Tracing the Transformation of Cuba’s Foreign Policy into Africa

Jorge Dominquez
Jorge Dominquez

An alumnus of Harvard and Yale, Professor Jorge Dominguez is a retired Harvard University faculty member. A member of the Latin American Studies Association, Jorge Dominguez has authored numerous publications on Cuba’s foreign policy, one of which was published in Foreign Affairs. It discussed Cuba’s involvement in Africa in the 1970s.

In 1978, Cuba, a small country in the Americas, had as many as 35,000 troops in Africa, a huge number that caused significant tension between Havana, under President Fidel Castro, and Washington, under President Jimmy Carter. At the time, it was widely believed that Cuba’s foreign policy was an indirect hand played by the Soviet Union. However, this may have not been entirely the case.

In the early 1960s, Cuba’s communist leadership under President Castro generated a hostile reaction from the United States. Suspicions between the two ideologically opposite states were already rife, and disputes over serious issues only made the tensions worse. The Cuban regime’s survival, in the wake of such hostility, was critical, necessitating the administration’s dalliance with the Soviet Union. In fact, the Soviet Union’s financial assistance propped up Cuba’s economy and redistribution programs for a long time.

However, things changed when the United States’ economic embargoes went global. That’s when some foreign nations and multinationals restricted trade with Cuba. Foreign support from the USSR also waned in the late 1960s because of geographical distance, disagreements between them, and inefficiencies at both ends, prompting Cuba to look for partners elsewhere. It developed relations with China and Morocco, but it later sought new ties with African countries to change the anti-Cuba narrative that was quickly spreading. Cuba thus became a small country with a big foreign policy footprint, especially in Africa.

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