This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.
COUNTRY PROFILE: CUBA GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Overview: Since 1965 Cuba has been governed by a highly centralized system headed by the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba—PCC), which is the only authorized political party and rules as “the highest leading force of society and the State,” according to the constitution. The Council of State of the National Assembly of Popular Power is the state’s highest decision-making body, and the Council of Ministers is the highest executive and administrative authority. Beginning on December 2, 1976, Castro assumed the functions of president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. A People’s Supreme Court, accountable to the National Assembly, oversees a system of regional courts. Municipal, regional, and provincial assemblies also have been established.
On July 31, 2006, Cuban news media reported an official “proclamation” that Fidel Castro, the long-time chief of state and head of government as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, first secretary of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the PCC, and commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias—FAR), had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and consequently had transferred power and all of his principal government and party positions provisionally—for the first time in his 47-year rule—to his brother and long-time designated successor, Raúl Castro. Raúl Castro already had been serving equally as long as minister of the FAR, first vice president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, and second secretary of the PCC’s Political Bureau.
In addition, Fidel Castro transferred his functions as principal coordinator of the National and International Program of Public Health to José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, a member of the Political Bureau and minister of public health; his functions as principal coordinator of the National and International Education Program to two Political Bureau members, José Ramón Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernández; and his functions as principal coordinator of the National Program of the Energy Revolution in Cuba to Carlos Lage Dávila, a member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers. Fidel Castro also transferred his personal control of funding for these health, education, and energy programs to a funding committee consisting of Lage Dávila; Francisco Soberón Valdés, minister-president of the Central Bank of Cuba; and Felipe Pérez Roque, minister of foreign relations.
On August 13, on the occasion of Fidel Castro’s eightieth birthday and a visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías, Raúl Castro made his first public appearance as provisional president by greeting Chávez at the Havana airport. The following day, the electronic version of Granma, the official communist party newspaper, published photos of Castro being visited in his hospital room on his birthday by his brother and President Chávez. Despite Castro’s apparent improvement, in late September there was no indication that he would be resuming the full roster of his previous powers anytime soon, if at all. The temporary transfer of power, described by some observers as a dress rehearsal for a post-Castro transition, appeared more likely to become the actual succession. Nor was there any clear evidence that the leadership transition would evolve toward democratization, despite the assertion of opposition leader Osvaldo José Payá Sadinas that fidelismo would not survive Fidel and that Raúl Castro’s assumption of power would mean the country had entered a stage of substantial democratic opening. In the shorter term, according to some outside experts, a likely scenario is for Raúl Castro to serve as a pragmatic but low-profile chairman of a collective leadership until elections are held for the Council of State president and first secretary of the PCC.
Likely key leaders include the aforementioned younger-generation leaders, but particularly Lage Dávila and Pérez Roque, along with National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, who is Cuba’s most experienced diplomat. Although Raúl Castro apparently retains strong support within the FAR for his competent management of one of Cuba’s strongest institutions as well as for his successful command of the FAR during three overseas wars, his leadership of a post–Fidel Castro administration would itself likely be transitional because of his age—he turned 75 on June 3, 2006, reportedly poor health, and lack of his brother’s charisma and national and international stature. Interior Minister and Army Corps General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, who is next in the hierarchy of power after Raúl Castro, would be another likely transitional candidate; as a revolutionary comrade of the Castro brothers, Colomé would likely advocate a continued strong military role in government.
Executive Branch: The 31-member Council of State, whose members and president are elected by the National Assembly of Popular Power to serve as the Assembly’s permanent organ, is, in effect, the highest decision-making representative of the state because the National Assembly meets only twice a year for a few days each time. The president of the Council of State is also president of the Council of Ministers, in which executive and administrative authority is vested, and thus serves as both chief of state and head of government. In mid-2006, the Council of Ministers had 28 ministry posts (two of which were vacant), including the minister without portfolio. The constitution empowers the Council of Ministers, as the highest executive and administrative organ, to issue regulations to administer laws and decrees and to authorize exceptions to state ownership of the means of production. The ministers are responsible principally to the Council’s nine-member Executive Committee, which includes its president, first vice president, and five other vice presidents. The Executive Committee is the decision-making body of the Council of Ministers, and one of its main functions is to oversee the administration of the economy. The Council of Ministers answers to the National Assembly and to the Council of State. The president and vice presidents of the Council of State and the National Assembly elect ministers for a term of five years. Elections were last held in March 2003 and are next scheduled for 2008.
The 24-member Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba—PCC) is the party’s leading decision-making institution and Cuba’s most important decision-making entity. The PCC monopolizes all government positions, including judicial offices, and approves candidates for any elected office. The PCC’s highest authority is the Party Congress, which elects a Central Committee (150 members in 2005) to supervise the party’s work. To direct its policy, the Central Committee elects a Politburo (24 members in 2005).
Legislative Branch: As amended in July 1992, the 1976 constitution vests all formal legislative powers (including the powers to amend the constitution) in the National Assembly of Popular Power (Asamblea Nacional de Poder Popular—ANPP). The National Assembly is the supreme organ of state and the sole legislative authority. Prior to 1976, the Council of Ministers had exercised both executive and legislative functions. The National Assembly elects 31 of its members to form the Council of State, the Assembly’s permanent organ. The National Assembly has the formal power, among others, to approve the budget and the national economic plan; elect the members of the Supreme Court; and generally oversee the rule-making activities and electoral processes of the provincial assemblies and municipal assemblies. The 609 National Assembly deputies are elected by direct popular vote for five-year terms.
Judicial Branch: The constitution explicitly subordinates the judiciary to the National Assembly and the Council of State. The Cuban court system consists of a People’s Supreme Court, provincial courts, municipal courts, and military courts. The People’s Supreme Court, the highest judicial body, is organized into five chambers: criminal, civil and administrative, labor, state security, and military. Its members are nominated by the minister of justice and confirmed by the National Assembly with two exceptions: First, its president and vice president are nominated by the president of the Council of State; second, the members of the military chamber are nominated jointly by the minister of justice and the minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The minister of justice exercises administrative control over all the courts, including the People’s Supreme Court, which has no authority to declare a law unconstitutional. Judges are appointed for a term, not for life, and they can be removed from office if proper cause is shown. As a result, the courts show considerable deference to executive authority and are marked by political timidity. The Office of the State Prosecutor is subordinate to the National Assembly, which formally elects the prosecutor. This office has wide latitude to review the past conduct and prospective actions of all organs of state power. The prosecutor has specific oversight over all law enforcement and a rank equal to a Supreme Court justice. The prosecutor is directly responsible for cases of treason or corruption.
Administrative Divisions: In 1976 the Council of Ministers divided Cuba into 14 provinces and 169 municipalities. Listed from west to east, Cuba’s provinces are Pinar del Río, La Habana, Ciudad de La Habana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo. The Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), the Cuban archipelago’s second-largest island, is a special municipality.
Provincial and Local Government: The central government directly oversees the provincial and local governments through a hierarchical network of assemblies and committees. Each of Cuba’s 14 provinces is formally governed by a provincial assembly, which elects a provincial committee. The president of the provincial committee functions as the provincial governor. A provincial assembly must have at least 75 members, and they serve for five years. Each of the country’s 169 municipalities is governed by a municipal assembly, which elects a municipal committee, whose president functions as mayor. Municipal assembly delegates serve for two and one-half years. Nominations for municipal assembly elections come from regional assemblies at the precinct level.
Judicial and Legal System: A civil law state, Cuba has a legal system that is based on Spanish and American law but influenced by communist legal theory. Cuba’s inquisitorial system of criminal procedure emphasizes written codes rather than precedent as the source of law. There are no jury trials, and most trials are public. The courts are key institutions in law enforcement and also seek to educate the population about their rights and obligations. The provincial courts exercise jurisdiction over crimes for which punishment will not exceed eight years; about three-quarters of all crimes fall within their realm. Municipal courts serve as trial courts at the lowest level, and they have jurisdiction over minor crimes that typically carry a penalty of imprisonment for less than one year or small fines. They are also the courts of first instance in civil and labor cases. Municipal trials are always held before a panel of three judges. All of Cuba’s courts have both professional and lay judges. Professional judges are selected through a competitive examination administered by the Ministry of Justice. About half of Cuba’s judges are members of the Cuban Communist Party, and an even higher proportion of party members is evident in the Supreme Court. Cuban courts are very harsh in their treatment of the political opposition. Cubans can be jailed for speaking ill of their rulers or for organizing groups to contest political power.
Electoral System: Elections for the National Assembly are held in multimember districts. Voters have three choices: vote for the single official slate, vote for some of the candidates on the official slate (but never for opposition party candidates), or cast a blank ballot. To be elected, a candidate has to receive more than half of the valid votes cast. Elections to the National Assembly take place every five years. No candidate failed to be elected in the 1993 and 1998 National Assembly elections. The last elections for the National Assembly and provincial assemblies were held in January 2003; the next elections are slated for January 2008. Municipal elections were last held in April 2005 and are next due in October 2007.
Political Parties and Politics: The Cuban Communist Party (Partido Comunista de Cuba—PCC) has governed Cuba since 1965. The PCC is the only legal political party and exercises de facto control over government policies. Major issues are debated at periodic party congresses, the fifth of which was held in October 1997. These congresses adopt the party’s statutes and programs and choose the membership of the Central Committee and Political Bureau. Key issues are discussed more regularly in meetings of the Political Bureau, which includes Cuba’s most powerful leaders. The Central Committee, a much larger entity, meets annually and includes many key intermediate-level leaders.
Mass Media: In the absence of any freedoms of speech and press, domestic media must operate under party guidelines and reflect government views. The state owns and operates all mass media except for publications of the Roman Catholic Church. The Cuban government and Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba—PCC) strictly censor news, information, and commentary and restrict dissemination of foreign publications to tourist hotels. Laws against disseminating antigovernment propaganda, graffiti, and disrespect of officials carry prison penalties.
Cuba has several dozen online regional newspapers. The only national daily paper is Granma, the official organ of the PCC. A weekly version, Granma International, is published in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and German plus is available online. Havana residents also have their own weekly, Havana-oriented paper, Tribuna de La Habana. The weekly Juventud Rebelde is the official organ of the Communist Youth Union. The biweekly Bohemia is the country’s only general-interest newsmagazine. Cuba’s official news agency is Prensa Latina, which publishes several magazines, including Cuba Internacional, directed at the foreign audience.
In 2005 Cubans had at least 3.9 million radio receivers and 3 million television sets, and the country had 169 AM, 55 FM, and 58 TV broadcasting stations. The Cuban Institute of Radio and Television serves as the government’s administrative outlet for broadcasting. Of the six national FM radio stations, the top three are Radio Progreso, Radio Reloj, and Radio Rebelde, in that order. Two other national radio networks that also provide news and entertainment are Radio Musical Nacional (CMBF) and Radio Enciclopedia. Another station, Radio Taíno, promotes tourism. The Cuban government also operates Radio Havana, the official Cuban international short-wave radio service. The Cuban television system is made up of two networks: Cubavisión and Tele Rebelde. Cuba’s restriction of foreign broadcast media is one reason the U.S. government has sponsored radio and television broadcasting into Cuba through Radio and TV Martí, much of which is jammed.
Internet access is restricted by prohibitive cost, by very limited accessibility, by the relatively small (albeit rapidly expanding) number of personal computers, and by government efforts to control information access. Local post offices provide public access to e-mail, but many facilities do not provide international access. Access to the World Wide Web is mainly restricted to government offices, research and educational institutes, and large companies.
Foreign Relations: With the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Cuba ended its long-time efforts to export Marxist revolution and adopted a pragmatic foreign policy that is designed to expand Cuba’s international relations and trade, as well as tourism and investment in Cuba. Cuba is no longer the major diplomatic player in the developing world that it was during the Cold War, when it was able to send troops to support revolutionary movements or regimes. Nevertheless, it still has the largest diplomatic representation of any Latin American country: 177 embassies and three consulates worldwide, and it continues to play an active role in its relations with the developing world, serving as host for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit on September 11–16, 2006, and taking over chairmanship of the NAM from Malaysia. Cuban relations with Russia remain cautious. Cuba’s diplomatic efforts are more focused on deepening links with major trade partners, namely China and Venezuela. Cuba also has sought closer ties with Vietnam and North Korea. As its trade ties with China and Venezuela have increased, Cuba has shown declining interest in wooing the European Union (EU), which, despite being an outspoken critic of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, is divided about cooperating with Cuba because of the island’s poor human rights record and lack of democracy. Cuba has continued to cultivate relations with individual EU member countries.
In the Americas, Cuba has used the election of a series of left-leaning presidents in countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, and Venezuela to develop relations with those countries and the region in general. Cuba also has continued to foster close political and commercial ties with Mexico and Canada, both of which have been strong critics of the U.S. economic embargo. However, diplomatic relations between Cuba and Mexico have been strained since 2001 over Cuba’s human rights record and reached their lowest point in more than a century in April 2004, when Mexico voted against Cuba for the third time at the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Mexico sent a new ambassador to Cuba in September 2005 after seven months without diplomatic representation. Cuba’s relations with its Caribbean neighbors have improved slowly since 1991, and Fidel Castro has made several state visits throughout the Caribbean region. Relations between Jamaica and Cuba, which have direct air links, are now fairly good.
Cuba and the United States have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1961, but each country maintains an Interests Section in the other’s capital. Bilateral Cuban-U.S. relations have remained highly antagonistic since the communist government of Fidel Castro came to power. Progress in this area has been severely constrained by the enduring rigidities of the communist regime and the inflexible U.S. policy stance. The U.S. government has sought to further tighten the implementation of economic sanctions, despite lack of congressional support for such a move. In a rare instance of Cuban-U.S. collaboration, Cuban and U.S. doctors worked together for the first time in May 2005 during a seven-day visit to Honduras by a Cuban Medical Brigade. Prospects for an improvement in Cuban-U.S. relations and lifting of the Cold War–era U.S. trade embargo remain poor until the Castro era ends, the country opens to democratization, and the politically powerful émigré community in the United States drops its traditional opposition to any rapprochement.
Membership in International Organizations: Cuba is excluded from hemispheric organizations subject to the U.S. veto, including the Americas Summit, the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, and negotiations over the Free-Trade Area of the Americas. Cuba has been accepted as a full member of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) group of countries associated with the European Union (EU), although it is not a beneficiary of ACP–EU trade agreements. Cuba is a member of all United Nations (UN) agencies, including the regional body and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba is also a member of the Customs Co-operation Council, Food and Agriculture Organization, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Criminal Police Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Hydrographic Organization, International Labour Organisation, International Maritime Organization, International Maritime Satellite Organization, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Standardization, International Telecommunication Union, International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (nonsignatory user), Latin American Economic System, Non-Aligned Movement, Permanent Court of Arbitration, Universal Postal Union, World Confederation of Labor, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Meteorological Organization, World Tourism Organization, and World Trade Organization.
Major International Treaties: In the area of counternarcotics, Cuba is a party to the 1988 United Nations Drug Convention, the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol. The Cuban government has not signed the Agreement Concerning Co-operation in Suppressing Illicit Maritime and Air Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in the Caribbean Area (Caribbean Regional Maritime Agreement), despite its participation in the agreement negotiations. Cuba has signed, but not ratified, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Cuba maintains bilateral narcotics agreements with 33 countries and less formal agreements with 16 others.
Cuba is a signatory of the following environmental treaties or protocols, among others: Antarctic, Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region, Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere, Desertification, Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It has signed but not ratified the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, the Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol, and Marine Life Conservation.
In 1995 Cuba signed the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco), a Latin American regional nonproliferation regime, but declined to ratify the treaty and bring it into force until October 2002. Cuba submitted its ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in November 2002.
Armed Forces Overview: The Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias—FAR) was one of the largest and most formidable militaries in the Latin American region if not in the entire developing world in the mid-1980s, when it still received substantial Soviet aid, but it declined greatly during the post-Soviet years of the 1990s. It remains the most powerful military force in the Caribbean area. Numbering an estimated 49,000 active members in 2006, the FAR consists of the 38,000-member Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario), the 3,000-member (including 500 marines) Revolutionary Navy (Marina de Guerra Revolucionaria—MGR), and the 8,000-member Antiaircraft Defense and Revolutionary Air Force (Defensa Antiaérea y Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria—DAAFAR). In addition, the FAR has 39,000 reservists. Today the FAR has a primarily defensive and deterrent orientation. The army remains both well equipped and professional and is one of the strongest defensive military forces in Latin America, capable of offering strong resistance to an invading power. Traditionally a well-trained and professional force, the DAAFAR has been hobbled by a chronic lack of fuel and replacement parts and as a result has continued to decline in effectiveness. The MGR has been reduced to basically a coast guard.
The Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Ministerio de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias—MINFAR) commands the FAR. As president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, General Fidel Castro Ruz had been commander in chief of the FAR, until July 31, 2006, when, for health reasons, he provisionally transferred these functions to his brother, Raúl Castro Ruz, who is also minister for the FAR and chief of the Joint General Staff. The army, navy, and air force each have a general staff under the control of the Joint General Staff. The Cuban military is divided into three major geographical commands: Western (headquartered in Havana), covering the capital and the provinces of Ciudad de La Habana and Pinar del Río; Central (headquartered in Matanzas), covering the provinces of Matanzas, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Sancti Spíritus; and Eastern (headquartered in Santiago de Cuba), covering the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, Granma, Holguín, Las Tunas, Camagüey, and Ciego de Ávila. Each of the three regional army commands and the Isle of Youth Autonomous Military Region has its own staff organization and reports to Raúl Castro.
Foreign Military Relations: The Cuban military has long maintained contact with the armed forces of developing world nations that are considered nonaligned or at least not ideologically hostile to the Castro regime. It was able to mitigate its post-Soviet isolation by developing closer ties with fellow military officers in Latin America and Europe, and its post–Cold War efforts to build contacts with foreign militaries were aided by Fidel Castro’s 1992 declaration that Cuba would no longer support revolutionary movements abroad.
Russia still has a December 2000 agreement with Cuba to modernize Soviet-built Cuban military equipment, but there is little evidence that Cuba’s inventory is being modernized. Perhaps the most important tie with a foreign military force to develop since the Soviet Union’s demise has been the relationship with the Chinese Popular Liberation Army. In early 2001, China and Cuba concluded an agreement to increase military cooperation. However, the Chinese-Cuban military relationship, which appears to be more of a business arrangement, does not compare with Cuba’s former military dependency on the Soviet Union.
External Threat: No neighboring Latin American or Caribbean countries pose a military threat to Cuba. The only country with a history of military intervention in Cuba since the expulsion of Spain in 1898 is the United States, which maintains the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, consisting of 1,600 army, 510 naval, 80 marine, and 65 air force personnel in 2004. The Castro government has always portrayed the United States in Cuban media as a potential military threat to Cuba, often using as an historical example the disastrous landing of an army of Cuban exiles organized by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency on Playa Girón in the Bay of Pigs on the south-central Cuban coast on April 17, 1961. U.S. economic warfare against the island has always been a reality for the Castro government, which also portrays the U.S. threat as taking the form of support for internal subversion, human rights activism, and political interference. On August 1, 2006, claiming the country was “under threat” of U.S. aggression, Acting President Raúl Castro ordered a military mobilization of tens of thousands of reservists and militia members and the Special Troops as per plans that Fidel Castro “approved and signed on January 13, 2005.”
Defense Budget: Cuba’s defense budget shrank from 9.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1985 to 2.8 percent of GDP in 1995. Over the past decade, it has remained under 4 percent of GDP. Cuba does not make public its defense spending, but expenditures on defense and internal security for 2005 were estimated at US$1.7 billion, compared with US$1.1 billion in 2003, US$900 million in 2002, US$789 million in 2001, and US$720 million in 1997. The 2003 estimate of US$1.1 billion was the equivalent of US$97 per head of population and US$23,157 per member of the armed forces. The army has become more self-reliant through greater involvement in the economy, particularly in agricultural food production, transport, and tourism (through the military-linked Gaviota Tourism Group, S.A.).
Major Military Units: The full establishment of a mobilized Cuban infantry division is 5,900 members; a mechanized division, 8,200; and an armored division, 6,200. A Cuban infantry regiment numbers 1,010 personnel, and each of its two battalions numbers 349 soldiers. Armored regiments consist of 720 personnel; each of their three tank battalions has about 110 soldiers and 21 tanks; artillery regiments have about 975 personnel. In early 2006, the army had four or five armored brigades, nine mechanized brigades, one airborne brigade, and one artillery group. In addition, the army included between 12 and 14 reserve infantry brigades. It was deployed regionally in the Western Army, Central Army, and Eastern Army. In addition, the Isla de la Juventud Military Region was garrisoned by forces equivalent to an infantry brigade. The Revolutionary Army Command included an airborne brigade and an artillery division. The Western Army included two mixed security regiments: one consisted of four divisions (brigade equivalents); the other, called the 2nd Pinar del Río Army Corps, consisted of three infantry divisions (brigades). The Central Army comprised three mixed security regiments, four infantry divisions (brigades), and the 4th Las Villas Army Corps, which consisted of three infantry brigades. The Eastern Army included 10 divisions (brigades), the Guantánamo Frontier Guard Brigade (comprising two infantry regiments), the 5th Holguín Army Corps (comprising one mechanized and four infantry divisions/brigades), and the 6th Camagüey Army Corps (consisting of one mechanized brigade and three infantry brigades).
Major military units of the rest of the armed forces also are divided into the western, central, and eastern regions. The three main territorial divisions of the air force and their responsible brigades are the Western Air Zone (the Bay Of Pigs Guard Brigade), the Central Air Zone (the Batalla de Santa Clara Guard Brigade), and the Eastern Air Zone (the Cuartel Moncada Guard Brigade). The nearly nonoperational navy, which is divided into the Western Naval District and the Eastern Naval District, has naval bases in Cabañas, Nicaro, Cienfuegos, Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Banes.
Major Military Equipment: Although the army is well stocked with Russian equipment, much of it is obsolete or aging, and there is a critical shortage of spare parts. Most of Cuba’s equipment came from the former Soviet Union and its East European allies, primarily Czechoslovakia and Poland. Under a 2000 accord, Russia is supposed to assist Cuba in modernizing its inventory. In the meantime, China has become Cuba’s main supplier of arms.
Cuba reportedly has about 1,500 to 1,700 armored military vehicles in service. In 2005 the army inventory included an estimated 900 main battle tanks, including 400 T–62s (200 in service) and 1,100 T–54/55s (500 in service). Other armored vehicles included 50 PT–76 amphibious light tanks (30 in service), 100 BRDM–1/–2 reconnaissance vehicles (about 90 in service), 400 BMP–1 armored infantry fighting vehicles (about 150 in service), and 700 BTR–40/–50/–60/–152 armored personnel carriers (300 in service). The army’s artillery included 37 self-propelled howitzers, 500 towed pieces, and about 175 BM–14 and BM–21 multiple rocket launchers. In addition, the army had 1,000 mortars.
The air force still has a sizable inventory, but it, too, suffers from obsolescence and critical shortages of spare parts. In 2006 the air force had 127 combat aircraft of Russian make, only about 25 of which were operational. The air force also had 87 Russian-made helicopters of various types. Air defense weapons included 300 low- to medium-altitude SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) of various types and antiaircraft guns of unknown quantities. As of 2006, the inventory included two new mobile versions of the Soviet-era S–75 (SA–2 Guideline) and S–125 (SA–3 Goa). Army aviation had about 65 Mi-type attack, utility, and antisubmarine warfare helicopters, about 63 of which were in service. Naval aviation included 18 Russian helicopters of unknown operational status. The navy also had a substantial but increasingly obsolescent inventory of equipment, which included about seven coastal patrol craft, four missile craft, six mine countermeasures craft, and one hydrographic survey vessel. Coastal defense equipment included the truck-mounted SS–N–2B Styx and various artillery pieces. Naval spare parts were in critical shortage.
Military Service: Since 1963 all male citizens between the ages of 16 and 45 have been liable for military service. The initial period of military training originally lasted three years, between the ages of 17 and 20. In 1991 active duty was reduced to a two-year tour. Reservists serve 45 days per year.
Paramilitary Forces: Active paramilitary forces totaled 26,500 in 2006. Paramilitary forces in general include a civil defense force of 50,000 and the Youth Labor Army (Ejército Juvenil de Trabajo—EJT). The EJT’s membership ranges from 65,000 to 100,000, depending on the source but was approximately 70,000 in 2006. Primarily an organized labor force under the control of the Joint General Staff, the EJT has military training and equipment. By far the largest paramilitary force is the Territorial Troops Militia (Milicia de Tropas Territoriales—MTT), which is often described as having 1 million reservists. The MTT is organized into about 200 regiments comprising approximately 1,000 battalions. Primarily an infantry force, the MTT includes mounted units and some artillery and antiaircraft elements. The 6,500-member Border Guard Troops (Tropas de Guardafronteras—TGF) may also qualify as a paramilitary force.
Foreign Military Forces: Since 2000 the Chinese reportedly have operated two signals intelligence (SIGINT) facilities, located at Santiago de Cuba and Bejucal, for the purpose of monitoring military communications networks within the United States. All Russian combat troops have been withdrawn from Cuba, but some SIGINT troops and military advisers reportedly remain. The last major Russian presence on the island was the Lourdes SIGINT station; its announced closure in October 2001 deprived the Castro government of as much as US$200 million in annual rent.
Military Forces Abroad: The Cuban military does not participate in peace support operations and is not known to have any forces abroad, other than an unknown number of advisers in Venezuela. Since the mid-1990s, Cuba has sent Special Forces officers to Vietnam for training. Cuba reportedly considered a request from the government of the Solomon Islands in May 2000 for Cuban intervention in the interethnic civil war that was engulfing the islands. Cuba initially indicated a willingness to provide aid and support measures to help alleviate the fighting in return for diplomatic recognition and involvement in exploitation of the Pacific nation’s mineral assets, but nothing came of the talks after regional diplomatic protests.
Security Forces: Civilian authorities control the security forces through the Ministry of Interior. However, most key positions in the ministry are held by officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The security forces include the 20,000-member Department of State Security (Departamento de Seguridad del Estado—DSE), the Border Guard Troops (Tropas de Guardafronteras—TGF), and the 15,000-member National Revolutionary Police (Policía Nacional Revolucionaria—PRN). Reorganized in 1998, the PRN is known to be effective in its primary civil police role. Political control is exercised mainly through the DSE, which is supported by neighborhood block committees—Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). The CDRs constitute a network of police informers and armed vigilantes that can be mobilized to intimidate opposition elements as well as to prevent crime. This network is headed by the national CDR, a component of the PRN. In addition, the Special Forces of the Ministry of Interior control Cuba’s elite rapid-intervention force, consisting of two battalions of Special Troops (Tropas Especiales) that have a combined total strength of about 1,500. Highly trained and motivated, they appear to be extremely effective within the limitations of their small numbers. They are equipped with the best personal and close-support weapons available to the Cuban armed forces.
Internal Threats: The Castro regime’s highly efficient secret services keep close control over public gatherings, are quick to quash any dissent, and closely monitor opposition groups. As a result, the Castro regime remains firmly in power and faces no serious internal threat to its power or stability or any signs of unrest resulting from the provisional transfer of power to Raúl Castro. That could change, however, if Raúl Castro, lacking his brother’s charisma and stature, is unable to govern effectively in a post–Fidel Castro situation and is confronted by a power struggle. Currently, the only internal security threats are posed by street crime, organized crime, and illegal emigration. Although street crime has been rising, the crime rate is still lower than in other Latin American states, and the authorities have been making significant efforts to ensure that incidents do not adversely affect tourism. Nevertheless, some Cuban-American gangs reportedly are actively rebuilding their contacts in Cuba, and Cuba reportedly has a strong potential for a resurgence of organized crime, mainly related to drug trafficking, money laundering, and prostitution. Other transnational criminal networks including Russia-based groups have been establishing a presence on the island. The Italian police have reported that Sicilian organized crime is interested in developing operations in Cuba, seeking to use new construction projects related to the tourism industry to launder money. All forms of trafficking in persons are crimes in Cuba. Despite the absence of reports of human trafficking in Cuba in 2005, trafficking for underage prostitution and forced labor did occur.
Drug smuggling and illegal emigration are currently Cuba’s principal maritime threats. Although Cuban policy is to prevent, intercept, and destroy drug contraband, the country’s geographical position and limited coastal enforcement have not discouraged drug traffickers from transiting Cuban territorial water and airspace. Cuba aggressively pursues an internal narcotics enforcement, investigation, and prevention program and attempts to cooperate with the United States in narcotics enforcement areas. Nevertheless, Cuba is already an important trafficking transshipment point for drugs from Latin America and is unable to control its waters and airspace effectively. Most confiscations along the Cuban coastline come from the recovery of washed-up narcotics thrown overboard. Uncertainty regarding Fidel Castro’s illness in early August 2006 prompted some U.S. concern over the threat of a new flood of illegal immigration to Florida in the wake of Castro’s death, but no changes in U.S. immigration policy had resulted by mid-September.
Terrorism: According to the U.S. Department of State’s annual terrorism report for 2005, Cuba continues “to embrace terrorism as an instrument of policy.” Cuba has been on the department’s list of states that sponsor terrorism since 1982, citing Fidel Castro’s training and arming of communist rebels in Africa and Latin America. Since 1992, however, the regime appears to have ceased active military support of revolutionary groups in the absence of subsidies and other support from the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Cuba was the only nation that failed to condemn terrorism at the United Nations General Assembly session on November 16, 2001, and Cuba has continued to actively oppose the U.S.-led “war on terrorism” by taking a stance that “acts by legitimate national liberation movements cannot be defined as terrorism.” Cuba has provided “limited support” to designated foreign terrorist organizations as well as haven for some terrorists such as members of the Basque terrorist group Fatherland and Freedom.
In past decades, Cuba was the target of anti-Castro terrorism by Florida-based Cuban exile groups. For example, Cuban exiles were linked to the firebombing of a Cubana airlines DC–8 jetliner that crashed off the coast of Barbados, killing all 73 persons aboard on October 6, 1976. Throughout the 1990s, Cuban-American exiles boasted of paramilitary raids into Cuba, including a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997. In 1999 two Salvadoran nationals were convicted of terrorism and sentenced to death for a string of hotel bombings carried out in 1997, in which one foreign tourist was killed. According to prosecutors, both the Salvadorans were acting on behalf of anti-Castro exiles trying to sabotage Cuba’s tourism industry.
Human Rights: As a communist dictatorship, the Castro regime has a long record of disrespect for human rights, such as its draconian crackdown on dissidents in March–April 2003. The harsh prison sentences ranging from six to 28 years that were meted out to 75 human rights activists, independent journalists, and opposition figures set back the regime’s efforts to win international and U.S. support for an end to economic and political sanctions. By the end of 2005, at least 333 Cuban political prisoners and detainees continued to be held in Cuba, according to the U.S. Department of State, but there were no known politically motivated killings or “disappearances.” To legally repress dissent and restrict freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security, the Castro regime relies on its Criminal Code, which criminalizes enemy propaganda, the spreading of “unauthorized news,” and insults to patriotic symbols. Conditions in Cuba’s overcrowded prisons continued to be harsh and life-threatening in 2005. Prison authorities frequently beat, neglected, isolated, and denied medical treatment to detainees and prisoners, particularly those convicted of political crimes or those who persisted in expressing their oppositional views. Authorities also often denied family visitation, adequate nutrition, exposure to natural light, pay for work, and the right to petition the prison director.
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