U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: CUBA
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Republic of Cuba
Area: 110,860 sq. km. (44,200 sq. mi.); about the size of Pennsylvania.
Capital: Havana (pop. 2 million). Other major cities--Santiago de
Cuba, Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin, Guantanamo, Matanzas, Cienfuegos,
Pinar del Rio.
Terrain: Flat or gently rolling plains, hills, mountains up to 2,000
meters (6,000 ft.) in the southeast.
Climate: Tropical, moderated by trade winds; dry season (November-
April); rainy season (May-October).
Nationality: Noun--Cuban(s); adjective--Cuban.
Population: 10.8 million; 70% urban, 30% rural.
Avg. annual growth rate: 1%.
Ethnic groups: Spanish-African mixture.
Education: Compulsory--6 years.
Attendance--92% (ages 6-16).
Health: Infant mortality rate--12/1,000. Life expectancy--77 yrs. for
women, 74 yrs. for men.
Work force: 3.6 million. Government and services--30%. Industry--22%.
Agriculture--20%. Commerce--11%. Construction--11%. Transportation
Type: Communist state; current government assumed power January 1,
Independence: May 20, 1902.
Constitution: February 24, 1976.
Branches: Executive--president, council of ministers. Legislative--
National Assembly of People's Government. Judicial--People's Supreme
Political party: Cuban Communist Party (PCC).
Suffrage: All citizens age 16 and older, except those who have applied
for permanent emigration. National Assembly elections were held in
Administrative subdivisions: 14 provinces, including the city of
Havana, and one special municipality (Isle of Youth).
Gross social product (this economic measure, in which Cuba publishes its
statistics, is not convertible to GNP/GDP): $16 billion (1993).
Real annual growth rate: -10% (1993).
Per capita income (est.): $1,500.
Natural resources: Nickel, cobalt, iron ore, copper, manganese, salt,
Agriculture: Products--sugar, citrus and tropical fruits, tobacco,
coffee, rice, beans, meat, and vegetables.
Industry: Types--sugar and food processing, oil refining, cement,
electric power, light consumer and industrial products.
Trade: Exports--$1.5 billion: Sugar and its by-products, nickel,
seafood, citrus, tobacco products, rum. Major markets--Russia 27%,
Canada 9%, Ukraine 5%, China 5%, Spain 5%. Imports--$1.8 billion:
capital goods, industrial raw materials, food, petroleum, consumer
Major suppliers--Spain 11%, China 10%, France 7%, Venezuela 7%, Mexico
7%, Canada 6%.
Official exchange rate: 1 Cuban peso=U.S.$1 for trade. n
Cuba is a multi-racial society with a population of mainly Spanish and
African origins. The largest organized religion is the Roman Catholic
Church. Officially, Cuba has been an atheist state for most of the
Castro era. However, a constitutional amendment adopted on July 12,
1992, changed the nature of the Cuban state from atheist to secular,
enabling religious believers to belong to the Cuban Communist Party
Before the arrival of Columbus in 1492, Cuba was inhabited by three
groups--Siboneys, Guanahabibes, and Tainos--the last of which introduced
agriculture, including maize and tobacco, to the island. As Spain
developed its colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere, Havana became
an important commercial port. Settlers eventually moved inland and
established sugar cane and tobacco plantations. As the native Indian
population died out, African slaves were imported to work the
plantations. A 1774 census in Cuba recorded 96,000 whites, 31,000 free
blacks, and 44,000 slaves. Slavery was abolished in 1886.
Cuba was the last major Spanish colony to gain independence. In a
movement which began in 1850, Cuban planters financed and led several
expeditions against Spanish garrisons. In 1868, the 10-years' war for
independence began under the leadership of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes,
whom the Cubans consider to be the father of their country. Jose Marti,
Cuba's greatest national hero, initiated plans for a general uprising 24
years later. In 1895, Marti announced the Grito de Baire ("Call to arms
from Baire"), heralding the beginning of Cuba's final struggle for
independence. Shortly after, he died in battle.
The United States entered the conflict on the side of the
revolutionaries when the U.S.S. Maine, anchored in Havana Harbor to
provide protection for U.S. citizens, was sunk by an explosion of
unknown origin on February 15, 1898. On December 10, 1898, Spain signed
the Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish-American War and relinquishing
control of Cuba to the United States. The United States administered
the island for three years. Independence was proclaimed on May 20,
1902, although the United States retained the right to intervene to
preserve Cuban independence and stability under the Platt Amendment,
which established conditions mandated by Congress for the withdrawal of
U.S. troops from Cuba.
In 1934, the amendment was repealed in keeping with the Roosevelt
Administration's "Good Neighbor" policy. Later the same year, the
United States and Cuba reaffirmed by treaty the 1903 agreement which
leased the Guantanamo Bay naval base to the United States. This
agreement remains in force today and can only be terminated by mutual
agreement or abandonment by the United States.
Cubans elected Gen. Gerardo Machado as President in 1924, but he
forcibly extended his rule until a popular uprising deposed him in 1933.
Fulgencio Batista, a sergeant in the army, led the revolt and
established himself as Cuba's dominant leader for more than 25 years.
He ruled through a series of presidents and was himself elected in 1940
for four years. In March 1952, shortly before regularly scheduled
elections, Batista seized the presidency in a bloodless coup.
On July 26, 1953, an armed opposition group led by Fidel Castro attacked
the Moncada army barracks at Santiago de Cuba. The attack was
unsuccessful, and many, including Castro, were captured and imprisoned.
Castro, released by Batista under a May 1955 amnesty, went into exile in
Mexico, where he formed a revolutionary group, the "26th of July
On December 2, 1956, Castro and 81 of his followers landed in eastern
Cuba aboard the yacht Granma. All but 12 were soon captured, killed, or
dispersed. From this nucleus, Castro's forces eventually grew to
several thousand. While other groups also actively opposed Batista,
Castro's "26th of July" forces became predominant when Batista fled on
January 1, 1959. Castro's assumption of power was acclaimed in Cuba and
abroad because he seemed to embody the hopes of most Cubans for a return
to democratic government and an end to graft and corruption.
Within months, however, Castro moved to consolidate his power and to set
up an authoritarian government. Many leaders of the opposition to
Batista were executed or sentenced to lengthy prison terms for opposing
Castro's policies. Moderates were forced out of the government, and
hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.
During an April 1959 visit to Washington, DC, Castro addressed concerns
about a reported leftist tilt to his regime by saying, "We are against
all kinds of dictators, whether of a man, or a country, or a class, or
an oligarchy, or by the military. That is why we are against
On December 2, 1961, Castro publicly declared himself a Marxist-
Leninist. Representative democracy was abolished, effective freedom of
expression ended, and all opposition political activity was soon
Ties between Cuba and the Soviet Union were close from 1960 until
perestroika and the subsequent demise of the U.S.S.R. Cuba received
critical economic and military assistance, which kept its economy afloat
and enabled it to maintain a disproportionately large military
establishment. However, as the former U.S.S.R.'s economy experienced
increasing problems, its reliability as a trade and aid partner for Cuba
Cuban-Soviet ties led to a direct confrontation between the United
States and the Soviet Union in 1962 over the installation of nuclear-
equipped missiles in Cuba, resolved only when the U.S.S.R. agreed to
withdraw the missiles and other offensive weapons. In late 1970, the
possibility that the Soviet Union would establish submarine bases in
Cuba became an issue. However, they were never established. In 1971,
President Nixon affirmed the existence of an understanding between the
United States and the U.S.S.R. that the Soviet Union would not install
any offensive weapons systems in Cuba nor operate such systems from
there, including sea-based systems.
Cuba's special relationship with the Soviet Union ended with the
dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In April 1989, then-U.S.S.R.
President Gorbachev spoke out against the "export of revolution." With
the end of the Cold War, Russia reduced military forces worldwide.
Former Soviet military personnel in Cuba, numbering around 15,000 in
1990, were withdrawn by 1993. Russia still maintains a signal
intelligence-gathering facility, the largest of the former U.S.S.R., at
Lourdes. It is staffed by 2,100 technicians and monitors U.S. civilian
and military communications.
Cuba is a totalitarian state dominated by Fidel Castro, who is president
of the council of state and the council of ministers, First Secretary of
the Communist Party (PCC), and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Castro exercises control over nearly all aspects of Cuban life through a
network of directorates ultimately responsible to him through the Cuban
From January 1959 until December 1976, Castro ruled by decree. The 1976
constitution, extensively revised in July 1992, provides for a system of
government in which the PCC is "the highest leading force of the society
and state." In addition to Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro,
the center of party power is the 24-member politburo. There are 205
members in the central committee.
Executive and administrative power is vested in the council of
ministers; its president since 1959, Fidel Castro, is head of
government. There are 10 other vice presidents on the council of
ministers. Legislative authority rests with the National Assembly of
People's Government, which meets for about five days per year. When the
assembly is not in session, it is represented by the council of state,
of which Fidel Castro is the president with Raul Castro as first vice
The PCC is Cuba's only legal political party. It monopolizes all
government positions, including judicial offices. All pre-1959
political parties and political organizations have been abolished.
Though not a formal requirement, party membership is a de facto
prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional
advancement in most areas, although non-party members have been elected
to the National Assembly. Cuba's trade unions, women's federation, and
youth and other mass organizations are controlled by the government and
party. These organizations attempt to extend Cuban Government and PCC
control over each citizen's daily activities at home, work, and school.
The Cuban Communist Party is composed of the pre-revolution communist
party which, along with two other political groups supporting the
revolution, was absorbed into a new political entity formed by Castro in
July 1961. Further refinements resulted in the emergence in late 1965
of the PCC. The party's politburo and central committee together
include most of the country's military and civilian leaders.
In July 1992, the National Assembly convened for three days to amend the
1976 constitution. Changes included abolishing references to the former
Soviet bloc; outlawing discrimination for religious beliefs; permitting
foreign investment; giving Fidel Castro new emergency powers; and
allowing direct elections to the National Assembly, although candidates
will still be approved by quasi-governmental bodies, and campaigns will
not be allowed.
Cubans do not possess equal protection under the law, the right to
choose freely government representatives, freedom of expression, freedom
of peaceful assembly and association, or freedom to travel to and from
Cuba without restriction. The government and party control all
electronic and print media.
Cuba has no independent judiciary. Although the constitution specifies
that the courts shall be "a system of state organs independent of all
others," it explicitly subordinates the judiciary to the National
Assembly and, thus, to the council of state. The People's Supreme Court
is the highest judicial body. Due process safeguards can be
circumvented constitutionally, and defense attorneys face severe
disadvantages under the Cuban judicial system.
The ministry of interior ensures political and social conformity as well
as internal security: It operates border and police forces,
orchestrates public demonstrations, investigates evidence of non-
conformity, regulates migration, and maintains pervasive vigilance
through a network of informers and 80,000 block committees (Committees
for the Defense of the Revolution--CDR).
In practice, the top leadership determines the degree to which civil
liberties are exercised. In March 1994, member states of the UN Human
Rights Commission (UNHRC) voted 24-9 (with 20 abstentions) to approve a
resolution condemning Cuba's systematic violation of human rights and
its failure to cooperate with the Secretary General's special
rapporteur. Cuba refused to cooperate with several UNHRC resolutions
creating special envoys to investigate Cuba's human rights situation.
Human rights activists continue to be the subject of arbitrary arrest,
court procedures that violate even Cuban constitutional guarantees, and
lengthy prison sentences based on the flimsiest of evidence.
Under Castro, Cuba has become one of the most highly militarized
societies in the world. In Latin America, only Brazil, with a
population more than 13 times that of Cuba, has a larger military. In
1958, in the middle of an insurrection, Cuba's armed forces numbered
46,000. Today, the Revolutionary Armed Forces contain about 270,000
active duty and ready reserves--235,000 army, 17,000 air force/air
defense, and 13,500 navy, plus some military units under the ministry of
interior. More than 1 million Cubans belong to the country's two
paramilitary organizations, the territorial militia troops and the youth
Cuba's military establishment is considered to be one of the most modern
in the region. From 1975 until the late 1980s, massive Soviet military
assistance enabled Cuba to upgrade its military capabilities and project
power abroad. The tonnage of Soviet military deliveries to Cuba
throughout most of the 1980s exceeded deliveries in any year since the
military build-up during the 1962 missile crisis. In 1990, Cuba's air
force, with about 150 Soviet-supplied fighters, including advanced MiG-
23 Floggers and MiG-29 Fulcrums, was probably the best equipped in Latin
America. The Cuban army has more than 1,000 Soviet-supplied T-62 and T-
54/55 main battle tanks.
Cuban military power has been sharply reduced by the loss of the special
relationship between the former Soviet Union and Cuba. Lack of fuel has
resulted in reduced training and military exercises. Lack of spare
parts and new materiel has resulted in the mothballing of planes, tanks,
and other military equipment. Due to the end of the Cold War, Cuban
forces are no longer used as a surrogate for Soviet geopolitical
Principal Government Officials
President, Council of State and Council of Ministers; First Secretary of
the Communist Party; and Commander in Chief--Fidel Castro
First Vice President, Council of State and Council of Ministers; Second
Secretary of the Communist Party; General of the Army and Minister of
Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR)--Raul Castro
Minister of Foreign Relations--Roberto Robaina
Ambassador to the United Nations--Fernando Remirez de Estenoz Barciela
Since the late 18th century, the Cuban economy has been dominated by
sugar production and has prospered or suffered due to fluctuations in
sugar prices. The Castro regime has been unable to break that pattern,
and sugar accounts for more than half of export earnings. Cuba's famous
tobacco provides a second source of export earnings, but it is also
subject to market forces. Cuba has never diversified from its basic
single-crop economy despite some development of natural resources such
as nickel, iron ore, copper, and timber.
For more than 30 years, the defects in Cuba's economy and the effects of
the economic embargo imposed by the United States in 1962 were at least
partially offset by heavy subsidies from the former Soviet Union and
favorable trade relationships with the countries of the former Soviet
bloc. But those supports ended with the collapse of the Soviet bloc in
the late 1980s and with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Combined with Cuba's failure to undertake needed reforms, this produced
an unprecedented economic crisis. Its economy is estimated to have
declined by 40% from 1989 through 1993.
The economic prospects are not good, largely because of the Castro
regime's decision to maintain the state's highly centralized control
over economic decisionmaking, the lack of inputs for industry, and the
"Special Period in Peacetime." This was created in 1990 to strictly
ration food, fuel, and electricity. It gives priority to domestic food
production, development of tourism, and biotechnology production.
Responsibility for running the economy and for economic policy rests
with the council of state. Basic public services are provided by the
state, either free of charge or for minimal fees. Access to education
generally is adequate, but urban housing and medical care have
deteriorated, as have communications and transportation. The central
planning board, working closely with the Banco Nacional de Cuba, directs
nearly all economic activity and sets prices and targets for production,
imports, and exports.
The state owns and operates most of Cuba's farms and all industrial
enterprises. State farms occupy about 70% of farmland; peasant
cooperatives for about 20%; and private farms about 10%. Cuba's
manufacturing sector emphasizes import substitution and provision of
basic industrial materials. In recent years, many Cuban firms have
closed or reduced production because of shortages of foreign exchange
and limited access to spare parts and imported components.
Castro's efforts to diversify the economy and reduce Cuba's dependence
on sugar exports in the country's international trade have been
unsuccessful. Sugar continues to account for about 55% of export
earnings, although sugar production and exports have declined over the
past five years. Cuba also specializes in the production of sugar by-
products. Tobacco and tobacco products traditionally have been Cuba's
second-largest agricultural export. Other important crops include
coffee and citrus.
Light industry, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology are
promoted. Cuba's light industrial sector, which grew in the 1970s and
1980s, has declined because of a lack of spare parts and components.
Hard hit are the electrical power, food processing, cigar, chemical,
petroleum, textile, and metallurgy industries. Cuba has invested large
sums in developing an advanced biotechnology industry. While it has had
some success, its earnings have not reached levels hoped for by the
Cuba has three large oil refineries--two expropriated from U.S. firms
and a recently completed refinery at Cienfuegos, built with Soviet
technology and capital. The two older refineries are operating well
below capacity, while the one at Cienfuegos has never opened. A Mexican
company entered into a joint partnership with the Cuban Government to
refurbish and operate the refinery at Cienfuegos.
Traditionally, Cuba's mining sector has accounted for a significant part
of export earnings. The country's nickel reserves are the fourth-
largest in the world. The ore is processed on the island in two
formerly U.S.-owned plants at Nicaro and Moa Bay. Plants are also
located at Punta Gorda and Las Camariocas.
Much of Cuba's transportation network was developed in pre-revolutionary
Cuba to serve the sugar industry. The road network exceeds 30,000
kilometers (19,000 mi.), of which about half is paved. The island has a
14,640 kilometer (5,600 mi.) railway system. Buses are found throughout
urban areas but are notoriously crowded and in disrepair. Public
transport has been crippled by the lack of fuel. A significant portion
of rural public transport is provided by horse and buggy, while bicycles
largely have replaced private vehicles in urban areas. Havana is the
most important of the country's 11 major ports. The national airline,
Cubana de Aviacion, serves major cities in Cuba and a shrinking number
of foreign cities in Europe and Latin America. Aero-Caribbean, a
charter company formed in 1982, provides unscheduled passenger and cargo
service to the Caribbean Basin and Europe.
During the 1980s, more than 80% of Cuba's external trade was with the
former Soviet bloc, of which the Soviet share normally was more than
70%. The Soviet Union alone imported 80% of all Cuban sugar and 40% of
all Cuban citrus. Currently, Cuban trade with Russia is only a fraction
of its trade with the former Soviet Union, which had subsidized Cuban
oil imports. Oil imports have dropped from 13 million tons (from the
former Soviet Union) in 1989 to about 3 million tons in 1993 from
Russia. Cuba imported about 5 million tons from all sources in 1993.
An oil-for-sugar barter agreement with Russia was completed in June
1992. Russia has ended all trade subsidies to Cuba.
In November 1992, Cuba and Russia announced that agreements for trade,
scientific, and maritime relations had been signed. Among the
cooperative programs discussed was how to continue financing and
construction of the Juragua, Cuba, nuclear power plant, begun in 1983
with the former Soviet Union. Completion of the power plant is a Cuban
priority, but construction lagged during the 1980s and fell further
behind schedule due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1992,
Cuba suspended work because it could not afford the cost of Russian
technical assistance. However, the November 1992 agreement between the
two states would result in completion of the plant if a financier can be
found for the nuclear safety and control equipment.
Cuba is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),
and, although Cuba has announced its intent to sign the Treaty of
Tlatelolco--a Latin American regional non-proliferation regime--it is
not yet a signatory. Cuba is subject to International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) safeguards normally applied to non-NPT parties. Cuba has
entered into an agreement with the IAEA to apply safeguards to
individual facilities, including the Juragua power plant. The reactors
that would be installed are of the VVER-400 type, an advanced model of
the Soviet pressurized water reactor. They are not the same as those
installed at Chernobyl. In addition, the Cuban reactors are housed in a
reinforced concrete containment dome.
With the loss of trade and aid from the former Soviet bloc, Cuba has
attempted to attract foreign investment and Western buyers for its sugar
and nickel, as well as for its biotech products. Except in tourism,
Cuba has had limited success in attracting investors because of the
deterioration of the economy, its unpaid debt to Western countries, and
the lack of clear titles to expropriated property. In 1993, tourism
generated $530 million, principally from European and Canadian tourists.
Tourism has increased more than 20% annually for the last several
years. Since July 1986, Cuba has not serviced its roughly $7-billion
debt owed to Western, mainly governmental, creditors. Consequently,
Cuba has not received rescheduling either from the Paris Club (an
association of international governmental lenders) or from private
institutions. Cuba is not servicing its debts to Russia--perhaps as
high as $20 billion--or to former Soviet bloc countries.
In April 1986, Castro called for "rectification of errors and negative
tendencies" and mandated the observance of strict Marxist orthodoxy in
running the economy. "Rectification" emphasizes centralized direction
over market forces and moral and ideological, as opposed to material,
incentives to spur productivity. It calls upon Cubans to make greater
sacrifices to further the collective good.
In 1986, as a part of the "rectification" effort, the government closed
farmers' markets through which some people had been able to sell produce
grown on their own garden plots at uncontrolled prices since 1980. It
also sought to eliminate many bonuses and overtime pay for workers. The
Castro Government encourages voluntary labor, in the form of "micro-
brigades" and "contingents," especially in the construction sector, and
has tried to reduce corruption and black marketeering.
In October 1990, Castro announced that Cuba had entered a "special
period in time of peace" and that the economy would function as if in
time of war until the crisis had passed. Cubans are feeling the effects
of the end of Havana's special relationship with Moscow. Most goods are
now rationed, and many previously imported from the Soviet Union simply
have disappeared. Total Cuban imports in 1993 were less than 25% of the
1989 total. Economic production may have decreased by more than 40%
from 1989 to 1993.
Underemployment, a chronic problem, has worsened with the idling of
thousands of industrial workers whose jobs depended on inputs from
abroad. Labor has been shifted to agriculture to compensate for fuel
and machinery shortages affecting food and production. Education and
medical care generally are accessible, although both have been affected
by nationwide austerity. Many pharmaceutical products are in short
supply or unavailable. Urban housing, as well as transportation and
communications services, remain seriously inadequate. Havana's bus
system, for example, has reduced service by more than 40% since 1989.
In response to deteriorating economic conditions, the Cuban Government
enacted several limited economic reforms in 1993, including the
legalization of foreign currency holdings and the opening to self-
employment in selected service occupations. However, the Cuban
Government subsequently placed significant restrictions on self-
employment. In 1994, a number of other measures were introduced,
including the return of free farmers' markets and the establishment of
taxes on some earnings.
Cuba's once-ambitious foreign policy has been scaled back and redirected
as a result of economic hardship and the end of the East-West conflict.
Cuba aims to find new sources of trade, aid, and foreign investment, and
to promote opposition to U.S. policy toward Cuba, especially the trade
embargo and the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act. Cuba has relations with
nearly 140 countries and has civilian assistance workers--principally
medical--in more than 20 nations.
Cuba has largely abandoned its support for revolutionary movements.
When it first came to power, the Castro Government supported the spread
of revolution by aiming to reproduce throughout Latin America its rural-
based guerrilla warfare experience. In 1959, Cuba aided armed
expeditions against Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. During
the 1960s, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia all faced
serious Cuban-backed attempts to develop guerrilla insurgencies. These
movements failed to attract popular support. The most conspicuous
failure occurred in 1967. Castro had sent Che Guevara--a charismatic
revolutionary hero from Argentina and symbol of Cuban efforts to spread
the revolution throughout Latin America--to lead an insurgency in
Bolivia. Guevara's efforts were opposed by both the peasantry and the
Bolivian Communist Party. Guevara was killed, and the insurgency
Cuba's support for Latin revolutionaries, along with the openly Marxist-
Leninist character of its government and its alignment with the
U.S.S.R., contributed to its isolation in the hemisphere. In January
1962, the Organization of American States (OAS) excluded Cuba from
active participation. Two years later, OAS foreign ministers resolved
that member nations should have no diplomatic and consular relations
with Cuba and should suspend all trade and sea transportation.
In the late 1960s, Cuba de-emphasized its policy of supporting
revolutions abroad and began to pursue normal government-to-government
relations with other Latin American nations. Covert assistance to some
guerrilla groups continued, however, well into the 1980s. By the mid-
1970s, Cuba had re-established diplomatic relations with a number of
countries in the region. In 1975, the OAS lifted comprehensive
sanctions and deferred to individual member states the option of
diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Cuba expanded its military presence
abroad--deployments reached 50,000 troops in Angola, 24,000 in Ethiopia,
1,500 in Nicaragua, and hundreds more elsewhere. In Angola, Cuban
troops, supported logistically by the U.S.S.R., backed the Popular
Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), one of the movements
competing for power after Portugal granted Angola its independence.
Cuban forces played a key role in Ethiopia's war in the Ogaden region
against Somalia, 1977-78, and remained there in substantial numbers as a
garrison force for a decade. Cubans served in a non-combat advisory
role in Mozambique and the Congo. Cuba also used the Congo as a
logistical support center for Cuba's Angola mission.
In the late 1980s, Cuba began to pull back militarily. Cuba
unilaterally removed its forces from Ethiopia; met the timetable of the
1988 Angola-Namibia accords by completing the withdrawal of its forces
from Angola before July 1991; and ended military assistance to Nicaragua
following the Sandinistas' 1990 electoral defeat. In January 1992,
following the peace agreement in El Salvador, Castro stated that Cuban
support for insurgents was a thing of the past.
After Castro came to power, bilateral relations deteriorated sharply,
primarily because of the new regime's imposition of a repressive
dictatorship, its uncompensated nationalization of American property
valued at about $1.8 billion in 1962, and its support for violent
subversive groups. The United States broke diplomatic relations on
January 3, 1961, after the Cuban Government demanded that the U.S.
embassy in Havana be reduced to a skeleton staff. In 1962, the United
States imposed a comprehensive economic embargo against Cuba. Tensions
between the two governments peaked during the abortive "Bay of Pigs"
invasion by anti-Castro Cubans supported by the United States in April
1961 and the October 1962 missile crisis.
Following Cuba's de-emphasis of the export of revolution in the 1970s,
the United States did not oppose the OAS decision to make discretionary
the application of sanctions against Cuba and began to discuss
normalization of relations with Cuba. Talks began but were halted when
Cuba launched a large-scale intervention in Angola. Subsequent efforts
undertaken to improve relations led to the establishment of interests
sections in the two capitals on September 1, 1977. Currently, the U.S.
interests section in Havana and the Cuban interests section in
Washington, DC, are under the protection of the Swiss embassy.
New differences in the late 1970s and early 1980s--Cuba's failure to
withdraw troops from Angola, intervention in Ethiopia, increasing
subversion in the Caribbean Basin and Central America, the delivery of
sophisticated Soviet weaponry, and the Cuban Government's deliberate
efforts to violate U.S. sovereignty and immigration laws through a mass
exodus of Cubans in 1980 known as the "Mariel boatlift"--eroded the
possibility of improvement in bilateral relations.
Quiet efforts to explore the prospects for improving relations were
initiated by the United States in 1981-82; however, the Cuban Government
refused to alter its conduct with regard to U.S. concerns about Cuba's
support for violent political change and its close political and
military cooperation with the Soviet Union. The liberation of Grenada
by the United States and regional allies in 1983 and the expulsion of
Cuban forces based there was a setback for Cuba's plans to expand its
regional sphere of influence.
In 1984, the United States and Cuba negotiated an agreement to normalize
immigration and return to Cuba the "excludables" (criminals or insane
persons who, under U.S. law, are not allowed to reside in the United
States) who had arrived during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Cuba suspended
this agreement in May 1985 following the U.S. initiation of the Radio
Marti by the Voice of America (VOA), which broadcasts news to Cuba. The
1984 agreement, reinstated in November 1987, allowed normal migration to
occur between the two countries. In March 1990, VOA began transmitting
TV Marti to Cuba. Since its inception, Cuba has jammed TV Marti and
blocked Radio Marti on the AM band. Radio Marti on short wave has a
With the peace settlement in El Salvador and establishment of democracy
in Nicaragua, U.S. concerns focused on Cuban resistance to democratic
reforms and its denial of human rights--two major obstacles to improved
bilateral relations. In May 1991, President Bush said that if Cuba held
free and fair elections under international supervision, respected human
rights, and stopped subverting its neighbors, U.S.-Cuban relations could
improve significantly. In October 1992, the Cuban Democracy Act set
forth U.S. policy toward a free and democratic Cuba. President Clinton
has repeatedly expressed his support for the Cuban Democracy Act.
Its principal provisions ban most U.S. subsidiary trade with Cuba and
exclude any vessel which stops in Cuba from entering U.S. ports for 180
days. It also provides for humanitarian donations to non-governmental
organizations in Cuba; since its passage, more than $50 million worth of
humanitarian goods have been licensed for export to Cuba. Improved
telecommunications are also called for. In October, the U.S. Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) approved applications of five U.S.
carriers to provide direct telecommunications service between the U.S.
and Cuba. A sixth company with previously issued FCC licenses also
concluded an operating agreement with the Cuban Government and plans to
Despite existing tensions, the United States continues to discuss areas
of mutual concern, such as immigration, with the Government of Cuba.
The two governments concluded a migration agreement on September 9 that
reflected their mutual interest in normalizing migration procedures and
included measures to ensure that migration between the two countries is
safe, legal, and orderly.
Havana: U.S. Interests Section, Calzada between L and M, Vedado (tel.
33-3551 through 33-3559).
Principal Officer--Joseph G. Sullivan
Deputy Principal Officer--Vincent Mayer
Public Affairs Adviser--Gene Bigler
Washington, DC: Cuban Interests Section, 2630 16th Street, NW,
Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-797-8518).
Principal Officer--Alfonso Fraga Perez
Deputy Principal Officer--Miguel Nunez.
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