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The Military in the Government and Party

The Cuban Government believes that culture, politics and the military are inseparable. Strong civilian-military bonds are stressed to reinforce the Cuban philosophy that all Cuban citizens are soldiers defending their Socialist country. The government has developed extensive ties between the civilian and military sectors to encourage mutual respect. While the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba - PCC) has been weakened as an institution in Cuba's ongoing transition, the FAR has been able to adapt and consolidate its role as arguably the pre-eminent institution behind the Castros. The FAR is still seen as one of the more pro-mass institutions in Cuba, as opposed to the PCC, to which less than three percent of the Cuban population belongs. Unlike Cuba's communist Party whose legitimacy has eroded because of the worldwide collapse of communism and the island's severe economic crisis, the FAR has emerged as the most powerful institution in Cuba today. The FAR possesses not only the weapons but also the organization, command structure, and leadership skills needed to take over in a crisis situation.

The PCC organization within the military parallels the military hierarchy. The Party acts to reinforce the command structure rather than to compete with it. Thus, the Cuban Government, like the Soviet and other Communist countries, have interlocking military and Party bureaucracies in which almost all military officers are also PCC members. This dual structure reaches from the very top of the government military structure down to the squad level. Fidel and Raul Castro held the top positions in the Party, civilian and military organizations. Since almost all the military commanders are PCC members, the Party functions as an agency within the military and not as an institution penetrating from the outside. Nonmilitary PCC members have no authority within MINFAR and consequently the military enjoys a great deal of autonomy.

The MINFAR Central Political Directorate, usually headed by a deputy minister who is a member of the Central Committee, is responsible for political indoctrination, public relations, propaganda and PCC-MINFAR relations. The Central Political Directorate supervises the activities of unit political sections and political officers (oftentimes called Political Commissars). All units down to battalion level have political sections commensurate with the size of the unit. At the company and platoon levels, there are only political officers. Additionally, each squad-size unit has a political representative. The authority of the political section chiefs (from division down to battalion) and political officers (at the lower levels) equals that of the unit commander in all but military decisions. In the event a company or platoon-level unit commander becomes incapacitated, the political officer reportedly had the authority to designate his successor. The political officer, however, cannot designate himself.

From almost the beginning of the Revolution, the Cuban military has played a prominent role in both the government of the nation and, since its founding in 1965, the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba-PCC). The most notable aspects of this role are the key leadership duties of Fidel and Raul Castro, who exercise overlapping national authority as heads of the government, the military, and the PCC. Other senior military officials may also be found in positions of authority and influence elsewhere within the regime, particularly within the cabinet and in the top councils of the PCC. Their most significant single unifying trait continues to be their record of loyalty to the Castros, often dating back to the era of the guerrilla struggle.

The military's influence within the national government can be most clearly seen in the composition of the Council of Ministers (Consejo de Ministros). In addition to Fidel and Raul Castro, five other men with military backgrounds were members of the Council of Ministers in the late 1990s. These included General Colome Ibarra, the minister of interior; Division General Ulises Rosales del Toro, the FAR's former Chief of General Staff, who was appointed minister of the sugar industry in late 1997; Brigade General Silvano Colas Sanchez, the minister of communications; Captain (Capitan de Navio) Orlando Felipe Rodriguez Romay, the minister of the fishing industry; and Colonel Alvaro Perez Morales, the minister of transportation. In addition, another prominent military official in the government is retired Brigade General Juan Escalona Reguera, the Attorney General of the Republic (Fiscal General de la Republica). Although not a member of the Council of Ministers, Escalona, as attorney general, serves as the country's top law enforcement official and sits on the Governing Council of the Supreme People's Tribunal, the Cuban state's top judicial body.

The MINFAR had been under Raul Castro's leadership since its organization in 1959. By the time of the shake-up in 1989, however, the Ministry of Interior had been led by three different individuals, who, although members of the guerrillas' Rebel Army, did not necessarily build careers within the FAR. Since 1989 the Ministry of Interior has been led by a FAR officer. In addition to the other ministerial posts now held by military officials, the ministries of communications and transportation have previously been headed by military officers, a record that suggests not only the military's expertise in logistics but also that the leadership likely considers these to be important resources to control in the event of a security crisis. Similarly, some analysts believed that Rosales's appointment as minister of the sugar industry signaled the military's expanded influence in domestic economic affairs.

It should also be noted, however, that Rosales's ministerial post has previously been held by a military man, most recently in the early 1980s. Escalona's appointment as attorney general, a post he has held during the 1990s, is somewhat unusual despite the general's legal background, as none of his predecessors were known to be military officials. It may be explained by his prominent role in 1989 as the lead prosecutor in the Ochoa affair.

The military also wields considerable influence within the top echelons of the PCC. Yet, throughout the 1990s, a consistent decline in the number of officers elected to the PCC's Central Committee took place. In 1981, following the PCC's Second Congress, officers, all with commissioned ranks, were elected to just over a quarter of the Committee's 225 seats. By contrast, after the Fourth Congress in 1991, their representation in the Central Committee had declined by half.

At the same time, the FAR has retained its dominance within the Political Bureau (Politburo), the PCC's top decision-making organ. After the 1997 Party Congress, although the overall size of the Politburo was cut by one member, an additional military officer was named, which brought to seven the number of officials in the twenty-four-member body. They included Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro, General of the Army Raul Castro, Army Corps General Colome Ibarra, and Division Generals Julio Casas Regueiro, Leopoldo Cintra Frias, Rosales del Toro, and the more recently appointed Ramon Espinosa Martin. Given the hierarchical nature of the Cuban regime, the military's continuing domination at this top level within the Party suggests that its declining representation on the Central Committee may not be a matter that greatly concerns the military institution and its leadership.

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