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How Fidel Castro Convinced The Former USSR To
Abandon Siyad Barre In
Favor Of Mengistu
Transcript of Meeting between East German leader Erich Honecker and
Cuban leader Fidel Castro, East Berlin, 3 April 1977 (excerpts)
Minutes 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.
Participants: 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.
[first 1.6 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 sightseeing 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
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 or TV.
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. He agreed.
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
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 Aden.
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 annexed.
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
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 a rapprochement.
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
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
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:
Keeping quiet would have meant endorsing the chauvinistic policy of
Somalia, and its consequences. It would also have meant supporting the
rightists in Somalia.
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.
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
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,
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.
[Comments on southern Africa, omitted here, are printed earlier in
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 Bournedienne 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 elections.
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.
[Remainder of conversation omitted--ed.)
[Source: 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 Ostermann]
For more interesting secret documents on the former Somalia and
Ethiopia during the cold era, see our next issue.