Cuba Geopolitics (2016)

By | December 16, 2021

The Republic of Cuba, an island in the Caribbean Sea, is one of the last socialist states to survive the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since 1976 the Constitution has established the five-year election of the People’s Assembly, composed of 614 members, and its local branches, but to date there is only one party, the Cuban Communist Party (CCP). Power is strongly concentrated in the hands of the prime minister (as well as president since 1976), a position that from the years of the Revolución until 2006 held Fidel Castro, that is, the historical leader maximo who together with Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara overthrew the military government in 1959. by Fulgencio Batista, supported by the United States.

During the Cold War, Cuba’s alignment with Moscow, given its geographical proximity to the United States and American economic interests on the island, made the Cuban theater crucial in the confrontation between the two superpowers. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba plunged into a double crisis, political and economic, which led, among other things, to serious street clashes in 1994. However, the Castro regime resisted and responded by alternating limited openings to narrow repressive and centralizing. In 2006, due to health problems, Fidel Castro left the leadership of the country in the hands of his brother Raúl Castro (only five years younger than him), who, in turn, is expected to remain in office until 2018. The most likely successor, as things stand, seems to be the current vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez.

The transition phase formally ended in 2008, when the People’s Assembly also ratified the election of the new president. From the international point of view, the loss of the traditional Soviet ally had a strong impact on the choices of the Cuban regime, which found itself in a situation of serious diplomatic isolation throughout the 1990s. The US introduced an embargo against Havana in 1960 which made it illegal for American companies to do business with Cuba and this consequently prevented the influx of major investments on the island. However, the recent diplomatic rapprochement between the two countries on 17 December 2014, which took place after more than 50 years of hostility thanks to the mediation of the Holy See and an exchange of prisoners, initiated a reset of bilateral relations symbolized by the reopening of their respective embassies and, more generally, since the restoration of diplomatic relations in August 2015.

To circumvent international isolation after 1991, Cuba therefore had to undertake to seek and strengthen relations with other possible allies, especially at the regional level. Since the beginning of the first decade of the twenty-first century, Havana has built strong ideological, political and commercial ties with some Latin American countries, whose governments were (and are) run by left-wing politicians close to the Cuban anti-US cause. The relations between the Castro family and the former president of Venezuela Hugo Chávez were of particular importance. The depth of the strategic link between the two countries materialized with the creation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (Alba), the cooperation project whose objective is to establish a free trade area in Latin America not subject to US influence. Caracas is the island’s first trading partner and the main supplier of energy resources; however, Havana has recently been trying to diversify its economic outlets.

Political uncertainty and fiscal and external imbalances affecting Venezuela raise concerns among Cuban politicians about the future of oil supply in exchange for health services, a deal that has become vital for the Cuban economy. To prevent the possible damage of a suspension, Cuba is already strengthening ties with China and other foreign partners – such as Russia, Canada, Spain and Brazil – and various creditors.

Defense and security

President Raúl Castro is commander in chief of the armed forces and directs the defense apparatus together with general and minister Leopoldo Cintra Frías.

There are 49,000 soldiers enrolled in the navy, air force and army, but there are more than a million civilians trained to resist in the event of a US invasion and framed in the territorial militia. This deployment of forces is part of the deterrence strategy adopted by the government to discourage the United States from repeating the invasion of the Bay of Pigs, which took place in 1961. The greatest fear of the Cuban leaders is in fact, based on historical experiences, from a new invasion by Washington, which in reality, especially in light of the détente process inaugurated by Barack Obama, seems very remote.

In Guantánamo Bay, in the south of the country, there is still a US military base since 1903, also used as a prison camp for terrorists (or presumed such), where just under a thousand US soldiers are quartered. The total American staff who work there is equal to about six thousand people. The closure of the detention facility, formally promised by Obama in 2009, has been postponed indefinitely. 

On the internal side, the Cuban defense ministry has always been involved in police operations that include wiretapping, intimidation and strict controls to counter political dissidence. The Communist Party – the only legally recognized party – does not admit, in fact, political opposition and Cuban prisons are crowded with prisoners: for every hundred thousand residents, five hundred are inmates; this is the highest relative figure in the world after that of the United States and is five times higher than that, for example, recorded in Italy and more than double that of Mexico. For Cuba defense and foreign policy, please check

Cuba Geopolitics