281. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 85–64


The Problem

To assess the Cuban situation and the outlook over the next year or two.

[Page 678]


Though the downward trend of the Cuban economy seems to have slowed and perhaps levelled off, we believe the economic situation will be stagnant over the next two years. Inept management and low labor morale will persist. Living levels are likely to become slightly lower, and shortages of foodstuffs, housing and many types of consumer goods will continue. Slight gains in industry are likely, but these will probably be offset by some decline in the agricultural sector. (Paras. 3–7, 9–13, 17–19)
Export earnings in 1965 and 1966 are likely to be below 1964 levels, because of lower sugar prices and poor prospects for substantially larger production of sugar and other export commodities. The value of total trade with the Free World can be expected to decline during the period. We believe that the Soviets and other Communist countries will provide sufficient credit assistance to prevent a seriously damaging drop in total imports. In these circumstances, Cubaʼs heavy economic dependence on the Communist world will continue. (Paras. 8, 14–16)
Depressed levels of consumption, the imposition of work norms, and forced labor and security duties will tend to narrow the regimeʼs popular support. However, the huge security apparatus will almost certainly prevent popular dissatisfaction from bringing down the regime. We think it likely that a number of military officers have lost sympathy with certain of its policies, but we doubt that there is military disaffection on a scale sufficient to threaten Castro. Major deterioration in the internal situation or serious difficulties within the government could alter the picture, but would be unlikely to undermine Castroʼs power position in less than several years. We believe his death would lead, in fairly short order, to a power struggle of unpredictable outcome. (Paras. 20–36)
The Cuban armed forces are much the best-equipped in Latin America and, except for Brazil, the largest. Their capabilities have continued to improve, chiefly as a result of the delivery of additional weapons from the USSR and Cuban acquisition of weapon systems formerly under Soviet control. The compulsory military service program, introduced last November, will probably cause an initial drop in the level of training and efficiency, but will permit improved selectivity of recruits for the active forces, and will eventually produce a much larger trained reserve. (Paras. 37–43)
There are almost certainly no Russian combat units still in Cuba. Upon completion of current withdrawals, a Soviet MAAG-type presence, mostly technical and maintenance personnel, of about 2,000 will probably remain so long as the Cuban armed forces remain dependent on the USSR for technical and material support to maintain their complex Soviet equipment. (Paras. 44–45)
During the period of this estimate, the Soviets are highly unlikely to reintroduce strategic weapons into Cuba, though they have the technical capability to do so clandestinely. They might use Cuba for support of their submarines, but so long as they calculate that the risk would be high, they would not push such a venture very far. (Paras. 46–47)
The Cuba-Soviet relationship remains intact, although frictions have continued. Castro, though willing to lean to the side of the Soviets in the Sino-Soviet dispute, has refused to join in any formal condemnation of Peiping. He is concerned lest a further improvement in US-Soviet relations leave his regime more isolated and exposed. Though the Soviets almost certainly consider Castro to be erratic and undependable, they have little choice but to continue to support him. (Paras. 48–52)
The most explosive question in Soviet-Cuban relations, as well as between Castro and the US, is the continuation of U–2 overflights. Castro and Khrushchev have conducted a program of warnings, threats, and compromise suggestions to induce the US to desist. It is almost certain that Cuba now has full control over the SAM system—and consequently the capability to shoot down a U–2. Thus we believe that the Soviets can only give advice, backed up by their political and economic leverage, though we cannot wholly exclude the possibility that they have retained some sort of physical restraint on an actual firing. Nevertheless, we believe that Castro does not intend to force the issue until after the US elections, when he will seek UN action. If this fails, there is considerable danger that he would order a shootdown, calculating that the US would not retaliate in force or that, if it did, the resulting hue and cry would end the overflights. An impulsive reaction by Castro or even an unauthorized shootdown is always possible. (Paras. 44, 53–56)
Castro has a serious interest in improving relations with the US, as a means of reducing the pressures on his regime. He probably also considers that his recent gestures are useful to build a record of Cuban reasonableness and flexibility in preparation for Cubaʼs appeal to the UN on the U–2 issue. He will probably make further overtures from time to time, but there is little chance that he will accede at any early date to the conditions the US has stated. (Paras. 57–58)
Castroʼs efforts to foment revolution in Latin America have suffered setbacks during the past year. He is probably somewhat less sanguine about the chances for quick success. Nevertheless, he will almost certainly continue to provide aid and subversive training to potential revolutionaries. He may press for early aggressive action by some Castroist groups, even though their immediate chances seem poor, hoping that their repression would eventually produce conditions more favorable for exploitation. (Paras. 59–62)

[Omitted here is the Discussion section of the estimate.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NIEs, 85, Cuba. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet this estimate was prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency with the participation of the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and the National Security Agency. The United States Intelligence Board concurred in this estimate on August 5.