Cuba after the Missile Crisis
Cuban internationalism during the Cold War
author Paul Boșcu, October 2017
In 1965 Cuba officially became a communist state and started receiving aid from the Soviet Union. During this time, Castro's government used this aid to support guerrilla movements in Africa and Latin America. Because of the activities, Cuba's relationship with the United States remained hostile throughout the Cold War.

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Cuba officially became a Communist government in 1965. The country started receiving military aid from the Soviet Union and Eastern European Communist countries. Castro used this aid to support guerrilla movements in Africa and several countries in Latin America. This policy lasted until the late 1980s. The United States protested vigorously against Cuba’s policy of exporting revolution.

With sugar continuing to dominate its economy, Cuba became very dependent on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union for necessary imports. By the mid-1980s, strains in the relationship with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, coupled with debt problems, corruption and growing economic inequality, led Castro to adopt another strategy—rectification—that evoked the radical experiment of the 1960s.

In 1962, revolutionary power had become consolidated, although the Cuban leaders would not realize this for some years. The threat from the United States began to recede as a consequence of the settlement of the missile crisis. Fidel Castro had established his mastery of Cuban politics and his pre-eminence over all rivals.

Opponents of the regime took up arms in every province in the first half of the 1960s, with an especially strong presence in the Escambray mountain region of Las Villas province. Thousands of Cubans died in this renewed civil conflict. The rebels included members of the peasantry of southern Matanzas province as well as those whose social and economic interests were more obviously at stake. They were, however, thoroughly defeated.

In 1980, the focus of US concern expanded to include the ‘Mariel boatlift’. This started when Castro announced that 125,000 Cubans could legally depart for the United States from the Cuban port of Mariel. Over the next several months, a large number of ‘boat people’ died trying to cross the Straits of Florida in unsafe boats and rafts. During the 1980s, US reports described the poor treatment of political prisoners in Cuba.

President Ronald Reagan authorized the invasion of the island of Grenada by US Special Forces to stop Cuba from building an airfield there. A number of Cuban troops were killed during the operation. In the late 1980s, Cuba’s policy of exporting revolution ended, in part because of the Grenada defeat. Additionally, the Soviet Union and Communist countries in Eastern Europe were in the process of breaking up, and these countries cut off aid to Castro’s foreign wars of liberation.

In the early 1960s there was much optimism about the economic future of Cuba. The revolutionary leadership embarked on a strategy designed to reduce the island’s dependence on sugar. This was to be achieved through rapid industrialization and the diversification of agriculture. All of this required imported technologies and materials. Sugar exports were to provide the necessary funds to purchase the needed imports. The attempt to achieve rapid industrialization failed.

By the spring of 1961, more than 33,000 peasants had become owners of land that they had previously worked as tenants, sharecroppers or squatters. More than 600 sugarcane cooperatives had been created. Problems appeared when sugar output declined sharply. The decline was largely due to mismanagement. Managers were often farmers with little or no experience in large-scale agriculture. Some were selected largely for political reasons.

Just when Cuba needed sugar exports the most to finance its industrialization process, the sugar sector was not able to deliver. There is no doubt that the US embargo also played a role in this failure.

Cuba's overwhelming dependence on the sugar industry was seen as a sign of under-development. As Che Guevara, Minister of Industries and architect of the strategy, put it, 'there can be no vanguard country that has not developed its industry. Industry is the future'.

Central state ministries were established and a development plan was formulated with help from many sources, but especially from the Soviet Union and East European countries. Cuba was utterly unprepared, however, for a centrally planned economy. It lacked technical personnel as much as it lacked accurate statistics about its current situation.

The plan for 1962 and the 4-year plan for 1962—5 were both fantasies. The data necessary for their formulation had not been gathered, and knowledge of economic management was primitive. The plans called for the achievement of spectacular growth targets. Instead, the Cuban economy collapsed. The government froze prices and imposed rationing for most consumer products. The ration card, a fixture in Cuban life ever since, combined two important aspects of the government's economic performance: relative failure to generate economic growth coupled with relative success in protecting the needs of the poorest Cubans and reducing inequalities in access to basic goods and services.

Recognizing that industrialization depended on foreign exchange or capital that only the sugar sector could provide, the revolutionary government adopted a new strategy of development in 1964. This strategy focused on sugar and agriculture. Increasing sugar production for export, the diversification of agriculture and the focus on agricultural support industries became the model for national economic growth. By controlling most of the cultivated land in the country, the Cuban government created the most egalitarian distribution of income in Latin America.

Urban residents were encouraged to volunteer to work in seasonal agricultural activities such as cutting sugar cane. In support of this commitment to an egalitarian society, the government provided access to social services free of charge.

Nearly 63 percent of cultivated land was controlled by the state. The remaining private farmers had to sell their goods to the state at low prices and volunteer to work on the state farms. Private farmers were encouraged to form their own credit and service cooperatives. In the spring of 1968, the last remaining sector yet to be nationalized by the state—small retail businesses, such as food and service shops—came under state control.

Prime Minister Castro announced a new strategy which once again emphasized sugar production and slowed down the efforts towards industrialization. The strategy of sugar-led development was reaffirmed when the Soviet Union and Cuba signed their first long-term agreement that guaranteed better, stable bilateral sugar prices and, eventually, Soviet subsidies above world market prices for Cuban sugar.

The radical experiment also included the campaign against bureaucracy. The goal was to improve administrative efficiency in the government, trade unions and other organizations by streamlining them. This, of course, would also increase the labor pool available for agricultural work. The number of full-time administrators or bureaucrats in these organizations was reduced dramatically.

The new strategy was complicated, however, by a top-level debate on the nature of socialist economic organization. One side, led by Minister of Industries Che Guevara, argued that the part of the economy owned by the state was a single unit. The other side argued that the part of the Cuban economy owned by the state was not a single economic unit but a variety of enterprises independently owned and operated by the state. The debate was eventually resolved when Che Guevara left the Ministry of Industries to be engaged in revolutionary campaigns in Africa and in South America. However, Guevara's policies were generally adopted.

Much of the calamity in economic performance in the late 1960s was due to Guevara's flawed vision as well as the administrative chaos unleashed by Fidel Castro and his associates. Castro himself acknowledged this in a dramatic speech on the 26th of July 1970 when the Cuban economy lay in ruins.

The new socialist man never materialized during the radical experiment, the institutionalization of the revolution in Cuba. The victories and euphoria of the early years of the revolution were replaced with hard work and austerity. Due to the provision of free education, healthcare, social security, day care and housing, worker wages were almost meaningless. Yet, appeals to socialist ideals failed to motivate workers. Resistance took the form of foot-dragging and high absenteeism. This resistance, coupled with a lack of motivation, adversely affected the economic production of the state.

Membership in unions declined to the point that less than 20 percent of the workers were members, and these were primarily the vanguard workers. Most of the workers were demoralized and resented the low pay, the long hours of work and the lack of material incentives. They resented the back-breaking volunteer work in the sugarcane fields.

Black market activity increased, with private farmers often supplying the goods that were unavailable through the rationing system.

Perhaps the most successful organization during the radical experiment was the Federation of Cuban Women - Federacıon de Mujeres Cubanas. It succeeded in increasing its membership to 1.3 million, managing day care centers across the island, educating rural women in healthcare and personal hygiene and increasing the female percentage of the labor force to 18.3 percent in 1970.

At the brink of the end of the Cold War, Cuba had established one of the highest standards of living in the developing world and led all other Latin American countries in the quality of life that it provided for children. Its infant mortality rate was among the lowest in the world and it spent a higher percentage of its budget on education than any other country in Latin America.

Cuba underwent a demographic transformation after the Revolution came to power. There was a ‘baby boom’ in the early 1960s, which saw the crude birth rate increase by about a third compared to the late 1950s. The principal explanation for the baby boom is probably the improved economic conditions for lower-income Cubans resulting from redistributional policies, together with improved health facilities in the rural areas. The baby boom was followed by a baby bust. The crude birth rate was reduced by half between the end of the 1960s and the end of the 1970s.

The government launched a campaign to promote marriages, including the legalization of the many pre-existing consensual unions. Contraceptive supplies, previously available from the United States, were cut off by the US trade embargo. The emigration broke up families and opened up new opportunities for relationships for those remaining in Cuba. The emigration of doctors and other health-care personnel reduced opportunities for abortion, as did the more effective enforcement of a pre-revolutionary law restricting abortion.

The initial impact of the baby boom was masked by emigration. Population growth rates declined in the early 1960s, but when the first wave of emigration was shut off at the time of the missile crisis, the growth rate reached the highest level since the 1920s.

Even though Cuba failed to meet the stated goal of 10 million tons of sugar in 1970, it did produce a record crop of 8.5 million tons. However, the Cuban economy was in shambles. Non-sugar agriculture and state industry suffered due to neglect and the vast amount of resources that had been redirected towards the production of sugar.

The Soviet Union would only purchase, at the most, 56 percent of the total Cuban sugar crop. Cuba was its own worst enemy. By increasing the world supply of sugar, its price remained depressed. During the radical experiment, sugar had not provided the necessary resources to diversify the economy. In fact, Cuba was as dependent as ever on one crop: sugar.

The government made attempts to reform internal economic organization by adopting and adapting the Soviet economic model. Central macro-economic planning reappeared in the early 1970s, enabling Cuba to adopt its first five-year plan in 1975. The first plan proved too optimistic and many of its targets were not reached since it had been based on the assumption that world sugar prices would remain high. Nonetheless, it was more realistic than anything the government had adopted before.

One indication of how badly organized the Cuban economy had been in the 1960s was that many of the new measures formulated early in the 1970s could not be implemented until the late 1970s or early 1980s. Delays were also caused, however, by some opposition to the liberalization of the Cuban economy. The economy prospered almost spectacularly during the first half of the 1970s. Cuba's growth rate in those years compared well with that of the world's leading growth performers. However, the economy stagnated during the second half of the decade.

The external component of the radical experiment focused on the support of revolutionary groups throughout Latin America. The goal, in the words of Guevara, was to create ‘two, three, many Vietnams’. This issue exacerbated the already strained relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union. The USSR did not agree with Castro’s efforts to promote violent revolution in Latin America. In the end, Cuba’s support for revolutionaries failed to bring about victory.

Castro believed that the Cuban revolution could be duplicated, whereas the Soviets preferred the peaceful road to power via the traditional communist parties in the region. Castro denounced these parties for their lack of support for guerrilla movements in the region and chided the USSR for its continued recognition of Latin American governments that were hostile to Cuba. Castro and the Cuban Communist Party, the PCC, refused to recognize the leadership of the Soviet Union and emphasized Cuba’s right to develop its own foreign policy initiatives concerning revolutionary activities.

Venezuela with its vast oil reserves was a perfect target for an oil-hungry Cuba that was forced to rely on a less than dependable and faraway Soviet Union. Castro began to provide support to revolutionaries and urban terrorists in Venezuela in 1963.

Castro hosted revolutionary leaders from across the world in Havana in 1966 and called for a continent-wide guerrilla struggle led by his country. Cuba provided training, arms and funding for revolutionaries throughout the region.

It is important to remember that this was taking place at the same time that most of Latin America had come under the control of repressive military governments and right-wing dictators who used Cold War anti-communism to gain support and aid from the United States. The US was more than willing to overlook the repressive nature of these governments and provide military training and support for them in their struggle against the revolutionary groups.

Revolutionary groups supported by Cuba could neither gain the support of the majority of the population, nor could they escape the military repression directed towards them. With the death of Guevara in the mountains of Bolivia, it was clear that Cuba’s revolution would not be duplicated in Latin America. The external component of the radical experiment had failed.

Cuba gave material assistance to revolutionaries in most Central American and Andean countries, to those fighting the Portuguese empire in Africa, and also to friendly revolutionary governments such as those of the Congo (Brazzaville), Algeria and North Vietnam.

With Cuba still threatened by the United States after the settlement of the missile crisis, Washington boycotted all economic relations with the country and sought to enlist the assistance of other governments to strangle Cuba's economy, thereby bringing down its government. Still uncertain over the extent of Soviet commitment, the Cuban government fashioned a global foreign policy to defend its interests. The survival of revolutionary rule in Cuba, the leadership's top priority, required a foreign policy that was both global and activist.

When Cuba was caught actively assisting Venezuelan revolutionaries, the Venezuelan government brought charges of aggression that led to Cuba's condemnation under the terms of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance—the Rio Pact—in 1964. Collective hemispheric sanctions were imposed on Cuba, requiring all signatories to suspend political and economic relations with Cuba. The United States and all Latin American countries except Mexico complied.

Some of those who refused to conform to Cuban policies—such as the revolutionary Yon Sosa in Guatemala—were denounced as Trotskyites. Cuba wanted to promote revolution, but most of all it wanted to maintain and expand its influence over the left. It was willing to split the left, internationally and in particular countries, to maintain its primacy, even at the cost of jeopardizing revolutionary victory. These policies brought Havana into conflict with other governments, especially in Latin America.

In August 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and crushed that country’s attempt at liberalization. Castro spoke in support of the Soviet invasion in an attempt to create a closer, more cooperative relationship between the two countries. He began to show greater solidarity with the USSR. He reversed a PCC decision and allowed a Cuban representative to attend, as an observer, the World Conference of Communist Parties held in the Soviet Union a year later. The purpose of the conference was to show solidarity against the Chinese Communists. At the same time, Havana sought to maintain good relations with as many governments as possible throughout the world.

Castro and his brother Raul visited the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for extended periods of time. Several factors led to this change in the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union. The death of Guevara in Bolivia ended Castro’s dream of Cuban-led revolutions throughout Latin America. Poor sugar harvests had increased Cuba’s need for Soviet economic aid. The Soviet Union announced a delay in petroleum shipments. The island required petroleum, and this announcement reminded the Cubans of their dependence on the USSR.

The United States presidential election of Nixon in 1968 also led Castro to a closer and more cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union. Castro saw Nixon as one of the chief architects of the Bay of Pigs invasion and believed that the new US president would turn against Cuba.

Cuba built a large and capable foreign service skilled in diplomacy, international economics, intelligence and military affairs. From the outset, the leadership also sought to use foreign policy to obtain resources for Cuba's social and economic transformation. The relationship with the Soviet Union was the centerpiece of both these priorities.

Another priority was to expand Cuba's influence over international leftist movements, whether formally organized in Communist parties or not. Cuban leaders believed they had led a genuine revolution to power. The establishment of Marxism-Leninism in Cuba, unlike in most of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, was not the by-product of the country's occupation by the Soviet armed forces. Cuban revolutionaries thought they had some fundamental insights into how Third World revolutions might emerge: in short, they could teach the Soviets a thing or two about how to support revolutions in the closing third of the twentieth century.

Cuban relations with the People's Republic of China also soured during the mid-1960s. Notwithstanding the many similarities in outlook and policy between the leaderships and despite the considerable Chinese economic aid given to Cuba in the early 1960s, relations deteriorated when the Chinese leadership demanded full Cuban support in the Sino-Soviet dispute and lobbied Cuban military and party personnel directly.

Revolutionary idealism, spirit, excitement and fervor eventually give way to the realities of everyday living. After the failure of the radical experiment and the strengthening of relations with the Soviet Union, the hard facts of everyday life in a revolutionary socialist society became evident. Cuba was forced to turn to a more pragmatic strategy of development. The Cuban revolution attempted to adopt a more institutionalized model of socialism, somewhat closer to that in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Yet, it was clear that Cuba under Castro could never imitate this model.

The attempt to institutionalize or formalize the role of the PCC, the Communist Party of Cuba, in society could never be complete as long as Castro ruled in such a personal manner and held such sway over party members and the people of the country. The Cuban economy was much more decentralized than the Soviet model and Castro now emphasized that workers must have material incentives to improve production in addition to the moral, idealistic and revolutionary incentives that had characterized the radical experiment.

The government implemented a series of changes in the country’s economic strategy. Low worker productivity, absenteeism and foot-dragging were to be corrected by providing more material incentives based on increased production, the meeting of quotas and overtime work. The government increased the availability of consumer goods such as televisions and refrigerators so as to encourage workers to be more productive. Market-related reforms were introduced into state-run enterprises.

Castro expanded the market-related reforms to include the agricultural and service sectors. The sugar industry became more mechanized with greater reliance placed on the use of combine harvesters to cut cane during the sugar harvest.

Castro became more tolerant of the private economic sector on the island. The growth of agricultural cooperatives was encouraged by providing them with greater access to new machinery, while the cultivation of tobacco fell primarily to private farmers. Farmers’ markets were allowed so that cooperative and private farmers could sell their surpluses locally with prices based on supply and demand. The state also began to sell goods locally on a supply and demand basis. State-run stores with rationed goods at subsidized prices were still maintained to provide a social safety net for the poor.

In order to meet growing housing demands, Castro created the minibrigade system in the early 1970s. Approximately thirty-five workers who were released from their work commitments made up each minibrigade. These workers not only built prefabricated houses for individuals, but also community projects such as day care facilities, schools and medical clinics.

Castro expanded Cuba’s trading ties by joining the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), an East European and Soviet Union trading block. He also began to trade more with countries in the West. In fact, by 1974 the Western bloc accounted for 41 percent of the island’s trade.

Cuba benefited from the Soviet Union’s preferential trading policies. The USSR continued to purchase Cuba’s sugar at above world market prices and it provided oil at a price lower than that provided by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. This helped to protect Cuba from the oil shocks of the early 1970s that caused severe economic problems for the United States and the West European countries. On the negative side, this relationship served as a disincentive for the diversification of the Cuban economy.

Sugar remained the mainstay of the Cuban economy because of the lucrative price offered by the Soviet Union. The USSR also provided Cuba with low interest, long-term loans and a postponement on the payment of its immediate debts.

The favorable trading relationship with COMECON countries provided some protection for Cuba from the downturn in the price of sugar. However, the fact that the Soviet Union and COMECON countries only purchased a few products from Cuba and continued to pay higher than world market prices forced the island to continue to depend on sugar as opposed to implementing policies designed to diversify its economy and to lessen its dependence on imports.

A notable element of Soviet assistance to Cuba was military. In addition to the military shield provided by the Soviet Union against the United States, Moscow developed the Cuban armed forces into Latin America's premier military establishment. No other armed force in the region could match the skill, experience and sophistication of the Cuban army and air force.

Castro attempted to institutionalize the revolution by drawing the jurisdiction lines of government more clearly. The PCC was to make political decisions, the state was to administer the policies, and mass organizations, such as the Cuban Confederation of Labor— Confederacion de Trabajadores de Cuba or CTC—were to provide for popular participation. Cuba’s first socialist constitution was adopted at the First PCC Congress in 1975 and approved through a referendum. It created the Popular Power system in which elected municipal assemblies chose the members of the regional assemblies and the National Assembly by vote.

Municipal assemblies were given the authority to oversee policy in a variety of local services such as garbage, schools, street maintenance, clinics, grocery stores, theaters and small industries. According to scholar William LeoGrande, the municipal assemblies were quite successful in allowing popular participation in these matters. The regional and national assemblies had limited power and for the most part ended up being a rubber stamp to major decisions already made within the Political Bureau of the PCC.

Castro initiated a policy of affirmative action designed to increase the number of women in the PCC, the Popular Power system, the Communist Youth and the CTC. Increased membership at all levels of these institutions was realized by the late 1970s.

The PCC leadership organs—the Political Bureau, the Secretariat, and the Central Committee—that had not functioned in the 1960s began meeting regularly. The Central Committee, which in the 1960s had been primarily made up of members from the military and the Ministry of the Interior, came to represent most sectors of Cuban society. The PCC experienced a dramatic increase in membership. The Communist Youth became the primary avenue to party membership.

The party's first Congress was held in December 1975, the preparatory work for which was a major step forwards in institutionalizing PCC rule. The Congress approved party statutes, a programmatic platform and a number of statements or 'theses' on various subjects of national policy. It approved the draft of the new national Constitution, which was ratified by a popular referendum.

Several factors contributed to the rise of Cuba as a force in international politics by the mid to late 1970s. Throughout the first half of the decade, Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces—Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias or FAR—underwent major changes. Cuba’s isolation within Latin America also came to an end. At the same time, Castro was busy establishing himself as a leader of the developing countries of the world. Cuban troops intervened in the Angolan civil war that had broken out when the Portuguese empire in Africa began to crumble. In Nicaragua, Castro supported a revolution.

Training, equipment and weaponry for the military was upgraded significantly, largely due to the influence of the Soviet Union. The threat of a US-led invasion of the island disappeared with the winding down of the Vietnam War and the arrival of détente between the Soviet Union and the United States. As a result, the mission of the FAR became much more internationalist in orientation.

Mexico never broke its relationship with Castro, while eight other Latin American countries reestablished diplomatic ties between 1972 and 1975. The Organization of American States voted to end sanctions against Cuba.

Castro traveled extensively throughout Africa. His attendance at the Fourth Non-Aligned Summit in Algiers in 1973 marked Cuba’s emergence as a leader among those countries. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was made up of countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia and focused on issues of anti colonialism and economic development. The charismatic Castro, Cuba’s economic success, its defiance of the United States and its anti-imperialist/anti-colonial message played well among the NAM countries.

A new phase of Soviet-Cuban military co-operation began with Cuba's decision to send a total of 36,000 troops to support the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the civil war that broke out in that country. Cuban troops supported the MPLA and were decisive in defeating the South African and US-backed groups. Almost one out of every five Cuban soldiers served abroad in 1978, most of them in Africa.

The Ethiopian government was faced with a Somali invasion that occupied a substantial portion of Ethiopian territory, and requested aid. Thousands of Cuban troops, supported and led by Soviet and East German officers in addition to Cuban officers, helped repel the Somali invasion.

Castro’s vision of a second revolution in Latin America finally came to pass with the Sandinista victory over the US-supported Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua. Cuban support of the Sandinistas during their struggle with Anastasio Somoza was very minimal when compared with its efforts in Africa. Castro advised the new Sandinista government to avoid conflicts with the United States and to diversify its trading partners. He urged it to make economic policy changes very slowly so as to avoid the massive emigration of skilled and professional people that Cuba suffered in the first few years of its revolution.

The Sixth Non-Aligned Summit was held in Havana, with Cuba exercising the primary leadership role in developing the anti-American tone of the Final Declaration. Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica and Maurice Bishop of the New Jewel Movement in Grenada openly courted Castro. Cuba was at the height of its power in terms of global political influence in the late 1970s and the FAR was a major military force in the developing world.

Even in the radical foreign policy years of the 1960s, Cuba had maintained good trade relations with several Western European states. Cuba also retained correct diplomatic relations with the Mexican government. Cuba moved steadily to improve its relations with most governments. Economic relations with Western European countries and Japan improved further as the Cuban economy recovered from the ravages of the 1960s. Cuban relations with Africa and Asia also improved in the 1970s.

The case of Franco's Spain was noteworthy. From 1963 until Franco's death in 1975, Cuba had excellent economic relations with that country, desisting from the promotion of revolution there in order to maintain a mutually valuable official relationship.

In 1975 the collective inter-American political and economic sanctions were lifted, and several Latin American countries developed trade relations with Cuba. Mexican and Argentine trade with Cuba became important over the next five years.

A US reconnaissance plane photographed the construction of a Soviet submarine base in the southern coastal city of Cienfuegos. Richard Nixon argued that this violated the missile crisis agreement banning the introduction of offensive weapons systems in the Western Hemisphere. He negotiated with the Soviet Union to stop the construction while the Cubans, once again, had little say in the issue. Just as in the missile crisis, it was common in the United States to view the relationship between the USSR and Cuba as one in which the Cubans merely followed Soviet orders. This is not only simplistic, but also historically incorrect.

Cuba and the Soviet Union shared a more complex and interdependent relationship. Cuban foreign policy was clearly at odds with the Soviet Union during most of the 1960s, when the USSR refused to support Castro’s efforts to wage revolutionary wars in Latin America. The relationship that eventually developed was one of mutual benefit in which each country received support in the pursuit of its own national goals. This became quite evident throughout the decade of the 1970s.

Because of its relationship with Cuba, the Soviet Union received a presence in the Caribbean, an area that has historically been within the US sphere of influence. Perhaps more importantly, the Soviet Union also gained entry into many of the developing countries of the world because of Cuba’s leadership role in NAM and the prestige and respect it had earned among those countries. Cuba established itself as a political broker between the Soviet Union and the developing countries of the world.

Castro, who did not trust Nixon, viewing him as the architect of the Bay of Pigs invasion, was quite pleased with his resignation in August 1974. This paved the way for a series of meetings between the United States and Cuba later that year and throughout much of 1975. These meetings reduced tensions between the two countries temporarily.

The Cubans preferred to focus primarily on specific issues that involved only the United States, such as payment for seized properties, immigration, the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, the trade embargo, normalization of relations, surveillance flights and radio interference. The tendency of the United States was to link changes in the bilateral relationship with other issues, such as Cuban ties to the Soviet Union and Cuban policies in Africa. President Gerald Ford ended all discussions with the island when the Cubans decided to send troops to Angola.

President Jimmy Carter, who had a personal interest in Latin America, was elected in the wake of Watergate, Vietnam and Ford’s pardon of Nixon. Although not happy with the presence of Cuban troops in Angola, Carter began making overtures to Castro. The United States and Cuba signed agreements concerning fishing rights and the maritime boundary in the Straits of Florida. Carter created a US Interests Section in Havana and removed some of the restrictions on travel to the island by US citizens. He began negotiating with Castro for the release of political prisoners.

Carter’s moves to normalize relations with the island soured with the introduction of 20,000 Cuban troops in Ethiopia. In an effort to maintain lines of communication with the United States, Castro announced his willingness to dialogue with groups from the Cuban exile community and to release political prisoners. He also allowed thousands of Cuban exiles to return to the island as tourists to visit their families and relatives. These moves were designed to appeal to the human rights agenda of Carter and the one group that had the most influence over US policy towards Cuba.

By the end of 1979, it was impossible for Carter to make any more overtures to Cuba. The Sandinistas came to power in Nicaragua and some in the United States blamed Carter for the so-called communist victory in Central America. This, coupled with the growing rebel insurgency in El Salvador, made Carter appear weak and indecisive against communism. This weakness was exploited by presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, who had staked out a conservative hard-line stance against not only communism, but also Carter’s Panama Canal treaties and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Castro knew that if Reagan were to be elected president, any meaningful accommodation with the United States would not be possible. He allowed almost 125,000 Cubans to leave the country via the port city of Mariel in 1980. Among these émigrés were political prisoners, common criminals—less than 4 percent of the total—, Cubans released from mental health facilities and Cuba’s poor. Most were from the Havana area. The overwhelming media attention focused on the criminal element among the Mariel émigrés, and Florida officials indicated that they could not provide the services, schools and jobs needed for them.

This group differed significantly from the largely elite professionals and middle- and working-class immigrants who arrived in Miami during the first and second waves. Whereas the early immigrants were received with open arms, the Mariel group added to the growing racial tensions in Florida between Cubans and non-Cubans.

The decline of the economy in the late 1970s following a period of tremendous economic growth had served to deflate the rising economic expectations of many Cubans and increase their sense of frustration. The appearance of thousands of comparatively wealthy Cuban American tourists returning to visit their relatives on the island added fire to the growing discontent.

Castro’s calculated decision to allow those who wanted to leave to do so was not only a last-minute appeal to the human rights agenda of the Carter administration and the international community, but also a clear opportunity to get rid of some of those who opposed him.

Ironically, the same year that tens of thousands of Cubans left the island from the port of Mariel for economic reasons, the economy began to improve once again. Castro further liberalized the Cuban economy, relaxing the regulations on foreign investment by allowing foreigners to have up to 49 percent ownership in local businesses. The production of steel, medicines, electronics and chemicals increased. With the reduction in state provided housing through the minibrigades, the private sector began meeting much of this demand.

Housing construction in the early 1980s grew at a faster rate than any other sector and between 1981 and 1986 more than 60 percent of the housing units were privately constructed. Production of agricultural goods increased, largely due to the increase in price paid by the state procurement agency to private farmers. In addition, both state and private workers realized increased profits from the farmers’ markets.

The downside to the liberalization of the economy was that these lucrative markets encouraged farmers to sell their poorest crops to the state and their better-quality crops for even higher profits at the markets. This undermined the state’s efforts to maintain the economic safety net for its poorest citizens. Public funds and resources used on state-run farms were often diverted illegally for private gain.

Cuban internationalism expanded in the early 1980s. Cuba provided soldiers and construction workers to twenty countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia. Thousands of Cuban healthcare workers, doctors and teachers provided assistance to countries in the developing world. Castro announced a change in his military policy. He created a militia made up of non-military personnel that numbered almost 1.5 million people. Castro later justified this in terms of responding to the aggressive nature of the Reagan administration.

Military equipment and training was provided to the Farabundo Marti National Liberation—Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional or FMLN—rebel forces in El Salvador, although the bulk of that was provided prior to the failed ‘final offensive’ against the US-supported government in 1981.

Cuba provided military equipment, approximately 800 advisers and technical expertise to the Sandinistas of Nicaragua in their struggle against the Contra forces supported by the United States.

A majority of Cuban troops in Ethiopia, about four-fifths of the Cuban troops in Angola and almost all Cuban personnel in Grenada were reservists at the peak of the wars and the US invasion. Given the desire to win the wars and to perform well overseas in military roles, some of the best managers, technicians and workers were taken from the home economy for the overseas army, which contributed to a decline in productivity and efficiency.

President Reagan, who viewed the world strictly through the East-West Cold War perspective, brought a desire to restore US power in the world and implement a hard-line anti-communist foreign policy. He viewed Cuban internationalism as simply part of the Soviet Union’s ‘evil empire’. US defense expenditures escalated sharply, and aid to countries under the threat of communist or communist-inspired insurgencies increased dramatically. Reagan acted quickly against Cuba by halting all air links with it and effectively banning travel to Cuba by prohibiting monetary expenditures on the island by US citizens.

Reagan stepped in to topple the Sandinistas in Nicaragua by organizing and funding the opposition group known as the Contras.

The US invasion of Grenada toppled the left wing government of Bernard Coard who had just overthrown the government of Maurice Bishop. One of the stated reasons for the invasion was the use of Cuban military and construction workers on an airport that, according to the United States, was to be used for military purposes. Reagan did not mention publicly that the Cubans had won the construction contract against British, Canadian and French firms who all stated that the purpose of the airport was to increase tourism on the island.

Increased military aid from $33.5 million in 1983 to $176.8 million the following year was given to prop up the government of El Salvador in its struggle against the FMLN.

By 1984, the world market price of sugar had fallen and the Cuban economy was once again in recession. The country suffered from increasing international debts, the increased cost of hard-currency imports due to the devaluation of the US dollar and the need to increase foreign investments and government revenues. Even with the private construction of housing, there was still a shortage and the construction of clinics and day care facilities did not meet the nation’s demand. Corruption had increased and was clearly associated with the growth of the peasant markets. Castro viewed this as a breakdown in revolutionary community conscience.

Corruption took the form of stealing or diverting resources from state-run enterprises for private gain: selling the poorest crops to the state while the best crops were sold at farmers’ markets; selling illegal products on the black market; and the illegal use of state goods in the construction of houses by private individuals.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s revolutionary changes in the Soviet Union, which included economic and political liberalization under the labels of perestroika and glasnost, appeared at a time when Castro was initiating his own campaign for rectification. Castro and the ageing revolutionary leadership reacted with hostility to the reforms of the Soviet Union and the changes happening in Eastern Europe. Castro initiated reforms prior to the PCC congress of December 1986 under the name of rectification—a return to the revolutionary idealism of the 1960s. Rectification was a mixture of revolutionary ideals and pragmatic, market-oriented policies.

Although publicly the hostility towards Gorbachev’s reforms was explained in ideological terms, Castro also knew that these changes were a threat to the enormous economic subsidies and military support that Cuba received.

Revolutionary idealism with its emphasis on community rather than private gain was emphasized once again. Imports were cut and wages were reduced except in the case of the poorest workers whose wages were actually increased. The peasant markets were eliminated although the state continued to sell some of its better products on a supply and demand basis in its agromercados.

There was a return to the use of minibrigades to build houses, day care centers and schools, rather than depending on private contractors. This time, the state reimbursed the economic enterprises that supplied the workers for the minibrigades. Volunteerism was reemphasized as the PCC adopted the slogan, ‘forty hours of voluntary work on community projects’.

The state continued to provide its social safety net for all through its subsidized and rationed food stores. Ironically, at the same time that Castro was criticizing Cubans for acting like individualists and capitalists, he was encouraging Western investors and the promotion of joint investment ventures in electronics, mechanical engineering, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles and tourism. He also allowed private rentals and encouraged family-constructed housing units by making low-interest building loans available.

Corruption among high-level government officials and military personnel was publicly exposed during the period of rectification. With Cuba’s constant need for foreign exchange and hard currency, those in crucial government positions who interacted with Western companies and financial institutions were prone to corruption. They used their preferential access to key resources for their own personal benefit and many lived beyond the means of the typical Cuban citizen.

Public trials combined with long-term prison sentences and some executions of top government officials were designed to deter future corruption. The most sensational and noteworthy trial was that of General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, who was condemned to death for treason. The popular General Ochoa was a hero of Cuba’s military triumphs in Angola and had led missions to Ethiopia and Nicaragua. While in Angola, Ochoa had sold Cuban sugar, cement and other goods on the Angolan black market as well as supplementing his budget with shipments of diamonds and ivory to Western Europe.

Despite the attempts to institutionalize the revolution through the PCC, the Popular Power assemblies and the CTC, the personal and charismatic rule of Castro was still the most important factor in providing legitimacy to the revolutionary government of Cuba. It was evident in the fact that rectification was Castro’s idea. The PCC had little, if any, role in the decision. It merely approved Castro’s policies.

With rectification policies in place, Cuban internationalism had also begun to contract. In particular, Cuba could no longer afford its large military presence in Africa. This policy caused resentment among many of the officers of the proud Cuban military. Returning military personnel faced a difficult economy when they returned home. General Ochoa was most vocal in his criticism of the cutbacks in the international mission of the FAR and the treatment of Cuban troops when they returned home from Africa to face economic austerity. Ochoa and other high-ranking military officials were also charged with drug trafficking.

Some scholars believe that the popular Ochoa had become a political threat either to Raul Castro, head of the FAR, or Fidel Castro himself. Regardless, General Ochoa execution provided a clear signal that loyalty to Castro was still the most important aspect of the revolutionary Cuban political system.

Partly in response first to the end of the Cold War and then to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also thanks to important Cuban battlefield successes, Cuban troops returned home. Withdrawal from Ethiopia was completed by the beginning of 1990, prior to full withdrawal of Soviet troops and the collapse of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam's government.

Cuban troops had successfully prevented Somalia's conquest of the Ogaden. By spring 1990 Cuban troops and military advisers had withdrawn from Nicaragua at the request of the government that replaced the Sandinistas after their defeat in the 1990 national elections. Cuban troops had successfully advised the Sandinista military in their battlefield defeat of the 'contra' military bands.

Withdrawal from Angola was completed in May 1991. Cuban troops had stopped the South African military invasion of Angola and bloodied the South African armed forces, thereby contributing powerfully to a process of negotiation that culminated in South Africa's full withdrawal from Angola and its granting of independence to Namibia, as well as to the beginning of the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa itself. Angola's political regime, however, had begun to change contrary to Cuba's own preferences: the Angolan government took steps to open its economy to market forces and to open its politics to multiparty competition.

Although no one, including Castro, predicted the abrupt end of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, he clearly knew that any change in the preferential relationship with these countries could threaten his own revolution. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Castro found Cuba truly independent for the first time in its history. Yet, that very independence threatened his revolution like no other event since 1959. Castro faced economic and social problems at home.

Castro faced a once-proud military that had seen its international mission collapse under budget cuts and soldiers returning home to an island that was in recession. He was saddled with an ageing revolutionary leadership while the majority of the Cuban population had been born after 1959.

There was a massive turnover in the Central Committee of the PCC with almost 50 percent of the members being newly elected. The members were better educated than ever before. His challenge was to ‘retire’ some of the ageing leadership and appeal to the younger generation. Leaders within the younger generation had to be sought out and brought into the ruling circles. Castro, the ageing charismatic revolutionary and the ultimate Machiavellian political survivor, was forced to rise to the challenge of a post-Cold War world.

Cuba began to feel the full force of the decomposition of the communist regimes in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. All the Eastern European countries cancelled their economic assistance programmes and reduced their trade with Cuba; East Germany's incorporation into a larger Germany led to a particularly drastic reduction of Cuban trade.

From 1989 to 1991 the USSR reduced both its economic subsidies and the transfer of weapons free of charge to Cuba; both of these kinds of subsidies were eventually cancelled by the Russian Federation and by other successor states to the former Soviet Union. Cuban trade continued with most of the successor states, although generally at international market prices and at levels well below those of 1989.