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Border Guard [Tropas Guarda Fronteras - TGF]

The Border Guard [Tropas Guarda Fronteras - TGF] is controlled by the Interior Ministry. The Border Guard is variously estimated to consists of between 4,000 and 6,500 troops. They are equipped with three Soviet-built Stenka-class vessels, some 18 smaller Soviet-built Zhuk-class inshore patrol boats, and and numerous small boats and craft. As many as 9 ZHUK and one STENKA inshore patrol craft have been withdrawn from service in recent years. The mission of the Border Guard is to control Cuba's frontiers, with emphasis on intercepting anti-Castro infiltrators and illegal emmigration. The Border Guard also counters drug trafficking and conducts search-and-rescue operations.

The Border Guard operates small coastal artillery garrisons in conjunction with the Cuban Army and Navy. The TGF forces conduct joint training exercises with DAAFAR and Navy coastal radar units. The TGF also cooperates with DAAFAR pilots and naval units in capturing Cubans who attempt to escape by boat. Some units, probably the major units directly subordinate to the territorial headquarters, have three-digit numbers (example: Unit 103, located at Esperanzas Port in Pinar del Rio Province). A TGF naval squadron may have a three-digit number (example: Squadron 040). Information on other means of identification is not available.

The TGF is composed of a cadre (officers and NCOs) of MININT personnel and draftees, supplemented by two civilian auxiliaries. The regular TGF personnel have military ranks while those serving their compulsory military service and the civilian auxiliaries do not. The TGF has its own uniform. Two civilian auxiliary groups, the Border Militia and the Sea Watcher Detachments, augment the TGF. Although neither is well armed nor well trained, both perform their primary mission, that of serving as the eyes and ears of the units they support. Information on the total strength of the two units is not available. Both have men and women, some over 50 years of age. Both organizations conduct joint patrols under the leadership of the regular TGF cadre. Their training includes rifle instruction and tactics of border patrols, both on land and in the sea.

Cuba has intensified its efforts to stop Cubans from leaving the island. Since capturing speedboats is difficult, and the Border Guard is not authorized to use force to stop smugglers at sea, Cuba has focused on stopping people on land before they embark.

The Border Guard Troops (Tropas Guardafronteras-TGF) are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior's Directorate of Border Guards, an entity that falls under the jurisdiction of the first vice minister. In 1999 the TGF had an estimated 6,500 personnel, as compared with an estimated 3,500 in the late 1980s. The TGF was originally established under the Ministry of Interior in March 1963 as the Department of Coastal and Port Vigilance. During the counterrevolutionary campaign of the 1960s known as the "fight against bandits," the members of this force engaged in the maritime-oriented "fight against pirates." Their principal mission remains coastal surveillance. Correspondingly, they are charged with helping ensure the security of the country's borders, both in preventing unauthorized incursions into Cuban territory and in preventing unauthorized departures by Cubans attempting to leave the island.

Although responsible primarily for patrolling Cuba's inland waterways, shores, and coastal waters, their members would be the first line of defense against any external invading force. Up until the significant weakening of Cuba's naval forces during the 1990s, it was expected that the TGF's forces would fall under the operational command of the MGR during a national security crisis. According to a 1996 report, the TGF is thought to have at least one antisubmarine unit. The TGF is equipped with twenty Soviet-era Zhuk patrol craft as well as various fast launches and utility boats. TGF forces also regularly use motorcycles for helping patrol the shoreline as well as canines for tracking.

At the time of the 1994 balsero crisis, the TGF was widely condemned for its role in the sinking of the tugboat 13 de marzo, which was carrying Cubans seeking to leave the island illegally. As a result of the TGF's ramming and fire-hosing of the vessel, forty-one of the boat's seventy-two passengers drowned, deaths that included women and twenty-three children. Because of the international outcry that the incident provoked, the leadership instructed the TGF to no longer use force in preventing such departures.

During the late 1990s, by contrast, no reports emerged that cited significant brutality on the part of the TGF. Rather, in helping Cuba comply with the terms of the May 1995 immigration accord signed with the United States, members of the TGF are routinely in contact with their counterparts in the United States Coast Guard. Their main role is to cooperate in the repatriation of Cuban emigres who are intercepted at sea by United States Coast Guard personnel.

Cuba's Ministry of the Interior is responsible for drug law enforcement. The Cuban Border Guard conducts maritime drug interdiction and maintains liaison with the US Coast Guard. Although Cuba is not a major transit country for cocaine destined to the United States, drug traffickers continue to use Cuban waters and airspace to evade US interdiction assets. Go-fast boats from Jamaica routinely travel just inside Cuban waters to avoid contact with US vessels. Traffickers also fly small aircraft transporting cocaine from clandestine airfields on the Guajira Peninsula in Colombia through Cuban air space. Cocaine bales are dropped in the general area of Guinchos Cay/Cay Lobos, in or near Cuban waters. The cocaine usually is retrieved by Bahamian go-fast boats that take the drugs to The Bahamas for further transshipment to the United States.

According to the Cuban government, the Cuban Border Guard interdicts ninety percent of the drugs that Cuban law enforcement authorities seize. The lead investigative law enforcement agency on drugs in Cuba is the Ministry of the Interior's National Anti-Drug Directorate (DNA). The DNA is comprised of a variety of law enforcement, intelligence, and youth affairs and education organizations. The US Coast Guard and Cuba's Border Guard have exchanged information on a case-by-case basis which, on certain occasions, has led to the apprehension of several boats and crews involved in drug trafficking. At Havana's Marina Hemingway, Border Guard officials detected on at least three occasions the presence of narcotics involving US-flagged vessels, two of which were ordered out of the country; the results were shared with US law enforcement officials.

Cuba's decaying infrastructure, declining operations budgets, and sporadic fuel shortages have hampered enforcement efforts. The island's 3500 nautical miles of coastline and more than 4000 sparsely populated islets and cays present an inviting environment for both air and maritime smuggling. In the past three years, the Government of Cuba (GOC) claims to have focused its attention on non-commercial boats and small aircraft, with a resulting increase in seizures and disrupted smuggling attempts.

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Page last modified: 05-04-2013 18:26:20 ZULU