedienne thinks
that Sadat is totally lost to us. In Syria there is also no leftist movement
any more, either, especially after the Syrians defeated the progressive powers
and the PLO in Lebanon.
[Indian President] Indira Gandhi gambled away the
In Africa, however, we can inflict a severe defeat
on the entire reactionary imperialist policy. One can free Africa from the
influence of the USA and of the Chinese. The developments in Zaire are also
very important. Libya and Algeria have large national resources, Ethiopia
has great revolutionary potential. So there is a great counterweight to Egypt's
betrayal. It might even be possible that Sadat could be turned around and
that the imperialist influence in the Middle East can be turned back.
This must all be discussed with the Soviet Union.
We follow its policies and its example.
We estimate that Libya's request is an expression
of trust. One should not reject their request. Cuba alone cannot help it.
of conversation omitted--ed.]
Stiftung "Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen der ehemaligen
DDR im Bundesarchiv" (Berlin), DY30 JIV 2/201/1292; document obtained
by Christian F. Ostermann and translated by David Welch with revisions by