The data are thrilling. On May 4, 1978, South African airplanes surreptitiously attacked a camp of Namibian refugees in Cassinga. In a short time the grapeshot load and the merciless action of the parachutists paid by Pretoria left the macabre balance of more than 600 dead, in their majority old men, women and children, and about 350 wounded.
That terrible day, Namibian and Cuban blood mixed for first time. There was the braveness and solidarity of the internationalist Cuban troops who faced the enemy‘s air force to defend the local population. The price they had to pay was very high: 16 dead and 80 wounded. Among the dead, there were eight young men from Ciego de Ávila and Pedro Valdivia was one of them.
This youth was born on September 17, 1947 in a humble family of workers whose pillars were Pedro and Teodula, his parents. Since his early age he had to combine the school with agricultural tasks. In schools of the provincial capital he reached his sixth grade.
At 14, without thinking it twice, he obeyed the call of his Homeland – which he would constantly do in his brief existence--, and enrolled an artillery course. With the legendary Homeland or Death force he spent three years and finished that speciality. He immediately joined the Camilo and Che Followers Column and worked in the construction sector, where he was appointed Exemplary Youth and was granted the membership of the Young Communist League (UJC).
In this organization and in the contingent, he also stood out for his integrity. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant; in 1970 he was demobilized and started working at the UJC Municipal Committee. He continued to study at the Faculty for Workers and Peasants and went through the third semester. Later on he was selected a Communist Party member, and was appointed a constituency delegate and, one year later, he was selected to accomplish an internationalist mission in the People’s Republic of Angola.
During the preparation, on Turiguanó Island, he made friends with the ones who later be his colleagues on the other side of the ocean. Today They remember him as a serious, sociable person, but bearing a strong character that inspired respect; very familiar and altruistic, and very conscientious regarding political and military issues. In Angola he maintained an exemplary attitude, always attentive to the men under his control, and strict in the execution of the duty and the assigned mission.
In the first days of January of 1978, the Antiaircraft Artillery Unit for the Defense of the South Tactical Group, to which he belonged, arrived in Angola. After the necessary procedures, they were transferred Chamutete, a place located 16 kilometers away from Cassinga, where there was a base of Namibian refugees. They were old people, women and children, since ones fit to combat were sent to the border area.
Eliecer Hernández Venegas, from the 2nd Battery of 14, 5 millimetres, the famous four mouths, remembers the unfortunate day: "The combative guard had finished. Around 7:15 in the morning, the politician read a piece of information about a visit of Fidel to Ciego de Ávila and Moron.
"We felt some explosions and began to take up positions. A while later enemy airplanes were seen while attacking the refugees camp and also the landing of parachutists.
"On the way to Cassinga, things got very hot: bombs, rockets, gunfire,… very hard hours, the boxes of my piece looked like a cheese with so many holes, the fragments caused me several wounds, but nobody weakened no matter the disparate combat. We later knew about the death of Pedro Valdivia and seven more comrades."
Héctor Báez Carrasco, the 2nd Battery explorer reported that the location of his battery was close to Pedro’s.
" I didn't see him practically , because that was a hell of smoke and grapeshot: the bombs would dig big holes and the earth trembled.
"I remember that later we picked up a young Namibian wounded on a leg and in a very bad shape (*). I saw Pedro dead in the hospital; his legs were a real mess and he was hurt all over his body."
A 5th Piece gunner, from the 3rd Battery, Pedro Cliff Fernández specified that on the way to Cassinga they were under the attack of Mirage airplanes, very modern then, with great fire power. "In one of the passes, one of the planes loosed several rockets and hit the 4th piece which was completely ruined. I thought they were wounded, because I didn't see anybody, but at once we knew there were several dead. There were four, and the same number in the 2nd Piece. "
Eduardo Aguilar Posse, was the driver of the 4th Piece: "We were the last to arrive. We placed the piece. Our mission was to defend the border and not to allow any invader to go in. I protected the truck at the established distance and dropped myself on the floor. I heard several explosions, then someone shouted that there were wounded. I stood up, the order was to go to my piece, that was destroyed, and identify the dead. Among them was Pedro Valdivia, chief of the piece and secretary of the Party, and other comrades. In my truck I took them and other wounded to the hospital. IThat wa my first and only combat. I returned from Angola on April 22, 1980."
The action was registered by history with the name of Cassinga Massacre. There, before a more powerful enemy regarding weapons and means, the Cuban forces stood out. And today, the grateful Homeland and their combat partners remember the heroes that offered their lives: Pedro Valdivia Paz, José R. Méndez Román, Jorge A. Rodríguez Legón, Roberto Zamora Machado, Francisco Seguí Rodríguez, Antolín García, Eusebio González and Ricardo R. González Figueredo.
(*) The young woman is named Claudia Ushona, survivor of Cassinga, a SWAPO combatant and Namibia ambassador to Cuba.