Volume 3, No. 6, June 2021
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Dr Maqsudul Hasan Nuri
Official Cuban pronouncements unambiguously asserted that its military and economic aid programmes to the Third World were due to unswerving commitment to the principles of “internationalist solidarity”. The concept of ‘proletarian internationalism’ derived from adherence to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, which gave it a rationale for extending support to ideologically progressive forces throughout the world.
The precise impact of ideology upon foreign policy remains controversial. While some scholars think it is irrelevant, others see it as key to the basic decision-making process. Was Cuban proletarian internationalism due to Moscow’s pressure or because of Fidel Castro’s global revolutionary ambitions, or a combination of both? Moreover, if the island-nation supported overseas activities primarily for moral and ideological reasons, then it should not have expected to receive any material recompense for its proffered assistance and confined aid to only ideologically compatible regimes. Or even if some material gains were forthcoming, they should at best have been minimal and should not have been anticipated at that time. In other words, it should have been prepared to hazard receiving no pecuniary benefits from involvements in military or civil aid programmes.
Most of the Cuban aid programmes in the 1960s can be viewed as its commitment to internationalism. Because it was able to consolidate and sustain its own Revolution through fraternal aid from socialist friends, notably the Soviet Union (USSR), and for ideological reasons, it felt beholden to come to the aid of regimes that had embarked on a socialist-oriented path. In this context, President Fidel Castro once remarked: “Internationalism involves helping others as we were helped by the Soviet Union, so we must do likewise.” More importantly, it was a continuation of the pre-1959 tradition.
Cuba was the first Latin American state to play an independent international military role. Earlier, Latin American forces had participated in UN peacekeeping forces, e.g. in Colombia,
 All official Cuban writings of the period attest to this credo.
 W. Raymond Duncan: The Soviet Union and Cuba, Interests and Influence (New York: Praeger, 1985).
 See Fidel Castro’s speech to the 13th Congress of the Central Organisation of the Cuban Trade Unions, November 15, 1973 as reproduced in Michael Taber, Ed: Fidel Castro Speaks, Vol. II (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1983, pp. 185-187).
and the participation of a few Mexican aviators in the Philippines in World War II.
Ideology consists of “a set of ideas, values and beliefs that unite the people behind the leaders’ decisions.” It not only legitimises decisions but also maintains a communication link between the leader and the led and provides a blueprint for changing society. Ideology is also meant for transforming the internal as well as international structures. In this context, Daniel Papp contended: “The drive toward ideological and moral leadership of the emerging world is a leading motive force behind Cuba’s presence in Africa.” In his final report to the First Congress of the Communist Party in Havana in late 1975, Fidel Castro spelled out support for proletarian internationalism in the following words:
“Our sending for the first time arms to the Algerian Revolution was helping their combatants who were fighting for independence. This impaired our relations with the government of France, which was indignant at the fact that we were sending aid to the united Algerian combatants and supporting them at the UN.”  In the same context he continued: “Loyal to its internationalist policy, what the Revolution has been doing since the beginning is to help wherever it can, help wherever it may find useful and moreover, wherever this help is requested.” 
The 1976 Cuban Constitution codified the principle in its preamble in these opening words: “Basing ourselves on proletarian internationalism on the fraternal friendship, help and cooperation of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, and in the solidarity of the workers and the peoples of Latin America and the world…” 
Nelson Valdes stated that a summary review of Cuba’s foreign policy towards the Third World immediately discloses that international solidarity has been an essential part of its revolutionary ideology as well as a consistent revolutionary practice. 
The Cuban initiatives in Africa during the 1970s proved qualitatively different from those in the 1960s in many ways. In the first place, there was a greater accent on the internationalist
 See W. Raymond Duncan: “Historical Antecedents of Cuban Foreign Policy” in Irving Louis Horowitz, Ed: Cuban Communism (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1987, p. 96).
 Daniel S. Papp: “The Soviet Union and Cuba in Ethiopia”(Current History,Vol. 76, No. 445, March 1979, p. 130).
 Fidel Castro’s address at the First Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, December 22, 1975, as quoted by Danny Schecter: “The Havana-Luanda Connection”(Cuba Review, Vol. VI, No. 1, March 1976, p 11).
 Richard R. Fagan, The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1978, pp.74-75.
 Nelson P. Valdes: “Revolutionary Solidarity in Angola” in Cole Blasier and Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Eds: Cuba in the World(Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburg Press, 1975).
dimensions of foreign policy than ever before. Previously, Cuba was obsessed with its own survival as a state against the US threats, but over a period of time when its alignment with the Eastern bloc was complete and its economy relatively better, it began to evince greater zeal in disseminating its influence in the Third World and in providing military and civil aid to movements and governments it considered progressive. The experiences of the Cuban Revolution were not only considered necessary but mandatory to be followed by developing countries in Asia and Africa.
Secondly, in the 1960s the emphasis was mostly on guerrilla organisations focusing on Latin America while in the later period there was an operational shift from guerrilla movements to progressive movements and nations outside the western hemisphere. While this shift of theatres reflected on the one hand the failure of Cuban revolutionary strategy in Latin America, it demonstrated renewed reassertion in Africa because of increased self-confidence provided by the atmospherics of detente between the superpowers and the aperture of opportunities provided in Africa in the aftermath of Portuguese decolonisation.
Thirdly, although Cuba had previously dispatched combat detachments to Algeria (1963) and Syria (1973) as tokens of support, they were small and quickly withdrawn after the end of hostilities. By contrast, the Cuban expeditionary missions to Angola and Ethiopia were not only larger in size, better armed, but also better coordinated with the USSR for cooperative intervention. They were a mission-oriented contingent and stayed for almost 14 years in Africa before their phased withdrawal starting in early 1989.
Fourthly, both the USSR and Cuba developed a strategic consensus on the global situation and their views became more congruent than ever before. The USSR also imbibed some of the enthusiasm of the Cubans’ revolutionary fervour and followed in its footsteps. This was a period of mutual dependence, hence the closer and tighter coordination in their force projection in Africa.
The Cuban brand of Marxism-Leninism showed a marked distinction from the USSR. This was principally due to Castro’s personality; the independent origins of the Cuban Revolution vis-a-vis the USSR; the isolated position of Cuba in the western hemisphere after 1959; the absence of any strong active participation by the pro-Soviet Communist Party in its initial stages, and the development of revolutionary ideology after the overthrow of the government rather than before capturing power.
Fidel Castro replaced the Marxist old guard with a set of people who were loyal to him. Cuban Communism bore the heavy stamp of Castro’s personality: it owed more to his charismatic image than the doctrinaire tenets of Soviet Marxism-Leninism. Commonly known as ‘Fidelismo’, it meant an ideology as defined and interpreted by him. For all practical purposes, it was essentially the ‘Cubanisation’ of Marxism-Leninism or Marxism-Leninism with a ‘tropical face’.
Further, Che Guevara, the ideological mentor of the Cuban Revolution, provided its doctrinal inspiration. Since Guevara emphasised guerrilla warfare, the doctrine was based on the successful experience of the Sierra Maestra. It ran counter to the Soviet emphasis on the key role of Communist parties as instruments of revolutionary change. At the same time, the Soviet doctrine postulated that different stages of economic development need to be reached in order for the Communist transition to take place, and, accordingly, it was imperative to support traditional Communist parties in Latin America, which received ideological direction from Moscow by “forming the broadest front of democratic and anti-imperialist forces.” 
Another distinction was that Guevara emphasised the aspect of voluntarism based on subjective factors. In other words, he meant that the Revolution could not wait for a long time. In order for it to materialise, it was necessary to catalyse the whole process by precipitating the contradictions through violent and voluntary action.
A full understanding of Cuban foreign policy requires probing the personality of its leader, Fidel Castro. Castro till his death was the longest surviving leader who remained in power for almost 30 years and displayed an uncanny instinct to not only survive but also continue to guide Cuba’s destiny despite all efforts to unseat him by its visceral foe, the neighbouring US.
During the last three decades, he met seven US and five Soviet heads of state. That established his role as the voice and conscience of the Third World. He was one of the most experienced and longest surviving leaders, who evoked contradictory feelings of admiration and contempt, depending upon one’s ideological predilections. There are no neutral
 On these points see Daniel Tretiak: “Sino-Soviet Rivalry in Latin America” (Problems of Communism, No 12, January-February 1963, pp-26-34).
 Pedro Motta Lima: “The Revolutionary Process and Democracy in Latin America” (World Marxist Review,No. 8, August 1965).
sentiments about him, only strong feelings.
Peter Bourne, a US psychiatrist who was a Presidential Assistant in the White House and later Assistant Secretary-General in the UN with experience of having seen many world leaders, draws Fidel Castro’s psychological profile as “a personality, a rare talent for survival, and an audacity and self-confidence to project himself on the world scene in a way that no leader of a country of such modest size and population has ever done before.”
Fidel Castro’s was a complex personality, shaped as much by the circumstances of his childhood as by Cuba’s unique and troubled history. Born of moderately well-to-do Spanish immigrant parents, he was born in the Oriente province of Cuba, known for its backwardness and violence. His father originally came to Cuba to fight as a soldier for the cause of Spain against the US. Product of an irregular liaison, Fidel had a rather unhappy childhood due to a conflict with his father, who is described as authoritarian and affectionless. The father was supposedly involved in some shady deals while working for the United Fruit Company, which made him rich overnight.
The fact of being a first generation immigrant and the circumstances of his birth seem to have haunted Castro throughout his life. His early and secondary education took place in Jesuit and Catholic schools where he came under the influence of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange Espanalo movement in Spain. In 1945 he entered Havana University to study law and plunged into the violent revolutionary politics of those times. Student politics characterised the temper and tone of the popular struggle against the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado. After graduating from law school, he became a supporter of Senator Eduardo Chiba, a popular spokesman for political and social welfare. Consequently, he enrolled in Chiba’s Ortodoxo Party. He was scheduled to run as a candidate for the party in the general elections of June 1952 when ex-President Fulgencia Batista executed a coup and took power, thereby cancelling the elections. Outraged, Castro organised a group of dissenters and led an assault on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953. Later he left the party and founded his own rebel movement called the 26th of July Movement after the date of the launching of the famous attack. Since his youth, Castro seems to have been fired by the spirit of internationalism. Barely six months after his victory in January 1959, he enrolled in an
 Peter G. Bourne: Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro (New York: Dodd and Mead Company, 1986, p. x).
 See Gene Vier: “Analyzing Fidel”, Human Behaviour (The News Magazine of the Social Sciences, Vol . 4, No. 7, July 1975, pp. 64-71).
abortive organisation set up by the Caribbean Legion  to topple the Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo; participated in political violence in Bogota, Colombia, and kept contacts with some of the veterans of the Caribbean Legion. Having declared in March 1959 that the “Caribbean belongs to Cuba”, and even before his Marxist proclamations, he also sent expeditions to Haiti, Panama, and Nicaragua with some more success than the earlier fruitless invasion of the Dominican Republic. In 1960, he dispatched a shipload of medicines, foodstuffs and clothing aboard the freighter Habana for the victims of a tidal wave that had hit Chile. This offer of aid together with $ five million was made to then Senator Allende Gossens, who years later became the President of Chile. In the same year he sent $ five billion to Cheddi Jagan’s leftist government in British Guyana. After President Kennedy’s early 1960 tour of Latin America, Castro sent Osvaldo Dorticos, then the Cuban President, to undertake a similar journey in May 1960. On May 1, 1961, Radio Havana inaugurated its shortwave international service in scores of languages (from English to the Indian Quecha language) with one of the world’s most powerful signals as part of the ‘internationalist’ offensive. Also, Prensa Latina, an international news agency, was started.
These early reverses did not dissuade him from ‘internationalist missions’ but instead sensitised him to the difficult conditions and circumstances prevailing in the region, different from the Sierra Maestra from where he and his comrades had led a successful Revolution in Cuba. Cuba also acknowledged the aid extended to it by its benefactor during the freedom struggle, Argentina. Being close to Cuba, Argentina served as a source of arms supplies, first by sea and later by air. It had also set up a high-powered transmitter to broadcast Castro’s messages for his own people and for the South American continent. Fittingly, Fidel chose Argentina as the first country for his visit abroad after the Revolution in January 1959 to personally convey his thanks to the Argentinian government.
Although somewhat tempered by age and reverses, Castro never forsook his revolutionary idealism, derived from his mentors such as Simon Bolivar, Jose Marti, and Che Guevara. He believed that history had carved out a special role for him to play on the world stage and his
 The Caribbean Legion was a loose organisation of democratic groups and parties formed to help fight dictators in the region. It had some influence in the Costa Rican revolution. Quickly disbanded, it retained a romantic if not very effective aura against dictatorship in the Caribbean.
 Tad Szulc: Fidel: A Critical Portrait (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1986, p. 541).
 ibid., p. 542.
vision was to lead his people into a ‘New Cuba’, which would be a role model for developing nations.
Cuba’s increase in military aid and assistance programmes to the Third World, especially in Africa, was important for three reasons. First, Cuba’s military aid reflected its militant revolutionary ideology of the internationalist duty to aid other people in their struggle for national liberation and socialism; secondly, its military assistance programmes were clearly linked with a high allocation of economic resources for homeland defence and general military preparedness of its society; thirdly, its advanced military programmes coincided with the Soviet military objectives in the Third World and dependence on military and economic aid from that country. According to an observer, there are four distinct periods of Cuban involvement in Africa.
First, 1959-74: loose informal ties with emphasis on contacts with African nationalist movements rather than independent governments. This was a period when Cuba concentrated on forging links with some anti-Portuguese guerrilla movements like the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), led by Amilcar Cabral, and the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by Agostinho Neto. Also, it cultivated ties with the Congo (Brazzaville) government and the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF).
Second, 1975-76: Cuba’s role became somewhat controversial through overt military intervention in Angola. By its support to the MPLA in a three-cornered contest in Angola, it was successful in propelling it into power.
Third, 1977-78: Cuba executed another military operation in Ethiopia when it came to the rescue of the beleaguered Dergue government after it was attacked by Somalia.
Fourth, 1979-88: the period of attempted consolidation and stabilisation of incumbent governments in Angola and Ethiopia. This period did not see any new military adventures by Cuba. In late December 1988, there was a tripartite agreement reached between Angola, Cuba, and the Republic of South Africa (mediated by the US) to gradually pull out Cuban forces from Angola in return for Namibian independence after nearly 13 years of stay in Africa.
Besides being engaged in combat functions in Angola and Ethiopia, Cubans were also
 W. Raymond Duncan: “Cuban Military Assistance to the Third Nations” in John F. Copper and Daniel S. Papp, Eds: Communist Nations’ Military (Westview Studies in International Relations, Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1983, p.135).
 Aaron Segal: “Cuba and Africa: Military Technical Assistance” in Barry B. Levine, Ed: Caribbean Cuba (Boulder Colo: Westview Press, 1983, pp. 130-133).
 Interview with Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs by Margaret A. Novicki (Africa Report, Vol. 33, No. 6, November-December 1988, p. 39). Also see John A. Marcum: “Africa: A Continent Adrift” (Foreign Affairs, Vol. 68, No. 1, 1988/89, p. 165).
involved in various civil assistance programmes that were spread out across other countries in Africa.
Soviet-Cuban troops did not in land in Africa in one bold stroke in the mid-1970s. A careful examination of chronological events reveals that the Cubans were present in Africa at least a decade and a half before. More importantly, their physical presence predated that of the USSR in Africa.
The origins of Cuban involvement go as far back as the 1960s when arms and medical personnel were sent to the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) led by Ahmad Ben Bella. Cuba established its first permanent overseas military mission, especially for guerrilla training, in northern Ghana on the border with Upper Volta (now Burkina Fasso). This mission, established in 1961, remained there till 1966 when it was quietly withdrawn following the deposing of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in a military coup in February 1965.
The second military mission was set up in Algeria in 1963, which lasted till the ouster of Ben Bella in a military coup in mid-1965. Algeria was not only the first country to receive Cuban military aid but was also the first to receive the assistance of Cuban combat forces in the brief Algerian-Moroccan war of October-November 1963.
According to Cuban General Ulises Rosales del Toro, Cuban military experts were sent initially to train the ill-equipped Algerian troops. The bulk of weapons from Cuba landed in the port of Oran in mid-October 1963. Towards the end of the month, the Moroccans numbering nearly 4,000-6,000 pushed back the Algerians and forced them to surrender. But with the Cuban reinforcements of some tanks and fighter aircraft, the Moroccans were defeated in early November 1963. Following an agreement between Morocco and Algeria, the Cubans stayed back to organise and train the Algerian armed forces without actually going into combat. In this brief war, Cuba provided at least 300-400 personnel to help Algeria use 40 tanks, some field artillery, mortars, and other equipment shipped from Cuba. In addition, four MIG fighters, trucks and over 800 tonnes of light arms and ammunition were sent. Later in 1973, about 500-750 Cubans aided the Syrians against Israel. In both cases the Cubans operated tanks.
Algeria-Cuba relations, however, cooled after the overthrow of Ben Bella. But following then
 For some details in this regard, see Carla Robbins: The Cuban Threat (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1983, pp. 61-71); also see Michael A. Samuels, et al: “Implications of Soviet and Cuban Activities in Africa for US Policy (Significant Issues Series, Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Vol. 1, No. 5, 1979, pp. 43-46).
 William J. Durch: “The Cuban Military in Africa and the Middle East: From Algeria to Angola” (Studies in Comparative Communism, Vol. XI, Nos. 1 & 2, Spring-Summer 1978, p. 53).
 Mercedez Alonso Romero: “In Algeria: Early Expression of Cuban Solidarity” (Granma Weekly Review, Havana, No. 3, January 15, 1989, p. 8. Hereafter referred to as GWR).
 The New York Times, October 10 and 28, 1963, p. 10 and p. 3.
 Mark L. Grover: “Prelude to Luanda: The Cubans in Africa before 1975” (International Review of History and Political Science, Meerut, India, Vol. 22, No. 4, November 1985, p. 1).
 Durch: “The Cuban Military In Africa”, 1978, p. 53.
Cuban foreign minister Raul Roa’s visit to Algeria in spring 1969, the links were restored. Che Guevara, the Argentinian-born revolutionary, embarked on a tour of Africa from December 1964 to March 1965. He launched himself headlong on a search for world revolution, thinking that Africa was ripe. He visited many countries of the Casablanca Group and also visited Congo (B). In Brazzaville, he conferred with leaders of the revolutionary movements of Mozambique, Portuguese Guinea and Angola. By 1965, FRELIMO, PAIGC and MPLA, respectively, were all recipients of Cuban military aid and instruction.
As shown in the chart below, Cuba performed five basic military roles in Africa, namely, training and advising revolutionary movements such as FRELIMO, PAIGC, MPLA and POLISARIO; assisting leftist governments; organising their security forces and presidential guards (Congo-B and Guinea); providing and training pilots (sending pilots to Syria and South Yemen and training Algerian pilots); delivery of arms to guerrilla movements (e.g., Congo and Guinea), and actual participation of Cuban troops in combat.
The Cuban military assistance in Africa, as mentioned earlier, started with programmes in sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1960s and later culminated in military expeditions in Angola (1975) and Ethiopia (1977). The estimates of the number of Cubans sent initially to Angola fluctuate widely. However, available studies on the subject place them in the range of 15,000-18,000.
Earlier, in Angola, according to Davis, “Up to 100 Cubans were there as advisers for at least a decade until more started coming in the spring of 1975.” Another observer, Leon Goure, indicated in his testimony that there were some Cuban military personnel in Angola prior to May 1975. However, it is generally agreed that the permanent Cuban military presence in Angola dated from June 1975 onwards. This commitment over the years had started progressively increasing. A study mentioned that in the mid-1970s, some 20,000-25,000 Cuban troops were directly engaged in the Angolan civil war. Later accumulated evidence
 Africa Confidential, London, No. 4, February 14, 1969, p. 8.
 Michael Samuels et al: “Implications of Soviet and Cuban Activities in Africa for US Policy” (CSIS Report, Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 2, 1979, p. 44).
 Arthur Jay Klinghoffer: “The Cuban Connection”, Chapter 9 in Arthur Jay Klinghoffer: The Angolan War: A Study in Soviet Policy in the Third World (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1981, pp. 109-110).
 See W J Durch: “Cuban Military in Africa”, 1978, p. 42.
 Nathanael Davis: “The Angola Decision of 1975: A Personal Memoir” (Foreign Affairs, Vol. 57, No. 1, p. 121).
 Leon Gour Sub-committee on African Affairs: Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Angola – Hearing, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, January 29, February 3, 4, and 6, 1976 (Washington, D.C: US Government Printing Office, 1976, p. 89).
 For this progressive defence sources increase, albeit from South Africa, see “Briefing: Cuba increases Soviet influence in Africa”, Vol. 2, No. 22, December 8, 1984, p. 1018.
 See: “The Soviet Union in the Third World 1980-85, An Imperial Burden or Political Asset?” – Report Prepared for the Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives, by the Congressional Research Service, 99th Congress, 1st Session, Library of Congress, September 23, 1985, p. 315.
puts these figures at 19,000-20,000, augmented by some 4,000 civilian technicians. In 1980, the Cuban military personnel rose to some 19,000-21,000 along with over 7,000 civilians in Angola. In 1983, according to UNITA’s version, Cuban combat troops and civilian advisors ranged from 30,000-40,000.
Interestingly, Castro in his ‘secret speech’ of December 27, 1979 before the National Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba disclosed the troops figure as 36,000 in Angola and 12,000 in Ethiopia.
By August 1987, this number had continued to rise. The Cuban combat personnel in the Third World were 38,000-41,000, with Angola alone approximating nearly 36,000. By the time of signing of the December 1988 peace accords, their number in Angola had risen to almost 50,000. Likewise in Ethiopia the Cuban military mission arrived in early May 1977, consisting of about 200 military and technical advisers. As in Angola and other places in Africa, they were assigned to train the Ethiopian People’s Militia so that they could use their newly-acquired Soviet weaponry. Initially, the Cubans had committed about 17,000 troops to help Ethiopia ward off the Somali invasion. Ever since, the troop level had continued to drop. In September 1987, there were only 5,000 Cuban military personnel stationed in different parts of Ethiopia. By mid-1989, the Cuban detachment was finally withdrawn from Ethiopia. Up till 1988, Angola and Ethiopia jointly formed the mainstay of the Cuban overseas contingent of both military and civilian personnel in Africa.
The nature and scope of the Cuban aid programme to Africa, and the functions that Cuban military aid could perform were ostensibly impressive.
First, this entailed internal security functions like presidential protection; investigative work; regular police and fire services; military counter-insurgency operations, and internal and external espionage. Second, programmes for the recipient’s armed forces included functions such as sending of frontline combat troops; manning and maintenance of complex military equipment; military logistical support; training of officers and troops for combat and command role, and coast and border deployments. And finally, but not the least, the other services included the development of civil organisations to support internal security work; the
 HFAC: Soviet Policy and United States Response in the Third World, p. 61.
 Edward Girardet: “Angolan Rebels Go on Offensive Against Soviet-backed Regime” (The Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 1983, p.1).
 As cited in Edward Gonzales: “The Cuban and Soviet Challenge in the Caribbean Basin” (Orbis, A Journal of World Affairs, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring 1985, footnote 3, p. 76).
 Ibid, p.135.
 Phyllis M. Martin: “Peace in Angola?” (Current History, Vol. 88, No. 538, May 1989, p. 231).
 The New York Times, November 15, 1977.
 Hari Sharan Chobra: “Ethiopia – March to Communism” (The Hindustan Times, September 6, 1987, p. 9).
 The Cuban withdrawal from Ethiopia was not covered by the December 1988 Agreement.
establishment of civil defence programmes, and the organisation of a political party within the armed forces and intelligence services to oversee their political allegiance.
The Cuban military and civilian assistance programme in Africa relied on the concept of the ‘civic soldier’. Essentially, it meant the civilianisation of Cuba’s military role in Africa, especially since the mid-1970s. While discussing this role, Dominguez observed that it has been different from the armed forces in both Communist and non-Communist countries because of the eagerness and conviction that military and political personnel and methods cannot be separated but must overlap if revolutionary goals are to be achieved.
Earlier, the Chinese had employed this concept and provided aid to certain African countries like Tanzania. Other Communist countries such as East Germany, North Vietnam and North Korea were notable in extending aid to Africa but this was actuated more by financial concerns rather than ideological reasons. North Korea may be cited as a special example in this regard.
In April 1965, Guevara led 200 Cuban internationalist fighters in support of the secessionist movement in Congo (Leopoldville). After the successful coup that brought Moise Tshombe to power, the secessionists wanted an armistice with the government in Leopoldville (now Kinshasha) and the Cubans were asked to withdraw. Hence they withdrew in December 1965, leaving behind a legacy, a training camp, which shifted to Brazzaville. Congo (L) achieved independence from Belgium in 1960. Fierce fighting broke out on independence, with the northern province of Katanga (also called Shaba) trying to secede. UN troops stepped in and temporarily helped to maintain peace. The secessionist movement set up a government-in-exile in Congo (B).
After Ben Bella’s overthrow, Cuba out of protest withdrew its ambassador to Algeria and reassigned him to Congo (B) in order to quickly establish a base there. By 1966, another good friend of Cuba, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was overthrown in a military coup. The training mission there was wound up. By mid-1965, approximately 250 Cuban military advisers were sent to Congo (B) and were earmarked to train the new militia of that country. This was the
 See e.g., Jorge I. Dominguez: “The Armed Forces in Cuba and in Foreign Relations” in Cole Blasier and Mesa-Lago, Eds: Cuba in the World (Pittsburg: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983, pp. 53-86).
 This term is used by Jorge Dominguez. See especially: “The Civic Soldier”, Chapter 9 in J. Dominguez: Cuba: Order and Revolution (Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 341-349).
 For the nature of military assistance programmes by different Communist nations see: “Conclusion”, Chapter 9, in John. F. Copper and Daniel S Papp, Eds: Communist Nations’ Military Assistance (Westview Special Studies in International Relations, Boulder: Westview Press, 1983, pp. 178-187).
first time that the Cuban military advisers were sent to make the local militia stronger than the army in a bid to guard the regime against any likely military coup.
By 1966, this training force had grown to 1,000 men and was imparting training to the Civil Defence Corps, a militia organisation set up as a counterpoise to the Congolese army. The Cuban advisers, in addition, also served as special detachments for the Presidential Guard.
In June 1966, the Cubans were successful in crushing an armed rebellion against the Massamba-Dabat government. But after the successful military coup of 1968, the advisory mission was considerably reduced in number, except for a small contingent left to train the Angolan guerrillas along with the Presidential Guard and militia till the end of the decade.
According to an observer, but for Castro’s personal dedication to Africa, “He might have abandoned the continent after 1965-66 without loss of face, but he chose not to.” President Sekou Toure of Guinea, probably unnerved by the coups in the neighbouring countries, requested the Cubans in spring 1966 to set up a training and advisory mission in Guinea. This happened to be the most enduring of the Cuban military missions in Africa. Both the militia and the Presidential Guards were set up along the lines of Congo (B). This militia force, duly trained and staffed by the Cubans, was instrumental in repulsing the Portuguese raid on Conakry in November 1970. Since the PAIGC guerrillas were given sanctuary in Conakry, the Cuban advisers arrived there soon afterwards. Later, in March 1984, a military coup swept away the remaining leaders of the late Sekou Toure’s regime, to which Cuba was especially close.
The Cuban activism in Africa trailed off in the late 1960s due to a series of coups, with the consequent deportation of Cuban civil and military missions. Failures in Algeria, Ghana, and later Congo (B) left intact only missions to Guinea, Conakry, the PAIGC and perhaps a small advisory effort to FRELIMO. No new missions were undertaken till 1971, when its activism
 Steven R. David: Third World Coup D’etat and International Security (Baltimore and London : The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, p. 122.)
 See Paul Bia Abudu: “Cuban Policy Toward Africa and African Responses, 1959-1976” (PhD dissertation, Howard University, Washington D.C., 1981, pp.105-107).
 Peter Calvocressi: Independent Africa and the World (London and New York: Longman, 1985, p. 107).
 See West Africa Weekly, London, No. 3476, April 2, 1976, 1984, pp. 703-706.
picked up again. This time the first recipient was the PAIGC. In the early 1970s, Cuba expanded its military involvement in Africa by sending missions to Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, Algeria (second time), Mozambique, and of course, Angola. It also dispatched its military missions for the first time to some countries of the Middle East: South Yemen, Syria, and Iraq.
In April 1972 Cuba established relations with Sierra Leone, Guinea’s immediate neighbour to the south. Castro made a brief stopover in Freetown in May in the context of his visit to Guinea. President Siaka Stevens had survived an abortive coup in March 1971 and had therefore entered into a defence agreement with Guinea under which the latter provided him with a presidential guard. The training for a militia was another source of support. However, come the May 1973 elections, the bulk of the military mission was withdrawn, leaving behind only two dozen military advisers who remained there till the mid-1970s.
With Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa, diplomatic relations were established in December 1972. A technical assistance agreement, reminiscent of the 1966 Cuba-Congo (B) agreement, was signed in October 1973. It was primarily meant for providing training to the national militia and for bolstering internal security. In fact, the new Cuban ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, appointed on October 27, was the first national coordinator of Cuba’s Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs). By December 1973, there were close to 200 Cuban advisers and by November 1974, this number had increased to almost 400. Out of these, 80 were military advisers. However, this Cuban mission seemed to have been terminated by March 1976 following the manual labour decree passed by President Macias. Francisco Macias Nguema was overthrown in August 1979 in a military coup by elements of the pro-west military. The new regime cancelled fishing rights for Cuba off its coast, expelled some 200 advisers and denied the USSR access to the base on the Gulf of Biafra, which was used as an intelligence post and staging area for later Soviet-Cuban interventions in Africa. On closer examination, there was little of interest to the Cubans or for that matter the USSR in that country. It was a liability because of its unpopular and repressive regime.
 “Cuban Troops: Cat’s Paw for Soviet Intrigue” (US News and World Report, December 8, 1985, p. 27).
 Durch: The Cuban Military in Africa, 1978, p. 26.
 David: Third World Coup d’Etat (1987, p. 84).
In Somalia, Cuba dispatched a small number of doctors and technicians in 1972. These increased to perhaps around 50 in 1975. The military programme was, however, initiated in 1974. In March 1976, several hundred ‘technicians’ were flown into Somalia, including 60-70 Cuban pilots and missile technicians. Besides advising the Somali military, the Cuban instructors also reportedly trained pro-Somali guerrillas from the French Territory of the Afars and Issas (Djibouti).
In Algeria during his March 1979 visit, Castro mentioned the stationing of a small number of aircraft technicians in that country. When the civil war in Angola was going on in late 1975, it was Algeria that served as a transit point for the incoming Soviet supplies to Angola. Algerian pilots manned the Soviet-built MIGs based in Brazzaville during the conflict. In return for Algerian cooperation, the USSR extended $ 450 million in credits to Algeria in 1975.
Mozambique, on gaining independence in June 1975, hosted the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) on its territory in the fight for independence. Like Guinea’s PAIGC, which was supported by the Cubans, ZAPU was also trained by them. Reportedly, a contingent of Cuban advisers arrived in Beira in February 1976, which increased substantially by mid-year.
Some Cubans were also reportedly observed in then Zanzibar at the time of the 1964 coup against the Sultan and farther in Vietnam. In Tanzania, the number of Cuban advisers during 1975-76 reached as high as 600. But this large estimate could be due to the construction workers forming one or more of the International Construction Brigades. In mid-1976, after a Brazzaville visit, Raul Castro asked 3,000 Cuban troops to be shifted from Angola to Congo (B) to train the Congolese troops. The Cubans were also involved in training liberation groups, i.e. SWAPO, ANC and POLISARIO. Farther afield in Latin America, they supported and armed revolutionary organisations in Venezuela, Argentina, and a few others from 1961
 Merritt Robbins: “The Soviet-Cuban Relationship” in Roger E. Kanet, Ed: Soviet Foreign Policy in the 1980s (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1982, p. 160).
 The New York Times, April 5, 1975; Africa Confidential, London, Vol. 17, No. 8, April 16, 1976, p. 6.
 Durch: Cuban Military in Africa, 1978, 1979-80.
 Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 1977, p. 3; The Washington Post, January 26, 1977, p. A 14.
 Hugh S. Thomas: “Coping with Cuba” in I. L. Horowitz, Ed: Cuban Communism (6th edition, New Brunswick and Oxford: Transaction Books, 1987, p. 723).
 See Abudu: Cuban Policy Towards Africa (1981, p. 116).
 The New York Times, July 3, 1976.
to 1965, but rarely engaged in actual combat.
By the end of 1986, the Cuban strength elsewhere in Africa (besides Angola and Ethiopia) was Zambia (200 troops); Uganda (250 troops); Tanzania (100 military advisers); Congo (B) (3,000 troops and advisors); Equatorial Guinea (240 troops); Sao Tome e Principe (500 military security personnel); Lesotho (seven military officers as a goodwill gesture); Libya and Algeria (3,500 troops); Benin (50 civilian advisers); Sierra Leone (150 civilian advisers), and Guinea-Bissau (125 civilian advisers).
 Pamela S. Falk: “Cuba in Africa” (Foreign Affairs, Vol. 65, No. 5, Summer 1987, pp. 1087-1088).
The nature and scope of the Cuban aid programme to Africa, and the functions that Cuban military aid could perform were ostensibly impressive.
First, this entailed internal security functions like presidential protection; investigative work; regular police and fire services; military counter-insurgency operations, and internal and external espionage. Secondly, programmes for the recipient’s armed forces included functions such as sending of frontline combat troops; manning and maintenance of complex military equipment; military logistical support; training of officers and troops for combat and command role, and coast and border deployments. And finally, but not the least, the other services included the development of civil organisations to support internal security work; the establishment of civil defence programmes; the organisation of a political party within the armed forces and intelligence services to oversee their political allegiance.
The Cuban military and civilian assistance programmes in Africa relied on the concept of the “civic soldier.” Essentially, it meant the civilianisation of Cuba’s military role in Africa, especially since the mid-1970s. While discussing this role Dominguez observed that it has been different from the armed forces in both Communist and non-Communist countries because of the eagerness and conviction that military and political personnel and methods cannot be separated but must overlap if revolutionary goals are to be achieved.68]
 See e.g., Jorge I. Dominguez: “The Armed Forces of Cuba and its Foreign Relations” in Cole Blasier and Mesa-Lago, Eds: Cuba in the World (Pittsburg: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983, pp. 53-86).
 This term is used by Jorge Dominguez. See especially “The Civic Soldier”, Chapter 9 in J. Dominguez: Cuba : Order and Revolution (Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 341-349).
On many occasions, Castro had expressed the view that the role of Cubans in Africa was mainly civilian and not military. Cuba’s development aid, which extended through civil assistance programmes, was multi-dimensional. It included the export of manpower by sending doctors, nurses, health workers, construction workers, teachers, agronomists and agricultural specialists. Moreover, it sent specialised workers in such diverse fields as mining, fishing, transportation, cattle raising, irrigation, industry, economic and physical planning and management. Out of these, construction work constituted the principal component of the civilian aid programme, including education and medical aid, mainly because it earned goodwill and was the best source of foreign exchange earnings.
The number of Cubans in Africa, forming part of the civilian assistance program in 1977, was estimated at 5,400 personnel with 600 in other parts of the world. In 1978-79, there were twice as many in Africa and as many in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America combined. By the early 1980s, this number had risen to nearly 20,000 civilian ‘internationalists’ – the majority deputed to sub-Saharan Africa.
As President Castro remarked in 1978:
“There is a need to build schools but we are nonetheless building schools in Jamaica and Tanzania, we still have a shortage of hospitals, but we are nevertheless building a hospital in Vietnam…still short of roads…but building roads and highways in Guinea and Vietnam.”
In a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution Castro stated: “This pygmy, which is the island of Cuba, has its illiteracy cut to 1.5 per cent with 98-99 percent for
 Interview with Barbara Walters, Foreign Policy, Quarterly, No. 28, Fall 1977, pp. 22-52.
 Sergi Roca: Economic Aspects of Cuban Involvement in Africa (No. 10, January 1980, p.56).
 On this see The New York Times, June 23, 1983, p. 2.
 World Marxist Review, No 22, January 1979, PP. 17-18.
primary education and 87 per cent for intermediate level of education.” This notable progress in education was grudgingly admitted by even by the strongest critics of the Cuban regime. Some, however, did point out the sub-standard level of education despite the eradication of illiteracy. By mid-1987, nearly 24,000 students from 82 countries were studying in Cuba (up from 21,000 from 69 countries in 1980). Out of these, two-thirds were students studying free of charge from Africa. Nearly 15,000 students were studying by the end of 1986, the largest group from Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, the Congo, South Yemen, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome, Namibia, and the Spanish Sahara. Out of these, 80 percent attended primary and secondary schools at the Isle of Youth, where the ‘internationalist school’ was founded in 1977.
By the end of the 1970s, there was a surplus of primary teachers in Cuba for sending abroad. This programme of sending teachers abroad was first started in 1973, when some Cuban teachers were sent to the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea. In 1983, there were nearly 4,500 Cuban teachers in 20 countries as compared to 14 in 1980 and only two in 1976. Most of them were assigned to serve in Mozambique, Ethiopia, Angola, and Nicaragua. Out of these, all but 200 were in primary and secondary education. In all, by early 1987, more than 20,000 Cuban teachers had served in overseas assignments.
Angola and Ethiopia both have benefitted from the Cuban civil aid programmes. In this regard, Ethiopia stands second only to Angola. The latter has been a major beneficiary of Cuban educational aid. The programme started with 12 teachers in 1976, which went up to 40 in 1977 and 800 in 1978. In fact Cuba kept up a steady supply of teachers to 16 out of the 18 Angolan provinces. From 1978 through 1983, more than 4,000 Cuban teachers served in
 Speech by Fidel Castro at the 25th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution (GWR, Havana, January 8, 1984, pp.2-3).
 Ted Szulc: “Fidelismo” in I. L Horowitz, Ed: Cuban Communism (7th ed, New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers 1988 p.129).
 Jorge I. Dominguez: To Make a World Safe for Revolution: Cuba’s Foreign Policy (Camb, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989, p. 171).
 Ibid. p. 150.
 See e.g., the following issues of GWR, Havana, September 19, 1982; November 8, 1984; September 14, 1986; September 21, 1986; August 9, 1987, and November 16, 1980.
 Dominguez: To Make a World Safe for Revolution, 1989, pp. 154-155.
Angola at the primary, secondary and university teaching levels. Young Angolans were sent to Cuba for studies, 226 in 1976 and more than 4,000 in 1987. Since 1975, Cuba has altogether sent an estimated 300,000 soldiers and technicians to Angola at an annual cost of $ 400 million.
Ethiopia, another recipient of Cuban aid, was nearly five times as large as Angola, with its GNP comparable, but relatively well off economically. In 1979, about 1,211 Ethiopians came to study at the Isle of Youth, fewer than the number of Angolans in Cuba. Their number reached 2,300 in late 1982 and then started falling in 1983. Cuba also sent teachers to Ethiopia in 1987 (13 out of the 16 provinces) but language problems posed hurdles between the two peoples.
The Cuban government has made some impressive advances in healthcare. With a community-oriented healthcare system it has taken major strides in narrowing the doctor-patient ratio from one doctor to 1,000 people in 1959 to one for every 500 in 1986. By 1986, it had nearly 23,000 physicians and nearly 3,000 doctors were graduating every year. Its target was to have 70,000 doctors by the year 2,000. Medical education was widespread, with 21 medical schools with 28,000 students.
Cuba’s first health programme started in Algeria in 1963. Later, it was extended to Libya, Guinea, Mali, Tanzania, Congo and Vietnam. This overseas health programme boomed in the 1970s. In 1978, more than 2,300 (conservative estimate) health personnel were sent for overseas duty, including 1,500 physicians – nearly 13 percent of its 12,000 National Health Service physicians.
In 1983, the Cuban health workers totalled 3,044 as compared to only 492 in 1976. They were posted in 27 Third World countries and included 1,675 medical doctors, 58 dentists, 742 nurses
 Ibid. p. 155.
 Latinamerica Press, Lima, Peru: Weekly Bulletin, Vol. 20, No. 41, November 10, 1988, p. 5.
 See J.C. Rosenberg, M.D.: “Health Care and Medicine in Cuba”, in Wilfred H. Chaffee Jr. and Gary Prevost, Eds: Cuba: A Different America (New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1989, p. 123); also see Ross Danielson: The Cuban Medicine (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1979, pp. 229-233).
 GWR, June 22, 1986.
 See Rosenberg: Cuba: A Different America, 1989, p. 123.
 See e.g., Paul H. Grundy, M.D. and Peter P. Budetti, M.D.: “The Distribution and supply of Cuban Medical Personnel in Third World Countries” in American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 70, No. 7, July 1980, p. 717.
and 516 intermediate level health technicians. In all, about eight percent of Cuba’s doctors and two percent of its nurses and health technicians were sent overseas. In addition, Cuba was training doctors and dentists from other countries in its own schools. Having founded a medical school in South Yemen in 1976, it was partially staffing medical schools in Angola, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua.
As for the health programme, the first 32 health personnel, including doctors, arrived in Ethiopia in 1977. By late 1984, their number had risen to 234 – less than half the number in Angola. The medical aid programme has continued to date in Central America in fighting tropical diseases and epidemics. In the recent Coronavirus-19 crisis, Cuba is rendering services by sending medical aid  and trying to make an anti-virus vaccine.
As the most important of Cuba’s internationalist programmes, construction work started in 1977 and reached is full strength by 1983. It included topography studies, materials production, organisation and planning advice, and finally, building assistance.
Originally begun as a modest response to Peru’s earthquake of 1970, construction work expanded in 1974-75 with the building of six hospitals, a highway, hotels and milk barns in Vietnam. Fidel Castro then observed: “Construction work is becoming an important source of foreign exchange.” So, a ministerial post for housing was created to coordinate construction activity in foreign countries.
By 1981, the Cuban state-owned construction firm, Union de Empres Constructoras Caribe (UNECA), had nearly 7,000 construction workers in 10 countries. The firm distinguished countries that received donations (e.g., Laos, Vietnam, Grenada), and those that paid in convertible currency (e.g., Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Angola, until mid-1984, and Nicaragua
 Dominguez: To make a World Safe for Revolution, 1989, p. 161.
 For details see Maqsud Nuri: “Cuban response to the coronavirus pandemic – I” (Business Recorder, June 18, 2020).
 For details see Maqsud Nuri: “Cuban response to the coronavirus pandemic – II” (Business Recorder, June 24, 2020).
until 1985). It netted some big contracts in Libya.
In 1982, nearly 8,000 Cuban construction workers abroad represented nearly three percent of all Cuban construction workers. From 1981-85, this number escalated to 33,000 (with Angola and Ethiopia getting larger contingents) posted in 20 overseas countries earning Pesos 430 million for different projects undertaken.  In Ethiopia, Cuba’s most important construction project undertaken was a cement plant, which, when finished in 1984, tripled the country’s cement output. Unlike Angola, where construction projects were solely directed by the Cubans themselves, in this case it was directed by the East Germans.
In Cuba itself, all but the construction sector had been successful. By investing in overseas construction work, it was able to make use of its own labour resources through export since it lacked capital to invest abroad. It had, at times, charged commercial rates (though lower than the prevailing world rates) for construction purposes, health and other services, but in general the services were donated. In Angola and Nicaragua, both contract and grant services were adopted.
In Cuba, housing was, and is still scarce, though it is a vast improvement over the slums and shanty towns characteristic of most Latin American cities.
Sports, especially athletics, culture and theatre have been Cuba’s strong points. The sports programme began in 1970 and was expanded abroad in 1977. In 1983, nearly 90 sport specialists worked in 15 overseas countries and by 1987 nearly 48 sport specialists were involved in sports education/training in 18 Third World countries. Cuba was rated as one of the top 15 countries in the world of sports.
The Cuban government does not refer to these civil aid programmes as “aid” but instead prefers to use terms like “fulfilling of internationalist duty” or “fraternal aid”. Those killed
 GWR, August 9, 1982, August 9, 1981 and January 26, 1986.
 GWR, October 28, 1984.
 GWR, December 11, 1983 (special supplement); GWR, January 5, 1980, and GWR, January 7, 1987.
 While in the 1950s Cuba had won 30 or more gold medals, since 1971 it has never won fewer than 100 medals per game. By the 1980s, it ranked second to the US in sports. See, for instance, Dominguez: To Make a World Safe For Revolution, 1989, p. 150. On the role of Cuba in international sports also see GWR, September 15, 1985, and K. M. Malik: “Focus on Latin America: Cuba’s Cheerful Communism” (The Muslim, May 29, 1985).
abroad in the performance of combat or civil duties, especially in the field of construction, were awarded “internationalist medals”. This won admiration from some small African states for this “disinterested cooperation” and revolutionary credentials.
Critics of Cuban ventures in Africa have ascribed these to hard core economic interests. In 1978, Castro pointed out that the “export of five technical services” was becoming an important factor in the development of the country. This has led some to believe that some economic motivation indeed propelled the regime to go abroad. This became convincing in view of the pressures on the Cuban economy and indebtedness to the USSR.
But did Cuba derive any tangible economic benefits from its overseas military and civilian programmes? In principle, its exploits should have opened up to more African partners and attracted a greater inflow of foreign exchange. This was aimed at buying more goods and technology from countries of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). Cuban technical assistance programmes to Africa extended beyond the three important sectors of health, education and construction. Since 1976 in Angola, it took on a broader dimension when it included projects in community development, communications, cultural affairs, trade union organisation, sports, fishing, and in various agricultural sectors (e.g. sugar, coffee, poultry). Similar programmes were started with Ethiopia and Mozambique later.
In economic terms, these programmes, whether military or civilian, were based on the principle of the ability to pay. Those poor countries that were unable to defray the costs of technical services and labour resources were provided services free of charge except host countries had to bear food, lodging and other incidental expenses. But “countries with financial resources” were charged for the advice and services rendered. In general, military programmes were conducted largely on grant basis with host countries paying for food costs and lodging and the USSR supplying transportation and equipment, including weapons and
 See e.g., “300 Cuban workers in Angola given internationalist medals” (GWR, June 2, 1985; Robert Gill: “Cubans in Benguela” (GWR, February 2, 1904, and GWR, November 2. 1983).
 See e.g., the interview by Alberto P. Tiny, Minister of Cooperation of Sao Tome and Principe (GWR, November 4, 1984). Farther afield, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen also saw in the 1970s Cuba as a role model. On this see president Ali Naseer Mohammad’s exclusive interview: “Thanks to the creative use of the theory of scientific socialism the development of young countries is assured” (GWR, October 23, 1983.
 Sergio Roco: Economic Aspects of Cuban Involvement in 1980, p. 67.
 Bohemia, December 22, 1978, p. 46.
ammunition. On the other hand, monetary considerations were more dominant in civilian missions, with the construction industry relatively accounting for more benefits as mentioned earlier.
This is, however, not to suggest that economic considerations alone triggered the Cuban decision to be in Africa. Rather it bears little exaggeration to state that Cuba may have gone to the aid of Africa even if there were no gains to be made in strict economic terms. In fact, some of the anticipated economic gains were not even expected at the time of Cuban involvement. Since the revolution, Cuba had traded mainly, if not mostly, with COMECON partners whereas the trade with Third World nations was minimal, accounting for only 4-7 percent of total Cuban trade. Were COMECON to collapse this could have been be a serious blow to its economy.
Some observers affirm that the main benefit derived by Cuba as a recompense for foreign programmes was the increased inflow of Soviet aid. According to William LeoGrande, the Angolan involvement “served to further cement the good relations Cuba has enjoyed with the USSR since the early 1970s.” Jorge Dominguez stated: “The Cuban efforts in Angola also allowed a repayment in political and military currency for the past Soviet assistance to Cuba.” As regards military aid, it was, as in the 1980s, apparently in response to the felt threat from President Reagan’s arrival in office.
From 1972 to 1977, the value of the Cuban-CMEA total trade increased four-fold and the Soviet-Cuban total trade increased from Pesos 2.9 billion in 1975 to Pesos 4.0 billion in 1978. In 1977, for instance, when it started charging the more developed countries for the projects undertaken, it was worth $ 50 million in hard currency, about nine percent of the commodity exports to the capitalist countries.
In 1980, the human capital ventures had harvested about $ 100 million, nearly six percent of
 Susan Eckstein: “Cuban Internationalism” in S. Ralebsky and John Kirk: Cuba: Twenty Five Years of Revolution (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1985 p. 379).
 Gonzeles: “Cuba, the Third World and the Soviet Union”, in The Soviet Union and Third World: The Last Three Decades, pp. 133-134.
 William M. LeoGrande: “Cuban-Soviet Relations and Cuban Policy in Africa” (Cuban Studies, No. 10, January 1980, p. 1).
 Jorge Dominguez: “The Armed Forces and Foreign Relations”, in Cole Blasier and Mesa-Lago, Eds: Cuba in the World (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979, p. 25).
 GWR, March 14, 1976.
 Susan Eckstein: Cuban Internationalism, p. 379.
the value of Cuba’s commodity exports. It had, moreover, been able to earn foreign exchange from oil-rich Libya, Congo (B) and Nicaragua, where it received bigger projects. But Cuba did not derive any major economic windfall from Angola or Ethiopia. As an example, it had apparently resisted an offer to buy oil from Angola at less than the OPEC price. Also, it did not seek raw materials, military bases or any markets for its exports. Illustrative is the example of the offer of coffee by Angolan President Neto, proudly refused by Cuba, an act much appreciated in Africa.
Indeed, economic considerations have been quite low in any of Cuba’s interventions, or else its economic profile would have been entirely different. As an example, its fishing industry was one of the heavily affected sectors due to the diversion of boats and fishing fleets for transportation of Cuban troops in the early stages. The technical personnel sent from civilian sectors like transport, doctors and teachers, all suffered from the effects of diversion of Cuban resources.
According to then Prime Minister Lopo do Nascimento, Cuba was not deriving economic benefits from Angola whereas the US was doing so via Gulf Oil in Cabinda, Angola. Since the Cubans became heavily involved in efforts to reconstruct the Angolan economy, then virtually in a shambles, the manpower drain was extensive. This was alluded to by Castro when he remarked that the technicians and professional workers in Angola were not really a loss but a gain to Cuba as they were becoming more conscientious and revolutionary.
Interestingly, the Cubans generally created a more favorable impression in Africa than the
 Lawrence Theriot and Janette Matheson: “Soviet Economic Relations with Non-European CMEA: Cuba, Vietnam, and Mongolia”, in Soviet Economy in a Time of Change (Washington, Economic Commission of US Congress, October 1979, pp. 566-557).
 Susan Eckstein: “Comment: The Global Political Economy and Cuba’s African Involvement” in Cuban Studies, special volume, vol. 10, No. 2, July 1980, p. 87.
 Oleg Darusenkov: “African Facts and The Anti-Cuban Fictions” (New Times, Moscow, no. 17, April 1978, p.11).
 Jaime Suchlicki: “Is Castro Ready to Accommodate?” in I. L Horowitz, Ed: Cuban Communism (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1989, p. 582).
 SergioRoco: “Economic Aspects of Cubans in Africa”, in Cole Blaster and Mesa-Lago, Eds: Cuban Involvement in World (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Press, 1979, p.175).
 Interview with Lopo do Nascimento, May 13, 1976 as given in the appendix to Angola News Summary, June 3, 1976.
 Castro’s speech at Pinar del Rio, p. 4, as reproduced in Arthur Klinghoffer: The Asia in Soviet Policy in the Third World (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1981, p. 205.
Soviets and East Europeans. Not only were they used to a harsh and non-luxurious living style but easily intermingled with the Africans instead of maintaining an exclusivist and patronising attitude. Moreover, due to a preponderance of blacks and mulatto Cubans as part of the contingents to Africa they developed close ethnic affinity with the Africans. So they came to be seen more in the role of ‘liberators’ rather than ‘mercenaries’. A CSIS report, while dealing with the economic objectives, has this to say about the Cuban involvement:
To a remarkable degree, Cuba’s current interests in Africa are more ideological than purely economic. Fidel Castro had repeatedly stated that Cuba does not have a single bank, a single hectare of land, a mine, an oil well or factory…absolutely nothing in Africa. Cuba, does, however, have its fishing fleet working in the rich waters off the Angolan coast. Nevertheless, after years of heavy involvement in Africa, Cuba has not reaped any important economic advantage directly from Angola.
In the initial stages of the Angolan conflict, the Cubans utilised their own meagre resources for transportation of troops to Angola. Reservists were called up and training exercises held before departure for Angola. The soldiers had to be paid their salaries. Three major exercises were held in 1975 as compared to the one in 1974, as the number of reservists undergoing training was double the figure for 1974.
The Cuban economy also had to face the absence or diminution of cadres of workers on foreign assignment, and some enterprise managers may have objected to the disruption in their plants at home. Be that as it may, since 1975 it had sent altogether an estimated 300,000 soldiers and technicians to Angola at an annual cost of $ 4.0 million.
In addition, the idea of diversification of overseas markets did not make sense in the Cuban context. In the first place, they were well plugged into the economic lifeline of CMEA countries. This meant that no other country, least of all the resource-poor countries in Africa, would be able to fulfil their demands. Secondly, Cuban trade with the developing countries
 Ibid., pp.116-117.
 Michael A. Samuels et al: “Implications of Soviet and Cuban Activities in African Foreign Policy” (CSIS Report, August 31, 1979, pp. 82-83).
 Cole Blasier: “Cuba: Political Asset, Economic Liability”, in Cole Blasier, Ed: The Giant’s Rival: The USSR and Latin America (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1983, pp. 109-115); also see Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “Operation Carlotta” (New Left Review, No. 101-102, February-April 1977, pp.128-132).
 Sergio Roco: “Economic Aspects of Cuban Involvement in Africa”, in S. Belkin, Ed: Cuba in Africa (Center for Latin American Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1982, p. 169).
 “End to 13-year-old war in sight” (Latinamerica Press, Lima, Vol. 20, No. 41, November 10, 1988, p. 5.)
was very low.
Interestingly, the main Third World trading partners, comprising 75 percent of Cuba’s exports till 1975 were Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan. Ironically, the total Cuban trade with Africa after the two military interventions actually decreased in 1977. Thirdly, there was no diversity in the commodities between Cuba and these countries that could facilitate trade. As far as Angola’s oil was concerned, it was no doubt potentially attractive, but Angola liked to sell it at world market prices and not backed by subsidies through participation with the high-tech US oil companies. This was primarily for efficiency and better returns. In addition, Cuba had not shown any inclination to sign an oil agreement as is seen from the trade agreements signed with Algeria and Libya in the fall of 1979.
All countries experience domestic opportunity costs when they export goods, capital, or skilled personnel, which could be used profitably by them. While the military and civil assistance programmes entailed some domestic costs for Cuba, they were not substantial. The ‘skilled persons’ had especially been a good source of income-generation since they were in large supply. However, Cuba’s greatest strength lay in developing economic intercourse with oil-rich nations than with the resource-poor in North Africa.
But for that to eventuate, there were formidable ideological and socio-political hurdles. Finally, despite Cuba’s pressing need to ameliorate its own economy, the immediate motive in Africa was not actuated by economic imperatives. If there was indeed any underlying motive in the mind of the leadership it could be anticipated possibly in terms of long-term payoffs.
Needless to say, the Cubans came to some of the poorest countries in Africa and Latin America: Angola, Ethiopia, Grenada and Nicaragua. The political gains were substantial in the first few years when its image as a ‘paladin’ was boosted in Africa and the Third World but following the 1983 Grenada invasion, it suffered a grievous blow. On the other hand, Cuba had long-term designs on mineral-rich Zimbabwe and South Africa, strong bastions of white minority rule in Africa. And idealistically, they were hoping that the developments in Lusophone Africa would perhaps blaze a trail for the subsequent victory of populist forces in these countries.
 Comite Estatal de Estadisticas, AnuarioEstadistico 1976, as cited in Sergio Roco: “Economic Aspects of Cuban Involvement”, 1979, p. 169.
In fact the history of the last two decades is ample proof that ideological and not only economic considerations formed the leitmotif of Cuban foreign policies, at least in Africa. As a punitive measure, it had to suffer the consequences of a prolonged embargo and unremitting hostility from the US.
Since the Cuban historical messianism somewhat mellowed down after the Grenada debacle of 1983, it is essential to study the pivotal role of Castro’s personality in the formulation of his grandiose foreign policy as a small country. Although Fidel Castro remained by all accounts the “Maximum Leader” and maintained absolute authority over all state institutions, with years some Cuban societal institutional infrastructures had evolved. He combined in his person the offices of the President, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and the Commander-in-Chief of the FAR. The key institutions in Cuba even today are: the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Interior, and the Party with its important organs like the Politburo and the Central Committee. Moreover, since the 1970s there had been a perceptible growth in the professionalism, capabilities and functions of these institutions since the 1970s.
Castro had employed the services of these institutions in the formulation of African policy. Most of the ministries were staffed by ‘Fidelistas’ and ‘Raulistas’, the veterans and comrades from Sierra Maestra days. The FAR, though hierarchically subordinated to the Party diktat was later headed by Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s younger brother and, for all purposes, the designated heir. In addition, some ministries like public health, education, construction and agriculture had developed an organisational interest to diversify operations in Africa.
The Construction Ministry began to expand its budget through overseas construction. Originally it did not have much clout but due to the demographic changes there was a large pool of manpower available for military and civil programmes. For example, the baby boom of the 1950s reached its peak in the 1980s. In the mid-1970s, the age profile started to change dramatically with the number of 15-19 year-olds increasing by over 339,000 between 1974 and 1980, reaching 1,116,340 in the latter year.
The logical step for the Castro regime was to export the surplus of this young, unemployed segment of the population where they could be usefully employed in the pursuit of the nation’s internationalist programmes. Likewise, the technical assistance programmes
 Linda B. Klein: “The Socialist Constitution of Cuba” in I L Horowitz, Ed: Cuban Communism (6thed, New Brunswick Transaction Books, 1984, p. 431).
increased apace. Since 1959, the island’s per capita supply of doctors and medical personnel markedly improved, more than any Latin American country.
By the mid-1970s, when Cuba had sent its overseas missions, its ‘skilled human resource’ seemed impressive. The primary desire to come to Africa was hardly only economic: even if there were some subsidiary economic motives involved, this showed that Cuba had its national interests paramount regardless of Moscow’s wishes.
Cuba faced some problems in its African ventures. For one thing, the overseas personnel, especially those assigned for military duties, were not selected at random but with considerations of party loyalty. For example, there was a disproportionate drawing from the Communist Youth Union and the Communist Party. Besides, the Cuban non-whites were over-represented in the majority of black African countries.
Despite claims of ‘internationalist solidarity’, the Cubans did not display real earnestness in learning the language of their host countries. In Angola for example, they erroneously believed that Spanish and Portuguese were kindred languages from the Iberian Peninsula that they need not learn. Likewise in Ethiopia, they faced greater linguistic barriers despite President Castro underlining the importance of the language factor in one of his speeches.
‘Internationalist service’ was no doubt accorded due recognition by the Cuban authorities. For those proceeding on overseas stints, it offered a mix of material and subjective rewards. Ideological rectitude was recorded on the citizen’s labour and military service records; that opened up better opportunities for jobs, promotions, increments, admissions to universities and colleges and easy access to foreign goods in the market.
The quality of services offered by the construction industry abroad also left much to be desired. In fact this industry since independence had not been as successful as compared to the achievements in the fields of education and health. However, a redeeming feature was that Cuba was able to export its surplus labour. Moreover, most of the construction workers, as reservists, could be also switched easily to combat functions in Africa whenever required. In that case, the Cuban military strength was more than 50,000 in 1988 as generally estimated. These reservists in the initial stages accounted for nearly 70 percent of the Cuban troops in
 GWR, November 4, 1984.
Here, a quick comparison of the Soviet and Cuban civil aid programmes may be instructive. In 1981, there were 67 percent more Cubans performing civil functions in Angola than those of the USSR and East European countries combined. In the military sphere, on the other hand, Cubans numbered 14 times larger than the combined strength of the whole socialist bloc.
Was the Cuban foreign assistance programme largely its own or an extension of the Soviet foreign aid programme? Notwithstanding the problems encountered in determining the exact share of the Soviet-Cuban contribution, from the foregoing it seems evident that Cuba had a well-planned foreign aid programme of its own.
As per the study by a Cubanologist, Dominguez, there is a strong, statistically significant correlation between the distribution of Cuban economic and military overseas personnel. Secondly, the correlation of the Soviet-Cuban aid programmes was such that while there was a significant correlation between their military programmes, there was no association between civil programmes. Thirdly, competition between China on the one hand and the Eastern bloc on the other was evident for military aid and not for economic assistance. And, fourthly, Cuba had the independence to determine the size and quantum of economic aid programmes.
This lent credence to the thesis by Dominguez on Cuban foreign policy, wherein he characterised Soviet-Cuban relations as an admixture of both “hegemony and autonomy”. According to him, the USSR tended to exercise over-all hegemony, especially in strategic and military aspects, while Cuba remained independent to pursue its economic aid policies. In other words, this ‘tight hegemony’ did not render it subservient to Soviet dictates or direction in pursuing policies and programmes in Africa.
 Dominguez: To Make a World Safe for Revolution, 1989, p. 161.
 As estimated from GWR, July 11, 1975; GWR, December 8, 1975; GWR, February 4, 1983; GWR July 3, 1977, and GWR, December 28, 1980.
 US Dept. of State: Soviet and East European Aid to Third World (1981, pub. No. 9345, Washington D.C., 1983).
 See Jorge I. Dominguez: “Political and Military Limitations and Consequences of Cuban Policies in Africa”, in Carmelo Mesa Lego and June S. Belkin, Eds: Cuba in Africa (Center for Latin American Studies: University of Pittsburgh, 1982, p. 114).
 Dominguez: To Make a World Safe for Revolution, 1989, p. 62.
After aligning with the USSR following the successful 1959 Revolution, Cuba entered into a web of economic and military relations with it. Hence, when it vociferously proclaimed the credo of ‘internationalist solidarity’ and after sending forces to Africa it was assumed that either it was induced or coerced to do so by the USSR under threat of stoppage of economic aid or subsidies. In the US and some western countries it was commonly seen as a willing collaborator or ‘helpless pawn’ acting under Soviet hegemony.
As mentioned before, the origins of Cuban contacts with African liberation groups and movements go back to the early 1960s. Since the mid-1960s, it was a consistent and ardent supporter by providing military aid, advisers and limited combat detachments, where required. After the Angolan and Ethiopian military victories, it significantly extended its civil aid programmes on the continent.
The civil aid programme was an idea that was not particularly the Cuban leadership’s own. In point of fact, Castro’s civil aid ‘internationalist’ programme was a modified version of President Kennedy’s Peace Corps Program with which Fidel Castro was quite impressed, though not sufficiently revolutionary for his taste. Through direct involvement in the development process with assistance teams and individuals, both leaders realised the need for establishing person-to-person contacts for gaining influence in the Third World.
As of early 1989, some 15,000 Cuban civil ‘internationalists’ were working in nearly 34 Third World countries, out of which 26 were in Africa, and 11 in Asia and Latin America. In his characteristic style, Castro compared his country’s civil aid ‘internationalist’ programmes with the Peace Corps in the following words: “We have more people disposed to go to any place in the world as doctors, as teachers, as technicians, and as workers than the Peace Corps of the US and all Churches together, and we are a country of only 10 million people.”
By way of comparison, the US in 1988 had its Peace Corps volunteers working in nearly 67 developing countries of the world, out of which about 2,600 served in Africa alone, forming the world’s largest part of its volunteer force. While the Peace Corps was more widely spread in the developing countries, it was less numerous in Africa than the Cuban contingent stationed there.
 On the critique of the ‘surrogacy thesis,’ see Maqsud Nuri, PhD dissertation: Cuba in Africa: Limitations of the Proxy Model (University of South Carolina, Columbia, 1992).
It is little realised, however, that Cuba’s example is difficult to compare with the former Soviet East European satellite states. The first to be colonised by the Spanish and the last to be decolonised in the western hemisphere, it had to gain its independence from the US by becoming the first socialist state in the western hemisphere and by proclaiming itself as Marxist-Leninist.
The Cuban Revolution is considered to be an authentic and popular upsurge that emerged with the leadership of Fidel Castro, who did not come to power on the coattails of the USSR. Unlike East European leaders (except Yugoslavia), who were installed in power by the Red Army, the Cuban leadership assumed power on its own. Besides, Cuba did not have to undergo a prolonged period of civil war, as at best it was a modest civil war.
Moreover, the mild climate and topography of the country contrasted strongly with the harsh and severe climate of Eastern Europe and the USSR. This gave Cuban Communism a distinct Caribbean flavour. In the view of an observer, Communism in the sun allowed parameters that probably would not be tolerated in Eastern Europe and Russia. This geographical distance also shaped its outlook towards Moscow. And finally, Castro foisted his own stamp of Communism by trying to build simultaneously socialism and communism, a heretical and infantile aberration to the orthodox Communist. No wonder Soviet-Cuban relations, despite their closeness, were sometimes marred by conflicts and tensions. In the environment of the ‘New Thinking’ initiated by President Gorbachev, some of the East European allies in close proximity to the USSR were successful in gaining more independence from Moscow. The Cubans, by contrast, never had to live with the perennial threat of physical occupation of their country by the Soviet Union.
By extending ‘internationalist’ aid to Angola and Ethiopia, Cuba was not only acting as a ‘paladin’ but also trying to protect its own Revolution. As there were no Soviet guarantees, one way to protect its socio-political system was for Third World states to follow a similar revolutionary path. In other words, for many Cubans the ability to send ‘internationalist aid’ was perhaps the clearest sign that the Revolution had succeeded at home. After having suffered a decade of political and economic isolation, mainly from the US, Cuba was keen to break itself out of the ostracism imposed and started diversifying its circle of friends and was at the same time keen to maintain a healthy independence from the USSR.
The argument that they went into Africa on the USSR’s behest does not take into consideration the fact that any extra-regional military involvement involving the lives of its people was not without substantial risk, both internally and externally. If there was indeed some anticipated military aid by the USSR at the time as a quid pro quo, it was a risky gamble to undertake. In this regard, Carla Robbins commented: “When one takes into account the risks involved in sending troops to a far away country to fight, one should be content that it was an act done out of sheer dedication.” That the Cubans fought in Africa as ‘mercenaries’ to advance the Soviet global interests is not borne out by the facts. Even before the Cuban contingents were dispatched to Africa they had a past history of association with revolutionary groups and movements in Africa and Latin America. These contacts matured in Africa in the early 1960s and by the time they intervened in Angola they had in place a string of military and civil missions. These ‘internationalist missions’ increased, however, after the Angolan and Ethiopian victories. For example, Cuban contacts with the ruling MPLA in Angola were stronger and more uninterrupted than the USSR.
Carla Robbins opined that there were more Cubans in Africa in the 1960s than in Latin America. Castro often referred to Cubans as “Latin Africans”, symbolising the ethnic affinity between the two peoples. Moreover, the Angolan operation was thought to be initiated by the Cubans first and joined later by the Soviets. This is, however, not to deny the significant role played by the USSR in providing speedy and effective transport and arms to the Cuban troops.
During the 1970s, some domestic changes in Cuban society also facilitated the Cuban entry into the extra-hemispheric war. With relative improvement in the economy due to recovery of sugar prices, the buildup of a specialised and well-trained army and an increased cadre of civil technicians, Cuba felt encouraged to pursue its internationalist ambitions. These were capped by the inhibited US response following the Vietnam debacle and the Watergate scandal at home. With opportunities looming on the horizon, Cuba was tempted to seize them. In May 1977, Castro was overly optimistic when he thought that Africa was “imperialism’s weakest link” and that “perfect opportunities exist[ed] therefore for the transformation from quasi-tribalism to socialism, without having to go through the various stages that were necessary in other parts of the world.”
The ‘surrogate’ thesis, in addition, is too unidirectional in the sense that it assumes that power, influence and control flow only from the strong to the weak or that economic power is synonymous with influence and control. In the age of multi-polarity, some smaller nations have increasingly used the principles of ‘reverse linkage’ to their own advantage. Castro, as a shrewd leader, excelled in the art of using linkage politics to his own benefit. He knew very well that Cuba was a ‘valuable ally’ of the USSR, whom the latter could not easily dispense with. This was due to Cuba’s geopolitical location and as one of the two Marxist-Leninist states (the other being Nicaragua before the 1990 election), an outpost in the western hemisphere. In the event the USSR did so, it would have lost not only an ally of strategic value but also credibility amongst the socialist fraternity.
This measure of leverage earned for the Cubans the role of a ‘privileged’ ally. Cuba was also viewed by Moscow as a bridge between itself and the developing world in the Third World community. Dominguez states that the Cuban leaders, unlike the East Europeans, were not imposed but sometimes deliberately “wanted hegemony to play off one superpower against the other”.
If Cuba had been a real ‘surrogate’ or its African foreign policies determined by the dynamics of the Eastern bloc, there should have been be a significant coordination of military and economic aid programmes with the USSR. Further, its relations with the USSR should have risen and fallen with the increase or decrease of aid programmes overseas, and in the case of foreign involvement, it should have demonstrated genuine reasons of its own.
Interestingly, the Sino-Soviet and Yugoslav-Soviet relations were likewise portrayed as ‘patron-client/surrogate’, but events later proved otherwise. The same was valid in the case of Cuba. In a western culture marked by economic determinism, the overriding determinants of Castro’s personality and Weltanschauung are frequently downplayed as explanatory variables in determining Cuba’s foreign policy behaviour.
The origins of the Cuban contacts with the African liberation groups and movements go back to the early 1960s. Since the mid-1960s, Cuba had been a consistent and ardent supporter by providing military aid, advisers and limited combat detachments, when and where required.
Even after carrying out its military withdrawal from Africa, Cuba seemed wedded to the creed of ‘proletarian internationalism’. By implication, it meant that the civil aid programmes would continue to function abroad but at somewhat reduced levels than the peak period (1978-1983). Regarding Cuban foreign policy, the main determinant seemed to be the ideological component as shaped by the personality makeup and worldview of Fidel Castro. Although other variables played a synergistic role in the Cuban expansive foreign policy (1970s-1980s), as a nation-state it remained fundamentally a reflection of the strong, ambitious and charismatic leadership of Fidel Castro.
In closing, Allen Yaffe, a recent writer on Cuba wonders: “How much a small Caribbean island, underdeveloped by centuries of colonialism and imperialism and subject to punitive, extra-territorial sanctions by the US for 60 years, has so much to offer to the world.”
 Allen Yaffe: How a Revolutionary People Have Survived in a Post-Soviet World (Yale University Press, 2020).
The writer is former President, Islamabad Policy Research Institute; ex-Adviser, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad; former Head, Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, and until recently, Visiting Faculty, Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad