Castro’s efforts in Africa proved so successful that his leverage with Moscow increased.
Beginning in 1977, the Soviets sent new weapons systems and military equipment to Cuba to replace the existing obsolete and exhausted Cuban inventories.
As Edward Gonzalez reports, infrastructure for “collecting intelligence, carrying out covert operations, training, guerillas, and disseminating propaganda in Latin America and the Caribbean” was strengthened as Cuba began to focus increasingly on the export of revolution.
Castro’s comments about the export of revolution were ambiguous, however. Even though he claimed that revolutions were inevitable, he argued that “Cuba cannot export revolution. Neither can the US prevent it.”
Nevertheless, Cuba supplied key material assistance to the Sandanista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) during the anti-Somoza struggle in Nicaragua, and later stepped in to shore up the regime of Maurice Bishop in Grenada.
Efforts in Nicaragua were particularly important in shaping Cuba’s continuing relationship with the Kremlin.
Cuba’s relationship with Nicaragua actually began in the 1960s when Cuba trained and armed “a then little-known fifty person Nicaraguan group, the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN). Within the next decade and a half that organization grew in force to the point that it was able to take power.
The foundation for African involvement was also laid in the 1960s when (according to Eckstein) “Cuba provided Algeria, shortly after it attained independence from France, with some arms and troops when that North African nation was attacked by Morocco.”
Castro’s government also supported national liberation movements and “progressive” governments in Angola, Guinea-Bisseau, Mozambique, and Congo-Brazzaville in the course of the decade.”
There is dispute over the extent of Cuba’s involvement in both Nicaragua and Grenada, with Eckstein arguing that it was minimal, especially when compared to the Cuban involvement in Angola and Ethiopia.
There is agreement that Castro did provide a major level of assistance to the rebels in El Salvador, especially through his efforts to unify the various guerilla factions.
Cuba’s military presence was modest in most of Southeast Asia and the Middle East. However, combat troops were dispatched to Syria, South Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon.
The Soviets acknowledged the success of Castro’s activist policies, and, after 1979, supported the Cuban position as the one to be followed by the communist parties in El Salvador and Guatemala.
The Soviets felt that developments in Latin America were weakening US hegemony in the region, and they hoped that Marxist-Leninist regimes there would provide them with “port, landing, repair, and/or basing facilities that would facilitate the Soviet military presence in the [Caribbean] Basin, South America, and the South Atlantic,” just as they had in Africa.
It is clear that Cuba extended large amounts of civilian assistance to Third World nations worldwide.
By the 1980s, Cuba accounted for nearly one-fifth of all Soviet-bloc economic technicians working in the Third World, with only 2.5 percent of the bloc’s population.
Between 1982 and 1985, Cuba had one civilian aid worker for every 625 inhabitants, while the United States had only one worker in the Peace Corps and the Agency for International Development (AID) for every 34,704 inhabitants.
Construction projects were especially important, with major undertakings centered in North Vietnam, the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America. The most controversial project was located on Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean, where the Cubans were working with an English company on an airport expansion project.
Contending that the airport was to be used for military purposes, the Reagan administration justified a US invasion of the island. However, the Cubans — and the English company supplying and installing airport electrical and technical equipment — dispute the claim.
Cuba also extended educational and medical aid throughout the Third World.
These activities, along with Cuba’s willingness to send troops in support of Third World Liberation movements, helped Castro in his bid to achieve leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement.