232. Memorandum From Viron P. Vaky of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

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SUBJECT: Cuban Policy

The internal situation in Cuba and Cuban-USSR relations are undergoing fundamental change. What happens in the next year will determine the future of that country and our relationship to it for a long time to come:

Two major things are happening:

  • There is pretty clearly an intra-elite struggle going on that involves two ways of organizing and controlling the country—one backed, and probably inspired, by the Soviets, and the other captained by Castro and his old “26 of July” elite.
  • Castro’s centrality to the power picture and the governing process is threatened by the resulting tensions and he appears to know it; there is further clear evidence that the Soviets are associated with this threat.

This situation has two implications for us:

  • a. the reality of Cuba is becoming considerably different from what it was, and therefore the perception of it which we have had in our minds may be irrelevant or even wrong;
  • b. there may be an opportunity for us to take new initiatives to affect the situation in a given direction.

We ought at least to consider this situation consciously and carefully, because the opportunity, if it exists, is a passing one. Things are crystallizing fast, and if we wait, the direction in Cuba will soon be set and we will not then be able to influence it. Maybe we should not—or cannot—do anything about it, but that ought to be a conscious decision. In any case, even if we make no substantive change in the way we handle Cuba, we ought to revise the way we defend and articulate our policy because the old rhetoric and the old premises are just rapidly becoming irrelevant.

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As I had previously indicated to you (my memo of September 8) the bits and pieces of intelligence add up to a fascinating picture. Attached at Tab A are just some of these—including a Canadian report—which you will find illuminating.

These reports and the theories they suggest are also supported by the research which RAND is doing on internal political dynamics in Cuba. This research is still preliminary but it is very thought-provoking. Much of the following analysis is based on their findings.

A. The Internal Struggle

Up to now, Castro has adhered to a “charismatic-hardship Communism” model for his revolution, aimed at rapid economic development and the creation of a “new man” and a non-materialistic society. This involved postponement of current consumer demands in favor of other development priorities and a “moralizing” regimen for society—the famous “moral incentives.” It has been highly personalistic and has depended on Castro’s personal hold on the masses, his personal dominance over public policies at all levels and his own ideological vision of Cuba.

Castro’s charismatic style of leadership has impeded rational orderly planning however. He has been adventurist, meddling and sometimes a dilettante in policy-making. More significantly, he is losing his hold on the populace due to continued depressed standards of living and such things as the 1970 sugar harvest failure.

What has happened, therefore, is that modernization and the “new man” have not been achieved under this model, and the charismatic foundation of it has been undermined by the poor economic performance. The resulting tensions have very clearly led the country into a period of readjustment that is in effect a search for an alternative model. At stake are:

  • —Castro’s centrality in the revolutionary process;
  • —which elites are to wield most influence—Fidelistas or Communist Party and technocrats/administrators;
  • —the degree to which the Russians will exercise control over the Cuban economy and polity.

Two alternative “models” appear to be in contention:

a. One is a Sovietized technocratic-administrative model for economic development; this places a premium on rational planning and de-emphasizes [Page 3] societal redemption; it maximizes production and distribution of goods; it would restrict Castro’s personalistic control, especially in economic decision-making, in favor of specialists, technocrats and administrators.

Some moves in this direction are clearly evident in recent appointments of administrators and specialists to head several ministries, and in Castro’s announcement last July that he would create inter-ministerial teams to coordinate sectoral economic activities.

b. The other alternative is a populist-hardship communism model. This is being advocated by Fidel; it is essentially the previous model, with similar economic and social goals, but Castro would bolster his command by expanding grass-roots participation by the masses in management and government through committees and mass organizations. Thus, instead of rule from above by a technocratic elite, Castro has been calling for a counterforce from below, for a populist movement in running the country. This has been the clear theme of his recent speeches.

All the recent intelligence reporting suggests that this “debate” transcends a simple intra-elite struggle, and involves a Soviet interest in reordering and improving the economy. In fact, the technocratic-administrative model would probably not be a viable alternative without Soviet endorsement and support.

Having invested so much in Cuba over the last ten years, the Soviets have apparently decided to make the economy more efficient; having had trouble with Castro’s charisma, they would have an interest in restructuring the command structure. Given Castro’s growing vulnerability following persistent poor economic performance and the sugar harvest failure, the Soviets probably believe that this is the opportune time to restructure the leadership and the economy, both to preserve their position against the day when Castro passes from the scene anyway and to support their general strategy in Latin America. Thus, they probably called in Castro’s debts on other fronts in connection with their move at Cienfuegos.

In short, the probability is that Moscow feels it holds all the cards, that now is the time to press for concessions from Castro and to build alternatives to his personalistic control of the country, and to insure their continued and even enhanced position in Cuba in the process.

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Castro thus has his back against the wall given his almost complete economic and military dependence on the Soviets. But he is tough and resourceful, and so he is looking for ways to dramatize and maximize his power capability. There are two main ways he can do this:

a. The Populist Ploy. By capitalizing on his ties with the populace, he has widened the area of political combat—any intra-elite struggle has to go beyond the boundaries of government and consider the mass organizations presumably beholden to Fidel. Thus, Castro’s “model” is both an alternative to the technocratic model for organizing society and a tactic for salvaging his personal position.

It does not promise to be effective in economic development, but it may be effective against Soviet pressure to “de-emphasize” him. If it develops a capacity to invoke popular passions against the “specialists” it could develop into something like the “blossoming of a hundred flowers” in China. But it would retard the ability of the technocratic elite and the Soviets to supplant Castro.

One could speculate that at most Castro may be able only to postpone the Sovietized technocratic model; but at a minimum he may hope to salvage or optimize his position in any new trend. He may also simply lose out, but that depends on how hard and when the Soviets and their Cuban allies push; that in turn depends on their estimate of his power and leverage.

b. Nationalism in Latin America. Castro has always indicated that one of his means for resisting Soviet domination is to make clear he is a force in the Socialist world in his own right; he has always felt that he needed Latin American allies to survive. To achieve this “independent” image, he has in the past sought to foster revolution in Latin America without success. Now he appears ready to cultivate the new nationalism and populism in the region; thus, he has flirted with Peru (without a great deal of success) and he clearly will try to link up with Allende. He has become far more selective in his export of revolution.

He may in fact follow a dual track strategy in Latin America—viz., consign Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and some of the Central American countries to the “hopeless” category, against which selective subversive activities might pay off. At the same time he will try to mine the nationalist populist trends forming around Peru, Chile, Bolivia and break out of his hemisphere isolation. (Colombia and Venezuela are question marks for Castro and for us.)

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What we have to ask ourselves is:

  • —Which model would be more in our interests?
  • —Is there anything we can or should do about it?

One could make a long list of pros and cons about a Castroist Cuba vs. a Sovietized Cuba, and I have not tried to do so here. One central dilemma which ought to be emphasized, however, is the following:

  • —A Sovietized model offers several advantages over a Castroist one—it is easier to deal with in the short run and has some hostage value—but if allowed to materialize, it entrenches the Soviet presence—political/economic initially but potentially strategic—and therefore increases the chance of direct US-Soviet confrontations. In short, a Sovietized Cuba restricts both short and long-term options—either we accept the increased Soviet presence or we try to forestall it.
  • —A Castroist Cuba, on the other hand, would in the short-run be more irritating and troublesome, but in the long-run it offers us a greater chance to change the internal structure because it is a fundamentally non-viable revolutionary model. Therefore, this model would give us greater possibilities of dealing with the Castro threat and at the same time would give us the best potential for limiting a Soviet strategic threat.

What could we do about it if we wanted to? If nature is left to take its course, I think the Sovietized model will win out; the only thing that can stop it is Castro’s charisma—which will either slip or disappear in time when he does (which he has to do sooner or later).

If, on the other hand, we are interested in inhibiting or reducing the Soviet strategic threat potential and their general presence in Latin America, we should consider actions to strengthen Castro’s hand. For what the foregoing circumstances point to is the startling hypothesis that Castro may just be our best tactical ally in resisting the spread of the Soviet presence and influence into the region.

Castro will clearly not want to move into our orbit, but neither do we now give him any incentive or way to move out of his economic and security dependence on the Soviets. Recognizing all of the problems that there are in giving him this greater independence, nevertheless the fact remains that this may be the most effective way to detach him from the Soviet bloc, restrict the Soviet strategic threat potential and open up future possibilities for eventually eliminating or changing Castroism into something more acceptable.

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Do we have the capacity to do this?

It is entirely conceivable that we could, through a series of small steps and cold-blooded “deals” which promote both his and our interests over those of the Soviets—e.g., a relaxation of our economic denial program for some provable concession such as curtailment of Cuban-instigated terrorism in the United States.

In any event, I think we owe it to ourselves to re-examine the situation and its implications for our policy, and we should do it soon. NSSM 32 called for a policy paper, but we never really considered it. In any case, the paper is badly out of date and by now not very satisfactory. It was done by the ARA/IG; but I do not think they are in a position to revise it very effectively.


I recommend that we replace NSSM 32 and call for a new study; and that this be done by a very small ad hoc force chaired by the NSC.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 780, Country Files, Latin America, Cuba, Vol. II, 1970. Confidential. Sent for action. A copy was sent to Colonel Kennedy. Kissinger did not initial approval or disapproval. The attachments at Tab A have not been found. An undated handwritten note from Haig to Nachmanoff, in the upper right of the cover page, reads, “Arnie—HAK says hold for present.”
  2. Citing evidence that an elite power struggle was occurring, which threatened Castro’s hold on power in Cuba, Vaky suggested replacing NSSM 32 with a new study of Cuba, more in tune with U.S. policy prerogatives.