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Cuba The Plight of a Nation and its Revolution

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    Cuba: The Plight of a Nation and its Revolution

    While the isle of Cuba was initially discovered on October 27, 1492 during one of

    Columbus’ first voyages, it wasn’t actually claimed by Spain until the sixteenth century.

    However, it’s tumultuous beginnings as a Spanish sugar colony provides an insightful backdrop

    into the very essence of the country’s political and economic unrest. From it’s early

    revolutionary days to the insurrectional challenge of the Marxist-Leninist theories emerged the

    totalitarian regime under Fidel Castro in present day Cuba.

    Cuban colonial society was distinguished by the characteristics of colonial societies in

    general, namely a stratified, inegalitarian class system; a poorly differentiated agricultural

    economy; a dominant political class made up of colonial officers, the clergy, and the military; an

    exclusionary and elitist education system controlled by the clergy; and a pervasive religious

    system.1 Cuba’s agrarian monocultural character, economically dependant upon sugar

    cultivation, production and export severely restricted its potential for growth as a nation, thereby

    firmly implanting its newly sprouted roots firmly in the trenches of poverty from the very

    beginning of the country’s existence.

    In 1868, Cuba entered in to The Ten Years’ War against Spain in a struggle for

    independence, but to no avail. Ten years of bitter and destructive conflict ensued, but the goal of

    independence was not achieved. Political divisions among patriot forces, personal quarrels

    among rebel military leaders, and the failure of the rebels to gain the backing of the United

    States, coupled with stiff resistance from Spain and the Cubans’ inability to carry the war in

    earnest to the western provinces, produced a military stalemate in the final stages.2 The war had

    a devastating effect on an already weak economic and political infrastructure.

    The defeat, however, did not hinder the resolution of the Cuban proletariat for an

    independent nation. In the words of one author,

    The Cubans’ ability to wage a costly, protracted struggle against

    Spain demonstrated that proindependence sentiment was strong

    and could be manifested militarily. On the other hand, before any

    effort to terminate Spanish control could succeed, differences over

    slavery, political organization, leadership, and military strategy had

    to be resolved. In short, the very inconclusiveness of the war left a

    feeling that the Cubans could and would resume their struggle

    until their legitimate political objectives of independence and

    The years following the Ten Years’ War were harsh and austere. The countryside,

    ravaged and desolate, bankrupted Spanish sugar interests in Cuba, virtually destroying the

    industry. The Spanish owners sold out to North American interests, a process accelerated by the

    final abolition of slavery in Cuba in 1886.4 The end of slavery, naturally, meant the end of free

    labor. The sugar growers, therefore, began to import machinery from the United States.

    Essentially, Cuba deferred its economic dependence from Spain directly to the U.S. What

    became known as the American Sugar Refining Company supplied from seventy to ninety

    percent of all sugar consumed by the United States, thus mandating the direction of the Cuban

    agricultural industry and thereby controlling its economy.

    Moreover, the United States’ interventionism in the Cuban-Spanish war in 1898,

    motivated primarily by interests in the Cuban market, led the surrender of the Spanish army

    directly to the United States, not Cuba. This war later became known as the Spanish-American

    War. The leader and organizer of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, Jose Marti’s, goal of true

    independence was buried without honor in 1898.5

    In the years from 1902 to 1959, following the institution of the Platt Amendment, which

    was an amendment to the Cuban constitution, that stated that the United States had the right to

    intervene in Cuba at any time, a period which came to be termed the “Pseudo Republic” ensued.

    Of course, Cuba has been left with little or no independence by the

    Platt Amendment…The Cuban Government cannot enter into

    certain treaties without our consent, nor secure loans above certain

    limits, and it must maintain the sanitary conditions that have been

    indicated. With the control that we have over Cuba, a control

    which, without doubt, will soon turn her into our possession, soon

    we will practically control the sugar market in the world. I believe

    that it is a very desirable acquisition for the United States. The

    island will gradually be “Americanized,” and in the due course we

    will have one of the most rich and desirable possessions existing in

    The Great Depression however, had a immense impact on United States’ holdings of the

    Cuban sugar industry. In the summer and fall of 1920 when the price of sugar fell from

    twenty-two cents a pound to three cents a pound, Cubans were left poverty stricken and starving,

    as their sugar market was totally dependent upon the United States. Additionally, America

    began to disengage itself from the strangling hold it had over the Cuban economy by vastly

    diminishing the amount of its imports from forty percent in previous years to eighteen percent. In

    the wake of this massive monetary pull-out, a vacuum formed in which a basically leaderless

    Cuba (its current leader, President Machado, had lost the ability to govern after his promise of

    “tranquility of the government and the country” had not been delivered) became ripe for radical

    student uprisings and the introduction of Marxist ideas. Thus was formed the Cuban Communist

    Party, led by Julio Mella and Carlos Balino, the former an eighteen year old university basketball

    player and the latter, a veteran socialist and comrade of Jose Marti.

    In 1933, President Roosevelt sent Cuban ambassador, Sumner Wells, to Havana in an

    attempt to stop the “political whirlpool in which an estimated $1,500,000,000 in U.S.

    investments was likely to drown”.7 Welles proposed the appointment of Carlos Manuel de

    Cespedes, former Cuban ambassador to Washington, as president. Shortly thereafter, leaders of

    a radical student organization “transformed their rebellion into a revolt”, and informed President

    Cespedes that he had been deposed. Cespedes abandoned the presidential palace as

    From 1930 to 1935, Antonio Guiteras led the island on a “revolutionary path” and formed

    a government that was “for the people, but not by the people or of the people”9, which the U.S.

    refused to recognize. In 1935 Guiteras was assassinated by Fulgencio Batista who proceeded to

    run Cuban affairs for the next decade. It was a government that the United States recognized as

    the “only legitimate authority on the island”.10 Then in 1944, Batista, the “American darling”,

    lost the presidential election to Grau San Martin, who had recently returned from exile. The

    Grau presidency has been described as such:

    The Autentico administrations of Grau (1944-1948) and Prio

    (1948-52) had failed to curb the political corruption and the

    associated gangster violence; more importantly they had failed to

    satisfy popular aspirations for independence and social progress.

    here were still disruptive protests against U.S. control and

    exploitation of the Cuban economy; and when Prio agreed to send

    Cuban troops to support the U.S. invasion of Korea in 1950, the

    offer was backed by a successful campaign around the slogan, ‘No

    cannon fodder for Yankee imperialists’. The general political

    instability, the growing unpopularity of the Autenticos, the

    rampant corruption and violence – all were again setting the scene

    On January 1, 1959 unable to withstand the burden of both a politically and economically

    failing nation, and under pressure from the Cuban Communist Party led by Fidel Castro and his

    Marxist-Leninist revolutionary followers, Batista fled Cuba. Paradoxically, the breakdown of

    the authoritarian regime in Cuba illustrates the fragility of presumably reliable clientelistic

    arrangements, insofar as these cannot substitute for strong central authority.12 Foreign

    investment in the economy was substantial once again in the late 1950s, with U.S. capital

    dominant in the agricultural sectors.13

    Having gained a substantial amount of support from the Cuban people, Fidel Castro was

    quick to move into power as the country’s most prominent leader. Shortly thereafter, Castro

    allied his nation with the Soviet Union and denounced the United States as an imperialistic and

    capitalist aggression. In essence, the U.S.S.R. became Cuba’s new “lifeline”. Naturally, the

    Cuban relationship with the Soviet Union made for inevitable tensions with its neighbor.14 The

    United States’ belief that the “Cuban leader had allowed his country to become a Soviet satellite,

    and that Castro’s regime might produce a spate of revolutions throughout Latin America”15 led

    directly to the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, a failed attempt to overthrow Castro. The Bay of

    Pigs invasion combined with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 sufficiently set the stage for the

    present day political tensions between the United States and Cuba.

    Due to the isolationist mood in the United States in the years following the failed Cuban

    Missile Crisis and then the Vietnam War, Fidel Castro was free to rise to power and create the

    communist island he so desperately endeavored to achieve. Without the U.S. to interfere, Castro

    could be likened to a “kid in a candy store”. Because Cuba had historically always been in

    political turmoil, it was not difficult for Castro, for all his charm and charisma, to win the

    popular vote of the people. Traditionally, in a nation as oppressed as Cuba had been, citizens

    tend to fall easy prey to totalitarian or authoritarian rule due to their need to be led by a

    government, any government, that may possibly facilitate any kind of economic growth. The end

    of the Cold War, however, left Cuba isolated when it lost its Soviet Patron.16 It has been argued

    that there are two schools of thought on how to deal with Castro in the post Cold War era:

    One school, championed primarily by the exiled Cuban community

    and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms, wanted a full

    court press to bring Castro down. They assumed further economic

    deprivation would push the Cuban people to rise up and rid

    themselves of the Castro dictatorship at last. The United States,

    with new laws penalizing countries, corporations, or persons doing

    business with Cuba, would compel the international community to

    join in the strangulation. This strategy received no international

    The second school wanted to coax Cuba out of its shell without

    trying to overthrow Castro. For all his brutality and repression,

    Castro provided education, jobs, health care, and equality for

    Cuban’s large lower class, many of whom are of African descent.

    They appreciated it then, and some still support Castro now. With

    the sudden end of Soviet subsidies (estimated at $5 billion a year),

    Cuban living conditions went from bad to worse. From 1990 to

    1993, Cuba’s GDP declined by forty percent. Many Cubans went

    hungry. Castro, reading the desperate mood of the masses,

    discovered his approaching obsolescence and gave indications that

    he might reform. The Cuban people, yearning for reform, began to

    It is evident that the political disposition of the country, as in most countries, has been

    influenced by its economic status which, for Cuba, dates back to the sixteenth century. Cuba’s

    plight as a third world nation is directly akin to its historical inability to break away from its

    dependence on a single export economy. This fact, confounded by that of other, larger nations

    serving only their own national interests by encouraging this type of economy, has held Cuba in

    Cuba does, however, despite its low domestic living standards, have extensive overseas

    commitments. The question has been raised then, as to why Cuba, with such a limited domestic

    resource base, would expand its overseas civilian and military commitments.18 A particularly

    viable explanation could be viewed as the following:

    The Cuban government asserts that it aids other Third World

    countries because it is committed to internationalist solidarity.

    While official views may conceal underlying motives, if the island

    primarily supports overseas activities for moral and ideological

    reasons, Cuban should receive no regular quid pro for its

    assistance, and it should limit its aid to ideologically sympathetic

    countries. If Cuba gains materially from its involvement, the

    benefits should be minor and they should have been unanticipated

    at the time the aid was extended. The island should risk receiving

    The Castro regime has a long history of assisting revolutionary and

    national liberation movements, and the governments to which they

    have given rise, possibly because its own social transformation

    depended on the assistance of other socialist countries. yet its

    identity with progressive, anti-imperialist states has not been

    contingent on the adoption of a Marxist-Leninist model or

    Why would Castro go to all the trouble then, when his own people were starving in the

    streets? Perhaps it was simply due to the fact that Third World countries viewed Cuba as helpful

    and influential and that overseas activities have enhanced the island’s stature in the less

    developed world. Seemingly, this theory would lend support to the hackneyed images of

    “strength in numbers” or the “big fish in a little pond” cliches. This is, of course, theory

    Despite these and many other questions which could be asked of Castro’s governing

    style, there are, in fact, many positive transformations that the socialist leader has brought about

    for his country. Though unlike most other socialist countries, Cuba has been noted for its

    far-reaching social and economic equality that has resulted from the Cuban Revolution.

    Additionally, Cuba, by no means a wealthy nation, has achieved a certain amount of significant

    success in the areas of education, health care and its economy in comparison to the Cuba of

    However, even a very favorable interpretation of these structures would have to point out

    their limitations (and one should not ignore the significance of their formal similarity to Soviet

    structures). Organized opposition is not allowed….the Cuban government would not tolerate

    efforts to establish an independent union movement, and there is no question of compromise on

    the political hegemony of the Cuban Communist Party.20

    Presently, tensions between Cuba and the United States, however, are still high as the

    U.S. continues to maintain its policy of diplomatic and economic isolation. It has been noted

    ….years after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the

    Cold War, Cuba continues to command the attention of U.S.

    policymakers. Although Russia and the former eastern bloc

    countries have undergone widespread democratic and free-market

    economic reform, Cuba remains one of the only communist

    dictatorships in the world. Removing Castro from power and

    implementing reform in Cuba are top U.S. foreign policy priorities,

    but lawmakers disagree on the best course of action. While some

    argue that the U.S. trade embargo has proved ineffective and

    inhumane, others respond that the United States should continue to

    apply pressure on Castro until he is toppled from power. As the

    lawmakers debate, the misery in Cuba is worsening, and some

    countries are now beginning to blame U.S. policy. Time will tell

    whether the United States continues its present course or revises a

    policy that is increasingly unpopular with even its most loyal

    Every now and again Castro allows a thaw in relations, but when the United States gets

    overly friendly he arranges a provocation, such as the drowning of two small planes piloted by

    Cuban exiles in 1996, which led to the passage by the United States congress of the

    Presently, Cuba is in the process of developing an advanced telecommunications system

    with the help of communist ally China. Cuba was visited recently by Chinese delegate Wu

    Jichuan and Fidel Castro claims that relations between Cuba and China have never been better.

    Additionally, Cuba is seeking to end the 40-year United States trade embargo against the island.

    Should this occur, it would greatly enhance the country’s currently sagging economy. There is

    increasing pressure from United States business and agricultural communities to begin brisk

    trade with Cuba and take advantage of a new and potentially highly profitable market.23 If Cuba

    is successful at expanding its monocultural economy the country should experience remarkably

    auspicious results in the event of a lifting of the U.S. embargo. More importantly, Castro would

    no longer have an excuse for the deficiencies in the Cuban economy.

    Additionally, housing for Cubans, which is guaranteed in the constitution, or the recent

    lack thereof, has reached epidemic proportions in Havana, the island’s capital. Reportedly, the

    government admits the country does not have nearly enough building materials or manpower to

    give everyone the home they have been promised.24 For a socialist society dedicated to taking

    care of its people, the country seems to have fallen short in this arena, as well.

    Another recent political Cuban event overshadowing most other important Cuban

    political events, if only due to the extensive media coverage than the actual quality of

    newsworthy content, is the “tragicomedy” of the custody battle of near Cuban defector, Elian

    Gonzalez. In what should have been nothing more than an international custody battle over the

    six year old Cuban child, an all out political battle between the United States and Cuba ensued.

    In my opinion, the incident had been seemingly spawned mainly from harbored resentment by

    Cuban-Americans over the failed Bay of Pigs event, in addition to their hatred of the

    authoritarian leader. Again, they fought and lost to Castro. This time, however, Fidel Castro

    was legitimate in his reproach and used the situation to portray the United States in an extremely

    unfavorable light. He succeeded, as the rest of the world looked on wondering what all the hype

    What is extraordinary about Fidel Castro, however, is that he is still here at all. More

    than 40 years after coming to power, he survives. He survives in the face of the unremitting

    hostility of a superpower only 90 miles away. He survives in spite of the fact that his main

    patron, the Soviet Union, has disappeared, his ideology, Marxist-Leninism, is discredited, and his

    economy is less than perfect. Despite the fact that an inordinate number of common citizens

    prefer to chance death at sea rather than remain in his nation, Fidel survives.25

    NOTES

    1Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.,
    1984), p. 9.

    2Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.,
    1984), p. 12.

    3Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.,
    1984), p. 13.

    4Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),
    p. 30.

    5Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),
    p. 37.

    6Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),
    p. 38.

    7Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),
    p. 44.

    8Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),
    p. 46.

    9Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),
    p. 46.

    10Geoff Simons, Cuba: From Conquistador to Castro (New York: St. Martin’s Press,
    1996), p. 254.

    11Geoff Simons, Cuba: From Conquistador to Castro (New York: St. Martin’s Press,
    1996), p. 257.

    12Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.,
    1984), p. 38.

    13Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.,
    1984), p. 40.

    14Sandor Halebsky and John M. Kirk, Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, 1959 to
    1984 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1985), p. 358.

    15Mark J. White, Missles in Cuba: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro and the 1962 Crisis
    (Chicago: Mark J. White, 1977), p. 12.

    16Michael G. Roskin and Nicholas O. Berry, The New World of International Relations
    (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1999), p. 190.

    17Michael G. Roskin and Nicholas O. Berry, The New World of International Relations
    (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1999), p. 190.

    18Sandor Halebsky and John M. Kirk, Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, 1959 to
    1984 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1985), p. 375.

    19Sandor Halebsky and John M. Kirk, Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, 1959 to
    1984 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1985), p. 375.

    20Sandor Halebsky and John M. Kirk, Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, 1959 to
    1984 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1985), p. 421.

    21World Wide Web, U.S. Policy Towards Cuba, (www.closeup.org/cuba, 1997).

    22World Wide Web, Boston Globe – CubaNet News, Inc., (www.cubanetnews.com, 2000).

    23World Wide Web, China Helps Cuba Get Current on Communications Technology,
    (www.cubanetnews.com, 2000).

    24World Wide Web, Despite Guarantess, Homelessnes Creeps Into Cuba,
    (www.cubanetnews.com, 2000).

    25World Wide Web, Government and Politics of Cuba, (www.cubapolidata.com, 2000).

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