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Government, Defense

Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, sugar fields, MININT, Libertacao, largest standing army

The Cuban Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FAR) has its roots in the revolutionary guerrilla troops who fought under Castro during the revolution in the late 1950s. When Castro came to power in 1959, he amassed the largest standing army in Latin America. He also created a militarized society in which all citizens were on alert against U.S. aggression. All social movements, such as the literacy brigades, were organized and led as though they were military offensives. The FAR, which draws recruits from throughout the population, is intended to fight invasions and wars in foreign lands. It may also be used to suppress insurrection. In peacetime, the FAR serves in national emergencies, such as cleanups after hurricanes and in harvesting the sugar fields when a crop is in danger.

The military is organized under the Ministerio de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or MINFAR) and commanded by President Fidel Castro and his brother, Vice President Raul Castro. The military defends the country, trains young people for war and peace, helps Cubans develop useful skills and work habits, and maintains domestic security.

The military also fought abroad for socialist and nationalist causes, and it supported nations who were trying to resist U.S. influence in their internal affairs. From 1960 to 1990 the FAR participated in international revolutionary campaigns in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Perhaps the best-known and most successful Cuban overseas involvement began in 1973 in Angola. Cuba sent military forces to fight with the leftist Movimento Popular de Libertacao de Angola (MPLA; Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), one of several groups struggling to achieve Angola’s independence from Portugal. As the conflict continued, the USSR sent aid and technology to Cubans and Angolans fighting in the war zone. Cuba’s involvement in the Angola campaign ended in 1990 after a peace settlement was negotiated.

At home, the FAR also defended Cuba in 1961 during the Bay of Pigs invasion, when U.S.-backed Cuban exiles unsuccessfully attempted to invade the island and topple the Castro government. In succeeding years, Cuba maintained a standing army of around 200,000 men and women. In 1986, the government constricted FAR’s parameters to focus primarily on domestic security.

The government severely restricted military expenditures during the 1990s, and Cuba’s involvement in foreign wars ended. The government also allocated a smaller budget for the military, which fell from $2.2 billion in 1988 to $1.5 billion annually in the 1990s. The USSR sharply reduced its contribution to military expenses from the $5 billion it supplied in 1988, and it withdrew about 2,500 Soviet troops from Cuba in 1993. By 1991 Cuba had no combat troops stationed abroad.

Withdrawals made practical sense when the domestic economy required heroic measures for survival. The new front was at home. Soldiers returning from overseas duty discovered that their service was needed in civic and economic campaigns. FAR troops worked in agriculture and rebuilt war machinery, mostly antiquated Soviet guns, tanks, and ammunitions. The troops recycled spare parts to use this equipment in the constant military drills against possible U.S. invasions.

FAR saw its prestige and importance greatly reduced under the new constrictions. Beginning in 1991, growing dissent within FAR and a suspicion that support for the government was waning in the ranks of the military led Castro to depend more heavily on the Ministerio del Interior (known as MININT), the state agency responsible for internal security. Within MININT are a number of paramilitary, military, and intelligence branches: the Border Guard Troops; the National Revolutionary Police; the Special Troops, which are under Fidel Castro’s direct command; the Department of State Security Force, which conducts domestic intelligence; and the Department of General Intelligence, which operates international espionage. The MININT is responsible for top security and intelligence operations, and its members are assumed to be absolutely loyal to the revolutionary government. Only high-ranking officers are assigned to handle the secretive work more characteristic of the MININT.

The FAR and the PCC have always been linked through FAR membership in Communist Party organizations. Military officials have always held office in the Central Committee and the Politburo, and they sit in the Council of Ministers. FAR representation in the Central Committee has declined from 26.6 percent in 1981 to approximately 10 percent in 1995. In the Politburo, however, FAR presence has been increased from 16 to 21 percent from 1981 to 1995 as a result of the government’s desire to ensure political loyalty from the armed forces and to reduce the possibilities of an insurrection from within the military. More importantly, military leadership remains in the hands of individuals from Castro’s generation. Younger officers have not been promoted to the rank of general nor given political responsibilities.

The economic crisis of the 1990s has necessitated reducing the size of the military from 180,500 to around 100,000 women and men. These cuts have been made largely in areas of civil service rather than national defense. As incentives to the best-qualified youth to join the military service, recruits with exemplary military records are aided in gaining admission to a university.

National defense has not been affected by troop reduction. The government maintains constant preparedness for the People’s War, the government’s term since 1980 for an all-out military conflict between Cuba and the United States in which the people will bear arms in the defense of Cuba. Preparedness involves readiness not only in the regular army, but also among reservists, retired officers, and a 1.3-million-person militia. All practice war games and train for war on a regular basis.

Despite the heavily militarized nature of Cuban society and the obvious military presence in government and labor, members of the FAR are not uniformly supportive of government policies, nor are its members separated from the Cuban people. At night, soldiers not living on a military base return to their homes, where they and their families suffer the same discomforts civilians do. Significant dissent exists within the FAR.

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