In terms of civil-military relations, Leninist Cuba was always considered to be safe from military conspiracies or even tension between civilian and military authorities. However, by the mid-1980s the regime grew increasingly concerned with the level of loyalty and civilian control of the armed forces and security apparatus. In the case of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (Revolutionary Armed Forces--FAR), in the early 1980s the regime began to question whether it could count on the FAR in a time of crisis. Subsequently, it initiated a process of readjusting its policy of civil-military relations. The FAR’s reorganization and modernization in the 1970s had led to dangerous levels of institutional autonomy.

The 1959-1979 period of civilian control is being termed here as Fidelismo. This is not meant to describe factionalism or cliques in the military or party, as Edward Gonzalez has discussed, but a policy or pattern of civilian control similar to what Samuel Huntington described as subjective control of the military. The leadership gains this kind of control largely by encouraging members of the armed forces to identify with its goals, political ideologies, or regime types. As Huntington explained, “subjective control achieves its ends by civilianizing the military, making them the mirror of the state.” In the case of Cuba, the Rebel Army and its successor the FAR are products of Fidel Castro and the revolutionary struggle. The centrality and indispensability of Fidel Castro, the maximo lider and founder of the Rebel Army, along with the historical roots of the FAR was fostered by a process of political education and indoctrination that made constant reference to the institution’s mythical roots in the Rebel Army’s struggle against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

In the 1970s, the regime sought to differentiate between civilian and military roles. The fusion of both roles in the 1960s led to economic difficulties and a military force ill-trained to defend the revolution against internal and external threats. With the help of Soviet advice, training and weapons, the FAR was turned into a modern fighting force engaged in overseas missions. However, as Huntington and Morris Janowitz warn, professionalism in training, organization, and equipment can lead to the development of institutional concerns separate from those of the political and social actors, an outcome that could hinder subjective control.

In the early 1980s the regime began a process of reassessing the Fidelista model of civilian control. It was a period of transition whereby the leadership reevaluated how it viewed the military’s role and capabilities. The regime adopted a new defense doctrine and created a massive paramilitary force to insure popular support while it attempted to readjust or reequlibrate civil-military relations in a changing international system characterized by “new thinking,”glasnost and the winding down of the East-West conflict. Because of the potential “counterrevolutionary” effects of glasnost and perestroika on Soviet-trained officers returning from a vexing and frustrating war in Angola, military counter-intelligence and the Partido Comunista de Cuba (Cuban Communist Party--PCC) penetration of the FAR were expanded. Desertions and evasion of obligatory military service was high and defections by high-ranking military officers only confirmed the regime’s suspicion: the FAR could no longer be trusted to defend the revolution. The court-martial and execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa, Hero of the Republic, in 1989 for largely trumped up charges of corruption and drug trafficking was the ultimate manifestation of this suspicion.

A new model, identified here as Raulista, was adopted in the late 1980s consisting of a pattern of control that included purging officers, particularly those who served in Angola, and later coopting others by giving them a larger stake in the regime’s survival. The FAR’s new and dominant role in the economy has allowed the institution to benefit from its new mission, tying the institution closer to the regime in a time of crisis. The military was stripped of any institutional prestige and turned into a loyal and subservient proponent of Raul Castro’s economic and political objectives. In other words, Raulismo is the readjustment and reassertion of civilian control through the debasing and restructuring of the armed forces. The ideological and revolutionary mechanisms of civilian control under Fidelismo have been replaced by mission change and co-optation under Raulismo.

Insuring that the armed forces remain loyal to the revolution is one of the Cuban leadership’s top political priorities. To see to it that the military remains subordinate and obedient to political leaders has been a central feature of revolutionary rule since the early 1960s. Whether that is by way of the FAR’s subordination to the Party or the military’s recent transformation and restructuring, the key is to ensure the FAR’s loyalty by way of intimidation and/or rewards. Recently, concern over the FAR’s loyalty was demonstrated when, in response to a plea by the United States in January 1997 that the FAR lead the transition to democracy in return for US assistance, the Cuban government reacted immediately by initiating a national campaign to collect signatures of soldiers that “supported the revolution and rejected the interventionist policy of the US.” In a highly ceremonial event in March, FAR and Ministry of Interior (MININT) officers presented the Castros with books containing more than 200,000 signatures from military and security personnel reaffirming their loyalty to the regime. The regime’s immediate response to a perceived threat to undermine its control of the military is testament to its overall insecurity and concern for breakdown in civil-military relations.

This essay will trace and examine the mechanisms of civilian control in Cuba, emphasizing the characteristics of each model, including the transition period of readjustment in the 1980s. The shift from subjective mechanisms and the duality of elite roles that characterized the Fidelista model of civilian control to the transformation of the military under Raulismo is a result of a number of systemic and institutional changes that will be explored in this article. The indigenous revolutionary experience and anti-imperialism was the driving force behind the consolidation of civilian control of the military under the Fidelista model. The professionalization and modernization of the FAR in the 1970s and the impact of Gorbachevism and the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s required a reevaluation of civilian control that led to the military’s transformation under Raulismo.

Fidelismo: Revolutionary and Internationalist Soldier (1959-1979)

The Cuban armed forces have been an important pillar of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime. Unlike Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the FAR came into existence long before the PCC. Castro’s small guerrilla force that had operated in the Sierras in the late 1950s had not come into being under the guiding hand of a communist party. The old communist party in Cuba, the Partido Socialista Popular (Popular Socialist Party--PSP), did not become part of the revolutionary struggle until the final months. The PSP was viewed with suspicion by Castro because of its close ties to the USSR and lack of revolutionary credentials and loyalty (i.e. not sufficiently fidelista ). On the other hand, the FAR, the successor to the Rebel Army, became the single most preeminent institution in the early stages of the revolutionary process.

One key component of Fidelismo was the emphasis placed on the historical and mythical origins of the military and its ties to the leadership. As far as Fidel was concerned, the FAR embodied all the values associated with the struggle against Batista and the defense and consolidation of the revolution. Schools of revolutionary instruction were established which politicized and indoctrinated young cadres paving the way for a united and loyal FAR. The internalization of the revolution’s assumptions, values and institutional norms as defined by the leadership became a critical component of Fidelismo control.

Along with imbuing the military with a heroic character, anti-imperialism and frenzied appeals to prepare for an inevitable US invasion perpetuated a siege mentality that also helped consolidate Fidelismo control of the military. The Manual de Capacitacion Civica, the primer for political education of soldiers, provided the ideological framework for Castroism-- the creation of a politico-military organization commanded by a leader (i.e. Fidel) who exercises both political and military roles; and the popular mobilization and militarization through the elaboration of anti-imperialist nationalism. As a result of the leadership’s trust and the lack of much technical and organizational skills in Cuba at the time, the FAR’s role in society was expanded to non-defense tasks. By a somewhat exaggerated account the FAR could be considered the state during the early period of revolutionary consolidation.

Fidelismo also consisted of control through the fusion or duality of civilian and military elites. As revolutionary soldiers, the FAR members have lived with a certain murkiness in the separation between military and civilian spheres that underscored the fundamental tenet of Fidelismo. The critical role assumed by the FAR in the bureaucracy and economy of Cuba during the early years, and the fusion or low level of differentiation between military and nonmilitary elites and roles produced what Jorge Dominguez described as the “civic-soldier” model.

Cuba has been ruled in large part by military men who govern large segments of both military and civilian life, who are held up as paragons to both soldiers and civilians, who are the bearers of the revolutionary tradition and ideology, who have politicized themselves by absorbing the norms and organization of the Communist party, and who have educated themselves to become professional in political, economic, managerial, engineering, and educational as well as military affairs... They are generalists, equally at home in military, bureaucratic, and party affairs. Their civilian and military lives are fused.

Perlmutter and LeoGrande suggests the symbiotic relationship in civil-military relations, meaning the fusion of political and military elites found in communist systems that come to power by waging guerrilla war, make civil-military relations much less conflictual. The blurrier the line between military and civilian authorities, the greater the probability that cooperation or civilian manipulation will dominate civil-military relations. This was the case in Cuba during the 1960s and early 1970s; however, as the FAR retreated from non-defense tasks and embarked upon reorganizing and professionalizing itself with the help of Soviet technical advice, the lines of differentiation began to slowly appear, increasing the potential, in the future, for conflict. In the 1970s conflict was kept at a minimum, despite emerging lines of institutional differentiation and autonomy, because of the FAR’s internationalist role which, at least in the short term, assuaged the potential for conflict. The symbiotic or dual relationship between civilian and military roles and elites began to unravel causing some concern in early 1980s.

As a result of its revolutionary credentials, the FAR took over political and administrative control of the state after the collapse of the Batista dictatorship. The armed forces played a central role in the creation of a new order, “assuming responsibility for the management, organization, and implementation of national social and economic programs.” In the 1960s, no other institution was more loyal or capable of challenging the hegemony of this armed Castroite or fidelista institution.

In the 1960s the FAR was the backbone of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime, providing for the internal and external defense as well as for the socialist development of the island. The anti-guerrilla campaigns and the Bay of Pigs invasion were major tests for the FAR bolstering the pride, solidarity and faith of the armed forces in the revolutionary process and leadership. The success against armed opposition not only consolidated the Revolution but infused the military with a sense of its own legitimacy and self confidence that was further fostered by a process of political education and indoctrination.

It is important to remember that despite the FAR’s prominent and influential role, the revolutionary leadership has always been careful to maintain strict political control. One of Castro’s worst fears has always been to have the military develop into a semi-independent power bloc that could threaten his power. Many of the paramilitary groups, or as one scholar noted, the “several armies of Fidel Castro”, were largely created to counter potential threats emanating from the military during periods of crisis. For example, in October 1959 the Castro regime organized the Milicia Nacional Revolucionaria (National Revolutionary Militia--MNR) as a politico-military counterweight to the FAR. The regime used the MNR as a vehicle of social mobilization in case of threats from anti-communist forces in or out of the military.

Political discipline was also attempted through the organization of the PCC in the FAR. In the early 1960s the process of organizing the party in the military began first by training political officers or “revolutionary instructors” for the FAR. However, revolutionary instructors were resisted and neutralized by a unified command structure in which military chiefs were also party leaders and political instructors were there at the discretion of the chiefs to mobilize popular support and help elevate the commanders prestige. Given the tremendous prestige of the FAR this commissar-like system was abandoned by the mid-1960s. The armed forces’ power over the Party was extended to national leadership institutions where it exercised significant influence. For example, FAR officers made up 57 percent of the membership of the 1965 Central Committee.

After the failure of the war economy and the disastrous effects of the “ten million ton sugar harvest” in 1970, the Cuban revolution entered a new phase of institutionalization in which the military began the process of professionalization while the PCC position in society was strengthened. The FAR remained a powerful institution but now shared the scene with the PCC. The party took over management of the bureaucracy and economy while the FAR concentrated on defense matters. William LeoGrande, asserting that civil-military relations in the 1970s was neither conflictual nor consensual, suggested a “bureaucratic model” in which,

the fundamental premise is that policy outcomes result from the relative influence of bureaucratic institutions each pursuing its interests... The mix of Party control and supportive activities undertaken by the Party in the armed forces is the result of a bargaining process between the Party and the military institution.

Professionalization and Internationalism

In the early 1970s, the FAR began to reduce its presence in civilian sectors and assumed greater functional specialization. As the civilian sector acquired the institutional and organizational skills to manage the bureaucracy and economy, the FAR was reorganized into a more professional and modern military institution. Reflecting Soviet influence, overall troop strength was cut from a high of 300,000 down to between 100,000 and 120,000 by the middle of the 1970s (see Table 1). The Ejercito Juvenil de Trabajo (Youth Labor Army--EJT), a paramilitary group, was created in 1973 with a total force of 100,000. Its main task was to help in economic development, particularly construction and agricultural production, in order to free FAR regulars for professional duties. Sophisticated equipment was acquired and used extensively in training exercises. The military education system was tightened as a number of specialized military science schools were created within the Center of Military Studies (CEM). Superior students often went abroad, particularly to the Soviet Union’s M.V. Frunze Command and Staff Academy and the K.E. Voroshilov General Staff Academy.

The FAR’s professional development was immediately followed by a change in missions from a strictly defensive posture to a more offensive and internationalist role. With the help of Soviet technical advice and equipment, the Cuban armed forces turned into one of the premier military institutions of the Third World, serving as a critical instrument of the regime’s foreign policy objectives in Africa and the Middle East. Its ability to project military power in the name of “proletarian internationalism,” particularly in Angola and Ethiopia, was second to none among Third World countries. Military overseas activism enhanced the prestige and self-confidence of the FAR while adding to its influence within the regime. The military budget more than doubled from 1966 to 1977. It was provided with the most sophisticated equipment the Soviets had to offer, such as T-62 tanks, Mig-23 Floggers, and Mig-27 fighter bombers, used extensively in Angola. By the late 1970s, the professionalization of the armed forces and its international role had not only helped Castro achieve foreign policy goals, but, more importantly, contributed to the objective political control of the FAR. As Phyllis Greene Walker notes, the professionalization and internationalist role of the armed forces helped to strengthen the regime’s control. The “instrumental role” of the FAR in the regime’s foreign policy,

is understood to refer to the government’s use of the military institution to pursue policies that are not directly related either to national defense or internal security... [it] represents an element of political control insofar as the armed forces accede to and obey the governing authority in executing its designated assignment.

It is important to note that although this instrumental role was key in maintaining objective political control, in the long-term, the reorganization and overseas experiences of the military also contributed to an increasing rift with the PCC and, some have suggested, disaffection with the leadership by the end of the 1980s. Professionalization changed the balance weakening the Fidelista model of civil-military relations. Growing sense of self-confidence and institutional autonomy made Fidelista appeals for revolutionary fervor, sacrifice, and commitment less effective. By the late 1970s a new generation of combat-experienced officers trained and educated in the USSR emerged increasingly disgruntled by the direction of the conflict in Angola.

The political impact of professionalization cannot be underestimated in the case of Cuba. It has important implications for political control. Professionalization represented a form of control but only as long as the military’s capabilities and technical proficiency remained intact. Eventually,

with the collapse of the USSR, the Cuban military lost its important ally, one that had supported its institutional development over the past two decades. For the Cuban regime, the challenge to political control is that without Soviet support it will be extremely difficult to maintain the military as the professionally trained, well-equipped force that it had become by 1991... Without continuing attention to professional development, the risk of institutional degradation becomes a potential issue over which conflict in political-military relations could arise.


From War of All People to Ochoa: Transition and Readjustment in Civil-Military Relations (1980-1989)

The 1980s was characterized by three important developments: (1) popular mobilization and militarization as embodied by a shift of military doctrine from conventional, modern and internationalist war to a “people’s war;” (2) the increasing influence of the PCC in the FAR and national defense; and (3) the court-marital and execution of Hero of the Republic, General Arnaldo Ochoa. David Albright suggests that alteration in military doctrine result in shifts in civil-military relations. The shift from people’s war to conventional, modern war sharpens the line between military and civilian roles, as it occurred during the professionalization and modernization of the Cuban armed forces in the 1970s. Officers spent more time on improving the capabilities of the armed forces to fulfill military task than in civilian-oriented programs or in party activities. The potential for divergence in outlook between FAR officers and the revolutionary leadership increased, particularly over the question of overseas deployments.

The 1980s marks a period of transition in Cuban civil-military relations. The growing discontent within the FAR over the leadership’s mismanagement of the war in Angola and the increasing number of desertions forced the regime to reevaluate its policy or pattern of civilian control. As the Kolkowicz hypothesis of civil-military relations in Communist countries suggests, tension arises from diverging revolutionary and professional career patterns, orientations and values. The civil and military grew progressively apart--and potentially estranged--as a result of the growing technical proficiency and professional experience acquired in Africa.

The regime began to adjust civil-military relations and the role of the FAR in the context of change in the international system. Professionalism and internationalism weakened the Fidelista model of civilian control placing into some question the institution’s loyalty to the revolution. Moreover, reform in the USSR and the possible influence of glasnost and perestroika on FAR officers made Fidel and Raul increasingly distrustful of the military’s willingness to defend the country against internal and external threats. In short, in the 1980s signs of “ideological and revolutionary laxity” within the FAR ultimately resulted in the regime’s decision to replace Fidelismo with a more efficient and pragmatic policy of civilian control.

During the 1980s, the revolutionary leadership lost confidence in the FAR for several reasons. First, reorganization and internationalism provided the FAR its own source of prestige and self-confidence, largely independent of the leadership. Second, the substandard and “disgraceful” performance of Cuban troops in Grenada during the US invasion put into question the willingness of commanders to take orders (i.e. to die fighting) from Fidel and Raul Castro. Third, actions taken by the Polish military in 1981 and the high level of cooperation between FAR officers and Soviet gorbachevista officers only exacerbated the level of anxiety and distrust within the revolutionary leadership. Until 1988, Cuban officers continued their education in Soviet military institutions, many of them learning about glasnost and perestroika. Fourth, the desertion of at least 56,000 soldiers between 1983 and 1987 and the uncovering of several real and imagined counterrevolutionary plots within the military forced the regime to reign in the FAR by purging and, eventually, debasing the institution of any professional or independent identity. In short, restructuring was necessary to deal with the emergence of a group of officers, who, having fought in Africa and with higher levels of professionalism and combat experience, were becoming increasingly less impressed by Castro’s leadership qualities.

In 1980, a number of domestic and international pressures converged to convince Fidel Castro to proclaim a new people’s war doctrine: Guerra de Todo el Pueblo (War of All People--WAP). The WAP draws heavily on the experience of North Vietnam under General Giap, emphasizing the mobilization of the population against foreign aggression by conventional and unconventional means. At the forefront of this popular militarization is the Milicias de Tropas Territoriales (Territorial Militia Troops--MTT) responsible for organizing and mobilizing the population in defense of the Revolution. The FAR’s domestic defense role was downgraded in favor of popular mobilization. The prestige and autonomy acquired by the FAR may have sparked Fidel’s decision to launch WAP and shifted responsibility for defense of the island to the more trusted PCC. By shifting back to a people’s war doctrine the regime hoped to restore popular support and reverse differentiation of civil-military roles to a less distinct and more fused relationship where “the opportunities for a dissimilarity of views to emerge between civilian and military officials have tended to decline.” In the end, as Andres Suarez points out, the establishment of this massive paramilitary force was “for the purpose of inducing social mobilization and militarization while neutralizing any tendency by the FAR to exert any influence based upon its prestige earned in Africa.”

The domestic and international pressures that sparked the creation of the MTT and the shift to WAP in 1980-81 included: (1) the Mariel exodus that saw over 100,000 Cubans flee the country; (2) consequently, the need to divert public attention from the exodus while strengthening political controls; (3) concern over the Reagan administration’s strong anti-communist stance in Central America and the Caribbean (i.e. Grenada and Nicaragua); (4) Moscow’s decision in 1980 not to come to Havana’s defense in case of a US invasion; and (5) increasing doubts of the FAR’s loyalty and revolutionary commitment. The 1.5 million-strong MTT paramilitary force was created not only to rally support around the alleged threat of a US invasion, but to neutralize the FAR with that of an “army of workers, peasants, and students.” The objective of WAP was to instill a new enthusiasm and a new spirit of revolutionary and patriotic fervor, while strengthening political control over the population and the FAR. The WAP was the first sign of the regime’s uncertainty of the military’s loyalty and willingness to defend the country in a time of crisis. Raul Castro was concerned with the promotion of officers from the Angola deployment who attained recognition and prestige independently of the Castros. As a result, Raul became the maximum spokesman of his brother’s people’s doctrine, whose purpose became “to reduce the status of the FAR, subordinating the military explicitly to the Party.”

It is important to note that in addition to political motivations the development of WAP was also due to the failure of the Cuban army in Grenada and the USSR’s unwillingness to defend the island making it clear to the leadership that defense against the US could not rely solely on the armed forces. In other words, the reasons for doctrinal change in the 1980s were both political and defensive in nature. In short, WAP seems designed to protect the leadership from internal and external threats.

By the early 1980s the balance was clearly shifting in favor of the Party. Increasingly, the Party was given responsibility for protecting the military from “ideological contamination.” By the end of the First Congress of the PCC in 1975, it was estimated that 90 percent of all the FAR officers belonged either to the Party or the Union Juvenil Comunista (Union of Young Communists--UJC). Party membership and activism was critical for career advancement in the FAR. By the late-1970s the regime was confident of the PCC’s Castroite credentials, while by the mid-1980s it increasingly questioned those of the FAR. In short, the civil-military relations pendulum had shifted from FAR dominance of PCC in the early 1960s to relative balance or “bureaucratic bargaining” in the mid-1970s to increasing Party control over the FAR by the mid-1980s. It seemed evident that a critical element of an emerging pattern of civilian control of the military included greater PCC dominance or penetration of the armed forces.

The court-martial and execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa was an important turning point for civil-military relations in Cuba. The Ochoa affair brings an end to the Fidelista model of civilian control, and puts to rest the notion that there were no factions within the FAR and that the fused or multiple role hypotheses presented by LeoGrande provided a sufficient explanation for the absence of conflict and factionalism over the long-term. As a result of professionalism and modernization, one of the key elements of Fidelismo, the fusion of multiple elite roles, was no longer prevalent.

The execution of this revered general for corruption is unprecedented. Several military and party officials in the past accused of greater revolutionary crimes, such as conspiracies to overthrow or assassinate Fidel Castro, did not receive the harshest of punishments. In fact, the “pajama game” -- a method for dealing with potential rivals by dismissing them of their official duties and confined to their homes -- was never considered for Ochoa. Why, then, did Fidel and Raul Castro take such a severe and unprecedented measure against a Hero of the Republic, just appointed commander of the Western Army, for corruption? Why not the “pajama” method? The answer does not lie so much in Ochoa--though to the leadership his professionalism and popularity among Angola veterans did seem to represent a threat--but in destroying the military’s esprit de corps, prestige and institutional autonomy. Moreover, it offered an opportunity to purge the FAR and MININT of “wayward revolutionaries.” For Fidel and Raul, Ochoa represented a potential leader or focal point for latent political opposition in the military and security apparatus. The rather extreme punishment was intended to send a clear message: deviation or opposition will not be tolerated.

During the court-martial Ochoa was accused of betrayal, violation of revolutionary values and failure to uphold the revolutionary code of purity. The facts surrounding the case are still unclear. There is no doubt that MININT officials were involved in smuggling drugs into the US. Ochoa seemed to be only a marginal player in the operation, but the best evidence available suggests that the court-martial was more political than criminal. During the trial, Fidel and Raul’s main task was to discredit Ochoa’s character and military capabilities while inducing the forty-seven generals and admirals of the Military Honor Tribunal to make critical statements of Ochoa as an expression or reaffirmation of their revolutionary commitment and loyalty to Fidel and Raul. It seems the Ochoa case is but a “convenient shorthand for a wider and much more complex official attempt to resolve several crises confronting the regime simultaneously,” specifically in the area of civil-military relations. Enrique Baloyra aptly concludes,

It appears that in addition to disposing of whatever threat was posed by General Ochoa himself, ..., the Cuban government utilized Ochoa to bring down most of the leadership of MININT, reorganize or eliminate a host of ancillary MININT organizations..., purge FAR of “Ochoa” officers, reorganize civil-military relations, and ultimately place MININT under [Raul’s] MINFAR...

The trial offered the leadership an opportunity to reassert civilian control at a time of crisis and uncertainty by demanding oaths of loyalty from high-ranking officers while, eventually, purging the MINFAR and MININT allowing for the development of a new policy or pattern of civilian control. Under great economic strain and international uncertainty, the regime had no other alternative than to stem the potential political consequences of professional degradation by readjusting and establishing a new pattern of civilian control in the post-Cold War period.

Raulismo: The Transformation of the FAR (1989-present)

As of the late 1980s, the regime engaged in its perennial game of reequilibration of the central command group or historic leadership vis-a-vis real or suspected antagonists, in this case, within the FAR and MININT. The Ochoa case and the purging of the FAR and MININT marks the beginning of Raulismo. Raul Castro has clearly taken over the process of reorganizing the FAR in an effort to reassert and reaffirm civilian control of the military. Raul’s hand has been behind every measure to reign in the FAR and MININT, a process that began even before the Ochoa case. In 1993 Raul Castro was also a key proponent of economic reform, and he argued that MINFAR was uniquely prepared to lead the process. As Raul Castro stated in 1993, “the principal economic, political, ideological and military responsibility of the FAR is to continue enhancing efficiency in production, particularly in foodstuffs and sugar.” Raulismo is a new policy of civilian control based on the restructuring of the FAR, transforming it into an instrument of Raul Castro’s political and economic objectives.

The military was stripped of its professionalism and institutional autonomy through a campaign of massive purging, extensive counter-intelligence vigilance, and the transformation of its mission from revolutionary, internationalist soldier to economic manager and minion of Raul’s economic plans and political succession. The Raulista policy of adapting and reasserting civilian control in a time of crisis consisted of “cleansing” the FAR of officers believed to be too close to Ochoa, particularly those who served with him in Angola and who were about to assume positions in the Western Army, while coopting other FAR officers by giving them a larger stake in the regime’s survival.

Another important component of Raulismo and the devaluing of the FAR is the strengthening of the PCC in the armed forces and its usurpation of defense tasks. Party organization and vigilance within the military was increased. The Central Political Directorate of the FAR (DIPC-FAR), the fundamental institution that ties the FAR to the PCC, was strengthened while the ideological formation of FAR members expanded. The DIPC-FAR reports to the Central Committee on the FAR’s ideological training, scrutinizes the “revolutionary commitment” of the officer corp, and monitors combat readiness. A renewed emphasis was placed on Party membership and activities as a means of restoring loyalty and discipline within the ranks. Meanwhile, while controls were increased, the FAR’s influence and representation in the Central Committee was reduced from 29.8 percent in 1981 to 20 percent in 1986. By the end of the Fourth Party Congress in 1991 the number was further reduced to 12.5 percent (see Table 1). The PCC assumed control of the militarization of Cuban society, and became the primary institution of national defense. About 1300 defense zones were established throughout the country each zone directed by a defense council headed by a PCC regional official. The role of the military in defense was significantly downgraded.

Raul Castro took control of the process of restructuring and strengthening the PCC in the FAR. Raul Castro, Minister of the FAR (MINFAR) and Second Secretary of the PCC, restructured the FAR and purged his historical nemesis, the Ministry of Interior (MININT), by using the Party and later the court-marital and execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa to free himself of disloyal or potentially threatening military and security officials, accusing them of either incompetence and corruption, loss of ideological or revolutionary purity, or counterrevolutionary activity. The execution of Ochoa, together with that of three other officers from the FAR and the MININT, stood as a warning to military men of the fate that would await them if they ever crossed Fidel or Raul.

It is important to note, however, that the increasing economic role of the FAR is not solely an issue of civilian or party control. The new role is also due to “simple necessity.” The dramatic decline in budget, size and equipment in the early 1990s were a direct result of the disappearance of USSR military aid and the crisis in the Cuban economy. Participating in the economy, particularly in providing technical and managerial expertise, has a long history in Cuba, stretching back to the 1960s. In the 1990s, this role has offered the armed forces the means to compensate for the loss of Soviet military largesse while contributing to the national economy. However, by increasing the military’s role in the economy the leadership is also asserting civilian control by giving the FAR a larger stake in the regime’s survival. It has provided a new lever of control. In other words, the economic role assumed by the FAR out of necessity, offered Raul Castro, the principal proponent of economic reform, the opportunity and levers to adapt and assert control.

It is important that once a new pattern of civilian control was adopted, the regime turned toward consolidating the model by rewarding the institution with certain advantages. First, the new mission has provided the FAR and its officers with a cushion from the shock and deprivation of Cuba’s economic crisis. It has given the FAR access to the fruits of economic reform. Second, losses in military expenditures have been compensated with revenue from industries managed by the institution, such as tourism. Finally, once the military was “cleansed” the institution was given a greater role in the PCC, albeit high positions have gone to Raulista officers. The regime has also benefitted by exploiting the military’s labor and managerial expertise needed for economic recovery.

Raulismo coincided, and in many ways was a product of, dramatic changes in the international system. Gorbachev’s reforms and the winding down of the Cold War placed enormous pressure on the Castro regime, particularly as Moscow decided to phase out all subsidies and aid to Cuba amounting to about US$5 billion a year. The Tripartite Agreement (1988) ended the conflict in Angola resulting in the withdrawal of Cuba’s 50,000 troops by May 1991. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, Cuba’s ideological and economic world was suddenly gone. As of 1990 Cuba entered what Fidel Castro characterized as a “special period in time of peace” which, in the context of tremendous economic pressures, meant austerity, self-sufficiency and political vigilance. As for the military itself, it implemented

the so-called zero-option provided under the Special Period, and intensive conservation efforts were undertaken to prepare for a wholly autarkic existence... conserving existing materiel and equipment, which, along with self-sufficiency and defense readiness, is one of the FAR’s three main goals.

The military budget was slashed by nearly half from US$2.2 billion in 1988 to US$1.35 billion in 1991, and expenditure as a percentage of GNP declined from 4.3 percent in 1991 to 1.6 percent in 1995 (see Table 1). Military purchases dropped by 66 to 75 percent from 1990-1991. In March 1994 the Military Council of the Ministry of Defense (MINFAR) announced additional budget cuts of 50 percent. Troop strength also declined dramatically from a high of 180,500 in 1990 to 105,000 in 1995 and 85,000 in 1997 (see Table 1). Spare parts for aircraft, ships, and vehicles and other equipment became scarce, increasing equipment downtime and the cannibalization or storing in underground tunnels of existing equipment. Because of a lack of fuel and spare parts training exercises and preparedness of key military personnel also declined significantly. Training for Mig pilots has been slashed from 120 hour a year to only 15-20. Only 15-20 of DAAFAR’s (Defensa Antiaerea y Fuerzas Aera Revolucionaria-- Anti-aircraft Defense and Revolutionary Air Force) 200 fighter aircraft are operational, and only the San Antonio de los Banos Air Base is functional. The Marina de Guerra Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Navy--MGR) has been completely decimated; its three Foxtrot submarines and two Koni frigates have not been operational since 1994.

The objectives of the military since the late 1980s emphasized increasing institutional self-sufficiency while helping to produce and distribute much needed agricultural goods and services for the population. Again, Raul Castro was at the head of this program of achieving greater self-sufficiency and efficiency in production. Studying carefully the failure of Eastern Europe, he saw the need for reforming Cuban socialism to avoid its disintegration. Starting in the mid-1980s, specifically around the time of the Third Party Congress in 1986, Raul Castro insisted on the need to improve the efficiency of military, and later, civilian enterprises “by introducing greater managerial and worker discipline and by adopting Western and Japanese managerial techniques.” During a 1994 meeting of the Military Council of MINFAR, Raul stated,

In February 1988 it was decided to expand to other enterprises and units, the experiences the FAR had attained since 1987 at the Commander Ernesto Che Guevara Industrial-Military Enterprise, in the search for a management system that, while safeguarding the purity of our revolutionary principles and our ideology, could ensure higher productivity, economic efficiency, and real participation in management by the workers... [the FAR and its enterprises] must also participate in the country’s economic development with its capability and technologic potential.

Raul argued the FAR had the managerial skill and expertise as well as knowledge of Western business techniques needed to improve the efficiency of state-run industries and meet the material and defense needs of the country. Thus, as Edward Gonzalez notes,

Raul, the Army, and a younger generation of civilian leaders and technocrats, many personally linked to him, are spearheading the economic changes that the regime has so far implemented... pressing forward with limited, incremental reforms to stabilize the economy and prevent a political crisis.

The FAR soldier of the late 1980s is educated and skilled in organizational and technical matters. They have offered “technical solutions and market-type mechanisms for coping with the economic crisis without advocating the adoption” of a politically dangerous market-driven system--an important axiom of Raul’s political economy strategy. They argue that modest liberalizing economic and technical measures to the state sector of the economy will contribute to more efficiency and production. By 1990 the military applied its managerial expertise to improving productivity in military and civilian enterprises, particularly in overcoming shortages in consumer goods. Ultimately, as one of the architects of the reform process asserted, the goal of MINFAR was to provide “new technical and entrepreneurial solutions to old problems.”

As its budget decreased, MINFAR’s role in the economy increased. Troops, mostly from the Youth Labor Army (EJT), were redeployed to agricultural fields to increase the production of sugarcane and foodstuffs. The FAR’s role in health care also increased, particularly in areas of the country where the quality of civilian health care declined.

A number of enterprises were created within the Department of Economic Affairs of the MINFAR. The Gaviota Tourism Group is the most important and profitable of the military’s enterprises. Under the direction of General Julio Casas Regueiro, a logistical experts and long-time Raulista, Gaviota and several joint venture investors, have developed a number of tourist hotels, discotheques, restaurants, resorts, shopping malls, and have arranged tours and transport with the help of DAAFAR pilots. Since 1993, Gaviota has established a number of subsidiaries; Texnotec, dedicated to information technology and electronic equipment; Turcimex, cargo and mail delivery; TRD Caribe, a department store chain; and Aerocaribe which, under the direction of the head of the Civil Aeronautics Institute, General Rogelio Acevedo, another long-time Raulista, provides transportation and shipping for tourism. Gaviota and its subsidiaries have not only enhanced the military’s self-sufficiency, but it has become the second largest foreign exchange earner in Cuba after sugar.

In addition to Gaviota, General Casas Regueiro also heads the Union of Military Industries which is not only devoted to the production of military items, but is also involved in biotechnology, sugar mills, manufacturing pharmaceutical products, and repairing of vehicles and heavy equipment. The Ernesto Che Guevara Military Industrial Enterprise produces missiles and electronic components. The Francisco Aguilar Military Enterprise recently produced the Mambi rifle, a 12.7 mm anti-aircraft rifle for use against helicopters and light-armored vehicles. The Yuri Gagarin, the oldest MINFAR plant opened by the Soviets in the 1960s, provides equipment and aviation repair services for the FAR and civilian organizations and also recently began producing the multi-use AC-001 Comas aircraft.

Finally, although not bureaucratically taken over by MINFAR, the most important industry in Cuba, sugar, came under the control of a respected and fiercely loyal military officer. Nelson Torres was replaced by General Abelardo Colome, Hero of the Republic and former Chief of General Staff, as Minister of Sugar. After several disastrous sugarcane harvests between 1991 and 1995, mostly due to the scarcity of fuel, financing and spare parts, the military stepped in to apply its managerial and organizational expertise to this floundering but critically important industry of the Cuban economy.

Unlike the 1960s, the military’s involvement in the 1990s has produced some benefits. By 1994 MINFAR was able to compensate for its dramatic loss of state allotted resources; it spent only 37% of its 1980s budgets. In 1995 the FAR self-financed 30% of its expenses, and 32% of its production was destined for the island’s civilian economic sectors. In 1996 Gaviota’s total earning was US$525 million, representing nearly a fifth of the country’s total hard currency earnings. Also, more than 75% of all repairs and spare parts for civilian industries came from military enterprises.

Rather than this new economic mission contributing to discontent within the FAR, it has offered many active and retired officers the means of protecting themselves from the effects of the economic crisis. Many officers, particularly from the DAAFAR, have found that working in these enterprises provides them with better salaries and access to certain goods and services not available to the general population. In the early period of economic restructuring and FAR downsizing, morale was low as many soldiers spend much of their time doing farm work or selling their boots to feed their families; however, increasingly, officers have been given employment opportunities and even managerial positions in military-run enterprises, particularly Gaviota. As a result, many retired and active duty officers have attained a higher standard of living than most Cubans. Therefore, not only does the new economic role help ensure the institutional survival of the FAR during the “special period,” but it allows many of its high-and middle-ranking officers to take advantage of emerging and lucrative opportunities in these areas. This has partially alleviated the problem of morale and conflict in the military. In short, “by running its own enterprises, the FAR contributes to the national economy, ensures its own budget, and maintains a decent standard of living for its officers -- always a key to military loyalty.” As a result, the top military brass is solidly behind the new economic role and lower ranking officers are gradually gaining from the FAR’s growing economic role. In short, as Juan del Aguila suggests, a new class of military entrepreneurs increasingly dependent and focused on these ventures has emerged attenuating the institution’s professionalism and increasing its stake in the regime’s survival.

However, some officers may be concerned about the decline in promotional opportunities resulting from the loss of the FAR’s military capabilities, and, more importantly, as Richard Millet points out, the downside to the increasing involvement of officers in a variety of economic-related tasks, “frequently involving assignments to entities with no discernible relations to national defense, tends to erode military skills and produce a new set of interests and loyalties that may conflict with military necessities.” As with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in China, corruption begins to seep through the cracks creating new priorities and loyalties for officers more interested in making money than in fulfilling military tasks.

Raul Castro is in many ways responsible for the regime’s ability to weather the “special period.” He took the lead in strengthening the presence and institutionalization of the Party in society and military, emphasizing political control through popular mobilization, “moral combativeness,” and ideological formation. Raul was also the principal architect of Cuba’s economic reforms under the direction of the MINFAR, helping efficiency and productivity while providing the FAR with a new and lucrative mission. However, the most important measure taken by Raul that has helped stabilize the regime and ensure succession after his brother Fidel passes from the scene, is the Raulization of not only the party and economy, but more important for civil-military relations, of key military posts within the FAR. It is not enough to be Raul or the declared successor to Fidel. Placing loyal supporters in key posts is critical in stabilizing the government once he assumes power.

In the 1980s Raul Castro appointed officers of his generation who were either historicos, those who served and commanded in the Rebel Army, or Raulistas, served under him in the Second Eastern Front “Frank Pais” in the Sierra Cristal Mountains, to key positions in the military, government, and party (see Table 2). In the early 1990s, veterans of Angola up for promotion, some to the rank of general, were slighted and denied promotion. Older generation officers, many of them historicos and/or Raulistas, remained in service beyond the age of retirement while younger officers were denied promotion because of the lack of “legacy.” Those with no historical ties to the leadership but with ample professional experience were largely denied promotion. After the arrest of Jose Abrantes, Minister of MININT, in 1989 for “corruption and incompetence,” a major reorganization of the state security apparatus was carried out that brought the ministry under the direct command of MINFAR. General Abelardo Colome, an historico and Raulista, took over the portfolio of the MININT while key FAR officers were appointed to the ministry’s departments and directorates. Raul always believed the MININT to be too independent and powerful, and its ministers, threats to his power. Now, the security, intelligence and paramilitary apparatus of the regime was under the direct control of Raul and his MINFAR.

As mentioned above, the two most important economic sectors of Cuba, sugar and tourism, are also under the command of Raulistas. Gaviota is run out of the fourteenth floor of MINFAR, under the command of General Julio Casas Regueiro, and the Ministry of Sugar is headed by General Ulises Rosales del Toro, not an historico, but an officer with long ties to Raul.

It has been noted that military influence in the PCC has declined since the Third Party Congress in 1986. The Castros were suspicious that professionalism and international service had diluted party fervor and loyalty within the FAR. By the end of the Fourth Party Congress in 1991 military representation in the Central Committee reached its lowest level at 12.5 percent. However, once the armed forces had been sufficiently Raulized, representation of key officers in the Central Committee increased. Not only did military representation in the Central Committee increase to 17.4 percent after the Fifth Party Congress in 1997 (see Table 1), but more importantly, since the 1991 Congress the presence of military Raulistas in the Politburo, the highest body of the Party, was also on the rise. In 1991 two Raulistas, Generals Casas Regueiro and Cintra Frias, were added to the Politburo, and in 1997 General Ramon Espinosa Martin, commander in chief of the Eastern Army was added to the Politburo. By the end of the 1997 Party Congress, the total number of military officers in the Politburo was five out of 24, the highest percentage since 1975. Apart from the military’s dominant role in the economy, bureaucracy, and state security, its representatives, specifically Raulistas, are now at the pinnacle of political power.

Finally, a review of the key military posts demonstrates the overwhelming influence of Raulistas. For example, the important Counter-Intelligence Department is headed by General Felix Baranda Columbie, a veteran of Raul’s Second Eastern Front, General Raul Menendez Tomassevich, an historico and Raulistas commands the MTT, and General Leopoldo Cintra Frias, another Raulista, is commander in chief of the very strategic Western Army (Havana). Even those officers holding key military post but not traditional Raulistas, such as General Joaquin Quinta Solis, commander in chief of the Central Army, General Alvaro Lopez Miera, Hero of the Republic and Chief of General Staff, and Rear Admiral Pedro Perez Betancourt, Chief of the Navy and Deputy Minister of MINFAR, have worked under Raul or have been, as one study noted, “proteges and watchdogs” of Raul for many years. The dominant role of Raul in restructuring and reorganizing Cuba in all of these areas during a period of crisis demonstrates his growing “indispensability” for the survival and longevity of the revolution. Again, the objective has not been limited to surviving the crisis of the “special period” but to insure and secure the path to Raul Castro’s succession.


The readjustment and development of a new pattern of civilian control of the military in the context of international change and domestic economic crisis has at least contained potential forces and agents of change within the military. The leadership, it seems, has temporarily succeeded in readjusting and reaffirming its control through new mechanisms developed and led by Raul Castro. In the long run, however, it is not clear the effects such changes will have on civil-military relations. Will it be enough to maintain civilian control by providing the military with a new role where economic gain will mollify threats from within the FAR? Or, is it only a stopgap response to a crisis that will only exacerbate the level of discontent within the military because of a deterioration in institutional prestige, integrity and professionalism? At the present time, however, there is little credible evidence that a military overthrow of the regime is possible. In large part, this is due to the regime’s success in reequilibrating and reaffirming civilian control under Raulismo that has seen the FAR’s professionalism and prestige largely compromised by its new role and interests in profitable economic ventures. The ability of the leadership to tie the armed forces to the survival of the regime, whether as revolutionary soldiers in the 1960s, internationalists in the 1970s or economic technocrats in the 1990s, has been the key to civilian control in revolutionary Cuba.

What is a more interesting and important question for a post-Castro Cuba is whether the new economic role is not transforming the FAR into a military similar to those of Central America, where officers manage their own military enterprises to protect their standard of living. This economic role is a significant and independent source of the Central American militaries’ continuing political power. In the case of Cuba, by running its own enterprises, the FAR not only safeguards its standard of living and contributes to the national economy, but, in a post-Castro transition, can use this economic base and power to enhance its political influence and become the critical broker in what is sure to be an uncertain process. In short, this new mission offers the FAR the opportunity to build its power to insure that it remain a potent political force in the transition to democracy -- a power that may very well not be as subordinate to civilian control as it has been during the Revolution because of its independent source of power.


Frank O. Mora

Dept. of International Studies

Rhodes College

Frank O. Mora is Assistant Professor of International Studies and J.S. Seidman Research Fellow, Rhodes College: Memphis, TN.


TABLE 1. FAR: Troops, Expenditures, and Representation in Central Committee (1965-1997)

Armed Forces Military ME % Reps. in

(thousands) Expenditures (ME) GNP Central Committee

(millions) (%)


1965 275 57

1975 100 29.8

1981 227 27.6

1985 153 2.5 4.5

1986 200 2.5 NA

1987 188 2.2 NA 20.2

1988 188 2.2 3.9

1989 180.5 1.9 NA

1990 180.5 1.7 NA

1991 180.5 1.35 NA 12.5

1992 175.5 NA NA

1993 173.5 830 2.1

1994 106 750 1.85

1995 105 720 1.6

1996 100 700 1.2

1997 85 NA NA 17.4*


* total number of Central Committee members was reduced from 225 to 150 after Fifth Party Congress.

SOURCES: William LeoGrande, “The Politics of Revolutionary Development: Civil-Military Relations in Cuba, 1959-1976,” Journal of Strategic Studies (1978), p. 274; Phyllis Greene Walker, “The Cuban Armed Forces and Transition,” in Cuba and the Future, ed. Donald Schulz (Westport: Greenwood, 1994), p. 62; Phyllis Greene Walker, “Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces: Adapting in the New Environment,” Cuban Studies 26 (January 1996); SIPRI, SIPRI Year Book 1997 New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), chapter 6; IISS, The Military Balance, 1997/98 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 214; British Broadcasting Corporation, “Castro Re-elected as First Secretary of Communist Party” (13 October 1997); Cuban Armed Forces Review, “Expenditures and Personnel,” (December 1997).





TABLE 2. FAR Officers in Key Military, Government and Party Positions (1997)



Division General Rogelio Rodriguez Acevedo Division General Rigoberto Garcia Fernanez

--Historico --Historico

--Head of Civil Aeronautics Institute --Second Eastern Front

--Former head of PCC Directorate in FAR --Commander of Youth Labor Army

--Member of Central Committee --Vice-Minister of MINFAR

--Member of Central Committee

Brigadier General Ladislao Baranda (DAAFAR) Division General Alvaro Lopez Miera

--Second Eastern Front --Hero of the Republic

--Deputy Chief of Air Force (DAAFAR) --Chief of General Staff

--Member of Central Committee --Member of Central Committee

Division General Felix Baranda Columbie Brig. General Ruben Martinez Puentes

--Second Eastern Front --Deputy Minister of MINFAR

--Chief of Counter-Intelligence --Chief of DAAFAR

--Member of Central Committee --Member of Central Committee

Division General Senen Casas Regueiro (deceased) Division General Raul Menendez Tomassevich

--Historico --Historico

--Second Eastern Front --Second Eastern Front

--former First Vice-Minister of MINFAR --Former Vice-Minister

--Minister of Transportation --Commander of Territorial Militia Troops (MTT)

--Member of Politburo

Division General Julio Casas Regueiro (DAAFAR) Rear Admiral Pedro Perez Betancourt

--Historico --Chief of Navy (MGR)

--Second Eastern Front --Deputy Minister of MINFAR

--Deputy Minister of MINFAR

--Head of Department of Economic Affairs (MINFAR)

--Member of Politburo

--Director of Gaviota Enterprises

Division General Leopoldo Cintra Frias Division General Joaquin Quinta Solis

--Second Eastern Front --Commander in Chief of Central Army

--Commander in Chief of Western Army --Member of Central Committee

--member of Politburo

Army Corp General Abelardo Colome Ibarra Division General Ulises Rosales del Toro

--Historico --Hero of the Republic

--Second Eastern Front --Former Chief of General Staff

--Hero of the Republic --Minister of Sugar

--former First Deputy Vice Minister of MINFAR --Member of Politburo

--Minister of MININT (1989-present)

--Member of Politburo

Division General Ramon Espinosa Martin

--Commander in Chief of Eastern Army

--Member of Politburo

SOURCES: Rafael Fermoselle, Cuban Leadership after Castro: Biographies of Cuba’s Top Generals (Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1987); International Research 2000, The Military and Transition in Cuba (Washington, DC: Report Prepared for DOD, March 1996); Keesings Worldwide Directory of Defense Authorities, 1998 (Washington DC: Keesing’s Worldwide, 1998).


Historico: Joined 26 of July Movement and commander of Rebel Army (1957-1958)

Second Eastern Front: Served under Raul Castro in the Second Eastern Front “Frank Pais” -- Sierra Cristal Mountains (1958)

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