491. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 85–60


The Problem

To estimate present and probable future Communist control or influence over the leadership and policies of the Castro regime in Cuba.

The Estimate

[Here follows a summary of the trend of events in Cuba including expropriation, participation by Communists in the government, the growing strength of the Cuban Communist Party, and Cuban contacts with the Soviet bloc]

These developments obviously raise serious questions as to the degree to which Cuba may now be or may become subject to international Communist control. Certainly the local Communists have taken advantage of the opportunities afforded them to influence the course of government policy and to develop their own position within the armed forces, INRA, and other key elements of the Cuban political [Page 870] structure. Prolongation of the present situation will result in even greater Communist influence in Cuba and will further encourage Communists and other anti-US elements throughout Latin America.
However, Fidel Castro remains the dominant element in the regime and we believe that he is not disposed to accept actual direction from any foreign source. His susceptibility to Communist influence and suggestion and his willing adoption of Communist patterns of action spring from the parallelism of his revolutionary views with the current Communist line in Latin America, from his conviction that Communism offers no threat to his regime, and from his need for external support. He almost certainly has no intention of sharing his power or of abandoning his announced objective of developing a neutralist “third force” position for Cuba and other nations of Latin America in association with the Afro-Asian world. Moreover, his fanatic determination to direct the course of the revolution and the preponderant popular support he commands would make it difficult at this time for the Cuban Communists or their Bloc supporters to force Fidel Castro in a direction contrary to that of his choice. We consider it extremely unlikely that the PSP, which has little broad support among the Cuban people, could soon develop sufficient strength to make openly an effective bid for power on its own. Although development of pro-Communist strength in the armed forces and elsewhere may eventually give them such a capability, we believe that Fidel Castro’s appeal to the Cuban masses, rather than the coercive power of the armed forces, represents the present mainstay of the regime. In the event of Fidel Castro’s death, Raúl Castro and “Che” Guevara would assume the leadership of the regime. Under these two, the Communists would be given an even greater opportunity to perfect their organization and to influence the policy of the government. Raúl Castro and “Che” Guevara, however, would not command the popular support which Fidel Castro now inspires.
We believe that for some time Communist leaders will continue to concentrate on influencing the formulation and implementation of policy and on covert infiltration of the government—and that they will avoid any challenge to Fidel Castro’s authority or any claim to formal PSP participation in the government. Particularly in the light of Soviet experiences with Kassim and Nasser, the Soviet leaders are well aware of the need for caution in dealing with messianic nationalist leaders. They probably believe that the present state of affairs is weakening the US position and advancing their interests, not only in Cuba, but throughout Latin America. The Communists probably also believe that the US will lose in influence and prestige so long as Castro’s successful defiance of the US (including his acceptance of bloc assistance) continues, and that the US is faced with the dilemma of tolerating an increasingly Communist-oriented Cuba or of arousing widespread Latin [Page 871] American opposition by intervening. Above all, the Soviets probably wish to avoid a situation in which the US could secure broad Latin American support for action to curb Castro. While Castro’s regime has lost prestige in Latin America, particularly among government officials and the upper and middle classes, few popular leaders in the area are prepared to dismiss Castro as merely a pro-Communist demagogue. For many Latin Americans, especially the masses, Castro remains an important symbol as a destroyer of the old order and as a champion of social revolution and of anti-US and anticapitalist feeling.
We believe that Fidel Castro and his government are not now demonstrably under the domination or control of the international Communist movement. Moreover, we believe that they will not soon come under such demonstrable domination or control. We reach this conclusion in part because we feel that under present circumstances international Communism does not desire to see a situation arise in which it could be clearly demonstrated that the regime in Cuba was under its domination. Yet, we believe that the Cuban regime is in practice following the line set for Latin American Communist Parties at the time of the 21st Party Congress in Moscow in February 1959 and that it will continue to pursue policies advantageous to the Communists and to accept Communist assistance and advice in carrying them out. Cuba may give increasing appearances of becoming a Communist society. Although Castro may for tactical reasons seem at times to moderate his relations with the US, he appears intent on pressing ahead with his anti-US campaign, which might come to involve attempted expulsion of the US from its Guantánamo Base, abandonment of Cuba’s privileged position in the US sugar market, a complete diplomatic rupture, and danger to the lives of American citizens. The more he becomes embroiled with the US, the more he will look to the Bloc for support, including provision of military equipment, although both the Bloc and the Cubans would probably seek to avoid any accusation that Cuba was being made into a Soviet base. Should the Castro regime be threatened, the USSR would probably do what it could to support it. However, the USSR would not hesitate to write off the Castro regime before involving itself in a direct military confrontation with the US over Cuba, or, at least during the present state of Soviet policy, in a major diplomatic crisis with the US.
  1. Source: Department of State, INRNIE Files. Secret. Submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence and concurred in by the United States Intelligence Board on March 22. According to a note on the cover sheet, participating in the preparation of the estimate were the Central Intelligence Agency, and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and The Joint Staff. Concurring in the estimate were the Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of State; the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army; the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Intelligence, Department of the Navy; the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF; the Director for Intelligence, the Joint Staff; the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Special Operations; and the Director of the National Security Agency. The Atomic Energy Commission Representative to the USIB and the Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, abstained, the subject being outside their jurisdiction. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1984, 1513.