Cuba: Putting the Military Back in its Barracks

“One cannot found a nation, General, as one commands a military encampment” – Jose Marti

Pedro Campos

Many of Cuba’s top brass.  Photo: AIN

HAVANA TIMES — Not a day goes by without a report published by Cuba’s alternative or official media telling us of important decisions made and regrettable actions taken by high or mid-level government officials in an economic, political and social sector, behind which we always find an active or retired military officer (who has, needless to say, been officially appointed).

To confirm this, one need only look at the series of incoherent measures that make up (and undermine) the current “economic reforms”, all of them decided by General/President Raul Castro and the group of military officials around him.

These officials can just as easily distribute lands without any prospects to farmers than approve a labor law that legalizes salaried exploitation, in violation of the current constitution. They organize economic plans on the basis of military discipline, liberalize the sale of automobiles at astronomical prices, organize “cooperatives” through State mandates, issue a foreign investment law which appears designed to sell the country out to international capital or sign a “security” treaty with an imperialist power engaged in territorial wars.

One senseless measure after the other

Cuba experts of the United States establishment had many expectations of Raul Castro, his military officers and his “iron hand” (1), which is supposed to “prevent chaos” following the disappearance of Fidel Castro, lead to a “peaceful transition”, “prevent a migratory crisis” and “develop a market economy.” The “reform process” and its measures, particularly the foreign investment law and the labor law that complements it, must please these characters. I am of course not insinuating or accusing anyone of doing what imperialism wants, I am merely exposing facts.

Today, those who see no way to realize our aspirations are us ordinary, dispossessed Cubans.

The most recent misfortune experienced by the people because of measures taken by the military is described by the prestigious intellectual Esteban Morales, who tells us of the arbitrary treatment of visitors to Terminal 3 of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana who are not allowed inside the facility. No one answers for stupid things like this, but everyone knows that the airport and its immediate surroundings are under the control of the military, as anything of any importance in the country generally is.

The main cause of this disaster is, without a doubt, the State-command, bureaucratic and hyper-centralized economic and political model that was established in Cuba in the name of socialism, which concentrates all decision-making prerogatives in the hands of a small group of people, and in which the people and workers only follow the orders of the bureaucratic elite. They have no role in decisions, implementation or resource allocation, (much less elect public officials at any level).

The military and their chain-of-command methods, which have been implemented in the spheres of politics and the economy, have a lot to do with this “socialist” mess.

Regrettably, this is something we have been seeing in Cuban history since the wars of independence of the 19th century, when the military sought to secure political power, in contradiction with the opinion of the most lucid Cubans of the time, such as Major General Ignacio Agramonte and the most illustrious of all, Jose Marti – intellectuals who loved freedom, justice and democracy, not military men.

Cuban soldiers. Foto:

One cannot stress some of the lines written to Gomez by Marti on October 20, 1884 enough: “One cannot found a nation, General, as one commands a military encampment; (…) What guarantees do we have that public liberties, the only aim a country should find worthy of fighting for, will enjoy greater respect tomorrow? What are we, general? The heroic and modest servants of an idea that warms our hearts, the loyal friends of an unfortunate people, or the courageous and fortunate military strongmen who, whip in hand and spur on boot, set out to take war to the people, so as to become its masters later? Will you throw away the reputation you earned for yourselves in one enterprise, your reputation as courageous, loyal and prudent men?

Those of us who strive to make Cuba a paradise of freedom, justice, democracy and socialism, under the leadership of the unchanging government of Sierra Maestra rebels, today sadly realize how right Marti was to try and prevent the military from controlling the country’s public and government affairs.

Militarism was to spread following Marti’s death and, after Cuba secured independence from Spain, most of the country’s presidents in its first 30 years of existence as a pseudo-republic were generals from those same wars of independence. The military was to continue playing this role with Fulgencio Batista in the revolution of the ‘30s, his first constitutional government in 1940 and his dictatorship, established in 1952.

Finally, the military struggle against that unconstitutional government took the current military leadership to power in the name of socialism. The means once again prevailed over the ends.

In one way or another, all of these military officers started out defending a constitutional and democratic government and ended up turning their backs on it and imposing their authority through force.

The revolution of 1959, which united the people of Cuba in the struggle against Batista and for the restoration of the democratic system and constitution established in 1940, ultimately frustrated those aims when Fidel Castro and his young, Sierra Maestra rebels decided to remain in power, suppress all opposition, postpone general elections indefinitely and set in motion a system of government based on a personality cult and the rule of a single Party, ratified in the constitution of 1976.

How much longer will we Cubans tolerate living under military rule? Don’t misunderstand me: I am not calling for revolt, disorder, violence or anything of the sort. We have had too much of that already. Violence engenders more violence. We don’t need any more violence – of any kind – in Cuban society.

It is time to put our house in order, to democratize the country’s political and economic system – it is time for us to have full freedom of expression and association.

How are we to achieve this? There are proposals for a new constitution, for democratizing the country’s political and economic system, lifting restrictions on Internet access, demanding that the government respect people’s freedom of expression and association, that all public officials be elected by the people, for the country to renew itself and revoke old structures. This is a task for all Cubans of good will and of all political affiliations.

But there is one thing I have no doubts about. Whatever the solution, it will require the military to retreat to their barracks, something they will have to do for the good of everyone – and their own good.
1- See Soren Triff’s articles and publications in The New Herald (January 18, 2007), Alejandro Armengol’s column in the same newspaper, where he calls Raul Castro “Washington’s man”, and Brian Lattel’s assessment of Raul Castro and what is expected of his government in the United States.

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9 thoughts on “Cuba: Putting the Military Back in its Barracks

  • The “dictatorship” is the problem. The lack of accountability of the governing power rather than the political persuasion is the issue.

  • ” In and of itself, military governance is no better or worse than governance by Republicans or Democrats or Christians or Hari Krishnas. ” What about military dictatorships teh world over from Chileor Indonesia to Burma?

  • Good luck trying to put the Cuban military back into the barracks. They have been in control from the beginning of the Revolution and are in no mood to give it up now. All of Raul’s reforms are aimed at channelling the Cuban economy through the military so that it will become a self-sustaining state-within-a-state.

  • I am glad you told them so, surely they are already running to return to their barracks embarrassed by you and scared of your indignation. I am sure that the Cuban gangsters (namely military) want only the best for Cuba.

  • I haven’t travelled to Cuba; I was born in Cuba and live
    there. I and all my friends have a constant conviction of living in a country
    controlled by the army. Cuban presidents have worn a military uniform for 50
    years with the solely objective of sending that message.

    There is not other reason to wear a military uniform.

    The presence of the army in the street in a communist regime
    is sometime unnoticed to the tourist’s eye because the communist law imposes
    very severe punishments to anyone trying to demonstrate independently. In other countries people enjoy freedom of assembly and association.

    If a Cuban learnt that they army would no repress him for going out to the street, the next day he will be out on the street, fighting for the many things he honestly believe are bad for the country, his family and his people. But he can’t.

    For instance Cubans firmly dislike that the economy is in the hand of incompetent generals.

  • Pedro is much much better than what I initially thought.

  • This article is completely incoherent and yet may fulfill its purpose, i.e. to try to

    inflame potential dissidents in Cuba and promote “me-too” hostility abroad toward the Cuban government on the part of readers who have little idea what you’re saying, but will feel encouraged by your tone to oppose Raul and the Cuban military. Compared to the 15 other Latin American countries through which I have also traveled extensively, Cuba has the least visible military and police presence. It’s not even close to most of them.

  • The Cuban military pillar won the internal power struggle against the non-military bureaucracy. They took over the economic interests controlled by the other group. With Fidel old and busy with all kinds of weird schemes Raul also controls the part of the Castro family in the economy.
    As a result he has been able to place his men in power.
    In any dictatorship rewarding and controlling the military is essential. Normally there is some kind of alliance between the bureaucracy and the army. That was the case in Cuba under Fidel. Raul’s rise to power broke the balance.

  • The problem in Cuba is not whether or not there is an overconcentration of power within the military. In and of itself, military governance is no better or worse than governance by Republicans or Democrats or Christians or Hari Krishnas. The problem in Cuba is the lack of transparency and accountability. If any group is able to control everything without answering to anyone, problems are certain to arise.

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