A Stroll Through Havana

The Cold War, from 1945-1989, is broadly defined as a geopolitical struggle between the West and the East, democracy and communism. In reality, the Cold War was an extremely complex situation, with many layers to it, ranging from politics to proxy wars. One of the biggest sources of tension between the two sides was the competition for influence in developing countries between the Soviet Union and the United States. The post World War II world included rebuilding and developing countries after many years of war. These countries found themselves with a power vacuum, one the United States and the Soviet Union were eager to fill. The Soviet Union sought to expand its influence in most third world countries, including countries in Africa and the Middle East, most notably Afghanistan. One of the first of Khrushchev’s “wars of national liberation”, Cuba emerged as the primary focus of  the Soviet Union in the western hemisphere.

The Communist Bloc: Soviet influence found in the orange colored countries

The most notable Soviet success in a third world country was found in Cuba. In 1953, Fidel Castro led a communist revolution in Cuba which finally succeeded in 1959 and resulted in Castro taking power and founding a communist regime. Subsequently, relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union tightened over the next several decades. In 1964, officials from both countries formed a Soviet-Cuban Friendship Society in Moscow. The highly publicized event included remarks from Hero of the Soviet Union Yuri Gagarin and was designed to broadcast warm relations between the two countries (Pogosov). In an interview with Pravda in 1977, Castro stated that the “Cuban revolution was a great demonstration of the Soviet Union’s internationalist spirit for the entire world” (17 Moments). In this interview, Castro also stressed the influence of Lenin and the Soviet Union on his country. Castro also praised the Soviet Union for its endeavors around the world to preserve peace, solve hunger and poverty, and that “mankind will owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the October Revolution, Lenin, and the Soviet people” (17 Moments).

Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev




The Soviet Union strengthened its influence in Cuba in several ways. Economically, the United States had established a global trade embargo on Cuba and terminated an economic relation with the country., allowing the Soviet Union to move in. The Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations established a multilateral trade agreement with Cuba in 1961 (Walters). Annually, the Soviet Union provided billions of dollars a year in economic aid to Cuba, peaking with $4.7 billion in 1982 (CIA). Militarily, the Soviet Union sent advisers, soldiers, weapons, and equipment to Cuba to assist its military. One of the most recognized Cold War events, the Cuban Missile Crisis, concerned Soviet-Cuban military relations. The location of Cuba was especially important to the Soviet Union. Cuba is a mere 90 miles away from the United States, and establishing a Soviet foothold in the American sphere of influence would deal a blow to American prestige throughout the world. Soviet-Cuban relations remained strong throughout the rest of the 20th century until the Gorbachev era. Relations between the two countries broke apart during Gorbachev’s administration and the two country’s alliance was terminated in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.


Sources Used:

Biggio, Charles P., Jr. The USSR and the National Liberation Movement. Master’s thesis, US Army War College, 1966. Carlisle: US Army War College, 1966.
Pogosov, Yu. “U.S.S.R.-Cuba-Soviet-Cuban Friendship Society Formed.” Pravda, November 12, 1964, 4. Accessed March 31, 2016. The Current Digest of the Russian Press.
Castro/Khrushchev picture taken from http://www.latinamericanstudies.org
Communist Bloc picture taken from http://www.wikipedia.org

9 thoughts on “A Stroll Through Havana

  1. Nick Runkel

    I like how you discussed the geopolitical realities of the Cold War world in this post. I find it fascinating that a tiny country, compared tot he United States was able to survive 90 miles from its coast while being under an international trade embargo. I am not a fan of Cuba or the Castro brother’s regime, but I must admit it is impressive.


  2. Phillip Pullen

    I would argue that the USSR’s relationship with Cuba was one of, if not the main, factor in escalating the tensions surrounding the Cold War. The USSR had been a growing power from WWI, through WWII, and up through the post-war era. The U.S. understood initially that the Soviet Union would control much of the Eastern Hemisphere and, while that idea didn’t necessarily it well with the U.S., it was at least tolerated. I think Soviet presence 90 miles from the U.S. was the defining characteristic that propelled the Cold War into what it was.


  3. Iain Alexandridis

    It is interesting to see what happened after Cuba lost support from the Soviet Union in 1991, especially after relying heavily on them during the Cold War. Also it is unfortunate how many smaller countries got caught up in this conflict between two major powers. This theme is something that has existed throughout history and continues today.


  4. smoughan

    The relationship between the USSR and Cuba was definitely one of the defining alliances of the Cold War. Like Phillip said it was, arguably, the factor that lead to the period of greatest tension during the Cold War. It is interesting to look at all the Proxy Wars that took place during the Cold War and how the U.S. and USSR both just used many developing nations as their puppets in a much larger game. You do a good job at breaking down some of the economic aspect of the alliance which was interesting. Solid post.


  5. lkdenny

    I liked your post. I wonder if Russia really did want to generally spread education and more peaceful relations through out the world. When reading about the supply of aid it would make sense that Russia was making more so altruistic endeavors, but every time I think about the Cuban Missile Crisis it looks like Cuba was just a Russia pawn.


  6. Tom Ewing

    The post makes a good argument for Cuba as one of the key locations for the Cold War. The thirty year period of increasingly close relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union challenged US claims to determine political relations in the Western Hemisphere. One of the important questions about the Soviet role in Cuba is whether Castro had always been a communist, and shed his nationalist rhetoric once he was in power, or whether he was mostly a nationalist, and it was the hostility directed at his regime by the United States that pushed him into the Soviet orbit. This question is important both for Cuban history and more broadly in the Cold War as many leaders, movements, and governments were forced to choose sides.


  7. alexakparsley

    I really liked reading your post and learning more about the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union. This is still a relevant topic to discuss and study as the United States restates its’ diplomatic relations to Cuba and the impact that is going to have on Eastern countries. It makes me curious to know whether or not Russia was mandating education in Cuba at that time, or if it was any help towards bettering education there at all. I wrote about the Friendship University that was built in Moscow in the early 1960s and am interested to research if any Cuban students were educated there. Thanks for the informative and well-written post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Grayson Lewis

    I’m certain that the relationship between the USSR and Cuba was more based on mutual respect and equal footing than any other Soviet relation with one of its allies. Besides the Soviet Union, no other communist state was more active militarily in the Cold War (Grenada, Angola, Niacaraga, etc.) Some have even called Cuba “the Soviet Sidekick.”


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