The Cuban Dialogue did not come out of a hollow historical vacuum but has been with us since the Cuban Revolution (Spanish: Revolución cubana) began as an armed revolt initiated by Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries of the Twenty-Sixth of July Movement and its political allies against the military dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. After the first few successful years of the Revolution, with the Cuban revolutionary army still in its infancy, the Americans began to feel uneasy about the Revolution’s trajectory, which was like a missile flying with a warhead aimed at the heart of US imperialism. Cuba’s first confrontation with the United States in the modern era began in February 1962, when – as the US State Department records – John F. Kennedy “proclaimed an embargo on trade between the United States and Cuba, in response to certain actions taken by the Cuban Government, and directed the Departments of Commerce and the Treasury to implement the embargo, which remains in place today”.[i] It was this imperialist proclamation which could lead to a military confrontation on a tragic scale not seen since the Peloponnesian War, when the Athenian Empire was bent on subjugating the island of Melos for not going to war against its rival, the Spartans.
For almost 60 years, then, the United States and the Cuban revolutionary government have waged an informational war and proxy wars, including clandestine and espionage warfare. Thus, the two political adversaries are in a continuous friction of warfare by any means possible.
Compounding the sanctions, the Coronavirus plague has also devastated the population of Cuba, with hospitals being filled beyond capacity and according to some non-Cuban news outlets there are scenes of death in the streets and villages of Cuba that reveal images of Dantean scenes. Thus, the economic sanctions along with the worldwide plague have brought physical and psychological devastation to the Cuban people. The horror and annihilation of the Cuban people is part of the result of the Melos entrapment; it could bring about the possibility of a fragile people resorting to self-preservation, which in turn could mean a surrender of their revolutionary independence brought on by a political realism. Such social and physical trauma would mean that the professionalism, tenacity and virtue of the Cuban military would be tested to their utmost limits.
In 1995, the US government created a ‘Handbook’ on the Cuban military which states that “Cuba's Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) is composed of the regular components - the Army, the Navy and the Air Defense Force - plus the paramilitary Youth Labor Army, and Civil Defense. The Ministry of Interior (MININT) has two military units - the Special Troops and the Border Guard Troops-as well as the paramilitary Department of State Security. Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul, who hold the top two positions in the military, the government, and the Cuban Communist Party, clearly control the country. The two have built an unusually united, disciplined, ideologically indoctrinated, and combat-experienced military force which is one of the strongest in Latin America”.[ii]
Although the document was written in 1995 and is now outdated it clearly reveals a detailed interest in the Cuban military and its capabilities.
In another publication, “The Cuban Military and Transition Dynamics”, written in 2003 by the analyst Brian Latell, assisted by the Cuba Transition Project (CTP) Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, there is a further indication that the American political and military apparatuses are continually reevaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the Cuban military and its capability to wage war. There is a crucial introduction to the analysis that should not be overlooked, as the author states emphatically how Cuba’s military capabilities should be understood according to its history, while at the same time not mentioning the economic blockade which is slowly but surely smothering the lives of the Cuban people. I call it the Melos Entrapment: my name for how one country attempts to subdue or destroy another through a blockade, sanctions and invasion, similar to the way that Imperial Athens destroyed Melos. In my view, though, these sanctions – not only economic but social and cultural – aggrieve the Cuban people in such a way that their military forces become determined and therefore more creative in their own military preparedness in case of an invasion by US armed forces and their regional allies in the Americas. Here is a quote from Latell’s introduction:
The Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias
— FAR) has long been the most powerful, influential, and competent
official institution in Cuba, and top generals will play crucial roles in all
conceivable succession scenarios. The generals will either dominate a new
regime after Fidel Castro dies or is incapacitated, or, like the militaries in the
former communist countries of Eastern Europe, be the willing accomplices
in the demise of Marxist rule.[iii]
Although the author acknowledged at the time of his observation that the Castro brothers were able to control the situation when their dominant leadership was threatened, as well as maintaining authority over the Cuban Communist party, he did propose a moment of public crisis in which he felt that the Cuban military might baulk at supporting the socialist state: “If large scale popular violence were to occur, most observers of the FAR believe that many troop commanders would refuse orders to unleash lethal force against civilians. Conflict among rival military commanders and units could ensue”.[iv] It should be noted that at the time of my own observation of the state of the Cuban military, there were major protests in Cuba among the poorer working class and disgruntled socially marginalized youth, as well as the lumpenproletariat and criminal elements as well. During July 2021, when these protests occurred, there was misinformation organized by the current American regime to make out these protests to be a harbinger of things to come. The majority of Cubans came out in support of the Cuban government, although they also advocated more general reforms, as the sanctions are wearing the general population down, just as they once did in Melos over two thousand years ago, when the Athenians blockaded ships arriving with goods to sustain the people so that they would not starve to death. Athenian troops and their allies came ashore and created a contingent around the wall intended to protect the Melos population from invasion – except now the very same wall became a trap that would have irreversible consequences. Having noted past military history, I would say that the Cuban people and particularly its military forces are capable of sustaining a protracted war against the United States or any other nation-state that might wish to come upon their shores in order to dominate them.
War is an industry, and therefore expenditure is not only about the loss of life but the amount of money or funds that are spent from a nation’s war chest in order to wage it. According to World Bank data, Cuba’s military expenditure in 2018 was 128,609,127.00 (current USD)[v], which is minuscule compared to the United States, which in the 2019 Department of Defense discretionary budget was allocated $686.1 billion. It was also described as "$617 billion for the base budget and another $69 billion for war funding”.[vi]
According to the Peter G Peterson Foundation, which monitors military spending:
The United States spends more on national defense than China, India, Russia, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Australia — combined. While the chart above illustrates last year’s defense spending in dollar terms, the United States has also historically devoted a larger share of its economy to defense than many of its key allies.[vii]
With the history of the Bay of Pigs invasion by the United States and the resulting fiasco, together with the military and economic assistance from the Soviet Union to the sanction-hit Cuban nation, there has been a far-reaching creativity in the Cuban military orchestrated by the erstwhile leader of Cuba, Raul Castro, who –
according to Hal Klepak, Professor Emeritus of Strategy and Latin American History at the Royal Military College of Canada – did the following:
Raul set to work developing a modified defence posture based on
the successful Vietnamese model, and called La Guerra de Todo el Pueblo (the War of the People). While the objective remained the same as it had
been since the early days of the US threat, that is one of deterring an
invasion by making it so expensive to the attacker that the game would
not be worth the candle, the emphasis was now going to be massively on
the reserve forces. These would soon be raised to some 800,000 strong, this for a population of under ten million, and with a regular force acting essentially as a core of this defence scheme, and itself brought up to a staggering 200,00 personnel.[viii]
We see that the Melos Entrapment that I referred to at the start of my commentary means that sanctions on another nation in turn create a situation where those forces which have suffered political, economic and social sanctions imposed upon them illegally will eventually retaliate and create their own military forces that will fight to the death to defend their way of life. It is my modest opinion that should Cuba be invaded in the future, the Cuban military will develop a strategy of protracted warfare, in which the majority of the armed forces will retreat to the mountains and tropical regions in order to eventually envelope the invader’s forces, which will initially occupy various cities; there, irregular forces or urban guerrillas will wage a continuous insurgency, wearing down the invading army until the bulk of the Cuban Army is able to advance upon the cities with the help of its allies, whether they take the form of military advisers and military equipment supplied by China or whether they come from the oligarchical regime that is currently in place in Moscow. I foresee also various contingents of fighters from Latin America who will play a role in combating the invaders upon Cuban soil should such a scenario ever play out. We should understand that the Cuban Revolution remains incomplete, as the Republic still flies the old colonial-era national flag.
According to a site called “Global Firepower”, Cuba has 50,000 active military personnel; 40,00 reserve personnel; 1,146,000 paramilitary personnel. The Cuban military has a total of 80 military aircraft; 40 fighters/interceptors according to the site[ix], but it should be noted that all these statistics are subject to change even as I write them down. As far as land forces are concerned, Cuba supposedly has the following armed forces: 1,230 tanks; 1, 570 armoured vehicles; 100 self-propelled artillery; 150 towed artillery.[x]
It is worth noting that during the Peloponnesian War, the ancient Greek historian Thucydides was at pains to reveal how the small group of people and their military personnel on the island of Melos were severely outnumbered by the forces of Athens and her allies which would utterly destroy the population of Melos, killing all the men and taking into slavery their women and children. Such is the inequality between the most powerful and the least powerful of nations, not only in the past but in today’s world as well.
When two unequal adversaries oppose each other, and there Is no parity of political and military strength, then eventually the weakest of the two is destroyed. Peace is achieved only through nation states becoming equally strong.
As I write (July 28, 2021), the Cuban Embassy in Paris has been attacked with petrol bombs, as reported by the press agency Reuters, which wrote up the following commentary:
Cuba's foreign ministry published photos of the petrol bombs on its official Twitter feed. "Those directly responsible for these acts are those who incite violence and hatred against our country," it said.
Its embassy in Paris pointed the finger at the United States, saying such acts had been "encouraged by campaigns by the U.S. government against our country."
The foreign ministers of the United States and 20 other countries on Monday condemned mass arrests in Cuba and called for full restoration of Internet access.[xi]
The ongoing aggression by the United States against its perceived enemy, Cuba, which it feels threatened by, reveals not only the fear felt by the United States and its imperialist regime, but also signifies that along with that fear and loathing there is also an underlying jealousy which in turn has created a Melos Entrapment which the United States instigated in order to destroy totally the revolutionary infrastructure of the Cuban government by any means necessary.
Let us turn to the passage of the Melian Dialogue written by Thucydides in which he has the Athenian envoys imply to the Melians that they will suffer annihilation unless they submit to Athenian political hegemony:
Athenians: ‘Not if you think it through carefully:
this is not a test set up on equal terms to demonstrate
your manly courage and save your honour; the question
you must consider is rather one of self-preservation –
that is, not resisting those who are far stronger than you.’[xii]
For the Melian leadership and their people, the Athenians offer nothing but slavery. There is no such thing as a “third way” for the Melians faced with the ‘total war’ of what is today called Totalitarianism. Total war did not begin with the rise of modern nation-states, nor was its first nucleus created in the trenches of the First World War or the battlefields of the Second; rather, in essence, the Western concept of ‘total war’ was created and propagandized by Athenian state power, which used the term “democracy” to shield its actual political ambitions. The Melians were seen by the Athenian oligarchs in much the same way that American regimes view those who have opposed them since the creation of the American Republic, those who oppose their exceptionalism and their supposed right to hegemony, even when they naively overreach in asserting that ‘right’ before the world. The Melians, who were committed to their choice to maintain their independence, therefore knew that they needed either to fight the Athenian forces or to become enslaved and perish by the sword. The ancient Athenians set up this false construct: justice and political power are only reserved for those with superior strength, while those with less must accept what is before them, and nothing else.
An analogy between the blockade of Cuba and the ancient blockade of Melos is not meant to be exact in a historical context. Rather it is meant to reveal the underlying nature of a blockade, sanctions and the ultimate terror of military invasion. The Cuban socialist nation is not a replica of the agricultural and fishing settlement of ancient Melos. However, as the Cubans are allies of the Russian state and of the People's Republic as well, Melos was an island and Spartan settlement unwilling to be enslaved by Imperial Athens, as Thucydides reported in his immortal work The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians. Like Melos, the Cuban state and its people have been given a choice: to eventually submit to imperial authority or to face the prospect of annihilation. All military theory must be understood considering past history in order to create a present theory of the present.
In total war there exists the pragmatic and idealized force which becomes a force of fascist militarism, whereas a war of liberation or a war in defence of the motherland against external military aggression is a patriotic war. There is no morality in totalitarian war, whilst in wars of colonial liberation and wars against genocide, there is a morality in waging war. The Cuban people and the Cuban military have the justifiable right to defend themselves, even if it means to the death, and in that way, they defend their integrity as a people and as a sovereign, independent nation-state. We should not forget that it was Stalin who called upon Communists and their allies to struggle with the banner of national independence at hand, but also to recognize that independence is never given to a colonized people without a cost in blood. Such is the nature of wars for independence, and Cuba’s struggle is no different from the others.
In concluding my commentary on Cuba’s political and military struggle against what I have termed the Melos Entrapment, I will refer to the Italian Marxist historian Domenico Losurdo, who wrote that “food diplomacy was openly theorized in the USA, which ruthlessly practices it to this day — for example, against Cuba — after having long practiced it in the Cold War years, and no less ruthlessly, against the People’s Republic of China and more recently, Iraq. Men, women and children… have been condemned to the ‘starvation’ menacingly held out...”[xiii] Through the sanctions of starvation, the Cuban military has become more formidable and more powerful in the Americas compared with its colonial past.
Luis Lázaro Tijerina
[xii] Thucydides, The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians. Edited and translated by Jeremy Mynott. Cambridge University Press, 2013, 381.
[xiii] Domenico Losurdo, War and Revolution. VERSO Press: London & New York, 2015, 311.