Revolutionary Management: The Role of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias in the Cuban Economy

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TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD the Cuban-Soviet alliance of the Cold War era seems solid, but in fact, it has been steadily deteriorating for many years. When Portuguese colonial rule was overthrown in the 1974 Angola coup, three factions emerged in the quest for control of the country. Organized consistent with ethnic and racial characteristics, these three distinct rebel movements came forth: the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, the Union for the Total Independence of Angola, and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola. The United States supported the National Front while the Soviet Union backed the Popular Movement. Given their previous experience in Africa, dating back to the 1960s, the Cubans were apparently tasked by their Soviet colleagues to represent their interests in the field. (1)

From the beginning of this intervention, it appears that Soviet and Cuban goals differed. The most thorough account is found in Piero Gleijeses' comprehensive book, Conflicting Missions (2) Based upon access to previously classified documents, his interpretation of events differs on a number of counts. Most significant is his assertion that Fidel Castro decided to commit troops without consulting his Soviet counterpart, Leonid Breznev. The latter, engaged in strategic arms limitations negotiations with the United States, believed Cuba's action to be hasty and poorly timed. (3) This event was a bellwether of divergence of Cuban and Soviet interests and set the stage for further weakening in bilateral relations. Additional points of conflict soon developed that pulled the two nations further apart.

A Conflicted Alliance

The degradation of the Cuban-Soviet relationship became more pronounced due to what were to become irreconcilable differences on several key issues. Most prominent was the widely divergent view of the Reagan administration held by the two countries. While the Soviet Union was inclined to seek a degree of rapprochement with the United States during Reagan's first term in office, Cuba was alarmed by the threat of his increasingly strident foreign policy toward Latin America. The Council for Inter-American Security produced a bold report in 1980 titled A New Inter-American Policy for the Eighties. This report, better known as the Santa Fe Document, was the core of Reagan's Central America foreign policy. It called for a militaristic approach in supporting friendly Latin American governments, with a transparent motive of lessening Cuba's influence in the Western Hemisphere by means such as the creation of Radio Marti and the Caribbean Initiative. Meanwhile, the Soviets ignored Cuba's concerns and publicly declared their intention to wean Cuba from its considerable dependence on Soviet military aid. (4)

The apparent prosperity of the Cuban economy in the 1980s was the result of a "sweetheart" arrangement between Cuba and the former Soviet Union. Commodity exchanges between the two countries operated not by the usual protocol of international trade, but by special arrangements. Cuba exported nickel and sugar to the Soviet Union, which paid in rubles at a price that was a significant multiple of the world market price. In turn, Cuba imported oil from the Soviet Union at prices well below market value. Most of these imports were used in Cuban industry, but a portion of them was sold to other countries at a profit. In addition to these substantial subsidies, the Soviet Union allowed Cuba to run up bilateral debt to an estimated $23.5 billion by 1990. (5)

As both the Soviet's and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance's economic fortunes began to decline, it became evident that the generous subsidies and trade agreements upon which Cuba had for so long depended would be adversely affected. With increasing fiscal and political problems in the Eastern Bloc, Cuba and the Soviet Union found less and less common ground. Once close allies in Angola, Cuba and the Soviet Union abruptly halted military cooperation in the war-torn African nation. …