Mil­i­tary in Cas­tro’s Cuba: Po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic pil­lar

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Cuba’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces, which pre­ceded the bearded rebels Fidel Cas­tro led to power in 1959, have be­come eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal pil­lars that will re­main cru­cial for the govern­ment fol­low­ing the ex-leader’s death. Dur­ing the golden age of Soviet sup­port, the Cuban mil­i­tary was one of the world’s most ca­pa­ble: with nearly 300,000 men, it pro­jected Cuban power into Africa, no­tably An­gola where it con­tended suc­cess­fully with the for­mi­da­ble South African army.

The im­plo­sion of the Soviet bloc at the end of the 1980s and the 1989 ex­e­cu­tion of Cuba’s most cel­e­brated mil­i­tary com­man­der, Ar­naldo Ochoa, al­legedly for drug traf­fick­ing, saw the army prove its re­silience. Led from 1959 to 2008 by Fidel Cas­tro’s brother Raul, the FAR re­treated from the bat­tle­field and as­sumed a purely de­fen­sive pos­ture, while qui­etly mov­ing first into the is­land’s po­lit­i­cal and then eco­nomic spheres.

With ac­tive duty troops in the tens of thou­sands, the FAR can also count on a mil­lion-mem­ber “ter­ri­to­rial mili­tia” and 3.5 mil­lion mem­bers en­rolled in the coun­try’s “pro­duc­tion and de­fense bri­gades”. All are or­ga­nized un­der a de­fen­sive doc­trine of “to­tal pop­u­lar war,” which would in­volve mo­bi­liz­ing the en­tire coun­try in the event of a US in­va­sion.

Equipped by the Soviet Union un­til 1989, the army, navy and air force to­day make do with weapons con­sid­ered ob­so­lete but kept go­ing through an ex­traor­di­nary do­mes­tic train­ing, re­pair and mod­ern­iza­tion ef­fort. Even as the mil­i­tary arm has weak­ened, the armed forces have gained po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. As the FAR’s boss for nearly half a cen­tury, Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro re­lied on as­so­ci­ates from the mil­i­tary to run the coun­try since he re­placed Fidel in July 2006 af­ter the lat­ter fell ill. Raul Cas­tro of­fi­cially as­sumed the pres­i­dency in Feb 2008. Suc­ceed­ing his brother in April 2011 at the head of the all-pow­er­ful Cuban Com­mu­nist Party, Raul later named six gen­er­als to the 15-mem­ber Polit­buro, which also in­cludes re­tired mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and vet­er­ans of the guer­rilla war. But to­day, the army’s weight is felt most heav­ily in the eco­nomic realm. Af­ter be­com­ing pres­i­dent, Raul named Gen­eral Julio Casas Regueiro min­is­ter of de­fense, putting him in charge of all the army’s com­mer­cial en­ter­prises. He died in 2011.

The army’s ar­rival as a force in the Cuban econ­omy dates to the early 1990s. The col­lapse of the Soviet bloc plunged Cuba into an un­prece­dented cri­sis and the army was used to bring dis­ci­pline and ef­fec­tive­ness to the econ­omy. The mil­i­tary is ac­tive in many sec­tors: com­mu­ni­ca­tions, trans­porta­tion, in­dus­try, mines. Tens of thou­sands of young mil­i­tary re­cruits are em­ployed in agri­cul­ture. — AFP

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