The Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, also known as the FAR (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias), are the armed forces of Cuba. A Communist army only 90 miles from the U.S. mainland, Cuba's military was one of the most likely non-Soviet enemies to appear in Cold War fiction. And it wasn't just because of their location. The Cubans during the Cold War were very much a force to be reckoned with. In fact they were the number one military in all of Latin America. Due to the massive amount of support they received from their Soviet allies, the Cubans built up their military in a way that allowed them to project power overseas, as far away as Africa.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the FAR has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former glory. Its equipment is aging, some of it outdated, and its soldiers are not well trained. However there's some progress at a national military industry, most of these having been modernized and rebuilt in state arsenals operated by the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR), while sporting nationally produced weaponly (like the Bandera coastal defense SAM system used by the Navy).
The FAR consists of the Army, Navy, Air and Air Defense Force, and various paramilitary units (including militias and reserves).
The FAR were initially formed from Fidel Castro's rebel army after he seized power in 1959. Once in charge he immediatley began establishing close ties with the Soviet Union. The Soviets were delighted to have an ally so close to the U.S. mainland. And the United States terrified of the prospect. In 1961, the CIA launched the Bay of Pigs invasion. The invasion featured anti-Castro rebels invading the Bay of Pigs area in an attempt to overthrow the regime. However, they were defeated.
Two years later, the Soviet Union began placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. When the U.S. got word it began a massive standoff in October of that year. The U.S. blockaded the island to keep more nukes from coming in while negotiators from both sides worked to resolve the crisis. In the end a deal was reached, the Soviets withdrew their missiles from Cuba in exchange for the U.S. pulling its missiles out of Turkey and a promise not to invade the island.
In the decades since Castro came to power, scores of Cuban refugees have attempted to brave the 90 mile journey to Florida to escape the dictatorship. Some of them have been quite creative in how they escape, one group made a makeshift boat out of a pick-up truck! The FAR will often patrol Cuban waters and airspace looking for the refugees to stop them from reaching the U.S. So the role of the FAR seems to be just as much about keeping people inside the country as keeping them out.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union beefed up its support of the FAR. As the title of this page suggests that meant the FAR was and still is equipped with Soviet made gear. This includes MIGs, BTRs, BM-21s and other tools.
Angola and Grenada
Throughout the Cold War, Cuba had the number one military in Latin America. They carried out a number of operations in the region as well as in Africa, some covert, others not so much.
The largest engagement the FAR has been involved in was the Angolan Civil War. After Angola gained independence from Portugal, the former rebel groups began fighting each other. The MPLA was backed by the Soviet Union while the UNITA, FLEC, and FNLA groups banded together against the MPLA.
Cuba dispatched thousands of troops to support the MPLA. At their peak it is believed the number of Cubans in the country was as high as 60,000. UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi declared he would make Angola into "Cuba's Vietnam". The FAR and their MPLA allies committed horrible atrocities. They would kill anyone they felt might join the UNITA. One area near the Angolan-Namibian border became known as "Castro Corridor" after FAR troops used everything from flamethrowers to bulldozers to flatten several villages. Estimates of the number of Cubans killed in the Angolan Civil War range from from 2,000 to as much as 10,000.
While the FAR was engaged in Angola, they were also carrying out operations closer to home. In October 1983, they assisted the Grenadian military in carrying out a coup against the government there. About 722 FAR troops under the command of Colonel Pedro Tortolo Comas were stationed on the island. However, the island had a large number of American citizens on it, and this drew a response from the Yanks with Tanks. The United States, along with a small number of troops from Jamaica and Barbados, invaded the island on October 25th to rescue trapped Americans and defeat the Cuban-backed government. During the invasion the U.S. casualties were 19 killed 116 wounded. Cuban losses were 25 killed 59 wounded. Their Grenadian allies experienced 45 killed 358 wounded. This is notably the only time that U.S. and Cuban forces have faced each other in a conventional military battle.
In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and almost immediately Russian aid support for the FAR vanished. Without its main ally, the FAR quickly found itself starved of funds. Today the FAR is a mere shadow of its former self. It is no longer able to project power outside of its borders. One report in the early 2000s stated they could no longer carry out operations above the battalion level. A much more recent report also stated that the FAR was no longer much of a military threat. The latter of these two articles came in 2013 after a North Korean cargo ship containing outdated hardware purchased in Cuba was seized by Panamanian authorities. This incident highlighted the dire strait of the FAR.
However, in recent years Cuba has been rekindling its old ties with Russia. In 2014, Cuban and Russian leaders agreed to reopen an old Soviet-era spy base on the island, and Russia sent a spy ship to Havana during the Ukraine crisis. Cuba has also been forging new ties with China. Cuba has also forged an alliance with Venezuela. There have even been reports of Cuban "advisors" operating inside that country during recent protests.
What sort of effects and improvements these new arrangements with Russia and China have on the FAR's capabilities remains to be seen.
FAR in fiction
In General, the FAR has a very good chance to appear in Cold War era fics given its location near the U.S. It may also appear even in some post-Cold War fics.
- They are one of the main antagonists, along with the Soviet Union and Nicaragua, in Red Dawn (1984). The three countries invade the United States from Mexico and Alaska. In fact a Cuban officer, Colonel Bella, heads the enemy garrison in the town of Calumet, Colorado where the movie takes place, and serves as the Big Bad until he is replaced by a Soviet general following his failure to deal with resistance forces.
- The opening credits in the movie also give some background as to what happened before the war, stating that Cuba and Nicaragua both reached troop strength goals of 500,000 each. They also apparently staged a coup in Mexico giving them a direct shot at the U.S. Later on in the film, Lt. Col Tanner tells the Wolverines that Cuban infiltrators neutralized U.S. border defenses, allowing the Cuban army and their Nicaraguan allies to "come walking right through".
- Call of Duty: Black Ops: The very first mission takes place in Cuba in 1961 during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Naturally, that means you'll be running into these guys.
- In the sequel,Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the mercenaries working for the game's villain Raul Menendez are former Cuban special forces troops. They also appear later in the first level of the Campaign, during a mission in 1980s Angola.
- In World in Conflict, the loading screen map for the New York mission shows Cuba launching an invasion of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, possibly in an attempt to distract U.S. forces from the main fight in Europe where their Soviet allies have been stymied by NATO forces.
- The Cuban Navy was supposed to make a brief cameo in the introductory scene of Resident Evil: Extinction as seen from the original script written by director Paul W.S. Anderson in 2005. According to the script, Cuban naval gunboats are seen destroying refugee boats and rafts by fleeing U.S. citizens attempting to escape the T-virus infection in the continental United States.
- For a more badass zombie-killing army, the Cuban military apparently kept Cuba zombie free in World War Z by quelling early outbreaks, giving each citizens a weapon (either a pistol or a machete), and ensuing that American and Western refugees would abide by the rules of the Cuban government.
- In Black Lagoon, a Cuban Naval Special Warfare officer leads the FARC squad hunting Roberta during the El Baile de la Muerte arc.