The Sugar Campaign directly impacts Havana.

In 1968, in conjunction with the campaign to achieve a record breaking sugar harvest, the revolutionary regime mounted a final assault against private enterprise in Cuba’s capital city, Havana. The remaining 57,000 private businesses — principally small retail shops, handicraft stores, service and repair centers, bars and cafes — were nationalized. Efforts were also made to expand the distribution of free goods and services.

  • Fees were no longer charged for health services, daycare facilities, education, funeral services, utilities, local bus transportation, and local telephone service.
  • Rents were fixed at a maximum 10% of income. In fact, by 1969, an estimated 268,000 households paid no rent and the government even contemplated its eventual abolition.

All possible urban resources were diverted to the sugar campaign which proceeded at the expense of all other sectors of the economy. (For more on the ten million ton crop check out this post.)

Projects in the built environment now centered only on road maintenance and on repairs along principal sugar transportation routes.

Port installations and harbor facilities designated to handle increased sugar production were expanded to the detriment of others.

Sugar mills were overhauled and emphasis given to the manufacture of mill equipment.

The labor needs of the harvest were met by the massive mobilization of the population.

An estimated 1.2 million workers from all sectors of the economy, as well as 100,000 members of the armed forces and 300,000 sugar workers, participated.

The effects of this effort on other sectors of the economy were disastrous.

  • Production of consumer goods declined.
  • Basic foodstuffs of every type — milk, vegetables, fruit, meat, poultry — were in short supply.

The goods that were produced often faced shipping difficulties, for much of the rail and road transportation was diverted to sugar.

The nationalization of small business in 1968 had adverse and unforeseen consequences.

Large numbers of businesses were consolidated into sizable operations or eliminated all together.

As another 50,000 businessmen joined the ranks of the disaffected, renewed discontent swept the island, leading to additional population outflow and a marked loss of managerial personnel. State enterprises couldn’t adequately replace the goods and services that were eliminated.

Bottlenecks in distribution followed, exacerbating old shortages and scarcities.

The suppression of 3,700 street vendors in urban centers effectively destroyed informal food distribution networks across the island and state stores were unable to make up the difference.

Food lines at stores and restaurants lengthened  and absenteeism increased as workers took time off to wait in line. Absenteeism also increased as the incentive to work diminished, approaching 15% in some sectors.

Tardiness increased.

Appeals to self-sacrifice and moral incentives failed to sustain consistently high productivity levels.

Low productivity was exacerbated by poor performance.

Quality was often sacrificed to assure savings and meet production quotas. Poor quality was also due to the absence of adequate raw materials and poor manufacturing.

A scarcity of consumer goods and services and the abolition of wage differentials caused widespread demoralization.

Almost 100 acts of sabotage against industries, warehouses, and government buildings were reported, most of which were not committed by counter-revolutionaries from abroad but by disgruntled citizens at home.

Obviously, the disengagement of the Cuban economy from North American capitalism had been disruptive and caused a great deal of dislocation.

After 1961, one of the key elements of US policy against Cuba was to isolate Cuba economically as a way of disrupting the economy, increasing domestic distress, and encouraging internal dissent — all designed to weaken the regime from within. This was a logical objective since, for the better part of the previous sixty years, virtually all machinery, equipment, and supplies used in Cuban industry, agriculture, mining, transportation, communication, and utilities — more than 70% of total Cuban imports — came from the US.

The US trade embargo after 1961 had jolting effects. Many plants were paralyzed. Transportation was especially hard hit. For example, nearly one-fourth of all buses were inoperable by the end of 1961, and one-half of the 1,400 passenger rail cars were out of service in 1962. Almost three-fourths of the Caterpillar tractors stood idle due to a lack of replacement parts.

Many small and inefficient plants were closed and their operations transferred to larger and more efficient factories so as to pool equipment.

  • By 1965, nine sugar mills had been dismantled to provide an inventory of spare parts for other mills.
  • The 106 pharmaceutical factories had been reduced to 18.
  • Textile plants declined from 153 to 63.
  • Less than half of the paper factories were functioning.

Cuban dependence on raw material imports from the US also created vulnerability.

  • Denied rubber and petrochemicals, the manufacture of automobile tires halted.
  • Without ready access to pancreatic enzymes and tannin, Cuban tanneries suffered.
  • Paint factories depended on imports of oils, pigments, and solvents.
  • Pharmaceuticals depended on imported serums and antibodies.
  • The manufacture of soaps and detergents required imported caustic soda and tallow.
  • A newly constructed $4 million factory for the production of synthetic fiber could not operate for lack of cellulose acetate.

The reorientation of Cuban trade with Eastern Europe created problems of a different sort.

The greater distance of Cuba’s new trading partners required extensive investment in infrastructure facilities, including the expansion of port facilities to accommodate long-haul trade and the construction of new warehouses and storage facilities.

The Cuban port system, including the design of docks, the depth of water at dockside, and the nature of the unloading equipment and facilities had originally been designed to accommodate short-haul-trade from the US by ferries and sea trains, not oceangoing freighters. Storage facilities were also designed for short-haul traffic. There was little warehouse space either at the ports or in the interior. The arrival of large freighters carrying huge shipments of supplies created monumental unloading and storage problems.

The substitution of socialist bloc replacement parts was also complicated because old machinery had to be adapted to metric system parts and new equipment imported from the Soviets had to be converted to the US electrical currents in use in Cuba.

Language and cultural obstacles further hindered the preparation of import orders.

During Cuba’s conversion to new spare parts, new machinery, and new productive techniques, large sectors of Cuban industry remained underutilized or idle altogether.

The 1960s were also the years when Cuba suffered the greatest effects from US covert operations.

Throughout the 1960s, the CIA conducted punitive economic sabotage operations against Cuba, the principle aim of which was to foster popular disaffection with government policies.

  • Paramilitary missions were organized to destroy sugar mills, sugar and tobacco plantations, farm machinery, mines. oil refineries, lumber yards, water systems, warehouses, and chemical plants.
  • Communication facilities were attacked.
  • Railroad bridges were destroyed and trains derailed.

The US was also successful in disrupting Cuban trade initiatives with Western Europe by blocking credit to Cuba, hindering the sale of sugar production, and contaminating Cuban agricultural exports.

European manufacturers were discouraged from trading with Cuba:

  • cargoes were sabotaged;
  • corrosive chemicals were added to lubricating fluids;
  • ball bearings were manufactured deliberately off-center;
  • defective wheel gears were manufactured.

Rain clouds were seeded before they arrived over Cuba as a means to induce drought.

These activities intensified between 1969 and 1970 as a way to stop the 10 million ton sugar crop. The CIA is also charged with having been instrumental in the outbreak of African swine fever in Cuba in 1970-71, requiring the slaughter of 500,000 pigs.

Security and defense requirements associated with the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis also disrupted Cuba’s planning and development.

Military expenditures continued to receive high priority. Vital equipment of all kinds — construction, transportation, maintenance — was diverted to defense. The expansion of the army and militia meant that tens of thousands of people were intermittently removed from productive activity.

The economic reversals of the 1960s had a sobering impact on the Cuban leadership, even though the decade closed with a lot of goodwill for the revolution still intact. This was partially due to US policy.

Instead of promoting internal dissent and discontent, most Cubans responded to the US embargo with solidarity. However, limited opposition did develop and by the late 1960s an estimated 20,000 political opponents of the revolution were in prison.

As a response, in 1965, the government established the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), designed principally to draft dissidents and “social deviants” into the army for “rehabilitation.” (The UMAP was disbanded in 1967.)

During this period, also, discontent continued to find expression through emigration. Between 1966 and 1971, another 200,000 Cubans left the island.

Photography by Kayugee.

Introducing Islam

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by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe on January 19, 2015

soviet quicksand AF

In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, one of the seminal events in Cold War history. But Afghanistan’s problems actually began long before this happening. And the repercussions of the Soviet intervention — and later American actions — haunt us today as concerns about terrorism spread. Perhaps a look back will increase our understanding of today’s events.

19th century: The colonial rivalry between Britain and Russia over Afghanistan becomes known as the “Great Game.” Both countries treat Afghanistan as a crucial buffer and there are repeated incursions by both powers.

The Russians fear chronic instability in Central Asia. They see their influence in Afghanistan as a way to distract the British and keep them off balance in India. The Afghans, meanwhile, fend for themselves as best they can.

When the Bolsheviks replace the tsars, they continue the Great Game.

Late 19th century: Afghanistan’s boundaries are set by British and Russian accords, ignoring tribal and economic patterns and sowing the seeds of constant instability.

Mid-1930s: All Soviet civilian and military technicians leave Afghanistan, but Afghan-Soviet relations remain distant. The Soviets preach respect for Afghan independence, but mutual suspicions run deep.

1940s – 1950s: Afghanistan seeks arms and economic aid from the US, but they are rebuffed. The US sees Afghanistan as “of little or no strategic importance to the United States” and as inevitably in the Soviet sphere of influence.  The US commits to Pakistan instead, and the Afghans turn reluctantly back to the Soviets, hoping to achieve some kind of accommodation. However, the Afghans do receive some modest token of economic aid from the US.

After 1950: Afghan rulers seek Soviet and American aid for major infrastructure projects. The scale of US aid and, therefore, US political influence remains low. Soviet road building in the north of the country brings direct lines of communication from the Soviet Union to Afghanistan’s core, reorienting trade and gaining not only economic and political influence but strategic access. What the Soviets (and Americans) built well serves the logistical needs of the Soviet invasion force in 1979-1980.

November and December 1955: Premier Nikolai Bulganin and Party First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union make a highly publicized one month tour of India, Burma, and Afghanistan.

1962: Mohammad Naim Khan, Afghanistan’s foreign minister (and the younger brother of Prime Minister Mohammad Daoud), visits President Kennedy at the White House and asks for help in developing westward trade routes through the shah’s Iran to lessen dependence on the Soviet Union. Kennedy thinks this is too expensive and tells Naim to improve ties with Pakistan. Kennedy says, “the United States is a long way off and even though it is very anxious to help it can at best play a limited role.”

1965: The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) — Afghanistan’s Communist party — is formed. Within 2 years it splits into several factions, the most important being the Khalq group and the more Moscow oriented Parcham, headed by Babrak Kamal.

1970s: Afghanistan serves as a neutral buffer state and makes another effort to reduce its dependence on the Soviet Union, and to move toward truer nonalignment.

1973: Mohammad Daoud deposes his cousin (the last king) Zahir Shah and becomes the strongman-president of Afghanistan.

Mid-1970s: As President Daoud broadens Afghanistan’s international options, he seeks to consolidate his power at home. He quashes coup plots against him from both the Right and Left; he creates a new political party to back him and seeks to weaken all rival parties; he begins purging untrustworthy elements from government and the armed forces.

1974: Daoud sends Naim to Beijing to assure the Chinese (with whom Afghanistan shares a tiny stretch of border) that Afghanistan is neutral in the Sino-Soviet conflict.

November 1974: Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visits Afghanistan. Daoud is turning to pro-Western Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait for economic aid.

1975: Daoud visits the shah in Tehran and receives a pledge of up to $2 billion over a 10 year period as well as a quick loan of $400 million on easy terms.

June 1976: President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan visits Kabul; Daoud reciprocates with a visit to Islamabad 2 months later.

August 1976: Kissinger visits Afghanistan again. Daoud and Naim assure Kissinger that Afghanistan will stop its efforts to destabilize Pakistan.

July 1977: A common desire to get rid of President Daoud leads the Khalq and Parcham to reunite.

Spring 1978: Daoud pursues genuine nonalignment. He visits India, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. An economic accord is signed with China. The shah of Iran is scheduled to visit Kabul in June 1978, and Daoud announces plans to visit President Carter in Washington.

April 1978: Daoud begins preparing a crackdown on Communists in Afghanistan.

April 27, 1978: Communist military officers overthrow Daoud in a coup d’etat. He is murdered along with his entourage and his family, including Naim. The new regime proclaims itself the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Some accounts suggest that the Soviets were caught by surprise.

April 27-30, 1978: The role of the Soviet Union in the April 1978 coup is disputed. TASS refers to the event as a military coup, not as a “socialist revolution.” Still, within a few days, Moscow warmly embraces the new regime and begins pouring in economic and military assistance and scores of civilian and military advisers.

The Carter administration takes the new regime’s professions of non-alignment at face value, partly to avoid triggering provisions of US law that prohibit US aid for any “Communist” country. Aid continues, including a Peace Corps contingent and a small military training program. It is hoped that the “new regime would act more like ‘national communists’ than like Soviet clients” Existing economic aid ties were maintained.

NOTE: Our next post on Afghanistan will focus on the 1978 coup.


J. Bruce Amstutz, Afghanistan: The First Five Years of Soviet Occupation (Washington DC: National Defense University, 1986)

Henry S. Bradsher, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1983)

Gregorian, Vartan, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernizaation, 1880 – 1946 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1969).

Eric Miller, Beyond Afghanistan: Changing Soviet Perspectives on Regional Conflicts (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, undated)

Photo: Abdurahman Warsame



December 2, 2014

  Throughout the 1970s, Iran was concerned with dangers that emanated from both the region and the Soviet Union. Engaged in a strategic, economic, and political alliance with the West, Iran was trapped in its image as a US surrogate. This impression served to thwart Iran’s championship of Third World goals and objectives. At the […]

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October 27, 2014

Cold War Studies is proud to announce the publication of our new e-book titled COLD WAR UNVEILED: ARMS RACE TO ZDANOV DOCTRINE. The book is now for sale on Amazon and I hope you’ll check it out. COLD WAR UNVEILED: ARMS RACE to ZDANOV DOCTRINE is meant to provide a quick, easy to read, introduction to […]

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September 17, 2014

1970: Hafiz al-Asad seizes power. He represents the rise of a new rural elite who claim power at the expense of the established urban politicians and merchants. His regime is authoritarian, based on the military and the Ba’ ath Party. Holding absolute power, al-Asad becomes the object of a personality cult. He adopts socialist economic policies and stands […]

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September 10, 2014

Syria is in the news. But how much do you really know about that country and its Twentieth Century history? Here’s the first part of a Syria Timeline to help you out. 1915-1918: Over 600,000 inhabitants of greater Syria lose their lives during World War I, roughly 18% of the prewar population. September 1918: An […]

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September 3, 2014

January 2, 1959: Fidel Castro and his rebel forces, having overthrown Batista’s corrupt but US friendly regime, take control of Cuba. July 1959: Vice President Richard Nixon flies into Moscow and spends the night at Premier Khruschev’s dacha. The next day they engage in their impromptu “kitchen debate” at the US National Exhibition in Moscow. September 1959: A major Cold […]

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Cold War Havana: Havana’s Ruralization, Militarization, and the 10 Million Ton Sugar Crop

July 19, 2014

Cuba’s Population Mobilizes for Agricultural Work Cuba’s effort to harvest 10 million  tons of sugar required a full-fledged military campaign, necessitating  the mobilization of Cuba’s entire population for agricultural work. Since the harvest was considered vital to the island’s “civil defense,” factory workers from the city volunteered to go to the countryside for a period […]

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