In addition to the arms transfers and training assistance that we alluded to in our post on US Military Involvement in Cold War Cuba, Washington maintained military, naval, and air force missions.
A military assistance and advisory group (MAAG) was stationed on the island for the professed purpose of equipping and training Cuba’s defense forces to meet their ‘hemispheric defense’ responsibilities.
Also, the Central Intelligence Agency sought to develop a network of reliable assets within the Cuban state and society. They considered Cuba a “safe precinct.”
The bulk of US military assistance grants to the Batista regime were authorized between 1954 and 1958, coinciding with the expansion and intensification of the nationalist (revolutionary) struggle. While executive branch officials continually rationalized the provision of this type of aid on the grounds of regional defense commitment, as early as December 1957, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report had reached a far different conclusion as regards its primary use:
We have a military mission in Cuba and the Batista government from time to time requests that we sell Cuba arms to supply the Government forces. These arms are, of course, used by the interlocking Army and police to maintain the Government’s power.
By March 1958, it was conceded that ‘the Cuban Government is certainly using the military equipment which it has at its disposal to beat back armed insurrection…’
In practice, therefore, the provision of American military assistance served two essentially overlapping purposes: it bolstered anti-communist ‘hemispheric defense’ requirements at the same time that it provided crucial support for the Batista government in its efforts to maintain itself in power.
It is important to note, that most of the weapons on record as having been supplied to the Batista regime were not of a type that could be easily used against the population. Major weapons supplies were limited in contrast with those supplied to other client states during this time frame, and many related solely to the transport of cargo.
On the other hand, since small arms are less easily traced and many observers state that such weapons were smuggled from Miami to the rebels, they may have made a substantial contribution to Batista’s effort.
It was the arms embargo debate inside the administration during early 1958 that led to a major reassessment of the most crucial issues bearing on US support of the military dictatorship.
In the debate leading up to the decision to place an arms embargo on Cuba, the central bureaucratic antagonists were located in the Departments of State and Defense. The Defense Department argued against the application of an arms embargo on both ideological and strategic grounds:
The [Cuban] Government has traditionally supported the United States…in the United Nations against the onslaughts of responsibilities which we have, and which Cuba shares with us, of course, under the Rio Treaty.
State Department officials viewed the continuation of the arms program, in association with Batista’s refusal to accede to US government requests to reduce the level of political repression and state corruption, as the forerunner of a widened conflict. These concerns were not new.
For quite some time, American policymakers had expressed concern over the scope and persistence of corruption within the peripheral state apparatus noting:
Every government activity was milked–the lottery, the school lunch program, drivers’ licenses, parking meters, teachers’ certificates. The police routinely extorted millions in protection money from Havana merchants.
Officials of the US Department of the Treasury were especially critical of the regime’s fiscal and monetary policies, its inability to control inflation due to administrative disorganization, the lack of an effective tax system, and the failure of Batista sufficiently to assert his dictatorial powers in ‘resisting more firmly most of the demands of labor for continuous wage and other benefits.’
In practice, however, the differences were enveloped and marginalized within the larger political-economic framework that accommodated US interests in Cuba. Even the inter agency conflict surrounding the arms embargo was anchored within a unified commitment to maintain a secure environment for capital accumulation in Cuba.
The US government instituted an embargo on military materials and all forms of combat arms to the Batista regime in March 1958. Nevertheless, even after the embargo was established, the Defense Department continued to maintain its various armed forces’ missions in Havana.
Pentagon officials continued to maintain ‘liaisons’ through the operations of their army, naval, and air force missions, and shipments of non-combat equipment–communications materials, for example–continued.
The partial nature of the rupture allowed American military officials to contribute important logistical and tactical supports to their peripheral counterparts up until the moment of the nationalist victory. The Havana Embassy also maintained lines of communication to Batista’s military command.
The arms embargo decision had important repercussions within the US business community in Cuba, forcing American investors located in Havana to reassess their dismissal of the guerilla threat. Subsequently, this segment became the most active capitalist class supporters of political confrontation with the Castro movement.
The business community was important because, with respect to direct investment flows and undistributed earnings during the 10 year period 1950-1959, Cuba had received well over twice as much per capita as the average for other Latin American countries.
Direct investment flow is loosely defined to include the flow of equity and loan investments from US residents to foreign firms controlled by US interests.
The book value of direct investment enterprises includes the US ownership of equity capital, loan capital, branch accounts, and inter company accounts in foreign firms controlled by US interests.
By 1957 American direct investment totaled $850 million, and portfolio investments amounted to $210.9 million. These were the only foreign investments of any importance in Havana. British holdings were practically eliminated after 1945, and Canadian investments were placed at only $9.4 million.
While Havana was the site of extensive capitalist investment from the United States, the city’s population was growing increasingly displeased with Batista, the so-called “American man in Havana.”
The growing defections of the bourgeois (and petty bourgeois) elements from the class alliance that supported Batista…and the appearance of a large-scale nationalist movement with a substantial urban working-class component under the leadership of rural insurgents raised new serious problems for Washington.
By early 1958, the increasing social polarization and expanding nationalist opposition to Batista forced executive branch officials to question the continued viability of the military government and its capacity to safeguard US politco-economic interests over the long term.
When Batista’s major military offensive against the guerillas collapsed in June and July of 1958, Washington interpreted the growing fragmentation and disintegration of the Cuban armed forces as a primary threat to the collective interests of the capitalist class in Cuba. However, finally there was a decision to support the Batista government to the extent of complying with our commitments and contractual agreements.
The US would not give moral support to the revolutionary opposition.