Cuba: As If War Wasn’t Bad Enough

Yusimí Rodríguez

Alamar. Foto:Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Last Sunday, I made a trip out to Alamar (a large peripheral neighborhood in Havana) to visit a couple that I am friends with. When my friend opened the door, she told me she thought some community activity or celebration was underway, because, since early in the morning, she’d been hearing songs by Silvio Rodríguez blaring out of the loudspeakers commonly used to play reaggeton music during public festivities.

I hadn’t noticed any festivities taking place around the neighborhood as I approached their building, I’d only seen some men gathered outside the entrance. An hour later, the loudspeakers had gone quiet and we were able to have a conversation. While my friend’s husband was getting ready to go out and buy bread, however, a loud bang went off and my first instinct was to curl up defensively on my friends’ bed.

I was too startled to ask myself what was happening, I just felt panic. I think I may have even blurted out a cuss word. After the second loud bang, we knew we were hearing shots: a war exercise, one of those defense simulations meant to prepare Cubans for the invasion that has loomed over the country for over fifty years.

My friend ran to her child’s bedroom to let him know there was nothing to worry about, that it was just a war exercise. But it was too late. The child, frightened to death, had already leaped off the bed. When I left about an hour later, he had not yet been able to go back to sleep.

At that moment, I suddenly remembered that, among the people loitering outside the building, I had seen an elderly man holding a rifle. I assumed my friends had not paid attention to their surroundings and therefore did not know about the military exercise scheduled for that morning, but they were not the only ones in the dark.

Other tenants complained that no sign had been posted, that no one had been previously informed, so that the exercise would not catch people by surprise. Not even the woman in charge of political issues at the building’s Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) knew about the exercise.

The tenants were venting their rather frenzied complaints on a uniformed man who looked to be in charge of the whole operation. Because of the distance and the firearms that were still being discharged, I was unable to hear his reply, but I could see the arrogant expression on his face, the way he dismissively waved his hand in the tenant’s faces.

Alarmar. Foto:Caridad

Nothing in his demeanor suggested he felt the need to offer any apology for disturbing the tenants’ Sunday rest. He was acting like a military commander addressing his subordinates, someone who is not accustomed to being talked back to or hearing complaints.

Staging simulations of something as terrible as a war seems absurd to me, but I assume such things are inevitable in Cuba. Several generations of Cubans have lived in this state of siege, under the constant threat of war.

As in the game of chess, the threat has been more effective than the actual war. Any affront on those who dare dissent, any violation of a fundamental right, can be justified through that threat, a threat which, what’s more, obliges us to prepare for an all-out people’s war, to confront an invasion that has been in the making for the last fifty years.

With prior notice, one can perhaps prepare for these things and find them more or less bearable, even on the day when you can sleep to your heart’s content. But what can one do when there isn’t even an inkling of common sense to appeal to, not even enough to respect people’s right to their weekend rest, or at least to spare children, elderly people and pets a good scare?

I must say I was surprised to see the tenants complain. Getting angry is one thing, approaching a military officer and blaming him for the disturbance, telling him he had no right to frighten people like that, quite another.

Less than five people actually complained (I think all of them were women), but that was enough to make me feel a little better in the midst of this whole situation. These four people maybe represented ten percent of all the building’s tenants, but that didn’t surprise me. In Cuba, I’ve gotten used to the idea that those who dare complain, those who point out the system’s failings, constitute a minority.

While the women complained, an old man walked down a slope holding a rifle with childish enthusiasm…and considerable difficulty. Seeing him, I could not help but ask myself what would happen in a real war. What good would all that aged paraphernalia, those obsolete weapons, do us? What could that old man do, besides die heroically?

I should consider myself fortunate those shots were fired in nothing other than a pathetic war exercise. I hope it’ll always be like that, that the next time some loud bangs like the ones we heard that day once again bring out my cowardice, it is yet another exercise.

But I would be deeply grateful if I could be forewarned, as would my friends, their kids and neighbors, I am sure. It would be terrible if we were to perish before the conflict even started, suffering heart attacks caused precisely by those who train to protect us during the war.

16 thoughts on “Cuba: As If War Wasn’t Bad Enough

  • According to the book Red Heat by Alex Von Tunzelmann Cuban intelligence had found out that the invasion was planned for a certain date and that it was as a way to deter this invasion that the missiles were installed. The reasons you give are also valid. And you are also correct that the planned invasion wasn’t as definite as Cuban intelligence believed.

    I concede that the US may not have been involved directly and these documents suggest that they weren’t. But there is a certain amount of collusion since they refuse to extradite him to face trial on the aircraft and also the tourist hotels bombings and he was back under the CIA fold during Iran contra affair. My main point stands that the US still were involved in aggressive actions after the missile crisis agreement.

    The Reagan threat to invade I believe I read in Red Heat as well. He said that there was a need to remove the Communist threat “at source” in the context of Latin America.

  • John,

    Have you noticed how the people of Eastern Europe chose capitalism when the Soviet Union collapsed? Nobody invaded. Nobody forced them. From East Germany to Poland, to Yugoslavia, to Russia, the Communist system collapsed under the dead weight of its own incompetence. The people gained freedom and chose for themselves how to live.

    God willing, one day the Cuba people will also have that freedom. That day will not come from a US invasion (which is never going to happen.) It will come when enough people say they have had enough of Castro’s lies and threats.

  • I haven’t forgotten anything.

    The Kennedy’s were intent on revenge for their humiliation in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and so they ordered a raft of plans, including a US led invasion, instead of the Cuban-exile operation that had failed so badly. Operation Mongoose was part of that phase.

    However, the Cuban Missile Crises was inflicted on the world for Russia’s strategic reasons, not to prevent a US invasion of the island. Khrushchev assessed Kennedy as a weak leader who would not stand up to the Soviets if they based missiles in Cuba. The Russians did that to counter the US advantage in missiles including those based in Turkey.

    After the The Cuban Missile Crisis, plans for invasion of Cuba were dropped, but the Kennedy brothers did continue support for covert actions, including assassination attempts on Fidel.

    The US government was not involved in Luis Posada’s terrorism, which he carried out with a violent extremist group. The CIA had broken their relationship with Posada several months before the bombing of the Cuban airline. Posada was also suspected in a plot to assassinate Kissinger, who he considered had a traitor to his idiosyncratic and violent cause.


    “In Venezuela, Posada became chief of operations of one of the Venezuelan direction of services for intelligence and prevention, the DISIP.[29][30] The role involved countering various guerrilla movements supported by Cuba, but by 1974 he was dismissed after internal differences with Venezuelan authorities.[29] Prior to his dismissal, the CIA had begun to believe that Posada was involved in cocaine trafficking, but did not break formal ties until February 13, 1976. The agency also believe that Posada was involved in a plot to assassinate Henry Kissinger, who at that time was advocating a more cooperative approach to Cuba-United States relations.[28] TheChurch Committee hearings of 1975, which had been triggered by fears that the CIA were running too many rogue operations, had a significant impact on the agency, and Posada’s association was seen to be “not in good odour”.[27] Posada went on to found a private detective agency in Caracas.[1]”

    On October 6, 1976 two time bombs variously described as dynamite or C-4planted on the Douglas DC-8 aircraft exploded, killing all 78 people on board, including all 24 members of the 1975 national Cuban Fencing team, which had just won all the gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championship.[35]

    Investigators from Cuba, Venezuela and the United States traced the planting of the bombs to two Venezuelan passengers, Freddy Lugo and Hernán Ricardo Lozano. Both men were employed by Posada at his private detective agency based in Venezuela, and they both subsequently admitted to the crime. A week after the men’s confessions, Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch were arrested on charges of masterminding the attack, and were jailed in Venezuela.[36] Declassified FBI and CIA reports show that the agencies suspected his involvement in the airline bombing within days of its occurrence.”

    I could find no reference to threats by Reagan to invade Cuba. Could you please provide a link or quotation to support that assertion? Reagan did use military force to counter Cuban military adventures in Nicaragua, Grenada and Angola, but those actions were all outside of Cuba.

    That the US has long been hostile toward the Cuban regime is obvious, but since the Cuban Missile Crisis the US military was never going to invade.

  • If it was the real thing, to American troops invading Cuba and prepared for a ‘peoples’ war’ you’d be more than a heart attack candidate, you’d be a target.

  • Better that you meet me at the new Starbuck’s in Habana Vieja. I will be having coffee with Luis.

  • You have forgotten to mention that after the Bay of Pigs a full scale invasion was being planned and that this is what brought on the missile crisis. Also the agreement reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev was never ratified as Cuba wouldn’t allow inspections and so was left open and vague. Luis Posada Carriles was involved in the 1976 bombing of a civilian airline shows that the US was still carrying out aggressive acts. Also Reagan threatened to invade Cuba during his presidency which given his track record had to be taken seriously.

  • Whatever you say ‘General’ John. So exactly how should they prepare? Pass out slingshots to every citizen? This boogeyman you wish for them to fear would overwhelm them within days. Would it not be better to work for peace against such overwhelming odds?

  • I hope to meet you on the beach when you join the next invasion.

  • Although you are not aware of it, the United States foreign policy of the last hundred years and since the U.S. /European invasion of the nascent Soviet Union in 1918 the U.S. has subverted elections, invaded countries, overthrown democratic elections all over the world wherever a democratic economic system has been attempted.

    The War on The People Of Cuba was openly declared to create such economic deprivation and suffering among all Cubans that they would overthrow their own revolution.

    An invasion is obviously the only way that they could force the Cubans to submit and return to capitalism .

    The Cuban people have every right to fear a trumped-up invasion and they’d better be prepared for one .

  • You have failed to distinguish the difference between the successful three week invasion and vanquishing of the Iraqi defense forces and the 7-year long occupation of mixed results. Of course, with Cuba, eliminating a military resistance would take days not weeks. Not quite Reagan’s Grenada (Remember that one?) but almost. Occupation, on the other hand, would likely yield different but equally mixed results. Given the likely high number of Cuban-Americans willing to repatriate their Cuban homeland, who knows if an occupation would work or not? I do agree that watching the FAR and police forces go through their drills was more fun than watching Mesa Redonda, and a lot less BS.

  • On the other hand, the Iraqi opposition, with the relatively primitive weapon of the I.E.D., managed to make continued occupation of their country unappetizing and, after a decade, prompt ever more Americans back home to cease backing the war. A similar situation is now occuring in Afghanistan. These exercises by the Cuban military demonstrate that, if the U.S. should invade Cuba (or elsewhere in Latin America), they will be confronted by a lengthy–and bootless–war of attrition. These days in the (other) Evil Empire, an army of draftees is a non-starter. And in spite of the continuing economic crisis, an army of enlistees will increasingly become a non-starter. Of course, like an earlier evil empire, the Romans, we can hire mercenaries. Yet, like the late Roman Empire, the mercenaries will invariable decide to turn on their weak and deracienated masters. So the F.A.R. should keep on practicing. Also, since they often practice near populated areas, their exercises often provide entertainment far better than the lame telenovelas that most folks would otherwise be watching!

  • Griffin, one night after a Buena Fe concert at the Univ. of Havana, the powers-that-be surprised the concert-goers with a 10 minute firework show. At that time, I was living in a casa particular near the University owned by a couple in their 70’s. As the first booms echoed what seemed right over our heads, the two elderly Cubans were understandably startled. What surprised me was that both of them admitted to me later that at the first booms, they thought the island was being invaded by the Americans. They REALLY believed that was a possibility.

  • Again, with the personal attacks as a deflection? You’re capacity to express your disagreement with my point of view is limited to calling me a “big mouth”?

  • yeah big mouth know everything again. an of course, in Cuba everthing is comic.Niot so in his country. He might be right. Its rather sad I´d say. Maybe give your militaries a job instead of killing people all around the world or commtting suicide within the army or after.

  • The Castro regime has endlessly repeated the lie that the US is about to invade as a means of keeping the Cuban people oppressed.

    The worst act of aggression by the US was not a full on invasion. The Bay of Pigs involved Cuban exiles, trained and armed by the CIA, but aside from a few CIA specialists, no US troops were involved. Kennedy refused to allow the US airforce to provide air cover, and no US navy bombardment, thus condemning the invasion to certain doom.

    After that came the Cuban Missile Crisis. The outcome of that confrontation was a treaty signed by Kennedy and Khrushchev that contained a promise by Kennedy that the US would never to invade Cuba, nor to aid any group in a similar attack. Kennedy’s letter to the Soviet leader read,

    “…the United States of America will respect the inviolability of Cuban borders, its sovereignty, that it take the pledge not to interfere in internal affairs, not to intrude themselves and not to permit our territory to be used as a bridgehead for the invasion of Cuba, and will restrain those who would plan to carry an aggression against Cuba, either from US territory or from the territory of other countries neighboring to Cuba.”

    Every subsequent US President has been bound by that agreement.

    The Cuban people have not lived under the threat of invasion for 5 decades. They have lived under the threat of a lie from their own rulers.

  • One of the funniest AND saddest things I witnessed during my stay in Cuba was a day that Cuba celebrates each year to honor police and military forces. On that day, Cuba rolls out their finest military equipment for display. Pobrecitos! I saw these well-painted 40 year-old Soviet and East German tanks and troop carriers. The police were using chinese revolvers that were at least 30 years old. My casa particular was on the Malecon between calles Hospital and Principe. From my balcony I witnessed 18 and 19 year-old soldiers prostrate on the street with their rifles pointed out to sea in defense of imagined invaders. It was surreal to see these exercises played in view of the nature of war today. It was explained to me that while Cuba is well aware of drones, laser-guided missiles and B-2 bombers, the Army believes that some resistance, however ineffective, is better than none at all. Besides, it gives the military something military to do other than the usual jobs like cutting maribou bush and running department stores. Still, I came away thinking the resources Cuba expends to “defend the homeland” would be better spent on maintaining infrustructure or reinvigorating the economy.

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