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Cuba - Soviet Relations

The diplomatic relations between the USSR and Cuba date back to 1942. In 1952-1959, contacts were non-existent until Fidel Castro took over the country in 1960. Castro knew well that as he developed an anti-American revolution and insisted on remaining in power, a conflict with the United States would ensue. Only the protective umbrella of the Soviet Union could defend him against possible United States pressures or attack. No other power, Castro reasoned, could or would confront the United States over Cuba.

Ideologically, Fidel Castro was far from being a Marxist. Although strongly influenced by Falangist and fascist ideas while a high school student, and by Marxist ideas while at the University of Havana, Castro embraced none of these ideologies and was instead more a product of the Marti-Chibas tradition, although he broke with it in several fundamental respects.

Castro had been anti-United States since his student days, when he distributed anti-United States propaganda in Bogota, Colombia, in 1948. Because of his anti-North Americanism, and particularly his conviction that a major revolution with himself in absolute control could not be undertaken within Cuba's political framework and in harmony with the United States, in April 1961, when Castro proclaimed that the Revolution was socialist.

The measures taken by the United States to bring about the fall of the government of Fidel Castro had probably accelerated the radicalization of the Revolution and left Cuba with no option other than alignment with the Soviet Union.

After years of hostility, however, a number of interrelated factors had led the antagonists to a reconsideration of their positions. These included rapprochement between the United States and the major communist powers, improvement of relations between Cuba and other Western nations, the interest of United States-based corporations in reentering the Cuban market, and indications from public opinion surveys in the United States of strong support for the reestablishment of relations with Cuba.

From the summer of 1968 onward public pronouncements by leaders of both the Soviet and Cuban governments reflected increased cordiality. In April 1969 the Cuba-Soviet Friendship Society was established, and in June of that year a delegation from Cuba attended the Conference of Communist Parties in Moscow, thus identifying itself as pro-Soviet and anti-Peking. Since 1969 Soviet submarines have regularly visited Cuban ports for refueling, revictualing, repairs, and shore leave.

The explanation for Castro's retreat from militant defiance of the Soviet Union seems to lie in Cuba's deteriorating economic situation and the increasing urgency of negotiating more favorable agreements with the only communist nation rich enough, powerful enough, and ideologically inclined to assist the Caribbean government.

On Cuba's part the completion of the transformation to a socialist system and a heightened sense of security had generated an atmosphere propitious to seeking the economic and political advantages that might accrue from renewed relations with the United States. However, Cuban support for the victo- rious Marxist faction in Angola's civil war on the eve of a United States presidential election had given new life to old antagonisms, and by early 1976 relations had sharply deteriorated.

New and more favorable trade agreements were negotiated with the Soviet Union in 1969 and 1970. At that time, before the spectacular rise in world sugar prices, the Soviet Union was paying as much as three times the world price for Cuban sugar. Increasing numbers of Soviet technologists arrived to advise Cuban economic planners and administrators and to train personnel. Soviet weapons and military advisers began to flow back into the island at an accelerated rate. As the 1970s opened, Cuba's virtual isolation had thus been broken on one front. The further strengthening of ties with the Soviet Union and moves toward reestablishment of ties with other countries constituted the elements of the rapidly changing picture of Cuba's foreign relations during the first half of the 1970s.

On January 28, 1974, Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Cuba for an official visit, at which time Brezhnev reportedly urged Castro to reduce even further the country's support for revolution in other countries. Brezhnev's visit also provided the occasion for Castro's affirmation of close ties with the Soviet Union and confirmation of the widening breach between Cuba and the PRC. In his speech welcoming the Soviet leader, Castro referred obliquely to the Communist Chinese as "renegades of the revolutionary left who criticize the Soviet Union." More than a year after Brezhnev's visit a Soviet journalist published an extensive article on United States-Cuban relations, noting with approval the indications of "lessening tensions" between the two countries.

The strengthening of Cuba's ties with the Soviet Union in the 1970s by no means signaled the abandonment of aspirations for leadership among the nonaligned nations. Policies toward third world countries have varied from region to region as well as from country to country. While actively supporting some liberation movements in Africa and Asia, Cuban leaders approached the Western Hemisphere with greater caution.

The USSR and Cuba maintained lively contacts in political, economic, trade, scientific, cultural and military fields. The Soviet Union delivered a wide range of products and goods to Cuba, including oil and petroleum products, food, agricultural equipment, spares, military equipment, etc.

With technical assistance of the Soviet Union, Cuba got an electric power supply system, upgraded 156 sugar-mills and constructed nine new, revamped various communications and TV facilities, and built a nickel concentrate processing plant. The Cuban Armed Forces were almost entirely equipped with Soviet weapons and systems. In 1961-1991, the military equipment shipped to Cuba from the USSR was worth well above $15 bln.

As 1990 opened, the Soviet Union required that all bilateral trade be conducted at international market prices by whatever private or state enterprises engaged in pertinent activities. No longer would bilateral trade be mandated and carried out by the central government in Moscow.

Consistent with its general policy on nonservicing of any debts, Cuba refused to service its large accumulated international debt to Russian Federation. Cuba's overall debt to Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in 1989 estimated at nearly US$27 billion (using official exchange rate of 1 ruble=US$1.58) and at US$30.2 billion in 1990 (using official exchange rate of 1 ruble= US$1.78). Because value of ruble vis-a-vis United States dollar fell sharply in 1990s, so did value of Cuban debt in United States dollar terms. Outstanding debt grew from nearly US$8.8 billion in 1993 to about US$9.1 billion in 1994, US$10.5 billion in 1995, and US$l1.2 billion in 1998.

Tension between Cuba and the Soviet Union increased in 1989, and Cuba's economic slide began. Castro formally welcomed Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev during his official visit to Cuba in March, but Cuba's special relationship with the collapsing Soviet Union was already all but over.

During the Cold War, the international community and news media bestowed on Cuba and Castro greatly exaggerated global significance as minor global actors. But as Havana's onceclose ideological allies in the former Soviet bloc distanced themselves from the Castro government in 1989-90, this inflated aura of importance declined markedly.

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Page last modified: 07-02-2019 18:55:19 ZULU