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Civil Defense / La Defensa Civil

The mission of the Civil Defense is to protect the population and the economic centers against the effects of all types of natural disasters and warfare. In the event of an emergency, Civil Defense is capable of aiding the population. During war, it would assist in providing for local defense and for rear area security. Civil Defense forces were estimated to include approximately 100,000 men and women as of around 1980, while by 2000 paramilitary forces in general included a civil defense force of 50,000.

Civil Defense is envisaged as a state system of defense measures, carried out in peacetime and during exceptional situations, with the aim of protecting the population and the national economy against enemy destruction and in cases of natural disasters or other types of catastrophes, as well as of the consequences of environmental degradation. It also comprises salvage work and the urgent repair of breakdowns in destroyed or polluted areas. The President of the Council of State leads Civil Defense through the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which has, for this purpose, the Civil Defense National Staff. The presidents of the Provincial and Municipal Assemblies of People's Power are the heads of Civil Defense in the corresponding territory and have small professional administrative bodies for this purpose.

The system of civil defense measures constitutes a strategic factor for the country's defense capacity. It is organized in all of the national territory and its activities are based on the use of the human and material resources of state organizations, economic bodies and social institutions. Among the civil defense measures that are carried out for the protection of the population are alert systems, protection in engineering works and through individual means, evacuation to safe areas and the observation and control of chemical, radioactive and biological pollution.

Civil defense measures have shown their effectiveness against the frequent tropical hurricanes that strike the island and what the Cuban government claims were the numerous biological aggressions Cuba has been target to in the last four decades, among which the worst has been the dengue hemorrhagic fever epidemic in 1981, which affected 344,203 people and killed 158, among them 101 children. There have also been many claimed attacks against plants and animals aiming to severely affect the economy.

Between 1973 and 1977, the number of Civil Defense training exercises increased. These exercises are held to pinpoint the responsibilities of all citizens in the event of a national emergency and to ascertain the readiness of the Civil Defense system. Scenarios of exercises have included all types of day and night enemy attacks, and have stressed defensive measure against NBC attacks. Soviet advisers supervised some of these Civil Defense exercises. Equipment consists of such items as protective masks, protective clothing, decontamination equipment, and small arms, as well as trucks and equipment which have been mobilized from civilian agencies.

The Civil Defense National Staff is the system's main organization and is in charge of ensuring the fulfillment of civil defense measures and international standards and agreements relating to civil protection to which the Republic of Cuba is a party and of coordinating cooperation and international aid programs in the case of catastrophes. It maintains close and smooth working relations and collaboration with numerous institutions that work in the interests of the protection of human life and the environment and with the different branches of the mass media. It also coordinates its actions and collaborates closely with institutions and non-governmental organizations that, like Cuba's Red Cross, the International Red Cross and many others, carry out work for the sake of these objectives.

The present civil defense organization traces its origins to Fidel Castro's National Revolutionary Militia (MNR). The MNR, established in October 1959, was a volunteer home defense force formed to counter threats to the newly established regime. In the early 1960s, the regular Army was expanded at the expense of the MNR. Some members of the MNR were incorporated into the regular Army while the rest were absorbed into the new military reserve organization, the Popular Defense Force. In June 1966, the Popular Defense Force was disbanded and its personnel was divided between two new groups, Civil Defense and the reserves. The Civil Defense units were thenand still aretrained to provide rear area security, while the reserves assumed the mission of the Popular Defense Force, that of aiding the regular Army.

Although the MNR is no longer functional (it was dissolved in June 1966), it is still recognized as an honorary organization and as a symbol of the Cuban Revolution; its members participate in parades in their dress uniforms. Both Civil Defense and MNR members are called militiamen or militiawomen. In November 1976, Civil Defense was organized into its present structure to conform to the newly proclaimed boundaries and responsibilities of the provinces and municipalities.

Regular military personnel are assigned to Civil Defense staffs at least at the national and provincial levels. Civilian Cuban Communist Party members hold key positions throughout the organization. The remaining membersand by far the majorityare civilians who do not have any military rank. These civilians include both men and women who are not in the ready reserves and some who hold critical civilian production jobs.

Civil Defense is composed of both military and nonmilitary units. Units are established in many types of organizations, such as factories, and schools, as well as local, provincial and national government organs. Civil Defense military-type units are responsible for the protection and defense of the area or installation where they are located. There are several types of nonmilitary units which are grouped according to their functions, including salvaging and repairing damaged installations, rendering first aid, fighting fires, and maintaining production in key industries. Both the military and nonmilitary units cooperate closely with MININT's National Revolutionary Police and Firefighting and Prevention units.




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