Havana’s pre-revolutionary militarization occurred with the installation of Batista as dictator. It intensified throughout the ensuing struggle of resistance because “the guerilla struggles which overthrew the Batista regime were above all military or paramilitary in nature.”
However, the city’s form and organization did not mirror the forces of Cold War militarism so obvious in other areas of the Third World during this period. This despite the reality that
the power of the United States is an ever present element in Cuba. The naval base at Guantanamo Bay, and the frequent visits of naval vessels to Cuban ports give concrete evidence of this power.
Even though the US Department of Defense provided sophisticated military equipment and arms to the Batista government, Havana’s relationship with the United States was noted for its dependent economic — rather than its militaristic aspects.
Nevertheless, the American military assistance provided was not inconsequential.
Military equipment and arms transfers were valued at more than $16 million, and organized practical training programs were provided for 500 Cuban officers at service institutions in the Panama Canal Zone or at military bases in the United States.
It has been observed, however, that
the North American model of civil-military relations probably influenced them much less than the technical aspects of their education and their contact with official United States anti-communism.
While “United States military influence served to strengthen the power and morale of precisely those elements in the Cuban army who were the strongest supporters of Batista,” the military did not implement American processes or procedures. In fact:
The Cuban army can be best understood as an essentially mercenary sect, recruited from among unemployed urban and rural workers and led by an officer corps of middle and low social origins which became a privileged caste.
Che Guevara also describes the pre-revolutionary Cuban military:
The army of Batista, with all its enormous defects, was an army structured in such a way that all, from the lowest soldier to the highest general, were accomplices in the exploitation of the people. They were completely mercenaries, and this gave a certain cohesiveness to the repressive apparatus.
While these views are, perhaps, controversial, they emphasize the wide gap between Batista’s military and the professionalism of the American military.
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.