G. Alexander Crowther *

August 2007

Research Professor

National Security Studies

Strategic Studies Institute

U.S. Army War College


Armando Mastrapa

Jose F. Sanchez

Dept de Investigaciones

La Nueva Cuba

Agosto 23, 2007






The United States, particularly the Army, has a long

history of involvement with Cuba. This history has included

the Spanish-American War of 1898, military interventions

in 1906 and 1912, the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, the 1962

Missile Crisis, counterinsurgency, and low intensity warfare

in Latin America and Africa against Cuban supported

guerrilla movements.  


During the Cold War, Fidel Castro’s communist

takeover on January 1, 1959, heightened U.S. concerns and

highlighted the threat Cuba posed as a strategic ally of the

Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s

raised hopes for an end to the communist regime in Cuba.

However, after almost 5 decades of authoritarian rule, the

Cuban dictator remains firmly in power. On July 31, 2006,

his brother, Raul Castro, assumed provisional presidential

power after an official announcement that Fidel was ill and

would undergo surgery.  

This monograph is designed to contribute to the process

of conceptualizing a post-Castro future for the Cuban armed

forces. They will need to be integrated into the family of

Western Hemisphere militaries, supporting democracy,

subordinate to elected civilian leaders, and respectful of

human rights. This integration will require mission and

structure changes. Colonel Alex Crowther draws attention

to the need to engage the Cuban military and proposes a

way ahead for the military, as well as for the rest of the


The Strategic Studies Institute is pleased to offer this

report as part of its ongoing analytical program in support of

Army participation in national security policy formulation

and implementation.



Strategic Studies Institute






This monograph serves multiple purposes, the

most important of which is to contribute to the

thought process of dealing with the Fuerzas Armadas

Revolucionarias of Cuba (FAR). Change is inevitable

in Cuba. Both Fidel Castro and his brother Raul are

aging. Their passing will trigger either a succession

or a transition. With that change, Cuba’s security

requirements will change as well. This monograph

analyzes security requirements that the new Cuba will

face and proposes what missions and structure the

Cuban security forces might have after a transition.

The overall long-range U.S. goal is a stable,

democratic Cuba which is integrated into the global

market economy. The U.S. Government Commission

for Assistance to a Free Cuba says that if a Cuban

government asks for assistance, the United States

could be made available “in preparing the Cuban

military forces to adjust to an appropriate role in a


The Cuban military will have to change with the

times, altering its focus from the territorial defense of

Cuba and internal security to missions that are consonant

with modern circum-Caribbean militaries: control

of air- and sea-space against transnational criminals.

The military will need a new structure for these missions,

less focused on insurgency in defense of the island

and more focused on a common operating picture

and integration with the efforts of Cuba’s neighbors.

This monograph proposes a way ahead in preparing

Cuban forces for the future, integrating them into the

Western Hemisphere community of militaries, and

ensuring their support for democracy, subordination

to elected officials, and respect for human rights. It 

also suggests constructive engagement of the Cuban

military with the international community. This change

is inevitable, and can be relatively painless or long and

difficult. Both the Cuban military and the international

community have to decide which way they want it to







The transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his

brother, Raul, in August 2006 prompted the Economist

to declare “the beginning of the end of the Castro

era.”1 Although no one knows when Fidel will finally

pass on the reins of power, the time is approaching.

Another unknown is the type of handoff. Fidel could

be succeeded by another communist regime, or there

could be a transition to a different type of regime. The

worst case scenario would find Cuba descending into

chaos if no one could replicate Fidel’s ability to hold

Cuba together.


This monograph posits a change to a different

type of government, and assumes that a transition

government is in place and has asked for assistance

from the United States, and that Cuba is ready to tackle

the difficult question of where the follow-on force to

the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR, the Cuban

armed forces) should go. A similar type communist

regime would probably not seek to change its military

as it would be a major pillar of the regime. Therefore,

only a post-transition regime would desire to modify

the Cuban military. When the Cuban government is

ready for assistance from the United States, America

needs to be prepared to provide it. This monograph

offers a template for that assistance.


The Cuban military is currently designed and

postured for two major missions: the defense of Cuba

against U.S. aggression and the provision of internal

security. A post-transition government would not 

be challenged by the first and should not require the

military to provide internal security, so the military

needs to be redesigned and reoriented.


This monograph begins with a discussion of

U.S. policy towards Cuba. Unlike most countries in

the world, in the case of Cuba, a web of executive

policies and laws produced by the legislative branch

significantly limits flexibility in dealing with both the

Cuban government and the FAR. Any proposal for

dealing with any government organization within

Cuba must start with an analysis of U.S. policy because

of these limitations.

The author next examines the FAR, including both

its history and its current state. As with everything in

Cuba, the post-Cold War era has had a huge impact on

the FAR. A current snapshot of the FAR is therefore

important. From there, the author analyzes the threats

that Cuba will probably face. He examines historical

threats to Cuba and current threats to the Caribbean,

and also considers modern transnational threats. Based

on these threats, a capabilities-based approach provides

a template for a post-Castro Cuban regime. The author

proposes a structure for a post-transition force based

on the capabilities that a Cuban force would require. 


Additionally, the author examines Western

Hemisphere states, with an emphasis on the sizes

and types of militaries in countries that have similar

territory, size, and length of coastline. This analysis

provides a benchmark that may be used to develop a

rough estimate of what an appropriate size might be

for a Cuban military. 

The Nicaraguan experience of the 1990s is the only

Western Hemisphere example of a Soviet/Cuban-style

military changing after the adoption of a democratic

regime. As such, an analysis of the Nicaraguan case will

provide some lessons learned and some perspectives

to consider prior to any recommendations.

The author concludes with recommendations on

“how to get there,” what Cuban security forces should

look like, a way ahead for influencing the change from

the current structure to a 21st century Cuban security

system, and precautionary measures for handling a

potentially volatile situation. Mishandling security

issues transitioning Cuba could have significant

negative effects upon the United States, so preparation

is important.

Several challenges exist. First, the Cuban military

is a founding part of the state and will not give up

power easily. Second, the Cuban military is in control

of a major portion of the Cuban economy, and it will

be very difficult to convince it to cede this position.

Third, many of the elites have come from the military,

and they will be strongly motivated to maintain an

interventionist stance for the military. These elites

must be convinced that a more subordinate role is

appropriate. Fourth, the military could form a power

base from which opposition elements could challenge

a post-transition government.



The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the

Department of State has articulated U.S. goals for the

Western Hemisphere. They include strengthening

an Inter-American community formed by economic

partners that are democratic, stable, and prosperous;

friendly neighbors that help secure the region against

terrorism and illegal drugs; and nations that work

together in the world to advance shared political and

economic values.

The State Department has also articulated goals for

Cuba. According to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, the

United States:

would like to see a Cuba that could reintegrate itself

into the inter-American community, that could return to

the Organization of American States, that could become

part of the Inter-American Development Bank and could

play a useful role in all the other institutions of the Inter-

American system. But in order for that to happen, Cuba

must have a transition to democracy because ultimately

a democracy is the fundamental requirement to be a

member of the OAS.


The latest legislation that affects U.S. Cuban policy

is the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity or

Libertad Act of 1995, also known as the Helms-Burton

Act. The Libertad Act has two sections that deal with

the Cuban military: Section 201 states that the United

States will “assist a transition government in Cuba

and a democratically elected government in Cuba to

prepare the Cuban military forces for an appropriate

role in a democracy.”4 Section 202 states that the

United States will ensure that Military Adjustment

Assistance provided “to a transition government in

Cuba and to a democratically elected government in

Cuba shall also include assistance in preparing the

Cuban military forces to adjust to an appropriate role

in a democracy.”5

 Specific U.S. goals in Cuba have also been articulated

by the Commission to Assist a Free Cuba (CAFC). The

commission’s original report of May 6, 2004,6 provided

some policy guidance on the FAR. It articulated the

importance of dealing with the FAR by saying that

“the military’s role—if any—in a democratic Cuba will

likely be a key issue” and recommended the long-term

 goal of eliminating conscription and transitioning the

FAR to an all-volunteer force. The report also pointed

out that the “Cuban security forces are profoundly

politicized and serve as agents of repression” and that

the “United States would recommend the dissolution

of the apparatus of political repression, including the

General Directorate for State Security.” CAFC I also

recommends removing the police functions from the


One of the most contentious roles that the FAR

plays is within the economy. CAFC I goes into great

detail on this subject, and recommends that the FAR

be removed from the economic sector. This policy is in

keeping with long-term U.S. interests in the hemisphere,

where U.S. organizations have long sought to remove

militaries from this sphere.

 In its second report (July 2006) called CAFC II,

the Commission said that “support for professional,

institutional military” would be important to, 

promote and guarantee the professionalism, dignity,

and political neutrality of their [Cuba’s] armed forces.

A Cuban transition government will likely rely on this

institution to perform many tasks during and after

the transition period. The challenge for the transition

government will be to harness the military’s energies

and direct it [sic] in ways that contribute to a successful

transition period.7 

CAFC II recommends that “Cubans can draw from

those experiences by asking former communist countries

to provide defense and security experts to help as

the Cuban military prepares to serve as a professional

force under the authority of a democratically-elected

civilian government.” This government would count

on an apolitical, neutral military in order to thrive.

According to CAFC II, the United States “should 

encourage the Cuban Transition Government to focus

on those steps that will allow the election of a truly

democratic, representative government that can take

on that historic challenge.” Therefore the United States

should engage the FAR as soon as possible to articulate

that the standard is to act in that manner, as the other

militaries in the Western Hemisphere do.


This monograph posits that most of the CAFC I and

II goals have been achieved, with a Cuban military that

supports democracy, respects human rights, and is

subordinated to civilian authorities.



Civil-military relations in Cuba are not consonant

with the Huntingtonian paradigm, namely that the

overall goal is a professional military subordinated to

civilian leadership.8 Although the FAR is subordinated

to the Castro brothers, this is a sultanistic paradigm,

not a modern civil-military relation as recognized

throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The FAR is the Cuban military, and is subordinate

to the Ministerio de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios

(Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces

[MINFAR]). Unlike many militaries in communist

countries, which were developed by communist

parties after successful takeovers, the body that

became the FAR was formed before the revolution

and the party was created after the revolution. In this

particular case, the FAR actually formed the basis for

the party.10 As such, they are different from typical

communist-inspired militaries and must be approached

differently. According to the International Institute for

Strategic Studies,11 in 2005 the FAR consisted of 75,500

active forces and 1,159,000 reserve forces between

military and paramilitary organizations. Of the active

duty forces, the Army consisted of 38,000; the Navy

consisted of 3,000; the Air Force consisted of 8,000; and

the paramilitary 26,500, which was split between the

State Security (20,000) and 6,500 Border Guards (Tropas

Guarda Fronteras [TGF]). The paramilitary forces report

to the Ministerio del Interior (Ministry of the Interior


[MININT]). Of the reserve forces, the Army had 39,000,

the Ejército Juvenil de Trabajo (Youth Labor Army [EJT])

had 70,000, the Civil Defense Force had 50,000, and

the Milicias de Tropas Territoriales (Territorial Militia

[MTT]) consisted of approximately 1,000,000 people.

These reserve forces are designed to provide strategic

depth and to fight the Guerra del Todo Pueblo, or War

of the Entire People/War of the Entire Population.

This doctrine was developed in the early 1990s after

the collapse of the Soviet Union and the concomitant

beginning of the “Special Period.” This doctrine is

specifically designed to defend against attack from the

United States. It calls for the FAR to arm the people and

deploy into the back country to keep U.S. forces tied

down and make the price for a U.S. invasion too high

for the United States to tolerate. Another group is the

Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (Comités

de Defensa de la Revolución [CDR]). It was formed on

September 29, 1960, to support the revolution. The

committees are omnipresent, with the duty to monitor

the activity of everyone in their neighborhoods and

report or punish any anti-revolutionary activities.


The Army is organized into three regional

command headquarters and three Army command

headquarters. Western Command is headquartered in

Havana, Central Command is in Matanzas, and Eastern

Command is in Santiago.12 The Army consists of nine

mechanized infantry brigades, up to five armored

 brigades, one airborne brigade, one air defense artillery

regiment, and one surface-to-air missile brigade. It also

has one frontier brigade on duty around Guantánamo

Bay and 14 reserve brigades.

 The Navy has two regional commands at

Cabañas in the west and Holquin in the east. It has

patrol and coastal combatants, six mine warfare and

countermeasure craft, and one logistics ship. The

Navy also has some towed coastal defense artillery

and two amphibious assault battalions consisting of

550 naval infantry. These assets are stationed at seven

facilities spread throughout Cuba at Cabañas, Mariel,

Havana, Cienfuegos, Punta Movida (near Cienfuegos),

Holquin, and Nicaro. The Border Guards who report

to the MININT have another 23 patrol and coastal


The Air Force has up to 103 fighter aircraft and 63

transport aircraft spread out at a variety of airfields

throughout the country. The Air Force has two active

fighter squadrons, based at San Antonio de los Baños

and Holguin respectively, equipped with this mix

of fighter aircraft. Additionally, the Air Force has 40

attack helicopters and 85 support helicopters. Most

Cuban military aircraft are not operational. Cuban

aviation assets are deployed to Baracoa, Camagüey,

Cienfuegos, Guines, Holgüin, Havana, San Antonio

de los Baños, San Julián, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara,

and Santiago de Cuba. A majority of these bases are

concentrated in the western portion of the island.

The Air Force also has 13 surface-to-air missile sites.

Due to the perceived threat from the United States,

there is an Air Defense Force called the Air Defense of

the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Defensa Anti-Aerea de

las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias or DAAFAR) which

has SA-2, SA-3, and SA-6 surface-to-air missiles and 23

 mm, 37-mm, 57-mm, 85-mm, and 100-mm antiaircraft

guns in great quantities.


The EJT provides additional resources to the

Cuban military. Sometimes called the Cuarto Ejercito

or “Fourth Army” in reference to its supplementing

of the three armies described above,13 this force serves

several functions: it comprises a body of trained

people, it inculcates the values of the revolution, and it

provides an important labor force that the state can use

when necessary, as in the sugar cane harvest.


The History of the FAR.   

The FAR has conceptual roots into the 19th

century. It traces its lineage to the mambí or Cuban

freedom fighters that fought against Spain in wars of

independence from 1868 to 1898, when the struggles

culminated in the U.S. intervention as part of the

Spanish-American War. As the FAR forces were a

product of their own revolution from 1956-58, they feel

that they are the descendants of the mambí.  

The FAR itself was based on the Ejercito Rebelde,

which was the Army that Fidel used to overthrow the

Batista regime in Cuba in 1959. The Ejercito Rebelde

was in turn based on the 26th of July Movement, a

political movement created by Fidel Castro and named

after the date of the attack on the Moncada Barracks

in 1953 that marked the beginning of Fidel’s armed

struggle. The 26th of July forces crossed to Cuba in the

yacht, Granma, landing near Playa de Las Colorados

in Oriente Province on December 2, 1956. This area

of southeastern Cuba had been where all previous

revolutions and uprisings had been centered. For the

next 2 years, they fought a guerrilla war against the

forces of Batista. The Communist Party of Cuba did 

not support Fidel until early 1958,14 which irritated

him and caused him to distrust the party. By January 1,

1959, the Batista regime had collapsed, and Fidel was


When Fidel gained power, he had to determine how

to rule Cuba. The only people he trusted absolutely

were his comrades from the Ejercito Rebelde, so he turned

to them to form the backbone of the new government.

They comprised the senior leadership for the MININT.

After he declared himself a communist, he returned

to his trusted friends and used the Ejercito Rebelde to

take over the Communist Party in 1965.15 Thus the FAR

antedates the modern Cuban Communist Party and

indeed has always dominated the party, a reversal of

the norm. The party, as well as the FAR, has always

been subordinated to Fidel Castro. He created the

FAR, and he created the party.

The FAR successfully defended the island against

the Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961 and then spent

the rest of the 1960s continuing to prepare the defense

of the island. From the late 1960s through the 1980s,

the FAR also deployed overseas in support of fellow

revolutionaries throughout Africa and the Western

Hemisphere. The only time that FAR conventional

personnel were known to be in direct conflict with

conventional U.S. forces was during Operation

URGENT FURY, the 1983 U.S. intervention in Grenada.

Since the end of the Cold War and the start of the Special

Period, the FAR has downsized significantly and is

thought to have ceased overseas revolutionary support

operations. The FAR now concentrates on two main

missions: deterring the United States from invading

the island and internal security. It currently cooperates

with the U.S. Government in both counterdrug and

immigrant operations.


A Monopoly of Violence?  

One way that communist governments have operated

is to create multiple security organizations to prevent

 the monopoly of power within one organization

that could then overthrow the party. Cuba was theoretically

no different. On paper, the MININT is opposite

the FAR within the Cuban government. MININT

controls the nonmilitary security services, including

the State Security Troops, the DGI or Intelligence

Service, and the TGF or Frontier Guards. These forces

have always oriented on internal security.

The reality of the situation is different. As described

above, Fidel looked to the Ejercito Rebelde to provide

leadership for Cuban government services, and the

leadership of MININT came from the FAR. Since the

FAR is controlled by Raul Castro and the MININT is

controlled by the FAR, in actuality there is a monopoly

of violence in Cuba, in violation of communist doctrine.

Fidel Castro never avoided violating any doctrine

when it suited him. In this particular case, he has

ensured that all forces are directly subordinated to him

personally, through his brother, Raul. This control was

de facto through 1996, when the FAR took direct, overt

control of MININT.16

This takeover has implications for dealing with

both the FAR and the MININT. The FAR has always

considered itself to be from the people and thus

incapable of a Tiananmen Square type operation.

Indeed, the domestic record of the FAR appears to be

one of strict avoidance of the use of force against the

Cuban people. When one examines the far more open

record of the Nicaraguan armed forces that were cast

in the same mold as the FAR, the absence of violence

against Nicaraguans is remarkable in a region where

military violence against citizens has been the historic





A transitioned Cuba cannot continue with an

unchanged FAR. It must form a new military. A new

Cuban military should be based on the FAR. Designing

such a force requires an analysis of current threats

and a conceptualization of capabilities based on those

threats. From there, armed forces can be designed to

provide those capabilities.

The Threats.

Cuba has had several types of threats which can

prove instructive when planning for post transition

security requirements. These include traditional

threats, current Caribbean threats, and transnational

threats that can face any state in the 21st century. In

the first category, challenges to the Cuban government

have included outside intervention, civil war or

uprisings, smuggling, corruption, racial tensions,

and natural disasters, mainly storms. Cuba will not

face outside intervention but may face an uprising

and racial tensions if a transition is not handled well;

however, the main historical threats that Cuba will face

again will likely center on smuggling, corruption, and

natural disasters. 

Among the current threats to Caribbean governments

are transnational crime, pollution or other environmental

challenges, a lack of resources, globalization,

and terrorist use of the Caribbean as a platform against

the United States. Transnational crime mainly centers

on illicit trafficking to include people, money, arms, and  

drugs. An additional specific threat that a transitional

Cuban government will probably face is controlling

arms and munitions.


The Capabilities. 

Based on the threats discussed above, the Cuban

security forces need to have a minimum set of capabilities

to control their maritime space, their air space,

their terrestrial space, and to respond to natural disasters,

mainly hurricanes. The maritime control mission

should include a search and rescue (SAR) capability.

Additionally, due to the presence of international

narco-terrorists, Cuba requires a counterterrorism

capability. In the long run, the capability to perform

peacekeeping operations would provide a way for

Cuba to reintegrate into the community of Western

Hemisphere states. Additionally, the military should

be sufficiently large to provide internal security in case

the Ministry of the Interior proved to be incapable of

handling an emergency.


A New Structure for the Cuban Military.  


The Strategic Level. To achieve these capabilities,

the FAR needs a new structure. To provide terrestrial,

maritime, and air control, the Cuban military requires

forces that can operate in those areas. The current

Cuban Army can form the basis for a ground force,

the current Air Force and the air defense force should

combine to form the basis for a future Air Force, and

the current Navy and border guards can be combined

to form a maritime force. Due to the need to control

the Cuban maritime environment, this force should

be oriented like the old Cuban guarda-costa of the 19th


Every country requires a policy-level organization

that provides guidance for the armed services.

Currently, MINFAR provides that guidance. Although

it is theoretically a ministry of defense, it is actually

an organization that provides for the personal control

of the FAR by the Castro brothers. After a transition,

MINFAR should change to a ministry of defense within

the Huntingtonian sense, with a civilian leader who is

appointed by the democratically-elected president.

Throughout the Western Hemisphere, the norm

is for police forces to handle internal security and for

militaries to handle external security. Militaries report

to a Ministry of Defense and other security forces report

to a MININT. MINFAR must divest itself from control

of the MININT. A new MININT must be designed with

care to ensure that it is also subordinated to civilian

elected leaders. The police and other domestic security

forces should stay with MININT. Any remaining

military intelligence organizations should stay with

MINFAR, and all other intelligence assets should be

transferred to the new MININT.  

One model that has proved effective is a civilian

Ministry of Defense with a Joint Staff headed by a

senior general officer. Another model that has utility

would be a combined staff under a civilian minister.

Regardless of which model is used, Cuban civilian

and military personnel should immediately be offered

positions at the various staff colleges throughout the

hemisphere that are designed to train and educate

civilians and military in security-oriented positions.

Extra-hemispheric countries such as Spain, the United

Kingdom, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Australia

should also be involved in educating senior civilians in

the Cuban Ministry of Defense. At the same time, senior

military personnel should be selected to go to staff   

colleges in countries that have consolidated democratic

systems in order to assist them in understanding the

many facets of subordination to civilian authorities.


The Cuban strategic level should also be able to

provide a limited command and control capability.

The Cuban military should have one national-level

command center, similar in theory to the North

American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command

in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. This post should

serve as the center where all radars and other sensors

and reports are aggregated. It should have a picture

of everything that happens in the aerospace and

maritime regions surrounding Cuba. There should

also be a backup capability in case the primary center

is rendered inoperable by a natural disaster.

The Cuban common operating picture should

be piped to regional command posts. The national

command center can then order regional commands to

execute operations in support of national sovereignty

missions or in response to natural disasters. Additionally,

the Cuban government should provide this common

operating picture to friendly states in the Caribbean

to assist with regional security initiatives. The Cuban

government and security forces should be prepared

to cooperate with the Bahamas, the Caymans, Haiti,

Jamaica, Mexico, and the United States. Each of the

services should be structured to support the national



The Army. The Cuban Army should consist of four

brigade-level headquarters. The Army component

in each regional joint command should be one of the

brigade headquarters. The fourth brigade headquarters

should provide command and control for the Cuban

strategic reserve and could be deployable to act as a

headquarters for any overseas operation. In this, it 

would be similar to the recently formed Canadian

Expeditionary Command, which provides command

and control for all deployments outside of the country.

This would form the basis for the long-range goal of

providing a peacekeeping capability.  

Each brigade/Army component command should

have several subordinate units.

tretyenuida ai=golpista

This allows the Cuban Army to retain a capability

similar to what currently exists but enable the Army

to divest itself of the Air Defense Artillery regiments in

each Army area. In addition to the main combat arms

organizations, each brigade should have the combat

support and combat service support assets (military

police, logistics, engineers, military intelligence, etc.) to

make it into a brigade combat team capable of standalone


 The Cuban Army strategic reserve capability can

consist of the fourth brigade mentioned above, with one

armored regiment, one motorized regiment, and the

Cuban airborne regiment. This allows a downsizing of

the present strategic reserve but retains a capability.

 The Army should also have a reserve component.

This currently consists of 14 brigades, but can be

downsized to 8 regiments, with 2 assigned to each of

the 4 Army brigade headquarters.

 The Army can use the assets saved by demobilizing

the air defense assets and spare combat arms assets

to form engineer units. Cuba will have a significant

infrastructure shortfall for many years after a transition.

Each of the four brigades should have a minimum of

one engineer regiment. Additionally, Cuba might

form some special military units designed to upgrade

and repair key infrastructure such as roads, railroads,  

and port facilities. They could also perform support

missions preparing for and recovery from natural


The Navy. The maritime force should combine

the two current maritime forces: the Navy and the

Tropas de Guardia Frontera. This would reduce the

bureaucratic overhead and provide centralized force

generation. While the FAR can trace its roots back to

the mambí of the late 19th century, as suggested earlier,

the new Cuban maritime force could trace its roots to

the very competent guarda costa of the colonial time

period. The Navy’s overall mission would be maritime

control, centering on border control, customs, and

smuggling prevention. This mission set calls for it to

be configured for patrol and counterdrug operations,

SAR, and multinational regional maritime cooperation

operations. In terms of facilities, the Navy has two bases

near Cienfuegos; one should be closed. The Cuban

Navy should also have a mix of forces deployed from

the remaining six bases.


These missions call for the Navy to run long-range

patrols along the extensive Cuban coastline. There

should be some long-range 110+-foot boats to patrol

into the Straits of Florida; the waters to the northwest

of Cuba; the Yucatán Channel; the waters to the south

of Cuba; and the areas between Cuba, Jamaica, and

Haiti. Twenty four of these large patrol craft should

be stationed, six per base, at Mariel, Cienfuegos,

Holguin, and Santiago de Cuba to cover the farther

reaches of Cuban maritime space. This allows for two

being on patrol, two preparing for patrol, and two in



Small, short-range 80-foot or less patrol craft such

as Boston Whalers or Rigid-hull Inflatable Boats should

control the area near ports as well as performing forward

patrols of the archipelagos on the north-central coast

of Cuba between the mainland and Cay Sal Bank and

the Bahamas, and in the archipelagos off of Piña del

Rio and the Isla de Juventud off the south coast. They

should be home-ported at the six remaining Navy bases

but forward-deployed into patrol areas that allow for

them to perform their presence missions. Based upon

the size of their port facilities, Havana should have

eight of these patrol craft; Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas,

Cienfuegos, Nuevitos, and Mariel should have six

patrol craft each; and Puerto Padre and Moa should

have three patrol craft apiece.


Although the FAR currently has a type of Marine

Corps, any follow-on force has no need for an

amphibious capability; however a proposed guarda

costa should have some sort of boarding capability,

either through a maritime naval infantry or a SEAL-

type special operations capability

The FAR currently has a robust naval radar

capability, which should be maintained or even

expanded to observe the waters near shore, providing

another part of the Cuban common operating picture.


The Air Force. To dominate its airspace, the Cuban

Air Force requires interceptors and rotary-wing assets

as well as a robust radar architecture to provide the

airspace portion of the common operating picture.


For their strategic airspace dominance, the

Cubans depend on their former Soviet fighter aircraft,

including 50 MiG 21 Fishbed aircraft, 20 MiG 23 Flogger

aircraft and three MiG 29 Fulcrum aircraft. This aircraft

mix is probably too much for the Cubans to sustain.

The Air Force should concentrate on one airframe to

simplify maintenance and training. Given that the

Cuban military will not have to defend against fighter

or bomber aircraft, the MiG 21 airframe is sufficient for 

any airspace control missions the Air Force needs to

perform. The Cuban government should sell its MiG

23 and MiG 29 aircraft and concentrate on making its  

fleet of MiG 21 aircraft flyable. The current fleet of rotary

 wing aircraft consists of 40  Mi-8 Hip, 45 Mi-17, and

 40 Mi-25/35 Hind helicopters.


This fleet will serve the Cuban government well, given  

the large number of small islands and large amount

of territorial sea. The Hind helicopters can also serve

in the airspace control capacity when vectored in by

command and control assets.

Cuban transport aircraft consist of a variety from

small AN-2 Cub to large IL-76 Candid models. The

Cuban military should keep all of these in the short term

to ascertain future needs. With small islands spread

over a large area and a substandard transportation

infrastructure on the mainland, the Cuban military

will likely need all of its airlift capabilities into the

foreseeable future.  

This Air Force should be deployed to fields

throughout Cuba to respond to commands from the

three regional headquarters. In addition to combat

aircraft, modest fixed-wing airlift assets would

be required to provide support for international

operations as well as intra-Cuba military support.

This capability would also support any airborne and

special operations forces. The Cuban military would

also require a rotary-wing capability, which should be

forward deployed with an orientation on providing

a SAR capability, as well as providing air mobility to

Cuban ground and maritime forces and supporting

disaster relief operations.


Joint Capabilities. In order to support a counterterrorism

capability, Cuba requires special operations

forces (SOF). Although it would not need a huge

counterrerrorism force, Cuba could use one SOF

battalion. This capability should be based on the

current SOF capability within the FAR.

Many different armed forces in the Western

Hemisphere have developed a peacekeeping capability.

Once Cuba has transitioned, it can also form such a

capability, utilizing assets from each of the four Army

brigades and using detachments from the guarda costa

and the Air Force as appropriate. 


The Operational Level.

As discussed above, there are currently three

Army, two Navy, and two Air Force regional

headquarters. These should be consolidated. Each of

the Army headquarters should change to regional joint

headquarters. This is a transition that the Canadian

Forces undertook in 2006 to promulgate a more joint

character to their armed forces. This “Regional Joint

Task Force” structure has worked well for Canada.

Three Cuban joint headquarters with responsibility for

terrestrial, maritime, and airspace defense could find

synergies, especially in the synchronization of air and

maritime forces. These headquarters would also be able

to execute disaster preparedness and relief operations.


Each of the regional headquarters should have

three component commands similar to service

component commands for the current U.S. regional

combatant commands. As an example, the Western

Command would contain a Western Command Joint

Headquarters with Western Army Command, Western

Guarda Costa Command, and Western Aerospace

Command. Each joint command should be equipped to

provide command and control for terrestrial, maritime,

and aerospace operations and be able to tap into the 

national-level common operating picture, so that it

can determine which combination of forces should be

deployed to face challenges. 


How Large Should Cuban Security Forces Be?


When conceptualizing an appropriate size for the

Cuban military, it may be instructive to examine some

attributes that Cuba shares with other countries in the

Western Hemisphere. These comparisons can provide

force size guidance that might be appropriate for a post-

transition Cuban military. Territory size and length of

coastline are two indicators that we can use. 


Territory size is an important driver for the proper

sizing of a military, and most countries in the Western

Hemisphere have problems with territorial control.

From Honduras and Nicaragua in Central America, to

Colombia and Peru in South America, to Haiti in the

Caribbean, many countries have never consolidated

government control over their territory. 


Cuba, located astride the major drug route from the

source zone of South America to the United States, is

in significant danger of penetration by transnational

criminals in the post-transition time period. As Haiti

currently shows, a lack of government control leads

to near-anarchy and a very strong narco-presence. As

such, Cuba must count control of terrestrial territory as

very important.

Cuba has over 110,000 square kilometers of

territory, the same size as Pennsylvania. It is slightly

smaller than Nicaragua and Honduras and larger than

Guatemala and Panama. Nicaragua has a total of 14,000

military and Honduras has about 12,000. Guatemala

is decreasing to about 15,000 military. Panama has a

paramilitary force that totals slightly less than 12,000. 

All four countries have territory that is beyond state

control. A case could be made that the militaries of

these countries are too small to control their territory,

so a military of around 49,000 is probably about right

for Cuba.

Coastline length can be an important factor in

determining the size of a naval security force, especially

in the Caribbean. Any island there must be able to

control its maritime environment, or transnational

criminals will quickly dominate the area. Within the

Western Hemisphere, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia

have similar-sized coastlines. Chile has a Navy of

19,000; Argentina, 17,000; and Colombia, 22,000.21

When compared to these countries, the 3,000 personnel

and handful of watercraft that Cuba can deploy

demonstrates that its maritime capability is extremely



Western Hemisphere Templates.


What assumptions may be derived from territory

and coastline data? When one analyzes territory

size, Cuba has a much larger military than the four

countries that are similar in size. However, all four

have significant problems with territorial control. The

result is that the Cuban military should not be as small

as the militaries of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala,

or Panama.

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean. As

such, its coastline is much longer than those of other

countries in the sub-region, and comparable to the larger

countries in the hemisphere. The lesson is that Cuban

naval forces are woefully inadequate to dominate the

maritime space. Comparison to the navies of countries

with similar coastlines indicates that the Cuban Navy

should be dramatically expanded.

Although a country should not base the size of its

military entirely on the sizes of the militaries of other

countries with similar characteristics, this comparison

can provide a “sanity check” on a proposed sizing. This

comparison shows that the overall size of the Cuban

military is probably correct; however the Navy should

be larger.




Cuba assisted the Frente Sandinista de Liberation

Nacional (FSLN or Sandinistas) in their struggle against

the Somoza regime in Nicaragua. When Somoza fled,

the opposition formed the Provisional Government,

which ended up being dominated by Daniel Ortega and

the FSLN. The government formed the Ejercito Popular

Sandinista (EPS) from the FSLN ground fighters when

it faced pressure from the United States. It rapidly

expanded these forces to include an Air Force, a large

rotary wing fleet, tanks, and the other accoutrement

of a mechanized force based on Soviet and Cuban



The EPS spent the 1980s supporting the FMLN

in El Salvador, fighting against U.S.-backed

counterrevolutionaries (the contras) and

preparing for an attack by the United States.

With the Esquipulas II Central

American peace accords of 1987, violence diminished

rapidly, and the Nicaraguan government agreed to

hold elections. The FSLN lost those elections in 1990,

and Doña Violeta Chamorro became the president. This

was the time for the United States to engage with the

new, democratically elected government of Nicaragua.

Instead, the United States isolated that government.

The new Nicaraguan government faced a huge

challenge in civil-military relations. President

 Chamorro inherited the EPS and was forced to accept

the continuance of Humberto Ortega, one of the main

FSLN actors and brother of the FSLN president that

Chamorro defeated, as the Comandante of the EPS

as part of her transition plan. She chose discretion

and maintained Humberto Ortega as the Minister of

Defense for several years. She did not insist on huge

changes in the EPS in the short term, concentrating

instead on consolidating her rule over Nicaragua.

This approach proved to be very effective as the EPS

eventually transferred its loyalty from the FSLN to

the government of Nicaragua, rebranding itself as the

Ejercito Nicaragüense (EN).

In the aftermath of the 1990 election, the United

States linked assistance with elimination of Sandinista

influence in the government in general and the military

in particular. Given this atmosphere, military ties took

a while to develop. The EPS/EN was very suspicious

of the United States in the 1990s. Hurricane Mitch

changed the situation. Nicaragua was hard hit. The

United States responded with military deployments

into the region to assist with recovery. Due to the

dire circumstances prevalent in Nicaragua, the EN

determined to work with the United States. Much to

its surprise, the EN found the U.S. military a worthy

partner. In response to its changed perception of the U.S.

military, the EN placed representation in Washington,

DC. In June 2000, it assigned a brigadier general as

the first Nicaraguan Defense Attaché since the 1979

revolution. His mission was to effect a rapprochement

between the EN and the U.S. military. Within 2 years,

Comandante of the EN General Javier Carrion visited

the United States and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the

Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Relations

had been normalized. 


Nicaragua and Cuba.


Parallels exist between the Nicaraguan case and

Cuba. Each country is small and located near the

United States in the circum-Caribbean. Each was

heavily influenced by the United States. Each fought

against a dictator initially supported by the United

States. Each had a revolutionary form of government

that was actively opposed by the United States and

subsequently had unfavorable relations with the

United States.

Some lessons may be learned from the post-

transition situation in Nicaragua. First, animosity

between the U.S. Government and elements in

Nicaragua slowed improvements in relations. Second,

the attitude of the EN prevented a rapprochement for

10 years. Third, cooperation between the U.S. military

and the EN provided a catalyst that produced a rapid

improvement in relations between the militaries. From

these lessons, several conclusions can be derived.

First, animosity between elements in the United States

and elements in Cuba can cause bad relations between

Cuba and the United States after a transition. Second,

actively diminishing any animosities between actors in

the two countries can have a rapid payback. Third,

any work with the FAR can have a positive influence

on post-transition relations.


The following 14 actions could assist reformation of

the Cuban armed forces.  


1. Engage the Cuban military. As mentioned earlier

in this monograph, Section 201 of the Libertad Act

states that the United States will “assist a transition

government in Cuba and a democratically elected

government in Cuba to prepare the Cuban military

forces for an appropriate role in a democracy.”22

Section 202 states that the United States will ensure

that Military Adjustment Assistance provided “to a

transition government in Cuba and to a democratically

elected government in Cuba shall also include

assistance in preparing the Cuban military forces to

adjust to an appropriate role in a democracy.” CAFC

II states that a Cuban transition government will likely

rely on the military to perform many tasks during

and after the transition period. The challenge for the

transition government will be to harness the military’s

energies and direct it in ways that contribute to a

successful transition period.24 The only way to make

this happen is to engage the FAR and communicate

the standards that apply to militaries in the Western

Hemisphere: support of democracy, subordination to

civilian authority, and respect for human rights.

CAFC II said that “support for [a] professional,

institutional military” would be important to

“promote and guarantee the professionalism, dignity,

and political neutrality of their armed forces.” It also

recommends that “Cubans can draw from those

experiences by asking former communist countries

to provide defense and security experts to help as the

Cuban military prepares to serve as a professional

force under the authority of a democratically-elected

civilian government.” This government would require

an apolitical, neutral military in order to thrive. 


2. Transition MINFAR to a Ministry of Defense

that subordinates the Cuban armed forces to civilian

authority. All actors should seek a mission change for

the Cuban armed forces. In accordance with CAFC

I, the Cuban government should remove police

functions from the military, as well as removing the

Cuban military from internal security missions. The

Cuban government should form a Ministry of Defense

modeled after successful Western Hemisphere models

such as Chile. This effort will require support from

several sources, including providing education at

the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at Fort

McNair and assistance from other countries which

have made this transition, including Spain, Chile,

Brazil, and Argentina. Assistance from the United

Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, and Australia

could be helpful as well. In addition, overseas Cubans

could assist. As CAFC II says, “Cubans abroad with

military and defense backgrounds could be invited by

the Cuban Transition Government to form teams to

train, mentor, and advise Cuban defense and military

leadership through the transition.”


3. Separate MINFAR and MININT. Normally internal

and external security missions belong to separate

organizations. As described earlier, the MINFAR has

no desire to be involved in internal security operations;

however it supervises the MININT, which maintains

the responsibility. MININT should be removed from

the control of MINFAR and transferred to another

governmental organization, such as a MININT. The

police and other domestic security forces should stay

with MININT. Although there may be a need for some

sort of military intelligence, all other intelligence assets

should be transferred from MINFAR control.

4. Adopt a long-range goal of removing the FAR

from the economy. It will be very difficult to wean

it from the money that the FAR makes from tourism

and other parts of the economy. MINFAR needs to

understand that its role in the economy is unacceptable.

Removing MINFAR from the economy will require

a fully funded resource stream and a fully funded

pension fund. A follow-on Cuban government and

anyone who assists it will need to provide a budget as

well as a retirement plan. These are the two greatest

excuses the FAR would have to maintain its grip on the


5. Do not demobilize the FAR. An attempt to

demobilize the FAR could succeed, but the resultant

security vacuum would produce a situation like Haiti,

where the lack of security capability has left large

amounts of the country to transnational criminals. If

the FAR felt that an attempt to demobilize it was an

attack on the country of Cuba, this would trigger the

Guerra del Todo Pueblo, which would result in a situation

where elements of society and demobilized military

personnel with access to large stockpiles of weapons

combine to run a full-scale insurgency aimed against

the United States and the new Cuban government.

Additionally, a follow-on Cuban government will

need to rely on the FAR. As CAFC I points out, “loyal

and dependable military units will be needed at least

until a democratic government can be consolidated and

a new constitution approved by the people. Reliable

military forces could help transition authorities

prevent massive seaborne migration and distribute

humanitarian assistance.” Therefore it would be in

 U.S. national interests to avoid demobilization of the


6. Involve other countries and organizations in

the new Cuba. The State Department cogently points

out that democratic transition in Cuba is “a project

of the Americas, and it’s a project of a community of

nations that is committed to democracy.” CAFC II

states that “other democratic countries or international

organizations may be able to provide similar expertise

and logistical support for the military and security

services.” Clearly other countries need to be involved

in assisting Cuba with the transition and with the

professionalization of the Cuban military. Center-left

governments and their militaries can assist with this

project, to include Spain, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina,

as well as other countries such as Colombia, Mexico,

and El Salvador.

7. Insist on a major doctrinal change with the

abandonment of the Guerra del Todo del Pueblo. This

doctrine is based on the perceived need to defend

Cuba from the United States. As the United States is

not a threat to Cuba, this outdated doctrine should be

dropped immediately. The assets dedicated to support

the Guerra del Todo del Pueblo should be realigned to

assist with the transition to a modernized military.

8. Disband the militia and the Comites de Defensa

de la Revolucion. This is another structure change that

should emanate from a transition to civilian leadership.

The CDRs will have no reason to exist once a perceived

threat from the United States is eliminated and should

be taken apart as soon as possible. The huge militia

system of the FAR should also be stood down. With

the removal of the doctrine of the Guerra del Todo del

Pueblo, there is no need for the capacity to radically

expand the size of the FAR in case of emergency. As

discussed previously, a federal reserve force should

be developed to provide the FAR a modest expansion


9. Eliminate conscription and transition the FAR to

an all-volunteer force. CAFC I recommends these as

long-term goals. Although this may take some time

to phase in, most countries in the hemisphere have

changed to this model.

10. Be patient. Allow time for change. This series

of seismic changes will take a while. Although some

FAR officers will support these proposed changes,

the entire group of changes will be opposed by the

majority of FAR officers. Partner countries need to

allow time for change. As discussed, it took a decade

after elections for the Nicaraguan Army to post an

attaché to Washington, DC, and another year before

the United States put a Military Group into Managua.


11. Put a U.S. attaché and security assistance

organization in Havana as soon as is feasible

within the strictures of U.S. policy. Ask for a Cuban

attaché to be posted to Washington, DC, at the same

time. Although some actors will not want to move

quickly, the Nicaraguan case demonstrates that, once

communications are open, it can become much easier

for the two sides to find common ground.

12. Provide security assistance as soon as possible.

This assistance should be concentrated on international

military education and training (IMET). The sooner that

the Cuban military sees the U.S. backing rhetoric with

tangible support, the quicker it will cooperate. Placing

Cuban officers into U.S. military schools and exposing

them to U.S. culture will garner tangible results as the

Cubans realize that the United States is not inherently


13. Do not adopt punitive, Helms-like legislation

such as was passed against Nicaragua. This type of

legislation will prevent the U.S. Government from

cooperating with and assisting a follow-on Cuban

government at the exact time when the Cuban

government will need support. Punitive legislation

will only drive Cuba into the arms of Venezuela and

the People’s Republic of China.

14. Be magnanimous. Do not seek to humiliate

Cuban security forces. A little understanding can be of

tremendous assistance during a time of transition.


Change is inevitable in Cuba. One aspect of that

change is the FAR. The FAR currently has a doctrine

designed to defend Cuba against attack from the United

States. In addition, its orientation is towards internal

defense. It also dominates the Cuban economy. It is

subordinate directly to the Castro brothers and acts

against democracy. These things will have to change.

The Cuban military must be professional, politically

neutral, and support democracy and democratically

elected leaders. The FAR should be oriented towards

control of its own sea- air- and land-space. These things

are all achievable. The FAR is a force with a history of

success and effort in support of the missions given by

the government. As such, it is capable of change if it is

called for by the Cuban leadership.


On the part of the United States, the U.S. Government

needs to engage the Cuban military. At some point,

the United States has had conceptual disagreements

with most militaries throughout the hemisphere. With

engagement and assistance, all of the militaries in

the region have changed to support democracy and

eschew human rights violations. With an attitude

of engagement rather than confrontation, the United

States could help the Cuban military to achieve the






1. Economist, August 5, 2006.

2. Department of State Western Hemisphere Affairs Web Site,, accessed February 12, 2007.

3. Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western  

Hemisphere Affairs, Foreign Press Center Briefing Speech, “U.S.

Policy Toward Cuba,” Washington, DC, August 23, 2006, www.  


4. Libertad Act, Title II—Assistance To A Free And Independent  

Cuba 22 U.S.C. 6066 Sec. 201, “Policy Toward A Transition

Government And A Democratically Elected Government In


5. Libertad Act, Title II, Sec. 202, “Authorization Of Assistance


For The Cuban People.”



6. CAFC original report, referred to as CAFC I, May 6, 2004,

7. CAFC II, July 2006,

8. Samuel Huntington discusses the overall goal of civilian  

control of the military in Chapter Four, “Power, Professionalism,

and Ideology: Civil-Military Relations in Theory,” The Soldier

and the State, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957,

pp. 80-97. Huntington addresses civil-military relations in other

types of regimes in Chapter Four, “Praetorianism and Political

Decay,” Political Order in Changing Societies, New London, CT:

Yale University Press, 1968, pp 192-263.

9. Eusebio Mujal-Leon and Joshua W. Busby, “The Role of  

the Armed Forces in Transition—Lessons for Cuba,” Encuentro

Magazine, Spring 2003 pp. 127-132. Original article available in

Spanish at The

authors remark that the Cuban regime is “a personalistic and

charismatic dictatorship with an idiosyncratic mix of national-

military, egalitarian, and residual Communist elements.”

10. Hal Klepak, Cuba’s Military 1990-2005: Revolutionary


Soldiers During Counter-Revolutionary Times, New York: Palgrave

MacMillan, 2005.

11. The Military Balance 2005-2006, London: International


Institute for Security Studies (IISS), pp. 332-333.

12. Deployment information comes from Global Security at

13. Klepak.

14. Richard Gott, Cuba, A New History, New Haven: Yale


University Press, 2004, p. 161.

15. Klepak.  


16. Department of State, Annual Human Rights Reports, available



17. G. A. Crowther, “Central American Militaries, the United


States and Democracy in Post-Cold War Central America,”

Unpublished dissertation, Tulane University, November 10,


18. The author thanks Captain Albert Lord, USN, for assistance


in designing a new Cuban maritime force.

19. The author thanks Colonel George “Roberto” Doran, USAF,


for assistance in designing a new Cuban Air Force.

20. Territory size is derived from the CIA Country Web Page,

21. Military sizes are taken from IISS, The Military Balance,


2005-2006 edition.

22. Libertad Act: Title II—Assistance To A Free And


Independent Cuba, 22 U.S.C. 6066 Sec. 201, “Policy Toward

A Transition Government And A Democratically Elected

Government In Cuba.”

23. Libertad Act: Title II—Assistance To A Free And


Independent Cuba, 22 U.S.C. 6066 Sec. 202, “Authorization Of



Assistance For The Cuban People.”



24. CAFC II, July 2006,




GLENN ALEXANDER CROWTHER is a Research Professor of National Security Studies in the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. He served in a variety of platoon and company level positions in the 17th Infantry Regiment in the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord, California. He commanded Headquarters and Service Company, United Nations Command Security Force—Joint Security Area—Pan Mun Jom and subsequently the Cheju-do Training Center in Korea. Colonel Crowther has also served in a variety of Foreign Area Officer, Operations Officer and Strategist positions in U.S. Army South and U.S. Southern Command in Panama and Miami. He has served two tours at the Pentagon working as a Strategic Plans and Policies Officer on the Department of the Army Staff and as a Politico-Military Officer at the Joint Staff J-5 (Strategic Plans and Policies Directorate).

Colonel Crowther is a graduate of the Infantry Officers Basic and Advanced Courses, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Command and General Staff College at the School of the Americas. He was also an Army War College Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Colonel Crowther has a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University, an M.S. in International Relations from Troy State University, and a Ph.D. in International Development from Tulane University.





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