Fidel Castro's Legacy as a Warlord


Fidel Castro, Communist dictator of Cuba for nearly 60 years, was a revolutionary, and an opponent of the United States whose alliance with the Soviet Union brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in the early 1960s. He also was a very active warlord in support of his ideal of spreading Marxist revolution around the world.

While many articles and commentators will discuss Castro's political legacy, or the fact that he survived through eleven American presidential administrations, or multiple assassination attempts, our area of focus will be on the wars and conflicts of Fidel Castro and the foreign adventures into which he led Cuba.  Fidel Castro was adamant about many things, but he was especially focused on battling American influence in Latin America and in exporting and supporting revolutionary socialism wherever he could.

On February 4, 1962, just over three years after seizing power in Cuba, and less than a year following the unsuccessful American-supported Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-Castro Cubans, Fidel Castro issued the Second Declaration of Havana, in which he stated that:

"The duty of every revolutionary is to make the revolution."

And make (and support) revolutions is certainly what Fidel Castro and his regime attempted to do around the world!

Castro and his supporters, including the famed Bolivian revolutionary Che Guevara, took the idea of spreading their brand of Latin American revolution far and wide. Castro's regime aided Marxist rebels in many Latin American nations, with the most successful of his clients being the Sandinista forces that won the Nicaraguan Civil War in 1979. 

Cuban military adventures in Latin America and in Africa would bring Castro's regime into conflict with a variety of foreign foes, including Somalia, Eritrean rebels, anti-Communist Angolan forces, South Africa, various Congolese governments, and, of course, continual conflict with the United States, which attempted to halt the spread of pro-Soviet and pro-Cuban revolutions and governments around the world during the Cold War.

The most significant wars and conflicts involving Fidel Castro and his regime in Cuba include:

26th of July Movement in Cuba (1953)-Castro's failed attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Castro was captured and put on trial.

Castro's Revolution in Cuba (1956-1959)-After being freed from prison in a government amnesty, Castro returned to Cuba to begin a guerrilla war in the countryside, that led to the fall of the Batista dictatorship, and the rise of Castro to lead Cuba.


Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961)-Anti-Castro Cuban exiles, heavily aided and supplied by the United States, attempted an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The invasion failed, causing a great deal of embarrassment for the new American President, John Kennedy. This invasion was only the most public of the many attacks against Castro's regime by Cuban exiles, and by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)-Following the Bay of Pigs attack, Castro sought closer military ties with the Soviet Union. The Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, prompting the Cold War crisis known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. This event nearly led to World War Three between the U.S. and the Soviets, but compromise was reached and the Soviet missiles were removed from Cuba.

Support for Latin American and African Independence Movements (1960s-1991)-Cuba sent advisors overseas, and also brought rebels from many nations to Cuba for training. Anti-colonial and anti-Western forces that were trained and aided by Cuba in this period include those from Africa: the Portuguese colonies of (Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau), along with  Eritrea, Congo, and Namibia, and others.

Latin American nations and forces aided by Castro's Cuba include: Sandinista rebels of Nicaragua (and the Sandinista-led government of Nicaragua after 1979), Marxist rebels in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Peru, among others.

Congo Civil Wars (1965)-The new African nation of Congo was torn by multiple rebellions and civil wars following independence in 1960. In 1965, Che Guevara led about 120 Cuban guerrillas to Congo to provide expertise and leadership to the Marxist Simba rebels in Congo. After several months, Guevara and his surviving Cuban troops fled to Tanzania, ending overt Cuban involvement in the Congo Wars.

Bolivia (1966-1967)-After leaving Congo, Che Guevara traveled to Bolivia to bring a Castro-style revolution to that Andean nation. His army, called Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Bolivia (ELN), and made up of a small number of Cubans and Bolivians, enjoyed some success against the poorly trained Bolivian military, but as American aid to Bolivia increased, the Bolivians and their CIA advisors hunted down the insurgents, capturing Guevara and killing him in October, 1967. The rebellion soon died out.

Guinea-Bissau War of Independence- (1960s-1975)-Cuban advisors took to the field with the Guinean rebels against Portuguese colonial troops in the Portuguese African colony of Guinea-Bissau.

Dhofar War (1960s-1970s)-Cuban advisors in South Yemen aided and trained Dhofari rebels who were fighting government forces in Oman and their British and Iranian allies (this was before the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the pro-Western Shah of Iran).

Cuban Involvement in the Vietnam War (1960s-1970s)-Cuba was allied with Communist North Vietnam, and acknowledges that Cuban military engineers helped the North Vietnamese make improvements to the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Cuba denies, however, the allegation made by American POWs, including former POW and current U.S. Senator John McCain, that Cuba supplied personnel who helped the North Vietnamese torture American prisoners of war.

Western Sahara War (1970s-1980s)- Cuban advisors trained and aided the Saharawi rebel army against pro-Western Morocco from bases in Algeria.

Yom Kippur War/Ramadan War (1973)-Cuba, along with the Soviet Union, actively supported the Arab states against Israel in this short but violent war.  About 1,500 Cuban troops were in Egypt and Syria, supporting the Arab war against Israel.  This particular Arab-Israeli war had very strong Cold War overtones, and nearly led to a military conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Eritrean War of Independence-Prior to the Marxist takeover of the Ethiopian government in 1974, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other communist nations, aided the Eritrean rebels against the pro-Western government of Ethiopia. After the Marxist overthrow of the old Ethiopian government in 1974, the Soviets decided that backing the Ethiopians was better policy for them. Cuba, however, was reluctant to halt aid to the Eritreans (who had received military training in Cuba beginning in the 1960s), for some time, and only reluctantly aided the Ethiopian military against the Eritreans. This is also the same time period in which the Cuban military was heavily involved in Ethiopia's other war, against Somalia.

Angolan Civil War (1975-1991)-During the Angolan War of Independence against Portugal, Cuba and the Soviets aided the Marxist MPLA rebel movement. After independence, a civil war broke out in Angola that saw the MPLA take control of the capital of Luanda, to become the de facto government. At this point, (1975), Castro saw Africa as a more fertile post-colonial environment for spreading Communist revolution. Cuba sent thousands of troops to Angola to fight alongside the MPLA against the non-Communist forces of the UNITA and the FNLA, both of whom were supported by the United States and South Africa. Cuban troops were in Angola from 1975-1991, and engaged in heavy combat.

Ogaden War (1977-1978)-After Ethiopia's new Marxist government allied itself with the Soviet Union, both the Soviets and Cubans supported the Ethiopians in defend against an invasion of the Ogaden region of Ethiopia (populated largely by ethnic Somalis) by Somalia. The role of Cuban military forces enabled the Ethiopians to defeat the Somali invasion. Cuban troops and tanks engaged in heavy combat.


Southern African Border War-Cuba had long supported, with training and material, the anti-South African and anti-Rhodesian nations and rebels of southern Africa. Part of the Angolan intervention by Cuba involved supporting the SWAPO guerrilla forces based in Southern Angola who were fighting for independence of their homeland, now known as Namibia, from South African rule. South Africa, in turn, was supporting the anti-Communist UNITA rebel army in southern Angola. These conflicts brought Cuban and South African troops into combat against each other. At this time in history, both South Africa and Rhodesia were ruled by White-minority governments who kept the much larger Black African population under control through Apartheid and heavy military and police tactics. Cuba supported the so-called "Frontline States" of Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania, along with Namibian, South African, and Rhodesian/Zimbabwean rebels against the governments of South Africa and Rhodesia.


Invasion of Grenada (1983)-A Marxist coup in the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1979, established a government friendly to Cuban interests, and  Cuba began sending aid to that island. In October of 1983, political violence in Grenada provided an opportunity to the United States to invade and overthrow the Marxist forces in Grenada. Several hundred Cuban troops were on the island, which resulted in combat between U.S. and Cuban forces. Cuba suffered 25 killed, 59 wounded, and 638 captured.


Following peace agreements in Angola and Mozambique, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Castro regime curtailed Cuba's foreign adventures.  While the Cubans supplied hundreds of thousands of troops in service to the idea of spreading and supporting Marxist revolution in the Third World, the Soviets had supplied the money, weapons, and transportation necessary to support Cuba's foreign wars.

At the time of Fidel Castro's, several of the political factions his troops fought for are still in power, as seen in Nicaragua, Angola, Mozambique, and others.  In cooperation with the Soviet paymasters, Castro served as an important warlord in service to the concept of Marxist revolution.   Regardless of what happens now to the one-party state he founded in Cuba, his legacy as a warlord and exporter of revolution and war, has made an impact on world affairs and world history.



Wars and Conflicts of Cuba

Wars of

History of the Cuban Liberation Wars

Dictionary of Wars.-by George C. Kohn

Cuba: Havana's Military Machine-Article in The Atlantic

Cubans in Guinea-Bissau’s independence struggle 



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