404. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hilsman) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • The Meaning of Increased Soviet Aid to Cuba

This paper attempts to analyze both the Soviet and Cuban motives behind the recent Soviet economic and military shipments to Cuba.


The recent increased Soviet economic and military commitment to Cuba is new and significant evidence of the value Moscow places on the Castro regime as a serious threat to US prestige and position in this Hemisphere.
Cuban leaders have sought this assistance eagerly, believing that it will enable them to improve internal and external security and restore forward momentum to their revolution.
The Soviet decision to give more help came at at time when economic deterioration and growing popular discontent raised fears of failure, and of invasion, among Castro supporters.
In addition to training and arming Castroʼs force, the Soviets may be establishing some kind of overt military presence with Soviet-manned installations in Cuba. But we believe that at present such activities are likely to be limited to the setting up of unacknowledged intelligence collection and defensive facilities. They will attempt to derive propaganda advantage by comparing their “peaceful” presence in Cuba with US bases in Turkey and Iran.
Current Soviet moves in Cuba do not appear to be synchronized with Soviet moves in Berlin, but they have a common root in Moscowʼs growing sense of power, and Moscow may hope that increased tensions in one area will lead to Western concessions in the other.
It is not likely that this assistance presages a direct military move against Guantanamo.

I. Cuban Needs and Soviet Involvement

The present Soviet economic and military shipments to Cuba are probably the outcome of Soviet-Cuban agreements made last Spring. At that time there were two compelling factors favoring such agreements: [Page 1015]

The Cuban economy was in deepening trouble with no breakthrough in sight. The pervasive disruption which had been evident earlier in industry and transportation showed up in the agricultural sector as well, most conspicuously in the sugar industry, the very heart of the economy. Food shortages produced rising discontent. These circumstances apparently produced a crisis of confidence during which regime leaders probably calculated that the inter-related threats of internal revolt and external attack were increasing to a dangerous degree. The regime increasingly warned the people of the danger of US-supported invasion. Cuban demands for Soviet economic and military assistance probably became insistent at this time.
The Soviet interest in, and commitment to, the Cuban regime had significantly increased by last March. The Soviet leaders had always valued the Castro regime as a symbol in strategically important Latin America of anti-US forces they have been encouraging throughout the world. Moscowʼs commitment to Cuba increased considerably when it acquiesced (with some reluctance) in Castroʼs attempt to push into full membership in the communist fraternity by proclaiming his affiliation with international communism last December and forcefully putting himself at the head of the Cuban communists last March. The Soviet Union thus became more susceptible to Cuban demands for economic and military assistance.

While these two factors laid the groundwork for concluding the agreements for the present Soviet shipments to Cuba, the agreements were very likely not achieved without Soviet-Cuban friction. In exchange for their increased economic assistance, the Soviets probably insisted on a greater role in direction of the Cuban economy than the Cubans wanted to give them. The risks involved for the Soviets in a military buildup in Cuba probably made them reluctant to meet Cuban demands for military assistance, although Moscow probably calculates that the risk of a direct US intervention in Cuba is not high.

II. The Soviet Game in Cuba

General Outlook and Policy

Moscowʼs policy toward Cuba must be considered within the context of its view of Latin America. It is clear that for at least the last half decade the post-Stalin leaders have viewed Latin America—with its unstable military dictatorship, depressed standards of living, economic difficulties, social malaise, and widespread resentment (real or imagined) against overlordship of the “big brother” to the North—as a most promising area in which to pursue their policies of exploiting grievances to the detriment of the West, and especially the US. In addition, the Soviets are undoubtedly eager to penetrate Latin America because of that regionʼs great strategic significance vis-a-vis the US. The major difficulty [Page 1016] was that the Soviets had almost no entree to the area. The communist parties were small and weak and diplomatic relations were confined to a handful of the Latin American countries.

Developments in Cuba significantly changed this situation. The Castro regime provided the Soviets with a beachhead in Latin America, and a pro-Soviet, anti-US example which Moscow hoped other Latin American countries would emulate. The Soviets responded to developments in Cuba with approval and support.

However, the Castro regimeʼs claims to communist status raised problems for Moscow. The Soviets originally did not want a full-blown communist regime in Cuba. They wanted a regime with a nationalist facade, but tolerant of and amenable to local communist influence. They invented a special name for such a regime in their Marxist eschatology: “national democracy.” Moscowʼs hope was that this regime would be almost as amenable to Soviet influence as a purely communist one, while its nationalist facade would enhance its attractiveness to other Latin American countries. Soviet recognition of Castroʼs claim to communist affiliation meant modification of these plans and, more significantly, a deeper Soviet involvement with the highly volatile and impulsive Castro. Moscow nevertheless recognized Castroʼs claims to communist status, probably because a new communist regime is always welcome as a sign of the onward march of world communism, and partly from a feeling that there was little choice. The Soviet leaders now refer to Castro as “Comrade.” The Soviet commitment to sustain him has deepened accordingly.

A further Soviet objective in Cuba is the development of an economically and politically viable internal system that will provide an example of militant, dynamic progress for other Latin American countries. Although the Soviet Union has made a sizeable contribution to keeping the Castro regime afloat economically, until quite recently it has been conspicuously niggardly about providing economic development assistance that would turn the Castro regime into the attractive example we think the Soviets want it to be. This is probably due to a variety of reasons, which include traditional Soviet caution about expending resources abroad, Cubaʼs deteriorating economic situation, and Soviet-Cuban disagreement over what to do about it.

On the latter point, there is evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the departure from Cuba last spring of Soviet Ambassador S. Kudryav-tsev was directly connected with, and probably a result of, Soviet-Cuban disagreements over management of the Cuban economy. Reliable reports indicate that Soviet-Cuban frictions also arose as a result of Cuban resentment at Moscowʼs effort to dictate policies, and Soviet resentment of Cuban assistance demands which Moscow thought exorbitant.

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However, developments since the Spring of this year suggest that Soviet-Cuban agreement has been reached on Moscowʼs role in Cuba, and that the USSR is implementing policies designed to ensure the security and domestic development of its Latin American beachhead.

On May 14, after one-and-a-half monthʼs negotiations in Moscow, a Soviet-Cuban supplementary trade protocol for 1962 was signed which provided for increased Soviet economic deliveries, including consumer goods, to Cuba. In early June a Soviet delegation headed by Uzbek Party leader Rashidov made an on-the-spot investigation of the Cuban economic situation which may have cleared away Soviet-Cuban disagreements over Cuban domestic problems and indicated an enhanced Soviet role in Cuban developments. Finally, Raul Castro during his visit to Moscow the first half of July also was reported to have taken up economic-military assistance with the Soviets, although the visit could hardly have planned the increased Soviet military-economic shipments to Cuba that took place shortly thereafter in late July and August. Cuban leader Che Guevara is presently in Moscow, reportedly to discuss Soviet construction in Cuba of a steel mill with an annual capacity of 1.3 million tons, which would give Cuba the largest steel producing capacity of any Latin American country.

There are very definite limits to any Soviet effort to build up Cuba as a “showcase” for other Latin American countries. To build Cuba into a truly prosperous country with a high standard of living would contrast it starkly with most countries of the communist bloc, including the Soviet Union itself. Furthermore, the communist system appears to have built-in obstacles of a political and economic nature to the establishment of a society with widespread prosperity. Within these limitations, however, the Soviet Union may hope to contribute to an economic progress and viability in Cuba that will serve to impress visitors from less fortunate Latin American areas.

In summary, we believe the current heavy Soviet shipments of military and economic material to Cuba are basically the culmination of a logical sequence of developments which took place within the framework of Soviet outlook and policy toward Cuba and Latin America, specific Cuban developments, and growing Soviet-Cuban interdependence despite friction between the two countries.

Secondary Objectives

Apart from the specific objective of strengthening the Cuban regime, Moscow undoubtedly looks for more general benefits from its activities.

Discredit Monroe Doctrine. One of the collateral purposes of Soviet penetration in Cuba, and particularly the military build-up even though the latter is not publicly acknowledged, has been to discredit the Monroe [Page 1018] Doctrine and to assert Moscowʼs right to intervene anywhere on the globe where it feels Soviet interests are involved, including Latin America. The Soviets have taken direct issue with US reassertion of the applicability of the Monroe Doctrine with specific relation to Cuban developments. For example, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko issued a statement on August 30, 1960, in answer to Secretary Herterʼs August 25, 1960, speech to the OAS Conference1 which referred to the “rotten corpse of the Monroe Doctrine” and contested the allegedly claimed US right to do what it wants in Latin America “while others have no right to fulfill their direct duty as members of the United Nations with regard to the Western Hemisphere, even if events are taking place there which touch upon the interests of insuring peace over the whole of our planet.” To the extent that Moscow establishes a recognized presence, particularly of a military nature, in Cuba, the effectiveness and validity of the Monroe Doctrine appears called in question.

Establishment of Military Installations under Purely Soviet Control. Cubaʼs strategic location and its proximity to the US have undoubtedly led the Soviets to consider the desirability of setting up various kinds of military installations there. In weighing the pros and cons, the chief disadvantage of a major, identifiable Soviet installation is its ultimate vulnerability to US attack and Soviet inability to reinforce or otherwise support such an installation rapidly.

The advantages of a Soviet-manned base or other form of overt military presence would be that it (1) would in their view thoroughly discredit the Monroe Doctrine, and put into serious question US resolve, prestige and capabilities in the eyes of the Latin Americans and the world generally, and (2) would be useful in efforts to intimidate adjacent countries including, conceivably, the US. In this latter connection Moscow might seek to use its military presence in Cuba as a bargaining counter for liquidating the US military presence in countries around the Soviet periphery—a long sought Soviet objective.

Weighing the risks and advantages of a military presence, Moscow is probably now prepared, in addition to training activities and installing military facilities for the Cubans, to install covertly various kinds of Soviet-manned intelligence collection facilities and defensive installations (such as anti-aircraft artillery and missiles and coastal defense systems). Moscow would feel that such installations, which might eventually be turned over to the Cubans, could be plausibly justified in any case because of alleged aggressive US plans and would be difficult for the US to attack without provocation.

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More risky, and politically less justifiable, would be demonstrably offensive installations, such as bomber bases or pads for missiles capable of reaching adjacent countries. We believe that the Soviets would rule out this type of military presence for the foreseeable future.

In sum, we think there is some possibility that intelligence and defensive installations may be set up at least temporarily under purely Soviet control, while offensive installations would not be likely, certainly for a considerable time.

It should be noted in this connection that presently available information makes it extremely difficult to assess Soviet intentions in this field and that a harder estimate must await more clearcut evidence.

USSR in Cuba vs. US in Turkey. The Soviets are also attempting to derive propaganda advantage by comparing their “peaceful” presence in Cuba with US military bases on the Soviet periphery. In his September 1961 interview with New York Times correspondent Sulzberger, Khru-shchev compared the US-backed invasion of Cuba the previous April with a Soviet right to intervene in Turkey or Greece, whose regimes are allied with the US and “unfriendly” toward the Soviet Union. This theme has reappeared in Soviet propaganda in connection with the current Cuban invasion scare. It is not likely that the Soviets hope, or would be willing, to trade their presence in Cuba for US withdrawal from areas on the Soviet periphery; but they obviously hope to make propaganda mileage out of the situation.

Relationship to Berlin. The mounting Soviet involvement in Cuba has no doubt served in the Soviet view to underscore the change in the world “correlation of forces” which, the Soviets argue, makes an end of the “abnormal” situation in Berlin overdue. In this general sense there is a relationship between Soviet conduct and objectives in this hemisphere (and, indeed, throughout the world) and in Berlin. Moreover, the Soviets presumably feel that to the extent that tensions and anxieties are stimulated over Cuba (up to a point, at least), pressures for new efforts at conciliation, including over the Berlin issue, will be generated in the West.

In view of the relatively long lead time involved in planning the current Soviet deliveries to Cuba, it is extremely unlikely that there could have been a close synchronization of Soviet moves in Cuba and Berlin. Nonetheless, even though fortuitous, the coincidence of recent events in Berlin and Cuba is almost certainly judged by the Soviets to be advantageous as long as present levels of tension are not greatly exceeded. Moscow probably does recognize that at some point a brazen challenge of Western interests and prestige will lead to a reaction which could start a chain of events involving uncontrollable, or hard-to-control risks.

As already indicated, the Soviets view their advances in Cuba and their efforts to make advances in Berlin as the logical concomitant of fundamental forces at work in the world. They probably believe that barring [Page 1020] a rash act (either by the US or by Castro) the Soviet position in Cuba and the stability of the regime there is bound to gain in strength. Likewise, the Soviets appear to be confident that over time the Western position in Berlin will inevitably undergo diminution. Based on these expectations it would appear to be unlikely that Moscow would consider offering some sort of quid-pro-quo gambit whereby the USSR would halt or drastically curtail its role in Cuba in exchange for a Western withdrawal from Berlin. This is not to say that if some arrangement deemed advantageous by the USSR were worked out in Berlin, Moscow might not be willing, tacitly, to dampen down its more brazen involvement in Cuba. Indeed, Moscow might calculate that politically it would be feasible for the US to accept a new Berlin arrangement only under conditions of relative communist quiescence elsewhere in the world where Western interests are directly involved. But Soviet restraint based on such calculations would be likely to be transitory and in Cuba, at any rate, the momentum of Soviet involvement could be expected to be resumed in short order.

III. The Cuban Role

Motivations and Intentions

The increased Soviet economic and military aid to Cuba is undoubtedly being received with relief and satisfaction by the regimeʼs leaders who in recent months have made little effort to hide Cubaʼs increasing economic, administrative and political problems. Cubaʼs sugar crop, still the mainstay of the Cuban economy, dropped drastically in 1962. With respect to other agricultural products Cuba has clearly not achieved the much needed expansion called for under the regimeʼs plans. Meanwhile, in the industrial sector the deterioration of plants, equipment shortages, poor quality of raw materials, and gross mismanagement continued. Because of the US embargo and the shortage of foreign exchange, the Cubans have not been able to find adequate sources for the machinery and parts formerly imported from the US. The selection of management personnel chiefly on the basis of political reliability rather than technical qualifications continued to be the rule.

The leaders calculated that they needed expanded Soviet assistance both in a material and psychological sense to revive the economy, to overawe internal opposition, discourage any external invasion, stiffen the backs of supporters in and out of the armed forces, and restore Cubaʼs waning prestige in the Hemisphere. The prospect of sizeable numbers of Soviet military technicians and more sophisticated armament was probably welcomed as a demonstration of Soviet involvement, a possible deterrent to an invasion, a potential forerunner of an all-purpose Soviet defense commitment, and an addition to the fighting capability of the Cuban forces. There is little reason to doubt that Castroʼs intentions are to [Page 1021] arm in such a way as to (in Castroʼs own words) “be in a position to repulse any imperialistic attack.”

The Castro armed forces are primarily organized around missions of internal security and external defense, although it is doubtful that the regime draws much of a distinction between the two requirements. The internal oppositionists draw encouragement—when not material aid—from the fact of US power near at hand. Similarly, the likelihood of that powerʼs being used is affected by the degree of internal unrest in Cuba. Finally, coastal incursions by Cuban exiles pose a challenge to both external defense and internal security forces.

It has always been difficult to discern how much of the regimeʼs invasion talk stems from serious fears of attack and how much is a cynical tool for whipping up nationalistic fervor. It is likely that regime leaders themselves have reached the point where they cannot separate out their own motives. As Caribbeans, the Cubans have undoubtedly feared retaliation from the United States for their behavior since 1959. At the same time, they have acknowledged privately that invasion scares are most useful in maintaining support for the revolution. Scare talk also sets the stage for popular acceptance of greatly expanded numbers of Soviet military personnel.

In considering a new military buildup with the Soviets, Cuban leaders must have been aware of the adverse reaction it would cause in some sectors of Latin American opinion and perhaps in the OAS itself. However, when confronted with similar decisions in the past, the regime has opted for closer involvement with the bloc, preferring the course which would offer tangible support for its security and enhance its reputation for dynamism and defiance. It is probable that Castro, despite his independent nature and pride in Cubaʼs “unique revolution” has had little trouble concluding that the increased Soviet assistance will serve to strengthen his position and control of the situation.

In dealing with the bloc for arms since 1960 the Cubans have probably displayed almost open-ended desires. While financial considerations were probably important in the earliest deals (financial details on bloc arms remain a mystery but under current circumstances almost certainly are credit or grant), it was probably Soviet, rather than Cuban, desires which determined the final composition of military assistance to Cuba. It is probable that in the latest round of negotiations, in late spring or early summer, the Cubans again expressed an open-ended desire for hardware and tried to push the Soviets into a firm commitment to come to their defense in all contingencies.

The regimeʼs leaders are expected to say little about the Soviet military contribution in public pronouncements. This behavior will probably stem not so much from the fear of provoking the United States as from a desire to emphasize for the internal public the Cuban-ness of the [Page 1022] military effort. Effusive praise for bloc economic aid by regime spokesmen has always contrasted sharply with near silence on bloc military aid, although the latter has in fact been more prompt and extensive.

Because of a sensitivity to acknowledging dependence on the Soviets for the actual territorial defense of Cuba, the regime has probably not desired the establishment of full-fledged Soviet military base on Cuban soil. In future, if the leaders believe their security again in imminent danger, they could come to welcome such a base, although they would still prefer a promise of thermonuclear retaliation. In the meantime, their attitude will not preclude acceptance of specialized Soviet units in such fields as intelligence and communications, nor will it limit their desire for growing numbers of Soviet technicians and advisors.

Possible Moves Against Guantanamo. It continues to be unlikely that the Castro regime, fearing US retaliation, will make any direct military move against the Guantanamo Base. However, they may well adopt a more belligerent posture toward the United States presence there. Since the beginning of July the Cuban press and other propaganda media have been giving new and extensive coverage to government allegations (over 150) of US air and sea incursions into Cuban territory and to alleged provocations by the US naval base at Guantanamo. The harassment of marine sentries at the base has increased in the same period.

There is a possibility that the regime intends this publicity as part of an overall campaign to impress world opinion with alleged US disregard for Cuban sovereignty. In addition to providing justification for the new Soviet aid and the further militarization of the island it may also be the principal point of attack in a combined Cuban-Bloc move aimed at Guantanamo at the next session of the UN General Assembly.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSAM 181, Cuba (B). Secret; Noforn.
  2. For text of Secretary Herterʼs speech at the Seventh Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics, at San Jose, Costa Rica on August 24, 1960, see Department of State Bulletin, September 12, 1960, pp. 395-400.