Cuba’s Military—the Economic Engine that Could

In an attempt to remind the world (and itself) of its martial might, Cuba recently conducted military exercises.

The three-day event encompassed much of the island nation and included thousands of its population. The Cuban government stated the exercises were aimed against a possible U.S. military invasion.

With relations between the two nations better than they have been in some time, targeting an aggressive northern neighbor seems unlikely. The U.S. has relaxed restrictions on travel and finances and a further easing of such policies is predicted.

There is speculation the exercises targeted the Cuban population, assuring them the nation’s military is robust enough to handle foreign intruders or an uprising within its own borders. Cuban President Raul Castro, brother to his famous predecessor and revolutionary leader Fidel, had been defense minister until he assumed control of the nation in 2008. Raul is credited with transforming a military that no longer had the monetary backing of the defunct Soviet Union. No money meant no gear and no forces (that once made their own forays into Africa). His efforts did not always meet Fidel’s approval.

Since the mid-1990s the Cuban military has reportedly taken over 60 percent of the economy. (Yeah, they are communists, and it is a small country.) A la Tony Soprano, the Cuban military runs most of the island’s tourism, plus its sugar industry. It also reportedly runs construction firms and import-export businesses. (No word on sanitation.)

In 2003 the University of Miami reported that the Cuban military‘s “diverse business ventures” hauled in about $1 billion a year. If accurate, that is astounding.

Call it the clichéd ‘lemons to lemonade’ thing, but if Cuba can do it, one would think the U.S. could use a similar model possibly to energize the flaccid employment programs the Veterans Affairs guys like to tout. Keeping free enterprise alive and with no new government programs, it seems the VA (and other) job efforts could be channeled into money-making ventures, instead of strong-arming vets into entry-level jobs for which they are over-qualified. Maybe there is something to be learned from our free-wheeling, pre-1960 Chevy driving neighbors just off our shore.

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