Cuba has approximately 35,000 troops in Africa today. Relative to its population, that is comparable to U.S. involvement in Vietnam at the height of the war. The Cuban military presence in Africa, with Soviet support, has become a major and divisive concern of the Carter Administration, leading in the spring of 1978 to a public shouting match between Presidents Castro and Carter over the degree of Cuban involvement in the invasion of Zaïre's Shaba province by former Katanga gendarmes based in Angola.

In the debate on how to respond to Cuban overseas activities, a major argument is whether Cuba has a foreign policy of its own. Some routinely describe Cuba as a puppet of the Soviet Union, and Cuban soldiers as mercenaries in the pay of their Soviet master. Because the Cuban government's autonomy in foreign policy is perceived as close to zero, it becomes impossible to treat a mere province as a sovereign government. Sino-Soviet relations and Soviet-Yugoslav relations were once similarly portrayed, and time proved each perspective wrong. I believe it is wrong in the case of Cuba, too.

Cuba is a small country, but it has a big country's foreign policy. It has tried to carry out such a policy since the beginning of the revolution, but only in the second half of the 1970s did it have the conditions - internal resources, lack of U.S. opposition, and an African context that welcomed what Cuba seemed best able to provide - to become a visible and important actor actually shaping the course of events.


Cuban foreign policy may, in fact, be the outstanding success of the Cuban Revolution. Its foremost accomplishment is that it has made it possible for revolutionary rule to survive for two decades, in the face of what was until very recently implacable and multifaceted U.S. opposition. In 1959-60, suspicion hardened into hostility and serious disputes emerged with the United States, and for nearly a decade thereafter Washington, as we know, literally spared no effort to bring down Fidel Castro and his associates. Yet 20 years later - after the Bay of Pigs, the missile crisis, intense covert pressures, a continuing U.S. embargo, and now the Cuban engagement in Angola and Ethiopia - Cuba's revolutionary family remains in control. The economy fell and rose; political forms at home were changed; but the same set of individuals that consolidated its hold on government in the early 1960s remains at the helm today.

The survival of revolutionary rule remains the foremost objective of their foreign policy. And I think it would today be widely accepted - as it was not, at least in American capitals, in the 1960s - that it was the practical imperative of survival, considerably more than ideological affinity, that made the Soviet connection as strong as it was from the outset. Cuba had to have foreign support, and in the international political climate of the early revolutionary years only the Soviet Union had the military, political and economic capacity to help Cuba effectively in its confrontation with the United States.

Cuba required the Soviet connection, not only to make a Marxist-Leninist regime - with tropical flavor - possible in the American Mediterranean, but also to fund an economic growth and redistribution program. The gaining of foreign support for economic development has all along been the second objective of Cuban foreign policy. Its relative priority was made clear early in the new regime, however. In the critical choices it had to make between 1959 and 1961 about relations with the United States, Cuba might have avoided the economic dislocations of the 1960s (whose shape was even then visible) if it had simply slowed down or aborted its revolutionary program, especially by eschewing policies of government control and redistribution of resources. Instead, the revolutionary government sacrificed short-run internal welfare to its principal aim: the survival and consolidation of its own kind of political regime.

These early priorities, and the needs and choices they dictated, did lead to a persistent characteristic of Cuban foreign policy, namely that it operates under what must be described as Soviet hegemony. So long as the Soviet Union is Cuba's principal guarantor and the principal supporter of its internal development policies, it is in a position to set the permissible boundaries for Cuban behavior in the foreign sphere. We shall return to the twin questions of just what those boundaries have been at different times, and how much Cuba has availed itself of the discretion it has had within them. The mix of dependence and independence has varied in degree, but it has always been there.

Yet the experience of those same early years also conditioned the Cuban leadership to the need for an active foreign policy beyond mere reliance on the U.S.S.R. The Soviet Union was far away; its ability to support Cuba was hampered by geography, compounded by inefficiencies at both ends of the relationship. Soviet support for Cuba, at the outset, was far from unqualified; Soviet leaders had learned to distrust revolutions made without Soviet armed support. At first, in the 1960s, even Soviet missile protection was rather more figurative than real in the perception of the Cuban leadership, and Fidel Castro was outraged in 1962 when the Soviet Union bowed to the United States in the missile crisis without consulting the Cuban government.

Insufficiently reassured by the Soviet Union, Cuba turned wherever it could for support and assistance. Among its friends in the early 1960s, for example, were the People's Republic of China and Morocco - both by then anathema to Moscow, and both described today in Havana as somewhat beneath the scum of the earth.

In addition, when the U.S. policy of economic denial became worldwide, seeking to enlist allies in the effort to strangle the Cuban government, Cuba was virtually forced for practical reasons alone to "go global" in its own foreign policy. Until the Ford Administration lifted these restrictions in 1975, foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based transnational enterprises could not trade with Cuba; merchant ships calling at Cuban ports could not be serviced in the United States; and foreign recipients of U.S. aid were threatened with aid cutoffs if they traded with Cuba. Washington sought, and eventually achieved, the imposition of collective sanctions by the Organization of American States.

The impact on Cuban policy was twofold. Where it could hope to do so, Cuba sought to persuade others not to go along with the United States, through widespread and increasingly skillful bilateral diplomacy and through participation in multilateral groupings. Its membership in the nonaligned movement dates from 1961. (Later on, Cuba joined the so-called Group of 77 to press for the economic demands of the less-developed countries.) Over the years Cuba has become a leader of the nonaligned's highest ranking coordinating committee - even though few countries are more deeply aligned with a superpower. And the nonaligned countries responded by early and strong condemnation of U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba, and by more specific resolutions such as a long-standing appeal for U.S. withdrawal from its Guantanamo naval base in eastern Cuba. It is a reflection of Cuba's continued high standing among the nonaligned nations that, notwithstanding the vigorous debates in Belgrade this summer (to which we shall return), Havana will be the site of the 1979 summit meeting of the heads of nonaligned governments.

In the Western Hemisphere, however, Cuban policy took a different turn. Because the United States had great leverage especially over Latin American governments - the weaker the government, the greater the leverage, generally speaking - Cuba had the most concrete of national interests in supporting the oppositions to those governments that sided with the United States against Cuba.

Outside the hemisphere, although Cuba supported some opposition movements in the early years, it is noteworthy that it generally chose to work with governments - in Franco's Spain, for example - as part of a policy of diversifying its foreign policy partners wherever possible and wherever there was an economic or political interest involved. Relations with governments have generally had a higher priority than efforts to influence the Left and to support revolutions.

Yet, of course, the global thrust of Cuban policy - while grounded primarily in Cuba's experience - also has a basis in the ideology of the leadership. The official ideology is not of the biblical variety: while policy pronouncements do include at times references to the Marxist-Leninist classics - more so by some officials and at some times - most Cuban policy and ideological formulations rely strongly on the speeches of Fidel Castro and of other leaders of the Cuban government. These, in turn, reflect a mix of vision and pragmatism that has evolved over the years. For the study of foreign policy, official ideology, too, emphasizes the importance of a worldwide perspective.

Thus ideology provides a frame of reference for reflection, a lens through which to see the world, scales with which to weigh the evidence. Fidel Castro's own biography as a revolutionary in the 1940s involved him in efforts to advance radical causes in Colombia and in the Dominican Republic. The collective experience of the Cuban leadership, as guerrillas in the 1950s, underlined the importance of support from abroad. After 1959, they received substantial assistance not only from the Soviet Union, but also from other East European countries and China. These events have strengthened an ideology that urges them to support their friends and allies overseas as others supported them in their time of need - to do their duty of "internationalist solidarity."

Ideology had a target, too - to oppose the U.S.-led forces of "imperialism" wherever those forces were weak. An ideological set to Cuban thinking became stronger over the years, as Cuba became isolated from many currents of international thought other than those flowing from communist movements and countries, and in part because its own political system tended to become more rigid, discouraging dissent and less than full loyalty to the "correct" position.

So both ideology and practical interest combined to lead Cuba, in the 1960s, to the active policy of supporting revolution that was associated with the name of Ernesto (Che) Guevara and culminated in his ill-fated attempt to create a "second Cuba" in the hinterlands of Bolivia. Che was assisted by several members of the Cuban Communist Party, including some Central Committee members who died with him there. It was Guevara, also, who established some of the key early contacts with the Congo (Brazzaville) and Angola's MPLA in 1965.

But the general goal of support of revolution remained secondary to a higher goal consistently preferred, namely, a preference for Cuba's "own" Left over a unified revolutionary stance. The attack on the Soviet-oriented Venezuelan Communist Party severely divided the Left in that country. The Bolivian Left was also fractured between those supporting the Guevara-led insurrection and the more cautious policies of that country's Soviet-oriented Communist Party. Cuba even contributed to splits within the armed struggle wing of the Left in Guatemala, where it denounced those whom it did not like as Trotskyites.

In time, an ideology that emerged from early experience acquired a life of its own, and now serves as a somewhat independent factor in the explanation of Cuban foreign policy, shaping the leadership's perceptions and providing ready explanations to the public for many of Cuba's actions. Nevertheless, it is also tempered by contemporary experience, and subordinate to the superior goals of survival and internal development. Cuba does not answer every call from every quarter; at times it supports the less ideologically worthy but more strategically important. But there remains an ideological element to the formulation and implementation of Cuban foreign policy.


Thus, Cuba's foreign policy can be seen as reflecting a fairly clear hierarchy of objectives, in descending order: (1) survival of the revolutionary government; (2) economic development; (3) influence over governments; (4) influence over the Left; and (5) support of revolution. Although many specific Cuban policies have changed from the 1960s to the 1970s, the choices among policies have been made consistently as if they were following such an explicit hierarchy. Individual policies have varied; the pattern of choice has remained stable.

And, in the 1960s, Cuba's marching to its own drum led to significant Cuban-Soviet differences, and what appeared to be an almost constant testing of the limits of Soviet tolerance. Cuba refused to take sides in the Sino-Soviet split during the first half of the 1960s. It criticized publicly Soviet policies of trade and cooperation with some of Cuba's Latin American enemies, including the military government of Brazil and President Frei's Chile. It criticized Soviet-oriented communist parties, especially Venezuela's, as having given up their revolutionary commitments, and its support of revolutionary groups in Latin America was often in explicit opposition to Soviet wishes. Cuban-Soviet differences included many disputes motivated by ideological differences but, more generally, they should be seen as efforts by both countries to establish appropriate norms for their relationship.

Similarly, the effort to diversify partners often led to considerable independence from Soviet policy and, one may assume, from Soviet desires. Cuba traded more with Spain in the mid-1960s than it did with East Germany, Poland, Hungary, or Bulgaria. It maintained its relations with the Mexican government even at the time of the 1968 Olympics, when repression against the Mexican Left prevailed. And, when the world price of sugar rose in 1963-64, revolutionary Cuba had the possibility, albeit limited, of choosing for the first time whether to emphasize trade with socialist or capitalist countries. The result was clear. Exports to the socialist countries fell from 82 percent in 1962 to 59 percent in 1964, and imports from these countries fell from 83 percent in 1962 to 68 percent in 1964, edging back to the 1962 levels thereafter. The policy to diversify trading partners, seen as economically desirable as well as politically prudent, prevailed for as long as Cuba had the foreign exchange to afford it.

Despite Cuba's rather independent foreign policy in the 1960s, Soviet assistance continued without interruption, and bilateral relations reached a low ebb only in 1967-68. The testing of the hegemonic boundaries set by the Soviet Union for Cuba reached a climax at that time.

For the Soviet Union, Cuba's independence was one more element in the dismemberment of the Soviet alliance: from Yugoslavia in the 1940s to China in the 1950s, now to Czechoslovakia and Cuba in the 1960s. And Soviet concern with Cuba's independent policies, many of which were directly and overtly opposed to Soviet wishes, was manifested in part by the establishment of links by Soviet and East European diplomats and party leaders with some of their Cuban counterparts. This dissenting, internationally orthodox wing of the Cuban Communist Party, led by Aníbal Escalante, was uncovered by Fidel and Raúl Castro's wing of the party, and labeled the "microfaction." Its principal crimes were to gather to discuss and criticize Cuban government leaders and prevailing policies, and to seek to establish a transnational alliance with like-minded Soviet and East European leaders. Some "microfaction" members were expelled from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba; others were expelled from the Party itself; and the principal leaders were imprisoned for their crimes of opinion and association.

The Soviet Union at last retaliated, behaving as a hegemonic power setting more firmly the limits of Cuba's permissible foreign policy behavior. It slowed down the delivery of petroleum products to Cuba at the same time that it was increasing them to Cuba's Latin American enemies; this occurred at a time of Soviet oil production increases. The Cuban government had to implement drastic rationing procedures to respond to these Soviet sanctions. Soviet political and economic pressures on Cuba continued throughout the first half of 1968.

At the same time, Guevara had been killed in Bolivia in late 1967. The prospects for successful armed struggle in Latin America looked poorer than ever. Guerrillas had been defeated decisively from Venezuela all the way south to Bolivia. The Andes would not become South America's Sierra Maestra. Moreover, Cuba could not become a "second Albania," depending on Chinese support. Cuban relations with China had deteriorated sharply in late 1965 and early 1966, when Cuba objected to Chinese efforts to build political support within the Cuban Party and armed forces, and when China imposed its own brand of economic sanctions on Cuba by refusing to sell as much rice or buy as much sugar as Cuba claimed had been contracted for.

In the early months of 1968, then, the Cuban leadership confronted the failure of its revolutionary policies in Latin America and triple economic sanctions - from the United States, China and now even the Soviet Union. Political and some economic support from North Vietnam, North Korea and Romania could not keep Cuban foreign policies afloat. The turning point came in August 1968. Prime Minister Fidel Castro went on national television, opening his remarks by noting that they would be somewhat different from what some comrades might have expected. Czechoslovakia was not to be thought of as a Soviet Bay of Pigs. The Prime Minister endorsed the Soviet and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Consistent with its hierarchy of policy goals, Cuba chose survival and development over creating its own Left or promoting revolution. The Prague spring had ended in the Caribbean, too.


Since 1968, many specific Cuban policies have changed, and the thrust of these changes does reflect a greater degree of convergence with the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. Once Castro had toed the line over Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union moved to step up its funding of Cuban internal development in the early 1970s, when such assistance was particularly important to get the Cuban economy back on its feet after the collapse of 1968-71. The principal forms of Soviet economic help - direct subsidies to meet bilateral trade deficits with the U.S.S.R., high subsidy prices for Cuban sugar, and concessionary prices for Soviet petroleum products - have all been used to the full throughout the 1970s. The Soviet Union has also provided several hundred million dollars worth of credits for economic development, more in the 1970s than before, and on generous terms. And Soviet arms transfers to Cuba, which are free of charge, have likewise increased sharply in the current decade.1

In the face of such increased dependence, it would have been surprising not to see some shifts that seem to bear the stamp of accepting narrower limits to Cuban autonomy. Perhaps the foremost such case is policy toward Israel: after the 1967 Six-Day War, Cuba had stood out with Romania among Soviet allies in refusing to break with Israel; when the 1973 war erupted, Cuba sent troops to the Syrian front, and in diplomatic forums since then Cuba has been a strident voice on the Arab side.

Yet even this shift had a rationale in terms of Cuba's special role in the nonaligned movement; it was consistent with the long-standing Cuban emphasis on relations with governments and on strengthening and diversifying its foreign ties. And, of course, the economic demands of the Group of 77 - to which the Arab oil producers' price rises gave a whole new dimension and weight in the mid-1970s - have all along struck a particularly responsive chord in an embargoed Cuba that traces many of its ills to past economic domination and exploitation from an "imperialist" United States.

Other shifts in the pattern of Cuban foreign policy were clearly consistent with the hierarchy of objectives established after 1960. Thus, Cuba's dropping of its support for insurrectionary oppositions in Latin America reflected the willingness of new governments to put OAS sanctions to one side and deal bilaterally with Cuba; the general Cuban preference for dealing through governments where it could was thus able to flourish more successfully in a changed international environment. The military coup in Peru in 1968 brought to power a group of officers who confronted the United States for their own nationalist reasons. Allende's election in Chile opened new vistas, albeit short-lived, for socialism in the hemisphere. A leader of the Venezuelan guerrillas, Douglas Bravo, once a close Cuban ally, denounced Cuba's abandonment of revolution in the Americas. The rise of Cámpora and then Perón to the Argentine presidency permitted substantial commercial relations with that country. Having failed in what it sought to do in the 1960s, Cuban policy in Latin America shifted in the 1970s. But this policy change was consistent with the hierarchy of priorities established in the early 1960s. There was continuity in policy patterns, but change in specific policies.

After early successes in the 1970s, Cuba's Latin American experience in recent years has been much more discouraging. Cuban diplomats and other personnel were expelled from Chile after the 1973 coup. Recent changes in Peru seem to have embarrassed the Cuban government, and bilateral relations have cooled. Having opened relations with President Cámpora's government in Argentina, including a billion dollars worth of credit, Cuba has seen relations become much poorer in recent years. Hopes of close collaboration with Venezuela, Colombia or Mexico have yielded only modest benefits. Cuba is now an active but not terribly influential participant in official Latin American forums, and it participates in some joint activities such as the Caribbean shipping enterprise (NAMUCAR). Indeed, Cuba has warm relations in the Western Hemisphere today only with Jamaica and Guyana, and not really with any Latin American country. Cuba has been self-restrained in its policies toward weak governments in Central America and the Caribbean as a part of this policy of dealing with governments. Cuban foreign policy has succeeded in Latin America to the extent that Cuba is no longer subject to collective OAS sanctions, and that many countries have reestablished relations with Cuba. But Cuba's influence and importance in the Americas remain very modest.

Similarly, Cuba continues to give weight to pragmatic economic factors. Its political relations with China and Brazil are terrible, but it has continued to conduct a lively rice and sugar trade with China, notwithstanding the political falling-out of the mid-1960s, and it has collaborated with Brazil, as well as with other beacons of revolution such as the Marcos government of the Philippines or the former Balaguer government of the Dominican Republic, to defend the world price of sugar and the producers' perspective in the world sugar market. Having substantial trade with Argentina, Cuba gets along (minimally) with the current Argentine government, but not at all with the current government of Chile, where it has nothing to lose. In Eastern Europe, ideological preference and the Soviet tie may play a part in Cuba's getting along better with East Germany than with Poland, and with Bulgaria than with Yugoslavia, but there are also trade factors.

Most important, Cuba's role in the nonaligned movement has steadily become greater. What was in the early years a rather desperate reaching for support to counter U.S. pressures has evolved over the years into a centerpiece of Cuban foreign policy. In addition to its support for the economic demands of the Group of 77, Cuba has been vocal in supporting the themes of continued revolution, ending all vestiges of colonialism and white domination, and combating economic "neocolonialism." These positions have a life of their own. They have been central to the Cuban policies in Africa that we shall next examine in detail.

Has Cuba since 1968 had less discretion within narrower Soviet hegemonic boundaries than it had and exercised in the 1960s? The answer must be that it has had a good deal less. But it also appears that Cuba retains a substantial degree of independence to pursue its own ends and priorities, provided only that these do not conflict in any significant way - as they often did in the 1960s - with the interests and preferences of the U.S.S.R. This point - as well as its opposite, namely, that Cuba is only a puppet - cannot be proven satisfactorily. We do not know the details of Cuban foreign policymaking nor, in fact, how much discretion Cuba has. And yet, the case that Cuba has discretion within Soviet hegemony in the making of its foreign policy seems the more plausible. Cuban foreign policy in the 1970s shows a consistent evolution from the early days of revolutionary rule. It is as global today as it has ever been - the difference lies in the degree of success, the methods used, the scale of action, and the theater of operations. It emphasizes the Soviet alliance and influence over governments as it always has. Partners in alliance, however unequal their influence and capabilities, seek joint gains; the Cuban-Soviet alliance meets that standard.

Apart from the case of Israel, it is difficult to identify what specific policy Cuba is pursuing today that is inconsistent with past policies as mediated through the hierarchy of policy goals. Today, as in the past, Cuba has preferred success to failure, overt to covert involvement, more influence and activity rather than less. The shift in theater of operations - from Latin America to Africa - seems to be explained best by failure in one and success in the other. Finally, it seems difficult to imagine that Cuban personnel would have performed as effectively as they have in Africa if their government and leaders had not made the fundamental decisions, if there were no real commitment on the part of their leadership to the development of such a foreign policy. Slaves could not have done that well.


Cuba has had an African policy from the early years of the revolution. That included an effort to diversify political and diplomatic relations, to build up trade, and to provide elements of military assistance whenever that seemed appropriate. In 1963, a few Cuban troops performed in logistical support roles in Algeria in its fight against Morocco. By the mid-1960s, Cuba's long association with the Congo (Brazzaville) was underway. Cuba developed an early interest in guerrillas fighting against Portugal, partly for ideological reasons, and partly for the sake of gaining political influence. Current members of the Cuban Central Committee gained their "revolutionary merits" fighting against the Portuguese, and they were promoted precisely for their performance of the duty of "internationalist solidarity." Cubans have served as bodyguards for President Touré of Guinea (Conakry).

Two internal changes within Cuba made possible the shift of scale that characterized Cuba's African policy from the 1960s to the 1970s. After a dismal performance in the 1960s, the Cuban economy recovered throughout the first half-decade of the 1970s, helped by the soaring world price of sugar, and also by internal changes in economic management and organization. Second, the Cuban armed forces underwent an important program of professionalization and specialization in the early 1970s, which allowed them to become the effective troops later engaged in African wars. Cuba developed also a large, competent and ready military reserve; 70 percent of its force in Angola in 1975-76 were reservists. Reservists are ordinarily a majority of Cuban troops engaged in war games. The Cuban armed forces seem to be incapable of going into war without a majority reserve component.2

International factors, however, affected other aspects of Cuba's involvement more directly. The United States emerged from the Vietnam War reluctant to become involved again in similar adventures. It had also gradually abandoned its once active policy of isolating Cuba, so that governments no longer incurred costs by becoming friendly with Cuba. If Cuba was only moderately successful in its efforts to woo Latin American governments, it was far more so in Africa. Cuba has little to offer many Latin American countries; its level of development or expertise, with few exceptions, is not much above the Latin American level. But Cuba can offer a number of programs to African countries, such as the successor states of the Iberian empires, or the countries of the Horn of Africa, that may be valuable to them.

Thus, it was natural that Cuba's early special ties to anticolonial liberation movements in the Portuguese- and Spanish-held territories of Africa led to a continuing Cuban presence. Even in the smaller territories of São Tomé-Principe, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau, following their independence, Cuba initiated full-fledged foreign aid programs comparable to those it had already used the world over - from Vietnam and Laos to Jamaica, Guyana and Syria. Africa became the main theater of operations of Cuban government-to-government programs.

These Cuban foreign aid programs have certain continuing characteristics. They have emphasized sending personnel, not cash or goods. Cuba does not send construction materials; it sends people to build a road. It does not equip a hospital, but it sends health personnel to staff it. It does not provide weaponry, but it supplies military instructors to teach how to use Soviet weaponry.

Until 1975, at least, the general foreign assistance program, therefore, was not expensive. Cuba is able to respond to requests for aid very quickly, especially so at the time of natural disasters. It pursues long-term objectives, rather than short-term rewards; it has even sent some modest disaster relief assistance to countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, with which it did not have diplomatic relations at the time. And it rewards its personnel engaged overseas with promotions and honors. Even before the Angolan war, eight percent of the delegates to the First Party Congress had done their "internationalist duty." All told, the Cuban foreign aid program has operated at various times in two dozen countries. Of the countries that Cuba had once supported, however modestly, only three utterly disparate countries have broken sharply with Cuba: Cambodia, related to its closeness with China and its dispute with Vietnam, Chile after the overthrow of Allende in the 1973 military coup, and Somalia, because of Cuban support for Ethiopia.

The Cuban foreign military aid program offers a package of services. Troops, to be sure, are taught how to use weaponry, but they are also enrolled in political education classes, and they are taught how to become engaged in community service and to support economically productive activities. These programs emphasize the need for loyalty and discipline to the government that sends forces into battle and, for these reasons, the Cuban military training program may be of greater value to host governments than some other program that might transfer only technical know-how. Insofar as many Soviet arms transfer programs do not include many support services, a host government may put together a package of Soviet hardware and Cuban instruction that might serve it well. That combination may be more appealing than a U.S. program that limits support services to the more technical aspects of weapons maintenance and use.

As noted, all of these Cuban assets had been developed and refined by 1975 with specific emphasis on African colonial and postcolonial settings. And, in Angola, Cuban training of the then-guerrilla forces of the MPLA had actually begun as early as 1966.3 The MPLA had many attractions for the Cubans. It was actively engaged in armed struggle against a conservative colonial regime. It was more serious about Marxism-Leninism than many other radical movements the Cubans would encounter in Africa. In the 1960s it provided a way to cooperate with the Soviet Union in a revolutionary endeavor - an opportunity then absent in Latin America where the two countries were at odds over Cuba's stress on armed struggle. Since the Angolan war, the Cuban government has stressed that Cuba is an Afro-Spanish country, suggesting that race and history are one link between Cuba and Angola. In fact, a more plausible argument is that the Cubans long found the MPLA more compatible than other movements in Angola precisely because the MPLA has been more cosmopolitan and multiracial, and less willing to emphasize ethnicity rather than class. It is not the stress on race, but its absence, that has made for closer links between Cuba and the MPLA.

After the military revolution in Portugal in April 1974, the prospects for Angolan independence increased and the struggle among groups within Angola was sharpened. There was a nearly classic process of escalation including a wide array of countries, in which Cuba and South Africa turned out to be key players. Their interaction proceeded as follows:

First, the MPLA asked Cuba for military advisers in the spring of 1975, and 200-300 arrived at that time to staff several military training camps. Further MPLA requests for Cuban assistance led to the arrival of limited Cuban reinforcements in August 1975, led by General (Comandante) Raúl Díaz Argüelles. Summer war games held in Cuba were the most complex conducted up to that time. By the end of August and the beginning of September, the top Cuban officer corps began to prepare for war. In late September, ships sailed from Cuba carrying several hundred additional troops that arrived in Angola and went into action during the first half of October.

South African military units had begun to move gradually into Angola in June, after the arrival of the first Cuban training groups. The Cuban reinforcements in the late summer of 1975, therefore, could be described in part as a response to increasing South African penetration of Angola. The major South African attack of mid-October 1975 was in turn a response to the presence in Angola, by then, of about 1,000 Cuban troops. And Cuba's massive subsequent intervention from November onward was plainly a response to the South African action. When Angola became formally independent on November 11, major Cuban and South African forces were in place and ready to fight each other.

In sum, Cuban military forces arrived in Angola prior to independence and prior to the most major South African attack, but the bulk of Cuban troops arrived only after these events.

Apart from the exact time sequence, what was abundantly clear even at the time was that South African support for UNITA (and to a lesser extent American support of the FNLA) had created a situation in which Cuban actions responded both to the immediate needs of Neto and the MPLA and to the hardening sentiment of black African nations generally, as expressed in successive resolutions by the Organization of African Unity. What Cuba did in Angola greatly strengthened its position with African countries and thus gained the very sort of international influence, on a government-to-government basis, that had long been a major objective of Cuban policy.

In other respects as well, Angola was a bright constellation of opportunities. Having cut loose from Latin American guerrillas, Cuba was able to support national liberation and revitalize its tarnished reputation on the revolutionary Left. When it said henceforth that it supported the "just struggles of the peoples of country X," it came to have a new and more significant meaning.

Even its leverage with the Soviet Union increased. Soviet commentary on Cuban internal economic performance had long betrayed a disdain for Cuban managerial incompetence; Cuban military accomplishments in Africa provided a cause for admiration. There is no evidence that Cuban forces in Africa are mercenaries in the strict sense that they are being paid by the Soviet Union, or that Cuba is explicitly paying back its huge debt to the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Cuba is demonstrating its political and military worth to the Soviet Union, and creating a Soviet debt to Cuba. Thus, at least implicitly, Cuba is making it possible to compare and cancel these mutual debts in the future; if that were to occur, then the African wars would have, indeed, repaid the Cuban debt to the Soviet Union.4

Cuban dependence on the U.S.S.R., which had deepened in the late 1960s and early 1970s, deepened again. Although Cuba could decide to act on its own, it could not implement that decision without its Soviet ally. The Soviet Union was needed to provide weaponry for use in Africa and essential economic assistance for the joint overseas operations. It also had to provide general political and military cover for Cuba in the event of a possible U.S. response. Thus Cuban foreign policy, and even the personal safety of its tens of thousands of troops overseas, came to depend directly on policy coordination with the Soviet Union. And, as we have noted, Cuba's entry into the Angolan war was further facilitated by the improvement of its military capabilities and by the perceived unwillingness and inability of the United States, in the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, and still trying to recover from the economic dislocation that had begun in 1974, to do much in an area of the world to which the U.S. government had not paid sustained and serious attention.

The Angolan war, then, was well related to Cuba's long-standing policy goals. Without threatening the survival of the Cuban government, it increased Cuban international influence over governments and over the Left. It promoted the spread of revolutionary regimes while it consolidated the alliance with the Soviet Union. This was the first time in two decades of revolutionary rule when all of these goals could be achieved simultaneously.


After the Angolan war, Prime Minister Castro5 sought to clarify the newly blurred aspects of Cuban foreign policy. The last nail entered the coffin of "exporting revolution" to Latin America, when he assured all Latin American governments, regardless of ideology, that they need not fear the Cuban armed forces. All black African governments were similarly assured.

There is much, however, that is not covered by those assurances. They do not extend to Cuban support that might not require the commitment of troops for front-line combat; modest assistance might still be given to the opposition to hostile incumbent governments. The white-ruled regimes of southern Africa were pointedly excluded from these assurances, consistent with Cuba's long support of opposition to them. North Africa was also excluded, particularly because Cuba has been supporting the Polisario Liberation Front's efforts, based in Algeria, to detach the former Spanish Sahara from Morocco and Mauritania. Cuban competition with Morocco, and with France supporting both Morocco and Mauritania, has become a major theme of contemporary African international relations from the Sahara to Shaba.

Cuban training of the former Katanga or Shaba gendarmes in Angola was a case that arose originally from the Angolan war. President Castro has acknowledged that Cuba supplied and reorganized the Shaba exiles in Angola in 1975 and in 1976, and that Cuban troops and Shaba exiles fought together alongside the MPLA in the closing months of the Angolan civil war. He claims, however, that the Cuban government stopped its direct and indirect relations with the Shaba exiles in Angola beginning with the end of the Angolan war in 1976.

The invasions of Shaba in 1977 and 1978 were very similar. Both were the work of the Shaba exile forces that had received some Cuban supplies and training in Angola, both had no Cubans crossing Zaïre's borders, both had poorly disciplined and badly led Shaba invading forces defeated in or after bloodbaths, and both involved Moroccan and French responses in support of Zaïre. The main change was the shift in the Carter Administration's perception of these events, responding more to the general fear of Cuban activity - the war in the Horn of Africa separated the two Shaba incidents - than to a change in the facts in Shaba itself. Even President Carter's charges against Cuba were gradually tempered. From the early accusation that the Cubans were directly responsible for the invasion of Shaba in 1978, President Carter retreated into simply saying that the Cubans could have done more to prevent the invasion this second time, by warning the Organization of African Unity or the government of Zaïre or, conceivably, by interposing their own forces at the border. Yet it was generally agreed that the Cubans had tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Angolan government to stop the 1978 invasion.

Thus even the U.S. government appears to have come reluctantly to the view that Cuban involvement in either Shaba invasion was rather minor.

The Cuban government, in fact, has been troubled by the actions of the Shaba rebels in Angola. The first invasion of Shaba increased Angola's vulnerability and led to the need for a reinforcement of Cuban troops in Angola. Cuba's principal stake in Angola - for the sake of the Luanda government as well as for the sake of protecting Cuban troops from unnecessary combat or casualties - has been to consolidate the Neto regime and reduce its vulnerability. That means avoiding war with Zaïre as much as possible. Cuban troops have also protected the Gulf Oil Corporation's facilities in Cabinda, and the Cuban government appears to have counseled Angola against expropriating Gulf properties. Cuban policies may also help to explain some of the moderate steps of the Neto government toward a settlement in Namibia as well.

In policy terms, Cuba's actions in Angola after the war reflected a willingness to commit troops to support an allied incumbent government that faced an internal insurrection that could be plausibly described as externally supported. This was plainly the case in Angola, with Zaïre, South Africa, and possibly France furnishing support to the remnants of UNITA. In these circumstances, Cuba chose to interpret the Angolan-Cuban 1976 military treaty to include the commitment of Cuban combat troops to fight in the protracted war that has persisted in the country. After an initial withdrawal of Cuban troops in the wake of the quick victory in 1975-76, the number of Cuban troops in Angola increased once again after April 1977, to help consolidate the Neto regime and in part in response to fears of war between Angola and Zaïre.

Finally, of course, Cuba has been willing to provide combat troops to assist an allied incumbent facing a conventional invasion, as in the case of Ethiopia's war against Somalia. Here Cuba had tried to play, albeit unsuccessfully, a moderating role. In March 1977, President Castro visited both countries and conducted extensive negotiations to try to reconcile their differences. The Cuban government had found itself in the uncomfortable role of supporting militarily two regimes about to go to war with each other. Although war was not avoided and Cuba eventually sided with Ethiopia primarily for strategic reasons (and after Somalia broke with Cuba and the Soviet Union for refusing to support Somali claims), the fact remains that Cuba sought to prevent rather than promote that war.

Cuba's position today on Ethiopia's reconquest of Eritrea is more complex. At a minimum, Cuba's willingness to guard the Ogaden region against Somalia releases Ethiopian forces for the Eritrean front, but Cuban combat troops have apparently not yet entered the struggle directly against the Eritrean rebellion. The Cuban government is also on record in support of the territorial unity and integrity of Ethiopia, and it is now opposed to the Eritrean secession after having supported the Eritrean rebels against the Emperor - a shift from supporting insurrection to supporting government quite consistent with past Cuban policy. The principal difference between the governments of Ethiopia and Cuba appears to be on the possibility of a peaceful settlement without further war, even though President Castro has said he believes the Ethiopians have the right to fight the secession. The April 1978 joint Cuban-Ethiopian communiqué has no Cuban pledge to Ethiopia concerning Eritrea, and it is vague on the status of that territory except for the condemnation of secessionism.

Throughout these events, Cuba has continued to coordinate policy with the U.S.S.R. in ways that make it difficult to determine who leads and who follows, even though it remains clear that neither the Angolan nor the Ethiopian operations could have been conducted in the absence of either. They were jointly expelled by the Somali government from that country, and they both went to the support of the Ethiopian government in the battle for the Ogaden against Somalia. They have both played a limited role thus far in Ethiopia's campaign against Eritrea. They have shared similar attitudes concerning the invasion of Zaïre by Shaba rebels based in Angola, and for the same reasons, namely, the need to avoid further troubles for the Neto government.

Finally, it appears that both Cuba and the U.S.S.R. have sought to involve other countries as a part of a consortium to support Angola and Ethiopia. The Report of the Central Committee of the MPLA to its First Congress shows the success and limitations of the development of this consortium. Angola acknowledged receipt of assistance from several African countries that have been among the principal recipients of Cuban (and Soviet) aid, such as Guinea-Bissau, Guinea (Conakry), Mozambique and Tanzania. Among the countries of Eastern Europe, gratitude was expressed especially to Yugoslavia, and also to East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Poland and Czechoslovakia were excluded.

The principal contributor to the socialist consortium idea may have been East Germany. After Fidel Castro's trip to many African countries in 1977, he went to East Germany and to the Soviet Union. East German-Cuban relations had been improving markedly since their principal economic agreement of February 1974. The agreement of April 1977 focused on support for friendly regimes and movements in Africa, including those of southern Africa and "especially support for the revolutionary process in Ethiopia." Thus the rising importance of the East Germans in Angola and in Ethiopia need not be seen as a challenge to the Cubans, but rather as the result of Soviet and Cuban diplomacy among communist countries to spread the burden of African operations more widely.

The language of Cuban diplomacy has changed along the way. While there is still attention to the ideological foundations of Cuban foreign policy, there is increasing use of the language of high diplomacy. Cuban publications, public officials and diplomats now engage in discourses concerning the strategic importance of the Red Sea, the stake of African countries in maintaining existing borders against revisionists, and the importance of maintaining territorial integrity against secessions. Along with this language has come the flexibility often associated with its application. Cuba exhibits enormous and often righteous concern for these issues, on the side of existing order, in Ethiopia. It is much less concerned about Zaïre's territorial integrity or the sanctity of its borders, even though its own troops have not crossed them. Cuba denounces the French and the Moroccans in Zaïre for doing approximately the same things, albeit on a smaller scale and with less of a long-term commitment to Zaïre, that the Cubans do for Ethiopia and Angola. To be sure, the United States, France and Morocco are, in turn, alarmed about what the Cubans are doing, even though the substance of the activity is the same. The difference in scale may simply be accounted for by the fact that the job the French and the Moroccans had in Zaïre against unprofessional forces was far easier. On both sides, therefore, the critical factor has been self-interest. Cuba had long supported and trained the Somalis, knowing full well what Somalia's goals were. Fidel Castro had personally praised Siad Barre for his commitment to revolution and socialism. Within a year, the same Siad Barre was being denounced as a "chauvinist" when he used the training the Cubans had provided him.

As we have noted, Cuba's actions in Africa from mid-1975 to mid-1978 have generally had both the strategic and political support of most African countries. This was clearly the case with Cuba's support for the MPLA, against the South African-backed movements, during the Angolan civil war. Cuban opposition to the Somali invasion of Ethiopia was quite consistent with OAU policies, as was the unsuccessful effort to mediate between Somalia and Ethiopia prior to the war. Cuban support for movements against the white-ruled regimes in Zimbabwe and Namibia is also well in line with majority African policies. Only in the case of the Shaba gendarmes invading Zaïre has Cuban policy skirted the principal guidelines of the OAU, and even so only in a relatively marginal way.

Hence, as it entered the Belgrade meeting of the nonaligned countries in midsummer of 1978, Cuba, and especially Fidel Castro, must have felt that it had carved out a significant and positive role in Africa in the eyes of most African governments themselves. However, Belgrade in fact produced a sharp wave of criticism of Cuba, not only on general grounds questioning Cuba's continued advocacy of a "revolutionary" posture within the group, but expressing strong objections to any continuing presence of Cubans in African situations once colonial control or invasions had been brought to an end. What African states such as Nigeria seemed to be saying was that Cuba had been welcomed during the critical liberation struggles and also in repelling breaches of the African prohibition against territorial disruption (as in Ethiopia), but that for the longer term major Cuban activity on the ground was regarded as a threat to the independence and autonomy of African governments.

Most important of all, whereas a year ago many African leaders tended to differentiate between a Cuban presence and a Soviet one, today that distinction seems to have almost disappeared. Apparently, the virtual identity of Cuban and Soviet policies, in practice, has for the time being made a deep impression on African leaders. If, as I believe the history of Cuban foreign policy demonstrates, Cuba has a major interest in maximizing its influence among the nonaligned countries, especially in Africa, it may now find itself under pressure to moderate its activities in Africa. It is hard to foresee a case where such pressures would cause Cuba to act in any way that would hamper or obstruct major Soviet policies and objectives. But the degree of Cuban willingness to assist affirmatively in causes backed by the Soviet Union could be substantially affected.


Wars have costs, and Cuba's African wars are no exception. The number of casualties is impossible to estimate at this time. It seems, however, that there were more casualties incurred in the war against Somalia than in the Angolan civil war. President Fidel Castro, and the Cuban press, have made a number of references to the "real fighting spirit" of the Somali soldiers. Because Cuban troops for overseas service appear to be drawn from all parts of the country, no one community seems to have suffered unduly.

The military budget was approximately $400 million on the eve of the Angolan war, rising to a budgeted $784 million on the eve of the Ethiopian war in December 1977, three years later. The actual costs for 1978 will probably be much higher. The Cuban economy had managed to withstand rather nicely the precipitous decline in the world price of sugar from 1974 to 1975, so that its economic performance in 1975 exceeded the average of the decade's first half. The growth rate for 1976, however, was only one-third the 1975 level, and only two-thirds of the planned annual growth for the 1976-80 five-year plan. Even though the world economy began to recover in 1976, and even though the sharper elements of the sugar price decline were past, 1976 was a poor year for the Cuban economy, where real growth per capita in constant prices was close to zero; performance in 1977 was only slightly better.

While these results cannot be attributed exclusively to the Angolan war, some major portion of that decline in the growth rate is to be explained probably by the war's costs. Cuba is still an underdeveloped country, with limited trained personnel. To win wars, it must commit its best people overseas, who are thus taken away from productive and social activities at home.

There have also been costs within the armed forces, and between them and civilians. There is now evidence of elite civilian resistance to having skilled workers mobilized for war, not production. Dislike for military service has become so high, as President Castro noted himself, that it is used by parents, teachers and government agencies to threaten youngsters into behaving well. The incentive structure within the armed forces has come to reflect the fact that military service is not highly valued by troops. Military indiscipline and troop insubordination problems have appeared.

As of mid-1978, all of these seem to be the expression of minority opinions. There is no reason yet to doubt that most Cubans still support their government's overseas activities, and that a sense of national pride and accomplishment may be contributing to this support. But the costs may be compounded in the months ahead; the continuation of protracted wars in Angola and the Horn in Africa could unravel the Cuban policy. These problems are not yet critical, but they are getting worse.

There are also more general international costs. Cuba tried in the early to mid-1970s to improve its relations with France. While commercial relations have continued, political relations have deteriorated sharply beginning in 1975 with the discovery by the French police of communications between some Cuban diplomats and the international terrorist known as Carlos. The deterioration has continued as a result of both countries' African policies. Cuba also improved its relations with Canada; these, too, began to unravel when Canada discovered a Cuban intelligence operation within its borders to recruit English-speaking personnel for use in southern Africa and proceeded to expel some Cuban diplomats, while also beginning to phase out its assistance program to Cuba. Sweden also appears to have begun a phase-out of its foreign aid to Cuba. Notwithstanding continuing commercial relations with the United Kingdom, political relations deteriorated so much in 1978 that the Cuban Foreign Ministry published a personal attack on British Foreign Secretary David Owen. The cooling of Cuban relations with Latin American governments in part occurred against this background, too.

More generally, the Cuban leadership will have to decide how much it values influence abroad, for its own sake, even when it means an indefinite deterioration of Cuba's economy for the sake of revolution abroad. Cuban foreign policy had been successful precisely because it had been closely linked to the internal needs of the polity and the economy. Those links between foreign policy and internal development are much weaker in the case of the African wars. They may break altogether if Cuba is embroiled in wars without end, and without ends that make sense for its people. Tensions thus may develop between internal requirements and the flourish of conquest. How they are resolved will be the core question for Cuban foreign policy in the months ahead.


The United States has very little leverage on Cuba short of acts of war. This is the result of retaining obsolete policies long after they have outlived their usefulness. The United States failed to offer Cuba credible alternatives to full dependence on the Soviet Union in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And today, paradoxically, the rising level of anti-Cuban rhetoric of the Carter Administration, and the actions of some U.S. allies, tend to drive Cuba ever deeper into the arms of the Soviet Union, and may persuade the Cuban leadership of the continuing need to fight the United States and its allies the world over, because it has no other choice. The persistence of old U.S. policies, and the efforts to tighten the screws to the extent possible, have the net effect of providing Cuba with disincentives to behave as the United States wants it to.

If the U.S. policy of economic denial did not bring Cuba to its knees in 1962-63, or in 1969-70, it will surely not do so at the end of the 1970s. In the past, while Cuban policies have changed in a number of ways, the United States, with relatively rigid policies, has lagged behind. This has prevented the negotiation of any number of outstanding issues, from property compensation to the status of the Guantanamo naval base.

The relations that exist between Cuba and the United States now are quite modest. The interest sections attached to the Czech embassy in Havana and the Swiss embassy in Washington provide minimal consular services, and a few other exchanges of mutual benefit. The agreements on maritime and fishing jurisdiction are necessary to define boundaries. Working relations on hijacking, civil aviation and hurricane tracking have survived even the worst period of relations. Cutting off tourist travel to Cuba or cultural exchanges between the two countries would look somewhat odd for a government claiming to support human rights and would probably only demonstrate the pettiness and impotence of the government in Washington.

Part of the U.S. response to Cuban foreign policy, to be sure, will have to be aimed at other targets. It will require a workable U.S. African policy, and negotiations with the Soviet Union, for many aspects of Cuban foreign policy implementation, as noted earlier, require Soviet participation. But the United States might wish to have a Cuban policy, too, aimed at preventing the use of Cuban combat troops overseas, and inducing the return to their homeland of those already in Africa. The United States might well also seek to moderate Cuban foreign policies among nonaligned countries.

And yet, there should be no illusion about the prospects of the United States bringing about much of a change in Cuban foreign policy even if this country were willing to change its own policies. Twice during the last three years - in the falls of 1975 and of 1977 - the process of improving U.S.-Cuban relations has been stopped in large part, though not exclusively, by Cuba's entries into the wars in Angola and in Ethiopia. It is true that events in the United States, such as the beginning of the primary election season in the Republican Party in 1975 and the protracted discussion of the Panama Canal Treaties, led both the Ford and Carter Administrations to slow down their efforts to change U.S. policies toward Cuba, and may have persuaded the Cuban leadership that opportunities to gain influence in Africa were preferable then to a remote and unlikely improvement in relations with the United States. But this also suggests that improvement of relations with the United States ranks less high than might have been supposed in the priorities of the Cuban government, that it is quite willing to forego sustained and admittedly difficult negotiations with the United States for the sake of other goals and that, consequently, the prospects for the immediate future are not encouraging.

Difficult as the dealings with Cuba may be, there is no plausible alternative to an effort to moderate Cuban foreign policy through positive incentives. Neither the executive, nor the Congress nor the popular mood in the United States seems ready to countenance acts of war against Cuba in Africa or in the Caribbean. Inertia or the continuation of the present renewed cold war policies is likely to heighten the kinds of actions Cuba has been taking in Africa - the precise opposite of what U.S. policy seeks. It remains necessary, then, to search for ways to renew the policies that the Ford and Carter Administrations pursued briefly to improve relations with Cuba.

Curiously, Fidel Castro noted the only leverage that the United States now has. The United States could embargo hope. Because the hope for better bilateral relations has been so remote and so abstract the United States has not used even this hypothetical leverage. In the current political climate in Washington, it seems unlikely that the Carter Administration would lift the residues of the economic denial policy against Cuba, including the trade embargo, any time soon. And yet, we can only change Cuba's behavior by offering friendlier U.S. policies toward Cuba.

Would the United States be willing to lift the trade embargo in stages if or when Cuban troops begin their withdrawal from Ethiopia and Angola? Cuba has said that its relations with African countries, and especially those with Angola and Ethiopia, are not negotiable between Cuba and the United States. Certainly an explicit link between the removal of Cuban troops and the removal of the U.S. embargo would need to be avoided. But diplomats can develop policies that occur simultaneously and work implicitly toward conciliatory ends. And it should be remembered that Cuba has already done things it had said it would not do. The Cuban leadership had stated repeatedly that there would be no negotiations with the United States until the U.S. embargo was lifted. And yet negotiations did occur without the embargo having been lifted in 1975, and even more serious ones in early 1977. Agreements were signed between both countries in 1977 on fishing and maritime questions, diplomatic interest sections were exchanged, and Assistant Secretary of State Todman visited Havana as a part of these discussions. Cuba has freed prisoners and cultural exchanges have occurred. To be sure, the joint removal of the troops in Africa and of the embargo would require a far more significant shift in Cuban policy than these past events, but one should not take Cuba's "non-negotiable position" entirely at face value. The Cubans have negotiated their non-negotiable positions in the past, and are likely to do so again.

The U.S. government would also need to consider what kinds and value of trade would be feasible. How might issues of property compensation or Cuban claims of damages against the United States be settled? What are U.S. expectations concerning Guantanamo? Purely punitive policies toward Cuba are likely to be as ineffective today as they were in the past. One reason why negotiations are possible with the Soviet Union is precisely that there is a web of relationships that gives each side elements of leverage over the other. That does not now exist in U.S.-Cuban relations. A new embargo cannot be imposed on top of the old one.

Cuba is, of course, aware of these perils of friendship, of the ties and uses of dependence that can develop over time. But Cuba remains interested enough in relations of many kinds with the United States, principally for the sake of trade, technology and easier transportation. It is up to Cuba, after all, to assess the risk of reconciliation with the United States. On the U.S. side, matters are simpler. The choice is between impotence in Washington and continued Cuban activity in Africa, limited only by Cuban problems at home and by the refusal of African countries to take Cubans inside their borders, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, the beginning of high-level discussions that would outline to the Cuban government the nature of U.S. concerns, the possible joint losses if Cuban and U.S. policies remain on a collision course, and the many more joint gains that could be realized if each side was willing to be more cooperative and forthcoming.


1 Between 1960 and 1974, Soviet subsidies directed specifically to bilateral trade deficits with Cuba are estimated to have totaled approximately $3.8 billion. These deficits would have been larger if the Soviet Union had not also subsidized Cuban sugar exports to the U.S.S.R. during most years - to the tune of over a billion dollars in total during the 1960s. Since the mid-1970s, the Soviet price for Cuban sugar has been three to five times larger than prevailing low world prices. In the 1970s, also, the Soviet Union has subsidized the price of petroleum products it has sold to Cuba, continuing this policy in the last two to three years although Moscow reduced it, as in the cases of East European countries. Soviet arms transfers to Cuba were worth about $1.5 billion in total during the 1960s and have risen to several billion dollars in the current decade.

Currently, Soviet-Cuban economic relations are governed by an agreement signed in December 1972, which among other things postponed payments of interest and principal on all credits granted to Cuba before January 1973, until January 1986. Soviet credits to cover trade balance deficits for 1973-75 were granted free of interest, with the principal to be repaid also beginning in 1986. Repayment schedules now stretch from 1986 to 2010.

2 Official publications of the U.S. government, and of independent research organizations, had systematically underestimated Cuban military capabilities in the early 1970s. Little attention was paid to the ready reserves; thus real Cuban strength was not perceived. Estimates of the military budget were well below what the Cuban government had admitted in public. Soviet weapons transfers to Cuba were supposed to be declining, when they were in fact increasing. And Cuba's foreign aid program in 1975 had not been discovered by the Central Intelligence Agency in a 1976 publication, even though many of the minor East European programs had been and even though Cuba had been so engaged for some time.

Since the Angolan war, Fidel Castro has said that the U.S. government underestimated the number of Cuban troops in Angola at the war's peak; he has also said that the U.S. government has overestimated the size of the Cuban foreign military aid program and the total Cuban troop presence in Africa. It is difficult, however, to verify or refute these assertions independently.

4 Since Cuba's entry into the Angolan war, it appears that Soviet economic benefits to Cuba have been increased somewhat from the levels that had prevailed earlier under the basic agreement of 1972. The Soviet Union has bought merchandise for Cuba in convertible currency countries, and it has bought goods from Cuba over and beyond what had been agreed before. The amount of the increase attributable to Angola is difficult to specify.

5 Castro was Prime Minister from 1959-1976, at which time he became also President of the Council of State as well as head of the government.

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  • Jorge I. Domínguez, who was born in Havana, is Associate Professor of Government and a Research Fellow at the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. He is the author of Cuba: Order and Revolution and the co-author of Human Rights and International Relations. The author wishes to express his gratitude for the general research support of the Center for International Affairs in this project.
  • More By Jorge Dominguez