Few probably remember it today but in 1977 the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, went to Ethiopia to pledge support to the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

This article (but not the photograph) is from the New York Times


See the article in its original context from
March 16, 1977

This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.

Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems; we are continuing to work to improve these archived versions.

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15—The arrival in Ethiopia yesterday of President Fidel Castro of Cuba, coupled with new Ethiopian charges of Arab designs on the Red Sea, underscore the jockeying for influence that is intensifying along the horn of Africa.

Mr. Castro, who on his African trip has already visited Algeria and Libya, arrived in Addis Ababa from Somalia.

Somalia’s historic enmity for Ethiopia is thought to transcend both the MarxistLeninist ideology shared by the two countries and their mutual close relations with the Soviet Union. According to diplomatic observers here, Mr. Castro’s visit to Addis Ababa and Mogadishu may well be an attempt to bridge that hostility and to counter reported moves by wealthy antiSoviet Arab states seeking to woo Somalia away from the Soviet camp.

The problem facing the Soviet Union, one Western diplomat here explained how they can maintain their influence and military bases in Somalia while at the same time drawing closer to Ethiopia, Somalia’s greatest rival.

Will Resist Arab Dominance

Significantly, just before Mr. Castro’s arrivatran Ethiopian Government spokesman asserted that his country would resist any efforts to “make the Red Sea an Arab Lake.”

It was clear that he was referring to Egypt, the Sudan and Syria, whose government’s recently signed a treaty affirming their intentions of maintaining Arab dominance over the Red Sea. It is also these governments, along with Saudi Arabia, that are said to be courting the Moslem, though Communist, Somalis.

There are reports that the appeals to Mogadishu, presumably backed by offers of development assistance, include urgings that Soviet technicians and military advisers be expelled as they were by Egypt.

Within the last month some African countries with close ties to Moscow have publicly decried attempts by certain unnamed Arab countries to detour some African countries from their “progressive course” through the promise of money.

South Yemen Softens Attitude

Certainly, the oil producing Arabs led by the Saudis and Kuwaitis have recently made heavy investments in Southern Yemen, which while still the only proSoviet country on the Arab peninsula has, suddenly and sharply softened its antagonism to its anti‐Soviet neighbors.

For Ethiopia the maneuvering is of grave concern. At issue is the fear of becoming landlocked. Ethiopia does have an 800‐mile coastline on the Red Sea, but it is all ‘within the province of Eritrea where separatists, aided and armed by some Arab states, are battling for independence. About half of Eritrea’s population is Moslem.

With the guerrillas reportedly in control of large areas of the countryside, convoys to and from the port cities of Assab and Massawa are said to be under constant menace.

Ethiopia’s only other outlet to the sea is through the port of Djibouti, the capital of the Territory of Mars and Issas, and the terminus of Ethiopia’s only railroad. However, this French possession between Ethiopia and Somalia is due later this year to become independent. It has large Somali‐speaking population and has long figured in Somali’s nationalist ambition to unify all Somalis.

Ethiopia Fears Loss of Railroad

For years Ethiopian politicians of various political orientations have expressed fears that Somalia planned to absorb not only Djibouti but also the largely Somali speaking Ogaden region of Ethiopia either by force of arms or through subversion. Somali control of Djibouti would mean Somali control over the one railroad in Ethiopia.

One analysis offered by diplomats here for Ethiopia’s recent move toward the Soviet Union and away from both China and the United States stressed that the military leadership in in Addis Ababa, taxed by the war in Eritrea and by internal dissent in many parts of the country, hoped that Moscow would be able to restrain Somalia.

Presumably Mr. Castro, whose African visit comes just before that of President Nikolai V. Podgorny of the Soviet Union later this month, is an attempt to defuse the historic antagonisms of the two states that are both at the moment within the Soviet camp.

At the same time the anti‐Soviet Arabs, linked to the Somalis by strong religious and cultural ties, are just as steadfastly seeking to exploit these antagonisms in the hope that Somalia and Ethiopia can never he the two servants of one master.