Cuba’s Military: A State Within a State

Pedro Campos

The top brass celebrating the 55th FAR anniversary. Photo: AIN

HAVANA TIMES — I first found out that there was a state within the Cuban state in the mid-80s, when I learned that the Military Counter Intelligence (CIM) of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) was conducting espionage and counterespionage work throughout Cuban society and especially against the very State Security and Political Intelligence branches of the Interior Ministry.

If there was any doubt, the trial in 1989 against General Ochoa, a small group of senior Interior Ministry officials, the Interior Minister Jose Abrantes and some of his generals, showed that the intelligence apparatus of the FAR had acted against MININT.

What came next, the “taking” by the MININT by the FAR, is known history, but only in part. The commanders and officers of the CIM and the DIM (Military Intelligence) were appointed chiefs and officers at various levels of all organs of the MININT, whose chiefs and officers were massively dismissed, retired or sent to carry out other “important missions.”

Since then, all the Interior Order, Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, are directed by the FAR. Their successes and failures, since late 1989, are their sole responsibility, especially including the disaster of the Wasp Network and the arrest of numerous Cuban intelligence agents in the bowels of the Empire. Was it due to errors or betrayal? The result has been the same.

Thus, some of the officers I met with the rank of General in the MININT, could be seen renting their Russian cars or offering accommodation to tourists at their homes. Others, the majority, who did not have Ladas or houses to rent, had to cope as they could, working for other state institutions that accepted them or doing some self-employment option.

Colonels, Majors and junior officers of the old MNINT, persecuted for their positions critical of government policies, could not find work, or received offers of very low paid jobs or if they began a small business, for some “strange” reason, went broke.

With the arrival in the presidency of General Raul Castro, after the sudden illness of his brother Fidel, the FAR had been already working to become financially independent of the state, appropriated all the important levers of the Communist Party (PCC), the state, the government and the economy; but even so, they have managed to maintain their independence within the recognized and established state.

The Politburo of the PCC, the State Council and the Council of Ministers are full of generals and officers of the FAR. The program director of updating the economic model, Marino Murillo, is a former Colonel in the FAR. The Director of the Ideological Department of the PCC for more than a decade ago is a Colonel in the FAR. The most important agricultural plan for soybean production is run by another General.

The most important economic plan of the government of Raul Castro, the Mega project of the El Mariel container port and special trade zone, is led by General López Callejas, Director of the GAE (Economic Activities Group) of the FAR and the son-in-law of the President.

CUBALSE the business corporation in hard currency that previously belonged to the State Council, was handed to TRD, (Hard currency recovery stores), the commercial FAR corporation that monopolizes the domestic  hard currency retail market.

The FAR also took control of the ETECSA telephone monopoly. Gaviota, the FAR tour operator, expanded operations and controls not only hotels and tourist facilities, but also an aviation company completely independent of Cubana Airlines, which in turn is under military control.

The statutes of the Comptroller General of the Republic establish that its scope is civil and the finances of the FAR are not under its jurisdiction.

I merely mention some very significant facts. I could fill several pages with names of institutions of all types being managed or run by officers or former officers of the FAR put there by the respective higher ups.

There is no doubt: Whatever happens in Cuba today, in any sphere, is decided by the military.

So when someone refers to the Cuban state, you should keep in mind that it is controlled by another state that is independent of the other.

It is independent because the National Assembly of People’s Power (parliament), constitutionally the supreme organ of power in Cuba, does not have any jurisdiction over the military apparatus, its main officers, businesses, salaries, privileges, living standards, etc.

I do not judge the officers of the FAR, I know there are many true revolutionaries, patriots and communists who gave and sacrificed their lives for the socialism they believed in. And it is they that may be the source that one day contributes to the rebirth of another democratic, free and socialist Cuba.

Today the FAR are a state within a state, independent and at the same time dominant.

32 thoughts on “Cuba’s Military: A State Within a State

  • You don’t need a billion dollars if you can live anywhere you want, eat whatever you want, import whatever material stuff you want and do whatever you want and sign for it and the billion dollar regime you work for pays for it. I agree that living within hollerin’ distance of Punta Cero is still not Beverly Hills but I know first-hand how well these high-ranking guys live. With their second homes in Varadero, satellite dishes and cars chauffeured by Army captains, its “Viva la Revolucion” all day and night.

  • Your biggest problem with your Cuban comments here is that you don’t know what the f*ck you are talking about. Cuba maintains, albeit poorly trained, a very large contingent of uniformed and street clothes-wearing military force designed specifically for crowd control. What else do you think their proportionally large ground troops are for? A young soldier who lives near my casa particular who is 6’3″ and about 250lbs. is part of a not-so-secret unit whose mission is to go to concerts, repudiation rallies and anywhere else a large unruly crowd may develop. His job is dimply to bust heads should a problem arise. The Castros know their regime would fold within days if a modern army invaded. Their focus instead is to contain and quell civil unrest. Lacking tanks with water canons and other more modern crowd-control weaponry, they rely on muscle to get the job done. My family and friends live in Cuba. I take offense that you would allege that I would support unnecessary bloodshed. Only a prick would say something like that.

  • Fact check: Trayvon was not killed by police, as you claimed. He was killed by a civilian acting in self-defense after he was attacked by Trayvon.

    Cuban soldiers were recently used to put down public protests in Santiago de Cuba. MININT has well armed militarized “police” whose function it is to supporess the people.

  • In the US, many retired military personal go to work for a corporation. In Cuba, active military officers run the numerous businesses which are owned by the military. The largest 2 corporation in Cuba, GAESA & CIMEX, are owned and directed by the military. This is a significant economic fact. This arrangement has allowed the FAR to become self-funding. They do not relay upon government budgeting to provide their funding. This is what is meant by “a state within a state”.

  • Your comment does not refute any of the statistics I posted. Swing and a miss.

  • The Cuban people don’t have the ideological bent to mount the resistance you speak of. They would undoubtedly waive American flags.

    Also the repression of the Cuban people over the last 50+ years by the brutal Cuban communist thugs has been so complete as to have made impossible the sort of protests you speak of (well there have been a few, most notably the Maleconaso). Just as in the old Soviet Union and it’s vassal states there were no mas demonstrations against their government. Yet they are now in the trash heap of history. Cuba will follow in their foot steps soon enough.

  • No economic war by Obama on Cuba. The U.S. has lost interest. Communism, having been exposed as a failed system is no longer feared. Of greater concern is the rise of the dependency class that lives off the intended safety net and the national debt it drives.

    It is just a matter of time before the Helms Burton Act is history. The conditions in 1996 prevailing when Bill Clinton signed the law have changed. The international isolation the U.S. sought never worked out. The delay in repeal is the result of no pressing need to change the current state of relations.

    If Raul called Obama, he could work out a deal.

  • Wow! Calm down. You defend Cuba by saying the US has big problems too? OK, I agree with you. Criticisms of the Castros need not come from perfect people who live in perfect countries. On the contrary, as a African-American, I consider myself an expert on oppression and the denial of rights. What goes on in Cuba is not acceptable regardless of how imperfect other countries are.

  • I was wondering where you get your statistics which are so skewed, if you look at OECD reports (not the CIA) you will find how incorrect the data you quote is. For 2010, compared to its 30 fellow members of the OECD, the U.S.
    trailed only one other member nation, Israel (at 8 percent of GDP,
    compared to 4.3 percent for the U.S.). In fact, the U.S. rate is double
    the rate of many of its peers. We also looked at China and Russia — two
    nuclear powers that do not belong to the OECD — and both of them also
    trail the U.S. in this measurement.

    Interesting quote by an expert, referring to Sara Palin’s comments US was 25th in the world, is this where you get your facts? Todd Harrison, (referring to Palin’s mistake or lie) is a fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said other factors set the U.S. apart.

    absolute dollars, we spend almost as much as all other countries
    combined,” Harrison said. “So saying we are 25th is a bit misleading and
    a selective use of facts.”

  • Fidel & Raul have known since the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis that there would never be an invasion of Cuba by the US military.

    Ironically, the Castro regime is now begging for an invasion of US tourists.

  • So Cuba is like the US where military end up in corporations? Wow! Don’t forget to add the reserves and the national guard….

  • That is why the US has the largest percentage of poor children among OECD nations, and is always involved in a war, just because you don{t see many US soldiers on the streets is because they are elsewhere killing other people. When has the Cuba army shot against a crowd of people protesting like US national guard has done in Detroit, Los Angeles and other areas of social protests. US is the most militarized country in the world, not police department are using armored carrier, high velocity rifles, stunt grenades etc. When have you read or heard through the grapevine (radio bembas is very good in Cuba) of police officers killing young black men like Oscar Grant in Oakland, Trayvon, Kelly Thomas in California and the list goes on and on…by the way, do you see those kids wearing olive green uniform carrying an AK 47 like in the US? You should visit Arizona and Texas…..

  • I use DRAGON,a dictation software, to submit most of my comments to HT. One of the bugs in the software is similar sounding words or homonyms. I am grateful that you caught the error so that other readers would not misunderstand. I absolutely meant “principles”.

  • There are no large scale troop deployments in Cuba because the people have little to no interest in overthrowing their government or revolution. and there are no large demos against the Cuban government such as they have in the U.S . that the Cuban government has to worry about .
    The Cuban revolution depends on its citizenry to fight any invasion from the U.S knowing full well that:
    1) the U.S will invade with overwhelming force and any formal resistance by the FAR would be smashed flat
    2) that the people of Cuba will fight any invading force from the U.S. door to door, street to street and all across the island
    3) the U.S armed forces would have to kill such a high number of Cubans to win a victory that it would be unacceptable to the world and perhaps all Americans except Moses and I.C.

  • You made an error in your use of the English language that was purely unintended to show the truth as it did.

    You used the word principals when you really meant to use the word principles.

    Your quote:

    “Americans recognize the sacrifice our military makes around the world on behalf of our PRINCIPALS” ( emphasis mine JG)

    Here’s the definition and how true it is in context:




    plural noun: principals


    the person with the highest authority or most important position in an organization, institution, or group.

    synonyms:chief, chief executive (officer), CEO, president, chairman, chairwoman, director, managing director, manager, head; More


    a sum of money lent or invested on which interest is paid.

    You got it right by mistake Moses .
    The U.S military fights strictly for the benefit of the MIC and the wealthy corporations and individuals .
    Anyone can go to the “Killing Hope ” website and review just about half of the interventions made by the U.S . none of which had to do with high-minded principles as a read of the book’s introduction clearly will show anyone open-minded enough to read it.
    Why won’t YOU read it Moses /

  • I guess what goes around, comes around! LOL

  • What do these German tourists tell you Dan? Not that I believe you for a moment.

    I live in Miami where there happen to be many German tourists. And other than the debauchery they might find on South Beach I can’t imagine what they would be shocked to see. It certainly isn’t a Military presence, as you imply, because there is none….or in any other major city. Our culture doesn’t go for the ostentatious display of the military. So you won find any military parades or anything of that nature here. Indeed during the Thanksgiving an New Years holidays the big parades are floats made of roses and giant animal balloons. Truly a fearsome and shocking spectacle.

  • Oh yeah, the Russian Revolution sure turned out well for Russia and all the subject people of the USSR. The Red Terror, the Civil War, the Stalinist Purges, the Holomodor, the Gulags, the KGD, NKVD, And all the other acronyms if murder, repression and totalitarianism.

    And this you wish for? What an idiot!

  • Of course you’re not taking into account–whether purposely or an oversight–that many of the military support roles have been taken away from our military and given over to private contractors, like Blackstone (or whatever they’re calling it now) as was the case in our recent war on Iraq. If you take into account all the $$$ we’ve poured into defense industries, its think tanks, and other divisions of the M. I. C., a much greater portion of our treasure is eaten up by this non-productive sector. At least in Cuba the military is largely a productive sector! Also, the F.A.R. discourages careless and un thought out adventures by the Collosus of the North (which, admittedly, would win the initial battle, but in the long-run would get utterly bogged down, like it did in Viet-Nam, and now in the Middle-East).
    Now the M.I.C. is chomping at the bit for another war, this time with Iran. If we’re lucky, this will be a bridge too far, and will provoke the the bankruptcy of our country (thus laying down conditons for a a real revolution, as happened in Morther Russia when it entered WWI); if we’re unlucky, it will provoke Armageddon!

  • The purpose of the Cuban military today is to keep the regime in power over and against the wishes of the Cuban people.

  • Dan, Americans recognize the sacrifice our military makes around the world on behalf of our principals. If you confuse respect for soldiers as “worship” you are in error. The expense of the US military is an issue but freedom is not free. The debate continues as to the cost/benefit of being the world’s police. Given the US military presence in Germany, it comes as no surprise that Germans would have a peculiar view of US military policy. however, given US expenditures in those communities where our bases are located, German leaders are reluctant to openly criticize the US presence. BTW, those same Europeans who complain about the prevalence of the US military in the US, return to their European countries and sleep in their beds at night under skies blanketed by a US and NATO Air Force keeping them safe.

  • It’s rather ironic to hear that Germans are shocked by the patriotic attitude many American’s have toward their military. Of course, the history of the relationship between the military and civilians in the US is very different from that of Germany.

    Many European countries still have mandatory military service for all young males. The US does not even have the draft anymore, so I don’t put too much stock in your anecdote.

    The Cuban military controls the 70% of the Cuban economy through their two holding companies, GAESA and CIMEX. The US military does not own holding companies of any sort and the entire US military industrial complex does not come even close to that level of dominance of the US economy.

  • Hahaha. The BS filter kicked in…

  • Your comment underscores an important point. Many Cubans and their supporters on the left, have the same misunderstanding about the relative militarization of the US in comparison to Cuba. The US has the most technologically advanced, most expensive military in the world but as a society, we are far less militarized. Seldom do I see soldiers in uniform in downtown SF. We are home to the Presidio and the naval base across the Bay. Yet in Havana, kids in olive green uniforms walking down Obispo Street is a common sight. Elio has a current post scolding the US about a report that the US will spend $1 trillion over 30 years to maintain our nuclear arsenal. If I were Cuban and my national budget barely reached $60 billion, this may seem like an astronomical sum. But the US has a $60 trillion annual budget. Over 30 years, $1 trillion is chump change.

  • “Therefore, as a percentage of population, Cuba is a far more militarized society.” From a pure mathematical standpoint, maybe. But that’s it. I have never been to another country where worship of the military reaches the level of the US. Talk with most Europeans who have visited the US. Germans in particular are usually shocked with what they see here. That’s not to mention the outsized role the military exerts on the economy, research and fiscal policy.

  • The number of active members of the Cuban FAR is about 85,000, from a population of 11 million people. That makes 0.77% of the Cuban population is in the FAR.

    The number of active members of the US military (all branches: Army, Airforce, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard) is about 1,430,000 from a population of 330 million. That makes 0.43% of the US population is in the military.

    Therefore, as a percentage of population, Cuba is a far more militarized society. Furthermore, in Cuba several senior members of the government are also active members of the military, including General Raul Castro.

    In the US government, the only active members of the military are those in advisory roles, such as the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Neither President Obama nor the Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel are active members of the US military. (Obama has never been in the military, and Hagel served as a Sgt in Vietnam.)

    If you read and understood the article Pedro wrote, you would know that the Cuban FAR is self-funding through their extensive and growing business operations. The FAR owned holding company GAESA has operations in farming, trucking, restaurants, hotels, and manufacturing. The only corporation in Cuba larger than GAESA is CIMEX. President Raul Castro has put Colonel Hector Oroza Busutin in charge of Cuban Export-Import Corporation, or CIMEX. Together, CIMEX And GAESA control over 70% of the Cuban economy.

    The director of GAESA is General López Callejas. He is also the son-in-law of Raul Castro. Do you see the picture?

  • The Cuban Recolution is like an inside-out watermelon: red on the outside and olive green on the inside.

    I have been writing about this all along. The Cuban system is dominated by the military. Raul has accelerated and extended their control. The goal is the transition of Cuba from a Marxist-Leninist system to a Fascist system.

    Interesting that Pedro mentioned General Lopez Callejas. The cousin of this FAR General is one Arturo Lopez-Levy, a PhD candidate at the University of Denver who uses his position to pose as an academic “Cuba expert”. It’s not surprising that he consistently toes the pro-regime line and makes a special point of promoting the Mariel project.

  • I made a fairly long comment that was erased .
    Reason please.

  • The most important thing that this article fails to point out is that the economic role of the military was a deliberate one in order to improve the economic chaos that was occurring because of corruption after the special period. Many FAR officers were sent to schools in Scandinavia where they achieve higher business skills. That is why the tourism sector is doing better than other sectors, is not only foreign inversion. Raul was the one behind the training of FAR to become involved in the management of the enterprises, so I was not surprised he also took more steps to make economic reforms. He also reduce the FAR from more than 250,000 to 50,000 saving much resources for Cuba. US should do the same and invest in schools…

  • Thank you Pedro for a very revealing article that allows us a look into the faults of Cuba’s present top-down government and economy which flies in the face of Poder Popular, democratic socialist, communist and anarchist belief systems .
    As you concluded, we all hope that those military loyal to revolutionary ideals will help lead the way to a fully democratic Cuban society once the U.S ends its economic war on the people of Cuba.
    That said, when it comes to Cuba winning and keeping its independence from U.S imperialism , the price of victory is constant vigilance and the unfortunate and expensive necessity of a security apparatus that includes an effective and ready military. .

  • This type of structure is typical of tinpot dictatorships. Raul, as general of the armed forces is most comfortable with his guys in control of the vital income-generating aspects of government. It breeds loyalty when his generals can run businesses which afford them and their cronies travel perks, outside incomes and other benefits beyond their military salaries. High-ranking FAR officials have special stores in which they can purchase food and other items at deeply-subsidized prices. Much like military commissaries on US military bases for US military personnel only much better. I was only told by a FAR colonel years ago that the “real” justification for military control of grocery and clothing stores was simple economics. Unlike the US military, and most military personnel in other countries, who spend their time engaged in MILITARY activities, the Castros claim for economic reasons, that they use these trained managers in non-military work vital to national interests. Let’s face it, there is no justification for the large Cuban military except as a deterrent to civil disturbances. Cuba has no real budget to purchase and maintain a modern air force or navy to resist a foreign invader given the high cost of military technology today. The ground troops are lightly armed and the anti-missile and anti-aircraft defenses are 30 year-old technologies at best. In view of Cuba’s lack of capability to fight a real foreign enemy, the FAR exists to put down rebellion from within. In addition to maintaining control, installing generals as CEO’s is a way to keep these guys busy.

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