Cuba keeps security forces well-stocked

MIAMI — A brutal economic crisis is forcing the Cuban government to lay off half a million workers, slash imports and subsidized food sales and even trim its keystone health services.

Yet the government has given no sign it will reduce its domestic or national security agencies – the Ministries of Interior and Revolutionary Armed Forces – and appears instead to be expanding them.

A Communist Party document issued in mid-September laying out the timetable for the layoffs in 26 ministries and state-owned enterprises made no mention of the security agencies.

Canadian Hal Klepak and Cuban-American Armando Mastrapa, both academic experts on the Cuban military, said they have seen no hint that the military-security sector would be cut.

Regina Coyula, a Havana blogger who worked in the Interior Ministry’s counterintelligence section, said employees there have been privately assured that the cuts will not affect them.

And Vladimiro Roca, a dissident and former air force MiG pilot, said have not even been rumors of cuts.

“They are set on maintaining the repression at a very high level,” Roca said. Like Coyula, he spoke by phone from Havana.

The criminal and traffic police, meanshile, have launched unusually public recruitment drives, Cuba’s defense and security budget has been rising and the government has bought riot-control and light military equipment abroad.

The new gear, said Mastrapa, could be designed to “put down . . . rioting in the event the Raul Castro government’s experiment in economic liberalization goes awry.”

Klepak said he did not expect the military-security sector “will bear any significant (job) cuts” because it shrank notably after Soviet subsidies ended in the early 1990s “and could not take much more and still be viable.”

The London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies reported in October that Cuba’s military stood at 49,000 active personnel in 2009 – 38,000 in the army, 3,000 in the navy and 8,000 in its air forces. That compares with 60,000 a decade earlier.

The military has been cannibalizing its equipment and faces some shortages of fuel and training, said Klepak, who teaches history at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Yet Cuba’s defense spending remains relatively high, with the CIA’s World Factbook putting it at 3.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2006 – 29th highest in the world. The United States ranked 25th.

A report this year by Cuba’s National Statistic Office showed the budget for “defense and internal order” rising steadily from 2004 to 2009, from 1.3 to 2.08 billion pesos. In comparison, it reported the government budgeted 3.7 billion pesos for education in 2009.

The report did not include the 2010 budget.


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