Cuba Shouldn’t Have an Army

Alfredo Fernandez

Cuban soldiers on parade.

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba shouldn’t have an army.  From my point of view, that would be the most important step we Cubans would take if we wanted to build a nation with a future, a country with opportunities.

A brief review of our national past would show us that we are by no means a peaceful people. Our achievements as a nation, in all cases, came at the hands of war, with the War of 1895 being perhaps the most notable example. It was a war that wound up bringing us neo-colonial rule (“the Republic”), though Jose Marti saw it as necessary since it proved impossible to talk with a despotic and monarchic Spain.

In Marti’s judgment, the conflict would have to be short and effective to prevent victims and to minimize the nation’s grief, factors inherent in war.

Then, in another war, that of the 1959 Revolution, the Batista dictatorship was overthrown to establish a government that has known only four presidents in 53 years.

Achieving the status of a US-backed “republic,” by way of the combination of tenacity and courage of Marti’s ideas, made it impossible for nascent Cuban civil society to rid itself of the excessive military presence of the military leaders of the War of ’95 in the nascent government of the nation.

On the contrary, they and the academic bureaucracy made up what novelist Carlos Loveira later referred to as “the Republic of Generals and Doctors.”

How much of this has prevented our military destiny from us recognizing ourselves as a nation? The climax was reached in 1975, and until 1990, when Cuba’s military was officially involved in separate wars in Angola and Ethiopia. This left the country unprotected due to the excessive presence of Cuban troops in both conflicts.

This was when the White House was occupied by no other than the warmongering Ronald Reagan. Therefore the argument that the military exists to protect the nation is becoming untenable because of the circumstances outlined above. What would have happened if military aggression by the US against Cuba had occurred in the 1980s?

Last year, when I saw three obsolete MiG-23 aircraft fly over my house en route to a military parade for the 50th anniversary of the victory of the Bay of Pigs invasion by US-sponsored exiles, I could only feel sorry for the Cuban army. As an army with a Cold War era infrastructure, it would have very few options in a military confrontation with any similar contemporary fighting force.

The truth is that when you look at the history of countries like Switzerland and Costa Rica, which have no armies, the observer will note that no one has attacked them. Hitler didn’t even think of bothering the former. As for Costa Rica, when the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza had the intention to attack it, this generated solidarity between the countries of the region as never before. In virtually hours, they put together an army that was ready to invade the bold dictator had he attempted his planned assault on Costa Rica.

Finally, the fact that disturbs me most about war was seeing an incident that occurred back in January 1993. This was when my police officer uncle, who had died two days earlier in a traffic accident, was buried in the pantheon of the armed forces of the city of Palma Soriano. This was when I saw how heartbroken an elderly neighbor was left when the vault was opened and he again saw, after several years, the crypt of his son who died in Angola a few years earlier.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces represents an unsustainable expense for an island nation that is inexorably aging every day. Its disappearance would add numerous direct advantages to the country’s productive capacity, which could greatly help the national economy.

Personally I would leave only a strong police force in the cities and a coast guard to monitor the sea against intrusions into the country by drug cartels.

In a recent letter by some Cuban professionals, of which I’m also a signatory, I found its most dubious aspect in the section that asked the government to make available “The army to participate in international conflicts only at the request of the United Nations.”

After analyzing it, I am going further and asking the nation to rid itself, for once and for all, of the heavy burden of our expensive and ineffective army, thus placing all citizens of the country under equal conditions that can only be brought about by a civilian status.



Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.

9 thoughts on “Cuba Shouldn’t Have an Army

  • Cuba should have an Even Bigger Army with that violent murderous Torture Regime fallen USA so close.

  • Interesting comments, I would like to add a few more points that may or may not be relevant to the discussion.

    The link between the military and business is not a “military takeover” as many think, but the most logical response to a constant issue that has been plaguing the Cuban workforce since the nineties: corruption. Corruption runs rampant and unchecked in almost every industry, in part because the people in charge of the controls (managers, auditors, security guards and so on) are in need themselves of additional funds to keep afloat every month because their salaries are also way too low.

    The police does what it can to deal with the issue (while fighting internal corruption issues as well), but they lack the means to detect most of the problems and mostly acts when the situation is out of control, often under direct orders from interested parties.

    Additionally, the laws system is too lax on the issue and more important, most of times is oblivious to the situation. Typically people in charge deal with the issues silently to avoid a fuss and expose their own breaches in legality, so is fairly common “caer para arriba” meaning being disgraced and expelled from a position.. and then moved to a better one, but the point is that the law enforcement is typically not part of the process, even when real crimes are involved.

    In the other hand, civil law is not applicable to military personnel and army judges are typically harsher in the convictions, so any corruption related convictions are way way worse for army officers. More important, it also means the immediate termination of all privileges as officers. This reason alone tends to keep them honest.

    So basically, the Cuban army was the only section of the country that was able to preserve cohesion and productivity in the huge economic collapse of the 90s. Said productions where initially meant for self consumption and tiny compared to the rest of the country, but while the economic collapse decimated the Cuban economy, they managed to slowly increase production levels and keep vulnerable sectors afloat by providing excess product and services at a discounted prices and as volumes slowly increased, eventually to the general population.

    Frankly, moving military owned business to civilian hands in todays Cuba is a recipe for disaster. At some point in the future, when the dual currency is gone, and the salaries, private business or self-employment are the main source of income for the Cuban people it will make sense, but there is still a long road until that happens.

    After rereading my post, I thought I should give more details regarding the privileges I mentioned before.

    Basically. inflation does not count for officers Cuban army. They have their own production and commercialization channels where prices are frozen in time before the economical crisis, higher salaries compared to the civilian population, often live in houses assigned to them by the army as well as vehicles owned by the army.

  • Alfredo,

    A very interesting exercise in thinking outside the box, forcing citizens of countries with a military that could never alone triumph in battle – which includes the entire United Nations membership except for about three – to think about why we do have military forces that are so costly. And the three, if they ever did engage in serious military conflict, would easily blow up the planet many times over with their nuclear arsenals.

    Aside from militarism, as ‘ac’ writes, the military is used for civil defence although creating a civil defence force in its place, at considerably less cost, takes care of that raison d’être.

    ‘Moses’, as usual, uses every opportunity he can find to demonise Cuba’s government – as if Cubans needed to be supplied with more reasons, especially ones coming from the enemy camp. ‘ac’ effectively dealt with his bit of misinformation.

    Canada’s army these days is only used to support US military misadventures and policies in a variety of ways. Gone are the days when it played a peacekeeping role. The US has effectively changed the peacekeeping role that the UN has played into just another extension of US policy, as in Haiti.

    There are other roles the Cuban military plays in Cuba from what I saw there. It gives a lot of young people jobs. But that too could easily be converted into public works jobs.

    The military is also becoming like a conglomerate’ through its ‘Gaviota’-line of businesses representing hotels, transportation, tourist facilities, marinas and god knows what else. This role too could be converted into state-owned enterprises or cooperatives but with Cuba being in a virtual state of war caused by US opposition, represented by its economic blockade, continuing the military presence makes sense owing to the discipline, hierarchy, direct link to government and single-mindedness this brings. Typically, in time of war, factories and businesses are placed under military control.

    But it’s a useful concept to discuss, Alfredo. Getting stuck on military solutions is the nemesis of our age, driven by a certain country ruled by its military-industrial complex.

  • My wife is Swiss. There are no such rules. However, that being said, yes, the Swiss do have an army. Hitler wasn’t afraid of the Swiss, he stored his money there.

  • And then what? Stick it’s ass out to get”destroyed “by US? “No match” is good answer to “interventions” – not full scale war. Americans are arrogant enough to attack any country in the world for no reason. Cuba is already under american occupation. Your bubbling about human right abuse on island – your brain’s rotten from steady tube feed by CIA program. Shame on you and your little strings. Get alive some day you puppet!

  • Cuban army by volume is primarily made of conscripted youth without any real investment in keeping the status quo and can’t be used at all against the local population in a real conflict, so the repression theory don’t hold water.

    Both the army an the police have special forces that can be used to suppress small scale unrest, but is numerically incapable to deal with moderately serious riots, and as far as I can tell have never ever been deployed. For things like that they have fast response squads made of more or less voluntary civilians, but unarmed, untrained and undisciplined mainly using numeric superiority to overpower protesters to contain the situation and prevent escalation.

    Also, the opposition in Cuba lacks cohesion and popular support, add the lack of availability of weaponry and the chances of an uprising almost inexistent, so the army is not really concerned with that scenario.

    Keeping things in check is responsibility of the DSE, that has been proven competent enough to infiltrate and neutralize the opposition.

  • switzerland has a very strong army and the last time switzerland was invaded was by napoleon in 1812 i think who occupied switzerland briefly. every swiss man has to have a military rifle in the house until he is 55. every swiss woman has to have emergency food supplies in the house and inspectors check. this is a result of the american food embargo near the end of the second word war. the swiss would not stop selling military supplies to the germans so the americans cut off food supplies from south america. the swiss air force is inside mountains with steel doors on the entrances/exits. the runway from the mountains leads to freeways for take off. costa rica is not a rich coast and has little worth stealing. iceland doesn´t need an army with american air bases there. but iceland has a coast guard as good as a navy and they beat the british navy in the cod war, a war for their fish, by ramming british navy ships and if a ship sinks in arctic waters you don´t last long. as far as i know, there are no other countries without an army. HITLER WAS AFRAID OF THE SWISS.

  • As a deterrent to a foreign military invasion, the Cuban armed forces (Navy, Air Force, and Army) are a joke. Especially if the invading country is the US. That said, the widely understood role of the Cuban armed forces in Cuba today is not to repel an external invader. Their role is to repel an insurgent contrarevolutionary uprising. For this purpose, they are needed more and more every day. Cubans are becoming more and more aware of their lack of basic human rights. As economic conditions continue to worsen due to the ineffectual economic reforms, the Cuban dictatorship becomes more and more vulnerable to a Cuban population fed up with unfulfilled promises of a ¨”New Man”, shortages, blackouts, and diminishing social services. The strong arm Castro dictatorship needs a standing army now more than ever.

  • So the country falls to the next US-backed invasion without any resistance whatsoever? Did you sleep in all your lessons or just history?

    An army is the only deterrent against a foreign invasion for ANY country, and with Cuba considered an enemy by US (yes, that’s the reason why US citizens are banned to travel over there), disbanding your army is plainly stupid. Even if the chances of winning in a direct conflict are close to zero, no army means that a military action by the US would be less risky and considerably cheaper and as such, more likely to be considered to solve the bilateral conflict.

    Also, you are ignoring that the Cuban army also takes care of civil defense in times of crisis and like it or not, has been proved to be highly effective to protect their population during natural disasters (Cuba is in the tropical storm corridor and is often hit by powerful hurricanes, yet their death poll is way lower that other nations in the area, US included).

    In short, a silly point of view and judging by it, your “more natural state” would be better described as “delusional”.

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