The Heritage Foundation

Backgrounder #472 on Latin America

November 21, 1985

November 21, 1985 | Backgrounder on Latin America

A Nine-Point Strategy for Dealing with Castro


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472 November 21, 1985 A NINE-POINT STRATEGY FOR DEALING WITH CASTRO INTRODUCTION When he became Ronald Reagan's first Secretary of State Alexander Haig had tough words for Cuba. He declared that "the overwhelming economic strength and political influence of the United States, together with the reality of its military power, (should be brought) to bear on Cuba in order to treat the problem at its source. The ' Iproblem" to which Haig was referring was Cuba Is support for violent revolution, terrorism, and the destabilization of regimes friendly to the U.S not crafted a policy to keep Cuba in check. Cuba remains one of the USSR's most valuable military assets, a c tively serving Soviet policy objectives around the world 225,000 personnel and a militia that numbers nearly a million, Cuba is a Latin American military power second only to Brazil. Cuba has played decisive roles in installing pro-Soviet regimes in Angol a, Ethiopia Grenada, and Nicaragua. Today, more than 50,000 regular Cuban troops are serving in at least sixteen countries on four continents.

Accompanying them are an equal number of militarily trained construction workersll and "internationalists I Now, nearly five years later, the Reagan Administration still has With regular armed forces exceeding 1. Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Cavea (New York Macmillan, 1984), p. 129. Besides the troops garrisoning Angola and Ethiopia, Castro's forces foment violent revolu t ion in Central America. Cuba's connection with Folombia's drug dealers and underworld is now an established fact. Most recently, the Cuban dictator began working actively against U.S. attempts to resolve the Latin American debt crisis is thus clear that t h e Castro regime has changed little over the years pursues his disruptive foreign policy, the U.S must not fundamentally ease its policies toward Havana. If anything, it is time to.follow Haig's advice and get tougher It So long as Castro remains steadfast l y in'the Soviet bloc and Due to serious economic and military problems, the Castro regime has become increasingly vulnerable the U.S. should follow a nine-point blueprint, consisting of To exploit these difficulties 1) Aiding guerrilla forces fighting Cub a n troops throughout the world 2) Recruiting anti-communist surrogates to counter the Cubans when U.S. involvement is not feasible 3) Assisting militarily counterinsurgency programs throughout the Caribbean Basin 4) Marshalling economic and educational ass i stance to foster democracy in the Caribbean region 5) Mounting a propaganda offensive in world and regional organizations to highlight Cuban violations of international law 6) Encouraging Latin American democracies to participate in U.S. military exercise s in the Caribbean 7) Launching an ideological initiative, featuring Latin American democracies, to counter the Soviet-Cuban model of development 8). Increasing cooperation between the U.S. and Latin American governments in eradicating the narcotics trade, in which Cuba is heavily involved 9) Resurrecting the Central American Defense Council (CONDECA 2. "The Cuban Government's Involvement in Facilitating International Drug Traffic Joint Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary and the Foreign Relations Committee, Serial No. 1-9836, April 20, 1983, U.S. Government Printing Office 2- These measures should induce Castro to stop promoting revolution abroad and to ease internal repression then--could Washington consider the U.S.-Cuban talks now sought by Cas tro At that time-and only U.S. POLICY TOWARD CUBA SINCE 1959 Fidel Castro seized power on January 8, 19

59. For 24 months the U.S. maintained formal diplomatic relations with Cuba. Relations were broken only on January 3, 1961, after a series of anti-U.S. actions by Castro, culminating in the massive nationalization of U.S. property in Cuba. During the Kennedy Administration, U.S.-Cuban relations plummeted because of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 missile crisis.

Attempts at normalization of re lations with Cuba began during the Ford Administration but halted after Cuba's 1975 intervention in Angola. Under the Carter Administration, agreements on fishing zones travel restrictions, and the establishment of diplomatic interest sections in Havana a nd Washington were reached. Yet this diplomatic momentum did not deter Cuba from intervening in Ethiopia in 1978.

U.S.-Cubqn relations again plummeted in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift bringing more than 100,000 Cuban refugees to Florida. Castro exploited this by loading thousands of criminals and mentally ill on the boats.

During the Reagan Administration's first year, Castrols training and support for Marxist guerrillas in El Salvador prompted Haig to threaten to blockade Cuba A U.S. travel ban and trad e embargo were tightened as Castro increased his militia to 50.0,OOO and escalated verbal attacks on the U.S condemning what he called "the fascist leadershipn1 in Washington. A secret meeting.between Haig and Cuban vice president Carlos Rafael Rodriguez in Mexico City in November 1981, failed to improve relations; a 1982 visit to Havana by U.S.

Ambassador-at-Large Vernon Walters also was unproductive The Reagan Administration last year began talks with Havana on In December, Castro agreed to take back 2,8 00 returning to Cuba the lvundesirablell refugees who came to the U.S. in the Mariel boatlift.

Cubans over two years bilateral discussions on other issues and hinted broadly at a desire for better relations with the U.S. But he cancelled the agreement on the I

undesirables1l when the Voice of America, after a very lengthy delay, began beaming its Radio Marti Spanish-language news and feature service into Cuba He also 'indicated willingness to pursue There nevertheless remains a residue of good will.within the United States toward Cuba. Well aware of this, Castro seeks to play upon it to build a sympathetic constituency within the U.S. By this he 3hopes to limit U.S. options in responding to the Cuban challenge to U.S. security interests CUBA'S STRATEGIC I M PORTANCE TO MOSCOW Cuba provides the Soviet Union with a military and intelligence capacity in the Caribbean, an area vital to the U.S. economic lifeline. Caribbean maritime routes carry about 55 percent of U.S petroleum imports and approximately 45 perce n t of all U.S. seaborne trade. Cuba is very close to the Gulf of Mexico, the straits of Florida, the Yucatan channel, and the Mona straits. In the event of a NATO-Warsaw pact confrontation, more than half of U.S. supplies to NATO would depart from U.S. Gul f ports and pass by Cuba.

From Cuban bases, long-range Soviet warplanes, such as the Tu-95 Bear D and the Tu-142 Bear F reconnaissance aircraft, now regularly patrol the U.S. east coast and the Caribbean Basin. They spy on U.S military installations and sh adow U.S. carrier groups. Sensitive maritime and space communications and even private telephone conversations in the U.S. are monitored by the Soviet intelligence facility at Lourdes outside Havana.

Castro's Cuba has become Moscow's unsinkable aircraft carrier and arsenal in the Western Hemisphere. The Cuban Army alone (not counting the one million-strong People's Militia) is composed of 200,000 men in nine active divisions and 130,000 men in 18 rese r ve divisions also boasts a 12,000-man navy and an air force of 16,000 (including air defense forces with eome 285 fighter and training aircraft, 950 tanks, nearly 100 helicopters, three Foxtrot-class attack submarines a pair of Polnocny-class amphibious a s sault ships, two Koni-class frigates, eleven contettes, and approximately 70 torpedo and missile attack boats deliveries to Cuba has more.than tripled Cuba Over the past four years the tonnage of Soviet military In addition to some 28 surface-to-air missi l e SAM) battalions equipped with Soviet SA-2, SA-3, SA-6, and SA-7 missiles, the Cuban armed forces deploy 50 Frog-4 surface-to-surface missiles, each of which is capable of carrying a 200 kiloton nuclear warhead batteries of modified SA-2 anti-aircraft mi s siles and mobile SA-6 launchers, supplied by the USSR in 1979, are largely controlled by some of the 2,800 Soviet military advisers in Cuba The Cuba also serves as a weapons depot and conduit for Soviet-sponsored subversion and violent revolution in the A mericas.

Through Cuba, Moscow has provided financial and logistical support for thousands of communist guerrillas who are attacking Latin America's fragile young democracies. On the ideological front, Soviet propaganda is disseminated on Cuba's Isle of You th, where each year 4over 20,000 students from Latin America, Asia, and Africa receive scholarships to study Marxist-Leninist revolution CUBA AS A PROXY Although Moscow and Havana have had their differences in the past 26 years, relations between the two dictatorships have remained close since 19

68. Castro needs Soviet arms and financial support to stay in power and the Kremlin needs Cuba as a reliable surrogate and a huge military base a mere 90 miles from the U.S mainland. There is moreover, little that Castro could.do to break his dependence on Moscow. Prior to 1968, Castro's grievous mismanagement of the Cuban economy and failed.guerrilla expeditions in South America and the Caribbean had brought his regime to the brink of collapse to defectors, a sec r et agreement was signed with the Soviet Union in the spring of 1968 wpich effectively ceded sovereignty in exchange for Soviet economic aid According The Soviet political and economic investment in Cuba reaped rich dividends during the 1975 Angolan ventur e were rushed to Angola on Soviet transport aircraft to assist the communist MPLA in winning control of the important sout.hern African nation. Two years later, Castro dispatched 17,000 troops to Ethiopia where, under the command of Russian generals, they i nstalled another Soviet satellite regime gunships in Nicaragua and supervising the construction of military bases and airfields Nearly 18,000 Cuban troops Cubans are currently flying Mi-24 helicopter It is said that Cuba is a small nation with a great pow e r's foreign policy. Today there are an estimated 37,500 Cuban military personnel in Africa and at least 6,000 in Nicaragua. Cuban troops serve in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Laos, Guyana,'and South Yemen. In this hemisphere, Cuba has been linked to the te r rorist activities of such Marxist guerrillas as the M-19 movement in Colombia, the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Montoneros in Argentina, and Chile's Left Revolutionary Movement (M.I.R Over the past two decades, Cuba has provided logistical support, training a nd intelligence to revolutionary groups in every Western Hemisphere nation, including the United States 3, U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act, October 16, 1967, pp . 1423-1424 I -5- CUBAN-SOVIET FRICTION There were reports this March that Cuba was disappointed with Moscowls proposed aid for 1985 (current aid is estimated at $4.9 billion annually Moscow, meanwhile, has been pressing Castro for higher productivity and increased exports to the Soviet bloc. There also has been speculation that Castro's absence from the March funeral of Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko signalled his displeasure with the level of Soviet support for the communist regime in Nicaragua.

Cuban dependence on the Soviet Union seems to have forced Castro into backing Soviet foreign policy positions that may be unpopular with the Cuban people. This probably also gets in the way of his attempts to play a leading role in the Third World. Cuban suppo rt for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for example, tarnished his claim to leadership of the nonaligned movement and may have cost Cuba a much-desired United Nations Security Council seat in 19

80. Going along with the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Olympi cs in Los Angeles denied Cuban athletes the opportunity to compete in such events as boxing and baseball, where they were virtually certain of winning medals. This would have earned Castro international prestige and fueled Cuban patriotism.

Cuban subservi ence to Soviet interests also frustrates Castrols revolutionary aspirations in Latin America. Cuba at times views fomenting unrest in the region with greater urgency than does the Kremlin. There often have been intense polemics between the two countries o ver the pace and proper tools of revolution in Latin America HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA Since Castro took power, he has crushed political dissent.

Article 61 of Cuba's 1976 He is quick to jail his opponents. The result: an estimated 15,000 political prisoners in Cubans jails.

Constitution makes any violation of the objectives of the socialist state punishable by law; This gives Castro a free hand to imprison writers, journalists, homosexuals, religious dissenters, and farm workers. In 1983, at least 33 sugar can e workers were given llseverell I 4. Dusko Doder Castro Faults Soviets on Managua Aid The Washinnton Post March 24 1985 6prison,sentences for trying to start a Solidarity-style trade union. Also that year, the Inter-American Commission on.Human Rights of t he Organization of American States condemned the Cuban government for violations of press and religious freedom prisoners in the Western Hemisphere. Cuban prisoners are often subject to brutal and inhumane treatment, and have been kept imprisoned even aft e r serving their lengthy sentences model of forced labor camps along with arbitrary execu$dons, a lack of adequate medical attention, and psychological torture Today Cuba has the highest per capita number of political Castro has adopted the Soviet CUBA'S C R IPPLED ECONOMIC SYSTEM Cuba today is mired deeply in economic trouble. Castro has failed to make good his promise of higher living standards for his people living now lags behind such underdeveloped nations as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Uruguay O nce the third highest in Latin America, Cuba's standard of Cuba is now more economically dependent on its sugar crop than it was before the revolution, despite Castro's promises to diversify the agricultural sector. In 1957, for example, sugar comprised 7 9.95 percent of Cuba's total exports; in 1977, the last year for which reliable figurps are available, sugar accounted for 83.90 percent.of total exports. It is estimated that these figures have not changed Since 19

77. The average annual rate of real GNP (Gross National Product) change per capita under Castro is minus 1.2 percent. Cuba has the dubious distinction of being the only Latin American country with a negatire growth rate of real GNP per capita over the period 1960 to 19

78. Assuming that the Cub an economy, without Castroism would have continued to grow at an average annual rate of 3.5 percent this means that the cumulative difference over what Cuba could have produced, and what it actually produced, between 1960 and 1978 represents a $52 billion loss in a $7.8 billion economy 5. James Nelson Goodsell Cubans say Castro blocked Solidarity-style Union," Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 1983, p. 6 6. In a Place Without a Sou 1 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Information Agency, March 1985 pp. 1-3 7. Hugh T h omas, The Revolution on Balance (Washington, D.C Cuban-American National Foundation, 1982 p. 7 8. The Wa 11 Street Jo urnal, December 1, 1981, p. 35 7- Cuba's economy is more dependent than ever upon the Soviet Union from which it imports 98 percent of it s oil at below market prices.

Last year alone the Kremlin pumped $4.9 billion into Cuba to keep its economy afloat. Almost half of the USSR's total foreign aid now goes to Cuba and the Russians are paying four to five times the world market price for Cuban sugar. Ironically, in light of Castro's criticism of the close economic ties that his predecessor, Fulgencio Batista, had with the United States, approximately 75 percent of Cuban exports now go to the Soviet bloc; in 19571 two years before Castro seized power, only 58 percent of Cuban exports went to the U.S.

Beginning in 19701 Cuban Five-Year Plans were coordinated with Soviet Five-Year Plans under the direction of some 3,000 Soviet economic advisers.

Cuba's political dependence on the Soviet Union has increased proportionately with its economic dependence. In 19728 the Kremlin took the extraordinary step of granting Cuba full membership in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA or COMECON thereby submitting the Cuban economy to the disciplin e of integration with the Soviet and East European economies. Because the Soviet ruble is the standard currency for transactions within COMECON, the Soviet Union automatically became the legal arbiter of Cuba's trade and controlled the Cuban peso's rate of exchange. This is a classic dependency feature of imperialism similar to America's colonial ties with Britain THE LATIN AMERICAN DEBT CRISIS The little hard currency Cuba has is spent on interest payments on $3.42 billion worth of loans from Western banks has promised to honor all of its,debts, even though it urges other Latin debtor nations to default Ironically, Cuba In midoJuly, Castro hosted an all-expenses-paid conference in Havana on the debt crisis which drew some 1,200 participants from Latin Ameri c a and the Caribbean. Although the conference was ostensibly designed to ''build a united front on the is8u8,"10 its real purposes were to stir up anti-U.S between labor unions and moderate governments in many of the largest debtor nations. If Castro could convince Latin American workers to resist the International Monetary Fund's austerity programs, new democratic governments in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and elsewhere may feeling and drive a wedge 9 Cuba is in Good Standing With Bankers Despite Castro's Tal k of Canceling Debt The Wall Street Jou mal, July 30, 1985, p. 34 10. Business W eek, July 15, 1985, p. 50 8be forced to choose between domestic turmoil or repudiation of their debts CUBAN WLNERABILITIES Strateuic Vulnerabilities Cuba's proximity to the U. S . makes it the soft underbelly of the Soviet political-military sphere. Castro knows that the Soviet Union will never risk a nuclear war with the United States in the defense of Cuba. This accounts for the Cuban dictator's remark that Cubans must get accu s homed to the idea of fighting alone in the event of an invasion. The Kremlin is fully aware that the U.S. considers Cuba a high priority target in the event of a major superpower conflict M Recent events indicate that in terms of resources and population In the past, Castro was able Cuba has overextended itself militarily to play the role of world actor only because Washington was too distracted or reluctant to support indigenous movements which opposed Cuban mil.itary challenges office.

American nations resist Cuban pressure, it directly has confronted the Cuban buildup in Grenada. This signaled a change in U.S. policy toward the Cuban challenge in the Third World all. The result: Cuba has lost its image of invincibility among Third Worl d nations. In Angola, for example, outposts manned by Cuban troops have been overrun with increasing frequency, and UNITA forces recently dfialt a decisive defeat to a Soviet-led, Cuban-supported offensive This changed when Ronald Reagan'took Not only has t he Reagan Administration helped Central Cuban impotence in the face of U.S. military action was clear to AMERICAN OPTIONS Washington should craft a graduated offensive strategy to exploit Cuba's growing weaknesses. For one thing, the U.S. should continue to warn Havana and Moscow that another Cuban-style, pro-Soviet totalitarian dictatorship will not be tolerated in this hemisphere.

For another, the U.S. should make it clear that the price of Cuban 11. Granma July 30, 1967 12. The Was hinnton Post. October 9, 1985, p. 1 9 I intervention in the Caribbean Basin would be very high; retaliatory measures against Cuban nationals involved in radical factions abroad or even Cuba itself should not be ruled out.

Specifically, Reagan should pursue a nine-point policy toward Cuba. The U.S. should 1) Increase and upgrade its counterinsurgency training and equipping of Caribbean allies. The U.S.-sponsored Regional Security Systems incorporating company-sized, paramilitary units from seven Eastern Caribbean island nation s represents an important development in Caribbean regional security. This program trains security forces to fight the war of ideas and support political, economic and social reforms to combat Marxism-Leninism. Similar programs are being carried out, to a l imited extent, in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador A broader regional integration of Caribbean defense forces would emphasize the.common threat faced by all Caribbean nations and forge economic and cultural ties 2) Augment U.S. educational assistance t o instill respect for democracy and free market economic principles among the next generation of Caribbean and Latin American leaders. In 1982, more than llO,OOO students from developing nations were given Soviet scholarships to study in communist bloc co u ntries 27,000 of whom were enrolled 'in Cuban ''educationalll programs. That same year, only 8,000 Thira World students took part in AID-sponsored training in the U.S. The Reagan Administration should adopt the Kissinger Commission's recommendation for lO , OOO U.S. government-sponsored scholarships for Central Americans over a ten-year period. This program should be expanded to include students from other countries in the Caribbean region, including leftist nations such as Guyana and Suriname 3) Financially support anti-Cuban guerrilla organizations. Funding of Freedom Fighters in Central America and Africa is the most cost-effective means of reversing Cuban-sponsored revolution around the globe. Military assistance to the United Nicaraguan Opposition UNO) i n Nicaragua and UNITA forces in Angola would allow such groups to put pressure on Cuban troops stationed abroad, thus raising the financial and casualty burden of Castro's foreign adventures llNon-lethalll aid is not sufficient. Sophisticated weaponry, inc l uding anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, must be- provided to counter Soviet-supplied armored vehicles and aircraft. If Cuban forces are beaten in Nicaragua and Angola as decisively as they were in Grenada the Soviet Union may reappraise its substantia l investment in its Cuban surrogate 13. AID 'Highlight& Vol. 2, No. 2, Summer 1985, p. 2 10 - 4) Encourage third parties to back anti-communist forces when direct U.S. aid is not feasible strongly oppose Cuban-sponsored subversion in the Caribbean help tra i n and equip Freedom Fighters from Nicaragua, Guyana and Suriname. Ecuador, which recently broke diplomatic relations with Nicaragua, could also join forces with the U.S. to generate moral and material support for Nicaragua's pro-democratic forces througho u t Latin America Example: Brazil and VenezuEla, which could I 5) Increase cooperation between the U.S. and Latin American governments in eradicating the narcotics trade actively involved in international drug trafficking, using itsl proceeds to finance rev olution throughout the Caribbean Basin.

Halting the flow of funds from drug sales would serve a strategic as well as moral purpose, placing a greater strain on Castro's limited economic resources, thereby making it more difficult for him'to finance subvers ion and guerrilla warfare The Castro 'regime is 6) Counter Castro's recent diplomatic attempt to form a Latin American debtors' cartel. Castro sees this as a forum for generating anti-American attitudes and driving a wedge between the U.S. and Latin Ameri c an governments. While encouraging long-term structural reforms in debtor nations, the U.S. should exhibit solidarity with its Latin American allies by joining in their opposition to the anti-growth austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Reagan Administration's new multilateral lending plan unveiled in October could stimulate growth in Latin America 7) Publicize in the U.S. and throughout Latin America Cuba's continuing violation of human rights the world's worst human righ ts records. Ironically, some of the 15,000 political prisoners held in Cuba today are revolutionaries who fought alongside Castro yet spoke out against communism; others have been imprisoned for sugh %rimesll as holding religious services or writing short stories The Castro regime has one of 8) Use organizations such as the Organization of American States and the United Nations to expose Cuba's overwhelming dependence on the Soviet Union. This would unmask Castrols claim that he is %onaligned41 and'counter his attempts to serve as a model for Third World nations 14. 0 Estada de Sao Paulo, February 4, 1983, p. 4; AFP, February 9, 1983 15. "The Cuban Government's Involvement in Facilitating International Drug Traffic Joint Hearing before the Committee on the J udiciary and the Foreign Relations Committee, Serial No. 1-9836, April 30, 1983, U.S. Government Printing Office 16. See "Address of Elliot Abrams, 'The Cuban Revolution: Its Impact on Human Rights in Deoartrnent of State Bulletin 83, December 1983, pp. 3 6-39 11 The Cuban people should be continually reminded of the economic and social progress being made by other Caribbean and Latin American nations which have not followed the Marxist-Leninist model.

Comparisons of Cuba's low standard of living with more prosperous Latin American nations could be made subtly through Radio Marti or increased visits by relatives from Miami 9) Revive the Central American Defense Council (CONDECA U.S support for CONDECA would be a cost-effective way of guarding the vital sout h ern flank of the U.S. by allowing Central Americans greater responsibility for regional defense CONCLUSION Any U.S. attempts to normalize relations with Cuba while Fidel Castro remains in power are extremely unlikely to halt Cuban adventurism and temper C uba's internal repression. Castro shows no sign of substantively changing his policy of exporting violent revolution and of actively serving MOSCOW~S geopolitical interests his hostility toward the U.S. has never abated.

Castrols activist policies are esse ntial to his regime's survival, power, and ideology. There is no reason for him to bargain them away for U.S. economic concessions. They are the resource of Cuban leverage in dealing with Moscow, they hold promise for finding new allies that would reduce C uba's isolation in the hemisphere, and they buttress his claim to a world leadership role. It is, moreover unrealistic to assume that the Soviet Union simply would abandon the leverage and military gains it reaps because of Cuba as long as the Castro regi m e justifies its expense A normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba would strengthen Castro's hand domestically, add to his international prestige, and reduce his economic problems. The U.S. would be seen as endorsing his radical policies to Wa s hingtonlsl,&atin American allies to seek accommodation with communist Cuba. Rather than try to normalize ties with Havana, the U.S. should pursue the nine-point strategy and increase its efforts to check Cuban expansionist policies in this hemisphere and elsewhere This would send a diplomatic message Timothy Ashby Policy Analyst 17. During an interview on the MacNeil-Lehrer Report, Castro stated that he would never relinquish his "revolutionary principles" and that he "would die a revolutionary 12 - }{ \f1

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