December 1, 2001

Cuban military marks anniversary

                 SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) -- With the Angolan war long over and their Soviet
                 comrades long gone, Cuban commanders who oversaw tanks and troops on
                 the battlefield now watch over the bottom line.

                 A past supporter of foreign rebel movements, Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces
                 celebrates its 45th anniversary Sunday focused on the battle for the island's
                 economic health.

                 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 Minister Gen.
                 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 Maceo
                 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 the country
                 and to defend the gains of socialism," Legra said.

                 That defense apparently includes ensuring officers not only are able to defend
                 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 while
                 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 and
                 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 -- the FAR's
                 first in five years. The last such parade, in 1996 in Havana, was smaller than past
                 Soviet-style displays.

                 The FAR has shrunk considerably since peaking at 300,000 personnel in the early

                 After decades of supporting rebels around the world, the last Cuban units left
                 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 an
                 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 the
                 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 Mitchell, an
                 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.