Castro’s relations with the Soviets had often been stormy, and Cuba had not been a complaisant satellite.
In the mid 1960s, Castro balked at siding with the USSR in the Sino-Soviet dispute for leadership of the world communist movement and, in 1968, the Soviets were forced to withhold petroleum shipments to win Castro’s approval of their invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Castro was contemptuous of the communist parties that Moscow sustained in Latin America, perceiving many Latin American communists to be timid middle-aged intellectuals who had no interest in making revolution.
The Cubans argued that the policies of their revolutionary government were unique, and not patterned on Soviet policy.
Instead, the Cubans argued that they were driven to adopt socialist structures by the logic of their own indigenous reform agenda, especially the requirements of the Agrarian Reform Law.
They further argued that Cuban leadership employed socialist mechanisms early, not in reaction to hostility from the United States, but as a response to national economic needs. Of course, these economic needs were, in part, a function of the US trade embargo established in 1961.
At any rate, as a result of multiple pressures, as the 1970s progressed, the interests of Cuba and the Kremlin increasingly found common ground.
Among other things, Cuba’s growing dependence, and further integration into the Soviet bloc, produced a more accommodating client.
Soviet advisers were a common sight on the streets of Havana, particularly in the Vedado section surrounding the University.
Mesa-Lago estimates that in the summer of 1971 there were approximately 3,000 Soviet technicians and military advisers in Cuba.
Fifteen hundred Cubans (85% of them technicians and engineers) were being trained in the USSR in 1973.
Cuba’s total debt to the Soviet Union in 1972 was approximately $4 billion and Cuba’s merchant marine carried only 7-8% of the island’s trade — most of the rest was carried by Soviet vessels.
At the same time, Soviet economic models were becoming more pervasive.In 1972, Cuba joined the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA or COMECON — the Soviet ‘common market’) and, in 1975, Cuba began implementing the Soviet-directed System for Economic Management and Planning (SDPE). The new system required adherence to strict Soviet guidelines which dictated that sugar would remain the principal sector of the economy.
Cuba’s growing economic independence and further integration in to the Soviet bloc led the Soviets, after some hesitation, to give strong backing to an independent Cuban intiative to intervene first in Angola, and later in Ethiopia and South Yemen.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe