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Conscription and Personnel Resources

Almost all Cubans would defend their homeland without hesitation, particularly against an attack either by the United States or by Cuban exiles. The Cuban soldiers are literate and well trained in their specialty. They are politically indoctrinated, well disciplined and loyal. They are accustomed to simple living conditions. The Cuban officer is better educated and more devoted to the military than is the enlisted man. Officers generally are highly motivated, heavily indoctrinated, well trained and accustomed to nonpretentious living conditions.

The ratio of Cuba's army in proportion to the island's population dropped from twenty-nine soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants in 1987 to only five soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants in 1997, based on data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. This ratio was comparable on a per capita basis to that found in such countries as Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and El Salvador. Moreover, the FAR's present force strength is even lower than it was prior to the adoption of the military's "internationalist" mission in the mid-1970s, a period when its manpower needs were roughly comparable yet its budget was subsidized by Soviet aid. At that time, the FAR was able to maintain an active-duty force strength of 120,000 troops and officers.

Until 1991, Cuban men were required to perform three years of compulsory military service under the SMO (Obligatory Military Service) system. The three-year obligation had been in force since the first Law of Military Service was promulgated in November 1963. In August 1991, however, the Active Military Service (Servicio Militar Activo - SMA) requirement was reduced to two years, beginning at age sixteen, under the General Military Service Law (Ley de Servicio Militar General-SMG), formerly the SMO. Young Cubans usually are not called to service until age seventeen.

The compulsory service duty reflects the interest of the military and Cuban leadership in having a large proportion of the island's population prepared to contribute to the defense of the Revolution. By the end of the 1990s, 1. 7 million young Cuban men had completed their SMA requirement as conscripts. Since the onset of the economic crisis, Cuban youth carrying out such compulsory military service continue to play an important role in the military. Although now at reduced numbers because of overall cutbacks in military manpower, they have become most important in providing a source of cheap labor for the MINFAR's efforts to become a self-sustaining institution.

In terms of overall personnel resources, in 1999 a total of 6.08 million Cubans between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine were considered to be "available" for military service, according to the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook. Of this total, only 3.76 million Cubans, or just under two-thirds, were judged to be "fit" for military service. In this latter category, 1.9 million of the Cubans were males and 1.86 million were females.

The fulfillment of SMA for conscripts entails their assignment to one of the services of the regular armed forces, to the 65,000-member E]T (Youth Labor Army), or to the Ministry of Interior. Cuban males between the ages of sixteen and fifty are required to perform a minimum of two years' service as an active-duty member of one of the country's security forces, a member of the military reserves, or in some combination of both forms of service. Young men are required to register locally for the draft after reaching their sixteenth birthday, and are then issued a certificate that shows they have registered. According to population statistics, just under 75,000 young Cuban males were becoming eligible for conscription each year during the late 1990s. Induction calls are held twice a year, with the youth to be inducted selected by lottery. Young men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-eight who have not been called for Active Military Service are known as pre-recruits (prereclutados). During the late 1980s, new draftees received six to eight months of basic training before being formally inducted into the armed forces. It is likely that the extent and nature of the training given draftees in the 1990s were limited as a result of the economic crisis.

Since the end of the FAR's "internationalist" mission, during which tens of thousands of draftees were sent to fight abroad, the military's need for conscripted manpower has fallen markedly. The decreased need was likely one of the considerations behind the 1991 decision to reduce the SMA term from three to two years, a move that brought the Cuban system more closely in line with the military service requirements maintained by other Latin American countries. The official explanation for the reduction was that the overall educational level of draftees had so improved over the years that they now needed less training. This explanation does not appear to be wholly without merit, given that since 1987, graduates of pre-university programs who are drafted are required to perform only one year of service. In addition, the military maintains policies that reflect an interest in supporting the educational accomplishments of its draftees, as reflected in a provision known as Order 18. According to this order, youth who were initially not admitted to a university but who distinguish themselves during their term of service are given a second opportunity to pursue their higher education. By the end of 1998, 14,000 graduates of Cuban universities had been beneficiaries of this program.

Cuban women are not subject to conscription. After turning sixteen years of age, however, they are eligible to enlist in the armed forces under the program known as Voluntary Female Military Service (Servicio Militar Voluntario Feminimo), which was established in 1986. (Women served in the FAR well before that date, however.) Their applications for enlistment are coordinated by the FMC (Federation of Cuban Women), the mass organization that had long been headed by Vilma Espin, Raul Castro's wife, before her death in 2006. During the 1980s, new female volunteers were accepted twice a year and signed up for two-year tours of duty, in contrast to the five-year commitment that was then required of male enlistees. Those who did not reenlist upon completion of their tour of duty automatically became members of the FAR's reserve forces; they were eligible to remain active in the reserve until reaching forty years of age.

Women who enlist in the FAR are formally eligible to ascend within the ranks of the armed forces, yet they are believed to face limited opportunities for the advanced military education that might qualify them for such promotions. At the pre-university level, women were reported to be subject to meeting more restrictive entrance requirements than male applicants. At the more advanced levels of military education, it was believed that the only professional program open to women was that offered by the Military Technical Institute (Instituto Tecnico Militar - ITM). The prevalence of traditional attitudes regarding sex roles also appeared as an impediment to women's career advancement within the armed forces. Between 1986 and early 1999, more than 18,000 young women had volunteered for military service.

Men who have completed their Active Military Service automatically pass to the ranks of the reserves, where they are expected to continue to train annually until reaching age fifty. Reservists are divided into various groups, according to their state of readiness and training. The members of the Ready Reserves are assigned to army units, serve on active duty for at least forty-five days each year, and could reportedly be mobilized on a few hours' notice. In 1999 these reserve forces numbered approximately 39,000 troops. The next tier consists of men who have completed at least one year of Active Military Service and could be mobilized on a few days' notice. The final group consists of those who either have not completed a year of active service or who were deemed unfit for duty, whether for reasons ascribable to their physical condition or political unreliability. Members of this last group appear to be "reservists" only in name, and reportedly are not required to undergo regular military training.

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