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Cuban-Soviet Rapprochement

The missile crisis had a significant impact on the countries involved. Although it led to a thaw in United States-Soviet relations, it significantly strained Cuban-Soviet relations. Castro was not consulted throughout the negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev, and the unilateral Soviet withdrawal of the missiles and bombers wounded Castro's pride and prestige. It was a humiliating experience for the Cuban leader, who was relegated throughout the crisis to a mere pawn on the chessboard of international politics. Castro defiantly rejected the United States-Soviet understanding and publicly questioned Soviet willingness and determination to defend the Revolution.

After the missile crisis, Fidel Castro increased contacts with communist China, exploiting the Sino-Soviet dispute and proclaiming his intention of remaining neutral and maintaining fraternal relations with all socialist states. Cuba also signed various trade and cultural agreements with Beijing, and Castro grew increasingly friendly toward the Chinese, praising their more militant revolutionary posture. He also defied the Soviets, as he joined the Chinese in refusing to sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963). All of this maneuvering somewhat increased Castro's leverage with the Soviets and gained him more assistance.

The Chinese honeymoon was short-lived, however. In 1966 Fidel Castro blasted the Chinese for reducing rice shipments to Cuba below the quantities that Castro alleged had been agreed on between the two countries. He described Mao Tse-tung's ideological statements as lightweight, called for the creation of a "council of elders" to prevent aged leaders from "putting their whims into effect when senility has taken hold of them," and threatened to handle Chinese diplomats the same way "we handle the American Embassy." By then Castro had also become disappointed with China's attitude toward Vietnam and by its propaganda efforts to sway Cubans to its side in the Sino-Soviet conflict. Castro's insistence on absolute control of the revolutionary movement in Latin America and his awareness of China's limitations in supplying Cuba's economic needs were further key factors in the cooling of the friendship between the two nations. Subsequently, relations became more cordial, but never reached the closeness achieved before 1966.

By the late 1960s, the Cuban economy was plagued by low productivity, mismanagement, poor planning, and shortages of almost every item. Structural shortcomings seemed more entrenched than ever. The ills of the past were still there, with renewed vengeance. Long term trade agreements with the Soviets were perpetuating Cuba's role as a sugar producer, forcing the country to abandon indefinitely any plans for significant diversification and industrialization. Trade continued with one large industrialized nation, whose commercial policies reminded Castro of those pursued by Cuba's previous trading partner, the United States. Cuba's foreign debt also reached alarming proportions without significant improvements in the island's ability to save foreign exchange. The unemployment of the pre-Castro era gave way to a new type of unemployment in the form of poor labor productivity, absenteeism, and an ineffective and overstaffed bureaucracy. In response to the situation, the regime resorted to coercive methods to ensure a labor supply for critical agricultural tasks. The living standard of Cubans also deteriorated, as high capital accumulation was given first priority over consumer goods.

In its second decade, the Cuban Revolution faced critical problems. Internally, mounting economic difficulties inspired a new frenzy of planning activity and greater regimentation in the hope of stimulating productivity. One result was the expanded influence of the military in society, and its increasingly important role in both economic and political life. The party, which had remained weak and ineffective throughout the 1960s, was enlarged and strengthened its efforts to spread its influence throughout society. Meanwhile, the regime continued to pursue its aim of transforming Cuba in accordance with a new set of values and with the ultimate end of creating a new socialist citizen. Externally, the Cuban leadership attempted to break out of its isolation in Latin America, became selective in its support of revolutionary movements in the area, moved even closer to the Soviet Union, increased its influence on the Nonaligned Movement, and embarked on a series of successful military interventions, primarily on the African continent.

Although past Cuban-Soviet relations had been punctuated by frequent instances of Castro's insubordination and attempts to assert his independence, in mid-1968 relations entered a period of close collaboration and friendliness. A turning point occurred in August 1968, when Castro supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, a response dictated primarily by political and economic considerations.

In the early 1970s, Soviet military and economic aid increased substantially, arid Cuba moved closer to the Soviet Union, becoming in 1972 a member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA; also known as Comecon). The result was greater direct Soviet influence on the island. During this period, Soviet technicians became extensively involved in managerial and planning activities at the national level. The total number of Soviet military and technical advisers increased considerably, and numerous economic advisers arrived. Of special significance were long-term agreements between Cuba and the Soviet Union that geared the Cuban economy to the Soviet economic plans. A new InterGovernmental Coordinating Committee was also established, giving the Kremlin considerable leverage over Cuban developments.




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