The Revolutionary Armed Forces
(Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias - FAR)
The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) include Ground Forces, Revolutionary Navy (MGR), Air and Air Defense Force (DAAFAR), Territorial Militia Troops (MTT), and Youth Labor Army (EJT). Numbering an estimated 49,000 active members in 2006, the FAR consisted of the 38,000-member Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario), the 3,000-member (including 500 marines) Revolutionary Navy (Marina de Guerra Revolucionaria—MGR), and the 8,000-member Antiaircraft Defense and Revolutionary Air Force (Defensa Antiaérea y Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria—DAAFAR). In addition, the FAR had 39,000 reservists.
The FAR's two main missions consist of providing for the island's external defense and the maintenance of internal order. These have remained the FAR's principal missions since the beginning of the Revolution. In 1976 the FAR's "internationalist" mission was added, which provided a basis for the military's deployment of troops to foreign combat. However, after the return home of the last "internationalist" forces in 1991, the sixteen-year "internationalist" mission was replaced with a new charge for the military to help the ailing economy. During the course of the 1990s, this newest mission led to the FAR's expanded activities in the economic sphere that extend from the military's role in agricultural production, to manufacturing, and even to providing services for the burgeoning tourism industry.
The FAR now has a primarily defensive and deterrent orientation. The army remains both well equipped and professional and is one of the strongest defensive military forces in Latin America, capable of offering strong resistance to an invading power. Traditionally a well-trained and professional force, the DAAFAR has been hobbled by a chronic lack of fuel and replacement parts and as a result has continued to decline in effectiveness. The MGR has been reduced to basically a coast guard.
The disembarkation of the 82 combatants of the Granma yacht in the South coast of the then Cuban province of Oriente, on 02 December 1956, marks the birth of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, the decisive protagonist of the war of national liberation that lead to the revolutionary victory of first of January 1959. Therefore in that date the Day of the Revolutionary Armed Forces is celebrated every year.
FAR underwent at least three major reorganizations, beginning in the mid-sixties, when they were given the profile of a professional military force, but too large in size and too involved in domestic economic production; another in the early seventies, to increase their professionalism and combative readiness. Overall troop strength was cut from more than 300,000 down to between 100,000 and 120,000 in the mid-1970s. And a third, in the late eighties and early nineties, led to downsize and adjust them to the conditions of the "special period" resulting from the disappearance of the Socialist community.
The 200,000-man Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR) enabled Castro to intervene overseas as he effectively demonstrated in Angola in 1975. Few will dispute the fact that Cuban forces were the decisive element in Angola, and since then the Cubans continued to improve their intervention capability. Additional transport aircraft, an impressive airborne-qualified force consisting of special troops, and a landing and assault brigade represent a particularly formidable capability for deployment and employment in the Caribbean Basin. Cuba is also receiving assault landing ships from the Soviet Union. The numerical superiority and combat experience of Cuba's armed forces give them a significant intervention capability and a decided edge over every nation in the Caribbean Basin except the United States.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces was one of the largest and most formidable militaries in the Latin American region if not in the entire developing world in the mid-1980s, when it still received substantial Soviet aid, but it declined greatly during the post-Soviet years of the 1990s. It remains the most powerful military force in the Caribbean area.
During the course of the 1990s, the FAR's manpower was reduced by more than half from what had been an estimated 180,500 active-duty troops in 1990. This reduction, with the most severe cuts having been carried out between 1993 and 1995, was the result of efforts to trim expenditures as well as adjust to a greatly reduced need for military manpower following the end of the "internationalist" mission. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the FAR was composed of 65,000 personnel in 2000. This number included an estimated 45,000 members of the Revolutionary Army, 10,000 of the DAAFAR, and 5,000 of the MGR.
In the late 1990s, the FAR was composed of three major armed services, as it had been for the past four decades: the Revolutionary Army (Ejercito Revolucionario), the aforementioned DAAFAR (Antiaircraft Defense and Revolutionary Air Force), and the Revolutionary Navy (Marina de Guerra Revolucionaria - MGR). Of these, the army, as the historical successor to the guerrillas' Rebel Army, is generally recognized as the main force; not until 1972 were separate commands established for the DAAFAR and the MGR. All three services are under the authority of the MINFAR's General Staff.
By the end of the twentieth century, the profile of the FAR had changed significantly from that of only a decade before. The change was brought about largely as a result of a change in the armed forces' missions: the abandonment of military "internationalism" and the embrace of a new domestic economic role; the loss of the extensive financial assistance and training support for the military that was once provided by the Soviet Union; and the continuation of the island's economic crisis, also a product of the loss of Soviet support. As a consequence of these changes, the FAR has had to make do with far fewer resources, both in terms of getting by on a reduced budget and with reduced manpower, yet all the while attempting to maintain itself as a professional military organization.
At the end of 2000, the chief of the MINFAR's General Staff continued to be Division General Alvaro Lopez Miera, also MINFAR vice minister. Lopez Miera assumed the General Staff post in late 1998 on succeeding Division General Ulises Rosales del Toro, who, at that time, had only recently been promoted from the rank of brigade general. As General Staff chief, Lopez Miera also serves as the commander of the Revolutionary Army. The DAAFAR was commanded by Division General Ruben Martinez Puentes, and the MGR, by Vice Admiral Pedro Miguel Perez Betancourt.
The regular military forces under the FAR's command, which include conscripts and activated reservists, are supported by yet other organizations that are assigned duties related to defense and the maintenance of internal order. Of these, the EJT (Youth Labor Army) and the Territorial Troops Militia (Milicias de Tropas Territoriales - MTT) are the most important. The members of the EJT are primarily engaged in agriculture and military construction projects. The MTT consists of civilian volunteers who are trained and led by the members of the regular military. A Civil Defense (Defensa Civil) force, also made up of civilians and led by military officers, rounds out the nation's defense organization.
All able-bodied males are inducted into the military at the age of 18 (higher education deferments are granted until age 28) and are obligated to attend annual refresher training until the age of 45. The new National Defense Law of 1995 reduced the period of compulsory military service from three years to two years for all services. Two-thirds of the armed forces, roughly 74,500 active duty personnel, are conscripts. The number of reserve troops also has been cut significantly, and most of the armed forces' equipment is unusable.
The Cuban military is divided into three major geographical commands: Western (headquartered in Havana), covering the capital and the provinces of Ciudad de La Habana and Pinar del Río; Central (headquartered in Matanzas), covering the provinces of Matanzas, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Sancti Spíritus; and Eastern (headquartered in Santiago de Cuba), covering the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, Granma, Holguín, Las Tunas, Camagüey, and Ciego de Ávila. Each of the three regional army commands and the Isle of Youth Autonomous Military Region has its own staff organization and reports to the Ministry of Defense.
The Cuban military has long maintained contact with the armed forces of developing world nations that are considered nonaligned or at least not ideologically hostile to the Castro regime. It was able to mitigate its post-Soviet isolation by developing closer ties with fellow military officers in Latin America and Europe, and its post–Cold War efforts to build contacts with foreign militaries were aided by Fidel Castro’s 1992 declaration that Cuba would no longer support revolutionary movements abroad.
With the deterioration of the Cuban economy in the 1990s, the Cuban military has become increasingly involved in running agricultural and other business enterprises, such as department stores and tourist resorts. As much as half of the armed forces is dedicated to agricultural activities, and there is said to be a lot of discontent among professional military officers who have been forced to work in the agricultural sector.
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