Fidel Castro Defends the Revolution
About the Document
The Cuban Revolution of 1959 not only had a tremendous impact on the lives of the Cuban people, but also proved to be one of the most pivotal moments in modern international relations. Fulgencio Batista dominated Cuban politics as a strongman from 1933–1940, as president from 1940–1944, and after 1952, as dictator. Many Cubans were very dissatisfied with Batista's policies, including a lawyer named Fidel Castro, who began to organize an armed uprising to overthrow the government. In July 1953, Castro and his revolutionaries failed in an attempt to seize Moncado Barracks. Castro was put on trial where, in his defense, he delivered his "History Will Absolve Me" speech. He was later imprisoned in a penal colony until his release in 1955.
Castro then recruited other revolutionaries to join with him in another attempt to overthrow the government. His force was unsuccessful in creating a revolution in 1956, and they retreated to the mountains of Cuba. Over the next two years, Castro built his forces from disenchanted peasants, employees, and teachers. He was seen by the outside world, including the United States, as a hero struggling against a corrupt dictatorship. The Eisenhower Administration cut off arms shipments to the Batista government in 1958, hoping to help Castro's revolution, but seemed unaware of Castro's leftist leanings. Many of Castro's most trusted aides, including Ernesto "Che" Guevara, were Marxists and had encouraged Castro to create a Marxist state. In December 1958, Castro defeated Batista's forces, and by January 1959, had placed himself as the head of the Cuban government.
Early in 1959, the United States attempted to reign in Castro, but he responded by nationalizing industries in Cuba that had long been dominated by U.S. companies including Standard Oil, IT&T, and United Fruit. Monetary losses to these and other American companies were staggering, and the United States began a policy of trying to remove Castro from power. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 was a huge embarrassment to John F. Kennedy's administration, and Cuba became a flashpoint for U.S.–U.S.S.R. Cold War confrontations. To this day, Cuba remains a sore point in American foreign policy and continues to be the focus of an economic embargo. Despite, this, Castro has solidified his power and remains one of the last-standing Communist dictators that emerged during the Cold War.
The selection below is from Castro's impassioned defense in 1953. The "History Will Absolve Me" speech outlines what Castro was fighting for in his attempt to overthrow the Batista government and what changes he would have made if he had been successful in 1953.
Background and Context
I stated that the second consideration on which we based our chances for success was one of social order because we were sure of the people's support. When we speak of the people we do not mean the comfortable ones, the conservative elements of the nation, who welcome any regime of oppression, any dictatorship, any despotism, prostrating themselves before the master of the moment until they grind their foreheads into the ground. When we speak of struggle, the people means the vast unredeemed masses, to whom all make promises and whom all deceive; we mean the people who yearn for a better, more dignified and more just nation; who are moved by ancestral aspirations of justice, for they have suffered injustice and mockery generation after generation; . . .
The people we counted on in our struggle were these:
Seven hundred thousand Cubans without work, who desire to earn their daily bread honestly without having to emigrate in search of a livelihood.
Five hundred thousand farm labourers inhabiting miserable shacks (bohíos), who work four months of the year and starve during the rest, sharing their misery with their children; who have not an inch of land to till, and whose existence would move any heart not made of stone.
Four hundred thousand industrial labourers and stevedores whose retirement funds have been embezzled, whose benefits are being taken away, whose homes are wretched quarters, whose salaries pass from the hands of the boss to those of the moneylender (garrotero), whose future is a pay reduction and dismissal, whose life is eternal work and whose only rest is in the tomb.
One hundred thousand small farmers who live and die working on land that is not theirs, looking at it with sadness as Moses looked at the promised land, to die without ever owning it; who, like feudal serfs, have to pay for the use of their parcel of land by giving up a portion of its products; who cannot love it, improve it, beautify it, nor plant a lemon or an orange tree on it, because they never know when a sheriff will come with the rural guard to evict them from it.
Thirty thousand teachers and professors who are so devoted, dedicated and necessary to the better destiny of future generations and who are so badly treated and paid.
Twenty thousand small business men, weighted down by debts, ruined by the crisis and harangued by a plague of grafting and venal officials.
Ten thousand young professionals: doctors, engineers, lawyers, veterinarians, school teachers, dentists, pharmacists, newspapermen, painters, sculptors, etc., who come forth from school with their degrees, anxious to work and full of hope, only to find themselves at a dead end with all doors closed, and where no ear hears their clamour or supplication.
These are the people, the ones who know misfortune and, therefore, are caable of fighting with limitless courage!
To the people whose desperate roads through life have been paved with the bricks of betrayals and false promises, we were not going to say: 'We will eventually give you what you need,' but rather -- 'Here you have it, fight for it with all your might, so that liberty and happiness may be yours!'
In the brief of this case, the five revolutionary laws that would have been proclaimed immediately after the capture of the Moncada Barracks and would have been broadcasted to the nation by radio should be recorded. It is possible that Colonel Chaviano may deliberately have destroyed these documents, but even if he has done so I remember them.
The First Revolutionary Law would have returned power to the people and proclaimed the Constitution of 1940 the supreme Law of the State, until such time as the people should decide to modify or change it. And, in order to effect its implementation and punish those who had violated it, there being no organization for holding elections to accomplish this, the revolutionary movement, as the momentous incarnation of this sovereignty, the only source of legitimate power, would have assumed all the faculties inherent in it, except that of modifying the Constitution itself: in other words, it would have assumed the legislative, executive and judicial powers.
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The Second Revolutionary Law would have granted property, non-mortgageable and non-transferable, to all planters, non-quota planters, lessees, share-croppers, and squatters who hold parcels of five caballerías of land or less, and the State would indemnify the former owners on the basis of the rental which they would have received for these parcels over a period of ten years.
The Third Revolutionary Law would have granted workers and employees the right to share thirty per cent of the profits of all the large industrial, mercantile and mining enterprises, including the sugar mills. The strictly agricultural enterprises would be exempt in consideration of other agrarian laws which would be implemented.
The Fourth Revolutionary Law would have granted all planters the right to share fifty-five per cent of the sugar production and a minimum quota of forty thousand arrobas for all small planters who have been established for three or more years.
The Fifth Revolutionary Law would have ordered the confiscation of all holdings and ill-gotten gains of those who had committed frauds during previous regimes, as well as the holdings and ill-gotten gains of all their legatees and heirs. To implement this, special courts with full powers would gain access to all records of all corporations registered or operating in this country, in order to investigate concealed funds of illegal origin, and to request that foreign governments extradite persons and attach holdings rightfully belonging to the Cuban people. Half of the property recovered would be used to subsidize retirement funds for workers and the other half would be used for hospitals, asylums and charitable organizations.
Furthermore, it was to be declared that Cuban policy in the Americas would be one of close solidarity with the democratic peoples of this continent, and that those politically persecuted by bloody tyrants oppressing our sister nations would find generous asylum, brotherhood and bread in the land of Martí; not the persecution, hunger and treason they find today. Cuba should be the bulwark of liberty and not a shameful link in the chain of despotism.
These laws would have been proclaimed immediately, as soon as the upheavals were ended and prior to a detailed and far-reaching study. They would have been followed by another series of laws and fundamental measures, such as the Agrarian Reform, the integral Reform of Education, electric power nationalization of the trust and the telephone trust, refund to the people of the illegal excessive rates this company has charged, and payment to the Treasury of all taxes brazenly evaded in the past.
Source: Fidel Castro, History Will Absolve Me (London: Jonathan Cape, 1968), pp. 40–45.