Cuba: The Plight of a Nation and its RevolutionWhile the isle of Cuba was initially discovered on October 27, 1492 during one ofColumbus’ 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 backdropinto the very essence of the country’s political and economic unrest. From it’s earlyrevolutionary days to the insurrectional challenge of the Marxist-Leninist theories emerged thetotalitarian regime under Fidel Castro in present day Cuba. Cuban colonial society was distinguished by the characteristics of colonial societies ingeneral, namely a stratified, inegalitarian class system; a poorly differentiated agriculturaleconomy; a dominant political class made up of colonial officers, the clergy, and the military; anexclusionary and elitist education system controlled by the clergy; and a pervasive religioussystem. 1 Cuba’s agrarian monocultural character, economically dependant upon sugarcultivation, production and export severely restricted its potential for growth as a nation, therebyfirmly implanting its newly sprouted roots firmly in the trenches of poverty from the verybeginning of the country’s existence.Order now
In 1868, Cuba entered in to The Ten Years’ War against Spain in a struggle forindependence, but to no avail. Ten years of bitter and destructive conflict ensued, but the goal ofindependence was not achieved. Political divisions among patriot forces, personal quarrelsamong rebel military leaders, and the failure of the rebels to gain the backing of the UnitedStates, coupled with stiff resistance from Spain and the Cubans’ inability to carry the war inearnest to the western provinces, produced a military stalemate in the final stages. 2 The war hada devastating effect on an already weak economic and political infrastructure.
The defeat, however, did not hinder the resolution of the Cuban proletariat for anindependent nation. In the words of one author, The Cubans’ ability to wage a costly, protracted struggle againstSpain demonstrated that proindependence sentiment was strongand could be manifested militarily. On the other hand, before anyeffort to terminate Spanish control could succeed, differences overslavery, political organization, leadership, and military strategy hadto be resolved. In short, the very inconclusiveness of the war left afeeling that the Cubans could and would resume their struggleuntil their legitimate political objectives of independence andsovereignty were attained.
3The years following the Ten Years’ War were harsh and austere. The countryside,ravaged and desolate, bankrupted Spanish sugar interests in Cuba, virtually destroying theindustry. The Spanish owners sold out to North American interests, a process accelerated by thefinal abolition of slavery in Cuba in 1886. 4 The end of slavery, naturally, meant the end of freelabor.
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. Whatbecame known as the American Sugar Refining Company supplied from seventy to ninetypercent of all sugar consumed by the United States, thus mandating the direction of the Cubanagricultural 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 armydirectly to the United States, not Cuba. This war later became known as the Spanish-AmericanWar. The leader and organizer of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, Jose Marti’s, goal of trueindependence was buried without honor in 1898. 5In the years from 1902 to 1959, following the institution of the Platt Amendment, whichwas an amendment to the Cuban constitution, that stated that the United States had the right tointervene in Cuba at any time, a period which came to be termed the ?Pseudo Republic? ensued. In the words of General Wood:Of course, Cuba has been left with little or no independence by thePlatt Amendment. .
. The Cuban Government cannot enter intocertain treaties without our consent, nor secure loans above certainlimits, and it must maintain the sanitary conditions that have beenindicated. With the control that we have over Cuba, a controlwhich, without doubt, will soon turn her into our possession, soonwe will practically control the sugar market in the world. I believethat it is a very desirable acquisition for the United States.
Theisland will gradually be ?Americanized,? and in the due course wewill have one of the most rich and desirable possessions existing inthe entire world. . . 6The Great Depression however, had a immense impact on United States’ holdings of theCuban sugar industry. In the summer and fall of 1920 when the price of sugar fell fromtwenty-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, Americabegan to disengage itself from the strangling hold it had over the Cuban economy by vastlydiminishing the amount of its imports from forty percent in previous years to eighteen percent.
Inthe wake of this massive monetary pull-out, a vacuum formed in which a basically leaderlessCuba (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 radicalstudent uprisings and the introduction of Marxist ideas. Thus was formed the Cuban CommunistParty, led by Julio Mella and Carlos Balino, the former an eighteen year old university basketballplayer and the latter, a veteran socialist and comrade of Jose Marti. In 1933, President Roosevelt sent Cuban ambassador, Sumner Wells, to Havana in anattempt 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 deCespedes, former Cuban ambassador to Washington, as president. Shortly thereafter, leaders ofa radical student organization ?transformed their rebellion into a revolt?, and informed PresidentCespedes that he had been deposed. Cespedes abandoned the presidential palace asinconspicuously as he had arrived. 8From 1930 to 1935, Antonio Guiteras led the island on a ?revolutionary path? and formeda 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 torun Cuban affairs for the next decade. It was a government that the United States recognized asthe ?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.
TheGrau 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 theassociated gangster violence; more importantly they had failed tosatisfy popular aspirations for independence and social progress. here were still disruptive protests against U. S. control andexploitation of the Cuban economy; and when Prio agreed to sendCuban troops to support the U. S. invasion of Korea in 1950, theoffer was backed by a successful campaign around the slogan, ?Nocannon fodder for Yankee imperialists’.
The general politicalinstability, the growing unpopularity of the Autenticos, therampant corruption and violence – all were again setting the scenefor political upheaval. 11On January 1, 1959 unable to withstand the burden of both a politically and economicallyfailing nation, and under pressure from the Cuban Communist Party led by Fidel Castro and hisMarxist-Leninist revolutionary followers, Batista fled Cuba. Paradoxically, the breakdown ofthe authoritarian regime in Cuba illustrates the fragility of presumably reliable clientelisticarrangements, insofar as these cannot substitute for strong central authority. 12 Foreigninvestment in the economy was substantial once again in the late 1950s, with U.
S. capitaldominant in the agricultural sectors. 13 Having gained a substantial amount of support from the Cuban people, Fidel Castro wasquick to move into power as the country’s most prominent leader. Shortly thereafter, Castroallied his nation with the Soviet Union and denounced the United States as an imperialistic andcapitalist aggression.
In essence, the U. S. S. R.
became Cuba’s new ?lifeline?. Naturally, theCuban relationship with the Soviet Union made for inevitable tensions with its neighbor. 14 TheUnited 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 leddirectly to the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, a failed attempt to overthrow Castro. The Bay ofPigs invasion combined with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 sufficiently set the stage for thepresent day political tensions between the United States and Cuba. Due to the isolationist mood in the United States in the years following the failed CubanMissile Crisis and then the Vietnam War, Fidel Castro was free to rise to power and create thecommunist island he so desperately endeavored to achieve.
Without the U. S. to interfere, Castrocould be likened to a ?kid in a candy store?. Because Cuba had historically always been inpolitical turmoil, it was not difficult for Castro, for all his charm and charisma, to win thepopular vote of the people. Traditionally, in a nation as oppressed as Cuba had been, citizenstend to fall easy prey to totalitarian or authoritarian rule due to their need to be led by agovernment, any government, that may possibly facilitate any kind of economic growth. The endof the Cold War, however, left Cuba isolated when it lost its Soviet Patron.
16 It has been arguedthat 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 communityand Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms, wanted a fullcourt press to bring Castro down. They assumed further economicdeprivation would push the Cuban people to rise up and ridthemselves of the Castro dictatorship at last. The United States,with new laws penalizing countries, corporations, or persons doingbusiness with Cuba, would compel the international community tojoin in the strangulation. This strategy received no internationalsupport. The second school wanted to coax Cuba out of its shell withouttrying to overthrow Castro. For all his brutality and repression,Castro provided education, jobs, health care, and equality forCuban’s large lower class, many of whom are of African descent.
They appreciated it then, and some still support Castro now. Withthe sudden end of Soviet subsidies (estimated at $5 billion a year),Cuban living conditions went from bad to worse. From 1990 to1993, Cuba’s GDP declined by forty percent. Many Cubans wenthungry. Castro, reading the desperate mood of the masses,discovered his approaching obsolescence and gave indications thathe might reform.
The Cuban people, yearning for reform, began tohope for a new day. 17It is evident that the political disposition of the country, as in most countries, has beeninfluenced by its economic status which, for Cuba, dates back to the sixteenth century. Cuba’splight as a third world nation is directly akin to its historical inability to break away from itsdependence on a single export economy. This fact, confounded by that of other, larger nationsserving only their own national interests by encouraging this type of economy, has held Cuba inchains of indigence for decades.
Cuba does, however, despite its low domestic living standards, have extensive overseascommitments. The question has been raised then, as to why Cuba, with such a limited domesticresource base, would expand its overseas civilian and military commitments. 18 A particularlyviable explanation could be viewed as the following:The Cuban government asserts that it aids other Third Worldcountries because it is committed to internationalist solidarity. While official views may conceal underlying motives, if the islandprimarily supports overseas activities for moral and ideologicalreasons, Cuban should receive no regular quid pro for itsassistance, and it should limit its aid to ideologically sympatheticcountries.
If Cuba gains materially from its involvement, thebenefits should be minor and they should have been unanticipatedat the time the aid was extended. The island should risk receivingno economic pay-offs. . .
The Castro regime has a long history of assisting revolutionary andnational liberation movements, and the governments to which theyhave given rise, possibly because its own social transformationdepended on the assistance of other socialist countries. yet itsidentity with progressive, anti-imperialist states has not beencontingent on the adoption of a Marxist-Leninist model ormembership in the socialist camp. 19Why would Castro go to all the trouble then, when his own people were starving in thestreets? Perhaps it was simply due to the fact that Third World countries viewed Cuba as helpfuland influential and that overseas activities have enhanced the island’s stature in the lessdeveloped 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, theoryhowever, and not fact.
Despite these and many other questions which could be asked of Castro’s governingstyle, there are, in fact, many positive transformations that the socialist leader has brought aboutfor his country. Though unlike most other socialist countries, Cuba has been noted for itsfar-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 significantsuccess in the areas of education, health care and its economy in comparison to the Cuba ofyears past. However, even a very favorable interpretation of these structures would have to point outtheir limitations (and one should not ignore the significance of their formal similarity to Sovietstructures).
Organized opposition is not allowed. . . .
the Cuban government would not tolerateefforts to establish an independent union movement, and there is no question of compromise onthe political hegemony of the Cuban Communist Party. 20 Presently, tensions between Cuba and the United States, however, are still high as theU. S. continues to maintain its policy of diplomatic and economic isolation. It has been notedthat:. .
. . years after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of theCold War, Cuba continues to command the attention of U. S.
policymakers. Although Russia and the former eastern bloccountries have undergone widespread democratic and free-marketeconomic reform, Cuba remains one of the only communistdictatorships in the world. Removing Castro from power andimplementing reform in Cuba are top U. S.
foreign policy priorities,but lawmakers disagree on the best course of action. While someargue that the U. S. trade embargo has proved ineffective andinhumane, others respond that the United States should continue toapply pressure on Castro until he is toppled from power.
As thelawmakers debate, the misery in Cuba is worsening, and somecountries are now beginning to blame U. S. policy. Time will tellwhether the United States continues its present course or revises apolicy that is increasingly unpopular with even its most loyalallies. 21Every now and again Castro allows a thaw in relations, but when the United States getsoverly friendly he arranges a provocation, such as the drowning of two small planes piloted byCuban exiles in 1996, which led to the passage by the United States congress of theHelms-Burton Act a month later.
22 Presently, Cuba is in the process of developing an advanced telecommunications systemwith the help of communist ally China. Cuba was visited recently by Chinese delegate WuJichuan 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 isincreasing pressure from United States business and agricultural communities to begin brisktrade with Cuba and take advantage of a new and potentially highly profitable market. 23 If Cubais successful at expanding its monocultural economy the country should experience remarkablyauspicious results in the event of a lifting of the U. S. embargo. More importantly, Castro wouldno longer have an excuse for the deficiencies in the Cuban economy. Additionally, housing for Cubans, which is guaranteed in the constitution, or the recentlack thereof, has reached epidemic proportions in Havana, the island’s capital.
Reportedly, thegovernment admits the country does not have nearly enough building materials or manpower togive everyone the home they have been promised. 24 For a socialist society dedicated to takingcare of its people, the country seems to have fallen short in this arena, as well. Another recent political Cuban event overshadowing most other important Cubanpolitical events, if only due to the extensive media coverage than the actual quality ofnewsworthy content, is the ?tragicomedy? of the custody battle of near Cuban defector, ElianGonzalez. In what should have been nothing more than an international custody battle over thesix 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 byCuban-Americans over the failed Bay of Pigs event, in addition to their hatred of theauthoritarian leader. Again, they fought and lost to Castro. This time, however, Fidel Castrowas legitimate in his reproach and used the situation to portray the United States in an extremelyunfavorable light. He succeeded, as the rest of the world looked on wondering what all the hypewas about. What is extraordinary about Fidel Castro, however, is that he is still here at all.
Morethan 40 years after coming to power, he survives. He survives in the face of the unremittinghostility of a superpower only 90 miles away. He survives in spite of the fact that his mainpatron, the Soviet Union, has disappeared, his ideology, Marxist-Leninism, is discredited, and hiseconomy is less than perfect. Despite the fact that an inordinate number of common citizensprefer to chance death at sea rather than remain in his nation, Fidel survives. 25 BibliographyNOTES1 Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.
,1984), p. 9. 2 Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc. ,1984), p. 12.
3 Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc. ,1984), p. 13.
4 Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),p. 30. 5 Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),p. 37.
6 Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),p. 38. 7 Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),p. 44.
8 Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),p. 46. 9 Terrance Cannon, Revolutionary Cuba (Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1981),p. 46.
10 Geoff Simons, Cuba: From Conquistador to Castro (New York: St. Martin’s Press,1996), p. 254. 11 Geoff Simons, Cuba: From Conquistador to Castro (New York: St.
Martin’s Press,1996), p. 257. 12 Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc. ,1984), p. 38.
13 Juan M. del Aguila, Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution (Colorado: Westview Press, Inc. ,1984), p. 40.
14 Sandor Halebsky and John M. Kirk, Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, 1959 to1984 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1985), p. 358. 15 Mark J.
White, Missles in Cuba: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro and the 1962 Crisis(Chicago: Mark J. White, 1977), p. 12. 16 Michael G.
Roskin and Nicholas O. Berry, The New World of International Relations(New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. , 1999), p. 190.
17 Michael G. Roskin and Nicholas O. Berry, The New World of International Relations(New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. , 1999), p. 190. 18 Sandor Halebsky and John M.
Kirk, Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, 1959 to1984 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1985), p. 375. 19 Sandor Halebsky and John M. Kirk, Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, 1959 to1984 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1985), p.
375. 20 Sandor Halebsky and John M. Kirk, Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, 1959 to1984 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1985), p. 421.
21 World Wide Web, U. S. Policy Towards Cuba, (www.closeup.org/cuba, 1997).22 World Wide Web, Boston Globe – CubaNet News, Inc., (www.cubanetnews.com, 2000).23 World Wide Web, China Helps Cuba Get Current on Communications Technology,(www.cubanetnews.com, 2000).24 World Wide Web, Despite Guarantess, Homelessnes Creeps Into Cuba,(www.cubanetnews.com, 2000).25 World Wide Web, Government and Politics of Cuba, (www.cubapolidata.com, 2000).Political Science