Cuban military marks anniversary
A past supporter of foreign rebel movements, Cuba's Revolutionary Armed
celebrates its 45th anniversary Sunday focused on the battle for the island's
Revolutionaries who fought in Cuba's mountains and supported independence
battles on Africa's plains now bring military leadership to key parts of Cuba's
economy: tourism, sugar, citrus, electronics.
Declaring that the military's mission is now purely defensive, Defense
Raul Castro, President Fidel Castro's younger brother, said in an interview
published Saturday in the Communist Party daily Granma that Cuba is "a peaceful
nation" without offensive weapons.
"That mission is long over," Gen. Roberto Legra, director of the Antonio
officers' school, said of the African battles during a rare media tour of the academy
outside Havana last week.
"But our overall mission remains the same: to prepare officers to defend
and to defend the gains of socialism," Legra said.
That defense apparently includes ensuring officers not only are able to
themselves with rifle and machete but also compose a letter and manipulate a
computer spreadsheet program.
During the visit, one group of cadets practiced hand-to-combat on a lawn
another sat at rows of computers in a classroom, determinedly copying
revolutionary sayings from workbooks.
The armed forces, collectively known as the FAR, are among Cuba's most
powerful institutions, rooted in the 1959 revolution that overthrew dictator
Fulgencio Batista. Active and retired FAR officers hold more than a quarter of the
seats on the Communist Party's ruling Central Committee.
Generals run many powerful ministries -- defense, interior, transportation
sugar, which is Cuba's most important export crop.
Officers with posts that would go to civilians in most countries were
revolutionaries who fought in the late 1950s alongside President Castro and his
brother, who is next in the line of presidential succession.
The FAR dates its founding to December 2, 1956, the day when the boat Granma
landed 82 revolutionaries who had organized in Mexico. Less than two dozen --
including the Castros -- survived to reach the mountains where their battle was
Anniversary celebrations include a military parade Sunday in Santiago --
first in five years. The last such parade, in 1996 in Havana, was smaller than past
The FAR has shrunk considerably since peaking at 300,000 personnel in the
After decades of supporting rebels around the world, the last Cuban units
Africa in 1991 and aid to insurgent movements ended in 1992.
The FAR doesn't release figures on troops and equipment. But it now has
estimated 46,000 servicemen in all branches, according to the International Institute
for Strategic Studies in London, which studies world armies.
There are also 39,000 reservists and a militia of at least 1 million trained
to take up
arms against any U.S. invasion -- a lingering fear despite the Cold War's end.
Hardware and tactics were emphasized during last week's media visits to
academy, a tank division and a military high school.
But military men now wear business suits as easily as olive green uniforms,
operating hotels and a domestic airline as well as the FAR's own construction
company, which builds tourist facilities in joint ventures with foreign companies.
Its Youth Labor Army annually produces tons of crops to feed a nation dependent
on imported food a decade ago.
"It sounds like they are taking a page out of China's book," said Philip
analyst at the London-based institute. "The Chinese military in the past has been
heavily involved in industry and farming."
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.