Lecture 4: Cuba: Revolution, Resistance And Globalisation

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Latin America R. James Ferguson © 2006

Lecture 4:
Cuba: Revolution, Resistance And Globalisation
Overview: -
1. Introduction: A Country With Unique Forms of Internationalisation

2. History: Diaspora and Cultural Fusion

3. Early U.S. Involvement in Cuban Affairs

4. The Revolutionary Legacy of the 19th Century

5. Castro's Revolution

6. Conflict and Containment

7. The Case of Elian Gonzalez

8. Modern Cuba: A Unique Culture Playing A Unique Strategy

9. Survival Strategies (Seminar)

10. Bibliography and Further Resources

1. Introduction: A Country With Unique Forms of Internationalisation
Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean Islands and lies strategically at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, controlling approaches to Mexico, the Mississippi valley and western Florida (MacGaffey 1962, p1). More importantly, it is an island which developed its own unique cultural and political system that would involve it in a complex relationship with the U.S. and then find itself at the forefront of the Cold War superpower contest. Since 1992, the country faced a new challenge: how a socialist country can position itself in the face of globalisation and an ongoing economic embargo from the U.S. These pressures have forced the country into innovative forms of resistance and survival, and, ironically, helped maintain the regime of Fidel Castro. However, the future nature of a post-embargo, post-Castro Cuba remains to be resolved.
The country has a fair agricultural resource base, with main crops including sugar, coffee, and tobacco, and secondary crops including pineapples, bananas, rice and corn. Alongside these products, Cuba also some mineral resources: iron, nickel, copper, manganese, tungsten, naphtha, asphalt and a certain amount of petroleum and gas, which provides only around 38% of the islands energy needs (MacGaffey 1962, p2; Oil Daily 2002). The island also has industrial potential in sugar refining and related products, food processing, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals. It has a relatively well-educated population, a strong tourist industry, and a relatively strong medical system (see below).

Cuba (Courtesy PCL Map Collection)
2. History: Diaspora and Cultural Fusion
Cuba was first discovered by the West with Columbus' voyage of 1496, though the island was not permanently settled by Spain until 1511 (MacGaffey 1962, p2). Cuba had its own unique indigenous people before the arrival of Columbus to the island, but their relatively small numbers (perhaps 60,000) were eroded by the impact of European settlement, disease, and famine (Thomas 1971, p21). In spite of attempted rebellions in 1524-32 and 1538-44 these people were unable to sustain themselves as an independent society (August 1999, p43). Nonetheless, they formed one of the elements in modern Cuban culture, in part because the Spanish at first showed less prejudice towards them racially than towards Africans who mainly arrived as slaves. Many indigenous natives 'were undoubtedly absorbed in Cuba as elsewhere into Spanish families and, because of the whiteness of their skin, were regarded as Spanish (or creoles)' (Thomas 1971, p21). Since 80% of Spaniards who came to the island in the 18th century were males, intermarriage with other races was quite common (August 1999, p66). In time the term Creole would come to indicate any person who was a permanent resident in Cuba and took Cuban interests to heart, in contrast to those who still felt linked to peninsula Spain (August 1999, p51). Some leading creole families who had achieved noble status moved from beef and tobacco production into sugar, and were owners of thousands of slaves (Thomas 1971, p32, pp46-47). Creole families such as the Herreras and Núñez de Castillo were ennobled and controlled large estates (Thomas 1971, p47). Although various forms of racism and discrimination would develop, especially against the descendants of black slaves, there was no formal apartheid and discrimination in most public places, schools and the public service were outlawed by 1893 (Thomas 1971, p293). Race issues, however, continue to remain a challenge to the socialist ideals of modern Cuba. Contemporary prejudice is more subtly oriented on the basis of appearance and education. Exclusion here is sometime explained on the basis of aesthetic and cultural factors, with the loose criteria of buena presencia (good appearance) acting as little more than a rationalisation of prejudice against those of dark appearance, even though up to 60% of Cubans have a "significant" degree of African ancestry (Hansing 2001, pp743-744; de la Fuente 1998, p7; Moore 1997, p13).
The early Cuban economy for a time was based on cattle, hides, and some extraction of gold, though the economy of the islands declined during the 16th century (MacGaffey 1962, p4) until new plantation crops began to be developed. The Spanish in Cuba, however, soon found that they needed massive imports of labour for their diverse plantations, especially slaves from the west coasts of Africa (see Thompson 1987). The demand for labour on tobacco, coffee (Topik 2000; Thomas 1971, pp132-133) and especially sugar plantations pushed up the demand for slaves (Williamson 1992, p436; Jamieson 2001), even when their import was limited at first by Spanish state monopolies and later on by the British fleet when England outlawed the practice of slavery from the early 19th century, and tried to intercept the slaving ships leaving Africa (Thomas 1971, p33, p93, p94).
The African diaspora, of course, was one of the crucial shaping events of the modern world, and a total of some 15 million people were carried to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, profoundly shaping the structure of both American and some African nations (Thomas 1971, pp282-284; see further Thompson 1987). From the 18th century onwards, it was their labour on plantations that formed the backbone of the Cuban economy. Sugar production, (sugar cane was first introduced into the island in the 1520s, August 1999, p46), required a large and ready supply of slaves, whose procurement amounted to between one third and half the entire cost of founding a plantation (Thomas 1971, p30). Between 1763 and 1862 some 750,000 slaves were brought into Cuba (August 1999, p47). As a result, during the 19th century Africans or racially mixed groups formed between 50-60% of the population of the island (Thomas 1971, p168). ). Slave populations had arrived from most areas of the west coast of Africa, including Nigerian ports, the Bight of Benin, Dahomey, Lagos, the Congo, and the Gold Coast (Thomas 1971, pp158-159). Sizeable cultural grouping included the Ibos, Yorubas and Congolese tribes (Thomas 1971, p40). By the 1820s Cuba had become a rich colony and for a time 'the largest sugar producer in the world', pulling ahead of other islands such as Jamaica (Thomas 1971, p61). Other products, such as copper, beef, and hides were soon moved in a very secondary role in the economy.
There were some important differences between slavery in Cuba than in other parts of the free world. Although conditions were generally harsh, especially on the sugar plantations, local law meant that slaves could buy their own freedom, and that in time a sizeable Afro-Cuban community emerged in the island, creating their own culture, religion, literature, and music (Thomas 1971, pp36-37). As a result, though the island retained a Spanish nobility and a growing immigration of peasants and workers from Spain in the late 19th century, Cuba thus soon developed a sizeable minority of free Africans and Afro-Cubans who formed an important part of the national identity of the island. During the nineteenth century persons of mixed racial backgrounds sometimes managed to secure places in universities, some became professors and others entered the bureaucracy, while some poets of African or mixed origin, such as Plácido, became famous (Thomas 1971, p172)..
One important aspect of this emerging culture was the way the Roman Catholic Church at first tried to allow a gradual conversion of the customs of natives, tolerating the syncretism between Catholic and indigenous beliefs. From the early 18th century this led to the creation of African cofradías (religious brotherhoods), whose unique blend of religion was most evident during festival and feast days, e.g. at the Día de los Reyes, otherwise known as Epiphany (Thomas 1971, pp39-40). Eventually this would lead to more Africanised forms of religion such as Santería. In the modern period, as well, syncretic religions based in part on African traditions, especially Santería (also known as La Regla de Ocha), have become extremely popular in Cuba (Moore 1997, p226). This is one area of personal freedom that has not been effectively constrained by state ideology. Santería is often expressed through invoking, playing for, singing to, or writing songs about the Yoruba gods, e.g. the songs Bilongo, Mayeya and Devuélveme la voz (Delgado 1999). From the 1990s the cult of Ifa (an Afro-Cuban diviner cult) has also become prestigious and popular among some groups, perhaps operating in the context of economic crisis and competition among religious systems (see Holbraad 2004).
Even from an early stage the diverse elements in the island began to interact in creating a unique music, dance and oral culture, in part as Africans were drawn into Spanish festivals and the 'fiestas partly Africanized' (Thomas 1971, p40). In time this led to the evolution of complex Afro-Cuban rituals such as the Abakuá, which attracted participants from all racial groups (Thomas 1971, p199). Particular dance forms evolved, such as the chachá, the rumba and the babul (an African dance evolve in Cuba's Oriente province, Thomas 1971, p178). It was on this basis that contemporary musical forms evolved, including a number of unique song forms such as the son and trova (Lam 2000; Sweeney 2001; Yanow 2000). African magic and religion, too, survived in modified forms, sometimes focused on secret societies and clubs, while apparently overseers treated African medicine men with great care (Thomas 1971, p177, p180).
Cuba's first moves towards asserting a character independent of their status as a Spanish colony were driven by two factors: the effort to improve the economy of the island, and a sense that Cuba had its own culture, history and place in the world. Indigenous Cuban planters developed the idea of a Cuban 'liberal economy' (Thomas 1971, p73). They set much of the subsequent train of Cuban history on track by creating large 'efficient' plantations. In modernising the sugar plantations, however, the Cubans created an ongoing demand for slaves (Thomas 1971, p84), a demand which in the end could only lay the seeds of revolt and Cuban nationalism. Already in 1791 Saint Domingue (Haiti) underwent the first successful slave revolt, and was an inspiration to slaves and freed slaves throughout the region. Slave revolts were suppressed in Cuba in 1843-1844 (Thomas 1971, pp204-205).
Sugar in the long run also created the demand for the construction of railways, whose price could only drop once cheap methods (the Bessemer process) for the production of steel were invented (Thomas 1971, p273). By the end of the 19th century, it emerged that the use of railways and new mill technology meant that indentured Chinese labour (over 150,000 were brought in, though most who survived returned home) and contracted Spanish peasants were cheaper suppliers (Thomas 1971, p122, pp185-188, pp274-276). The treatment of these groups was extremely poor, and in many ways these workers were tied to cycles of poverty and debt that would also force new revolutions on the island. Ironically, too, the emancipados (legally freed slaves due to the intervention of the British navy against slavers) of the nineteenth century were sometimes treated horribly: they were often put into forced labour and literally worked to death over a seven period, since they had then had no residual value as property to their overseers (Thomas 1971, p181, pp201-202).

3. Early U.S. Involvement in Cuban Affairs
U.S. involvement in Latin American issues goes back prior to American independence. Part of the causes of the American revolution lay in economic interests, in particular the desire to trade freely outside British mandates, including the wish to trade with Cuba and the French West Indies (Thomas 1971, p66). In the late 18th century Britain was still concerned to counter Spanish and French interests in the Americas. Furthermore, North American merchants became major traders with Cuba from the early 19th century, including even imports of food supplies (Thomas 1971, pp86-87, p194). In spite of official bans, U.S. ships were prominent in the early 19th century slave trade, using the American flag in order to resist inspections by the British navy, though this changed after 1860 with the election of President Abraham Lincoln (Thomas 1971, p203, pp230-231). By the mid-19th century the majority of machinery, railway equipment, loans and investments in the Cuban sugar industry also came from the U.S. (Thomas 1971, p209). The U.S. became the dominate trade partner with Cuba in the late 19th century, while Cuba was America's main South and Central American trading partner, with Cuba for a time accounting for 10% of the U.S.'s total imports (Thomas 1971, pp288-289).
The U.S. was keen to avoid radical solutions in Cuba, and in particular suggested that the national and revolutionary movements sweeping South America should not make their way into Cuba and Puerto Rico, while during the 1820s and 1830s the U.S. was still willing to see regional dependence on a relatively weak Spain (Thomas 1971, p104). Yet shortly thereafter independence would be recognised by Spain for most Latin American countries from 1836 down till 1894, with Brazil establishing its independence from Portugal by 1822 (August 1999, p45).
Indeed, the U.S. from the early 19th century saw control of Cuba as very much bound up with her own regional security. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 had already developed the idea that the Americas should not be drawn into European conflicts or penetrated by new patterns of European imperialism or military intervention (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, p317). The U.S. had expanded both westward and southward only recently. California and New Mexico (after the U.S. war with Mexico of 1846-1848), Louisiana (purchased in 1804), Texas (1845), Florida (purchased in 1819) and Alaska (purchased in 1867) had been secured either by purchase, settlement, or as the result of conflict which drew U.S. interests outwards.
It was in this context that many plans were formulated for the U.S. purchase of Cuba, the first thought up in 1839 by Nicolas Trist, U.S. consul in Havana, but repeated by different groups in 1847-1848, and again in 1854 and 1857-8, offering US$100-130 million to Spain for the deal (Thomas 1971, p199, pp211-214, p223). Other offers included loans to Cuba that would pay off Spanish debts up to US$400 million (Thomas 1971, p222). A last offer of US$300 million was made 1898 just before the outbreak of the Spanish-American war, but could not be accepted by Spain (Thomas 1971, p367). Aside from purchase, another American option that was often mooted was outright annexation of the island, a move that gained force in southern U.S. states after 1845. Both of these trends were supported by the idea of a wider 'manifest destiny' for the United States as an advanced nation based on a superior Anglo-Saxon tradition which had a responsibility to use its greatness (Chiodo; 2000; Thomas 1971, pp210-212). Indeed, during the late 19th century, possession, or at least control, of Cuba, became 'a fixed ambition of U.S. foreign policy' (Perez 1998).
Others, more impatient, sought an unofficial and more direct solution to securing Cuba. The rebel Narciso López would find backers in the southern U.S. and launch several attempted invasions of the island, culminating in his death in 1850 (Thomas 1971, p217). History, as we shall see, would repeat itself. López however, did leave one lasting legacy to Cuba: 'the Cuban flag from the day of independence in 1902 to the present day is one designed by López', reflecting both the flag of Texas and of the Union (Thomas 1971, p217). The hope of some Americans and Cubans had been that Cuba would declare itself independent, and then join the U.S. as a 'southern' state supporting slavery (Thomas 1971, p220).

The Flag of the Republic of Cuban
Cubans also formed strong lobby groups in New York and Washington, while a community of over 18,000 had established themselves in Key West in Florida by 1870 (Thomas 1971, p291). Today this expatriate community, many of them fiercely opposed to Castro, comprise a large and influential lobby within the population of Florida (see further below). In the long run it is not surprising that the U.S. and Cuba have been deeply involved with each other.
4. The Revolutionary Legacy of the 19th Century
The revolutionary traditions of Cuba were played out against the great revolts by many Spanish American territories which from 1810 began to try to assert their independence, e.g. Mexico. The first movement for outright independence in Cuba began in 1809 and led by Román de la Luz, but the attempt was soon broken (Thomas 1971, pp88-89). The movement gained strength around 1823, this time lead by mason groups, often appealing to students and 'poorer white Cubans', who were urged to united with free and slave blacks (Thomas 1971, p101). The movement was crushed, aided by large numbers of Spanish troops, resulting in martial law that effectively last some fifty years (Thomas 1971, p103). Likewise, President Lincoln's proclamation against slavery in the U.S. of 1863 caused great enthusiasm among blacks in Cuba (Thomas 1971, p235). It was in the 19th century that the first organised strikes in Cuba occurred and in the 1850s many workers began to create mutual aid societies (Thomas 1971, p236). In the long run, revolutionary ideas of anarcho-syndicalist thought, deriving from Bakunin and Fanelli, would being to influence Cuba and its labour movements, especially through activists such as Enrique Roig (Thomas 1971, p249, p291).
Other reformers included Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who was active from the 1850s and very critical of Spanish policies (Thomas 1971, p243). In 1868 this man led reformist planters in the east of the island against Spanish rule: his program included the gradual emancipation of all slaves (Thomas 1971, p245). He quickly mustered an army of some 12,000 men and launched the war of 1868-1878. Later 'liberators' in the war would include Antonio Maceo, Calixto Garcia, and later on Máximo Gómez. This conflict tended to focus on the poorer eastern part of the island, and only after 1875 would carry on raids into the richer plantations of the western section of Cuba (Thomas 1971, p264). Up to 258,000 - 300,000 (10% of the total population) may have died during the conflict (Thomas 1971, p269, p423), in large part due to disease and localised famines as much as from direct warfare. In the end, massive Spanish military reinforcement and divisions within the rebel camp would lead to the failure of the rebellion. However, after the war there was some limited move towards democracy: based on property qualifications, all Cuban were allowed to vote for municipal and local councils (Thomas 1971, pp267-268). The conflict also inspired strong support for the freeing of slaves, and laid the basis of the a 'strong nationalist spirit' in Cuba that has never died out (Thomas 1971, p270). The tradition of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and other revolutionary leaders such as Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo helped establish the tradition of heroic Cuban patriotism (Williamson 1992, p437) that would be mobilised in the following century.
Another strong influence on this tradition was the brilliant José Martí (1853-1895), who remains popular today, in part because of his staunch opposition to the idea of annexation by the U.S. (Thomas 1971, pp295-298). Operating from the U.S., Martí founded revolutionary schools and in 1892 formed the Cuban Revolutionary Party and along with other leaders, especially Máximo Gómez helped launch a rather premature War of Independence in 1895 (Thomas 1971, pp306-316). Martí was himself killed in 1895, but left an enduring legacy. The result was a sustained revolution (see Williford 1998) using the methods of guerrilla warfare that created a fierce debate internationally, including a major contest for newspaper coverage in the U.S., with a section of the American press supporting the idea of a free Cuba (Perez 1998). José Martí himself came to be viewed as one of the founders of modern Cuba, in part through his creation of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (PRC) and in part because of his voluminous writings. He was one of the strongest explicit inspirations for Castro (Quirk 1993, p53).
In this context, national identity (Cubanidad) and nationalism began to draw on these revolutionary legacies. Building on the 19th century revolutionary movement, the 1959 revolution also promoted a specific sense of national identity through cultural forms, including music, art and, for a time, architecture: -
Cubanidad, or the nature of Cuban identity, is a debate that had been taking place since the 19th century. Jose Marti, who is upheld as the original and most important intellectual figure in the long-running struggle for Cuban independence, understood the need to establish a specific culture, free from traditional Spanish domination, that recognized the fusion of both African and Spanish influences on an equal basis.
Although the development of Cubanidad remained centrally important for the relatively small intellectual community throughout the first half of the 20th century, its influence was subsumed by the continued spread of Western capitalism. It was only the 1959 revolution that provided the unique opportunity to promote an architecture that truly reflected Cubanidad. (Foster 1999)
During 1897, the revolution against Spain led to American fears for their economic and strategic interests in Cuba, and the battleship Maine was dispatched to Havana to protect U.S. concerns (for the complexity of U.S. public opinion, see Perez 1998). Unfortunately, the battleship Maine blew up in the Havana harbour on 15 February 1898, with some 260 deaths (Thomas 1971, p361). The cause for the explosion was never securely identified, whether due to sabotage, an uncharted mine, or an accidental explosion due to the new gun-powder mixture that was being issued to American ships. Regardless of the exact causes, the result was a wave of hysteria in the U.S. against Spain (see Detemple 2001), a wave that pushed ahead the plans of Roosevelt and others to take control of Cuba, the Philippines and Guam (Thomas 1971, p364-365). In spite of attempted negotiation and the offer of recompense from Spain, President McKinley and the U.S. Congress declared war on Spain on 25 April 1898, but without recognising the rebel Cuban government (Thomas 1971, pp376-380). In effect, the U.S. no longer trusted that Spain could keep control of the island, nor was it willing to recognise the revolutionary forces of Cuba, which were poised for victory in the field (Perez 1998). In effect, its intervention was against both the Spanish and Cuban forces.
The Spanish navy, small and old fashioned, had no chance against the modern U.S. fleet. The outcome of this war was wider than just its impact on Cuba. It led to the U.S. occupation of the Philippines (where the independence claims of General Aguinaldo were not accepted) and Guam, control of Puerto Rico, and military administration of Cuba from 1899-1902. Thereafter, for several decades, the U.S. had a privileged position with regard to Cuba, where they could intervene either if U.S. 'interests' were at risk, or if any other power seemed to be gaining influence on the island (Thomas 1971, p402, pp450-454). This was done through the 'Platt Amendment', which gave the U.S. the right to intervene on almost any pretext if U.S. interests or the stability of the Cuban government was not assured - the policy was only reluctantly accepted by the Cuban Constituent Assembly in June 1901 (August 1999, p103). Cuban sovereignty was controlled and limited by U.S. interests (Perez 1998). It also made the career of Theodore Roosevelt, who as a Colonel of the Roughriders led his famous charge up San Juan Hill (in Cuba). Thereafter, Roosevelt became governor of New York State and then President. He continued a policy of unique influence for the U.S. throughout South and Central America. A combination of indigenous revolution and U.S. intervention had ended Spain's control of Cuba.
During the 19th century the movement towards independence was augmented first by the failure of the U.S. to annex the island, and then by the way early 20th century U.S. interests which developed the island as a 'sugar factory' and strategic naval base (Thomas 1971, p227). On the 20th of May 1902 Cuba achieved formal independence under its first President, Estrada Palma, but this would not be the beginning of a smooth ride for the new nation. Political turmoil continued. Between 1906 and 1909 Cuba was ruled directly by the U.S., while between 1909 and 1921 American troops were sent to intervene in the politics of the island on four occasions (Williamson 1992, p440).
From 1902-1959 the history of Cuba reads as a long serious of partially corrupt elections, U.S. interventions in Cuban government (as in 1906-1909), the emergence of strong labour and socialist or communist parties through the 1920s and 1930s, and a growing social crisis that could not be averted even by electoral politics. The Partido Communista de Cuba (PCC) was formed in 1925, at first under the leadership of Julio Antonio Mella (August 1999, p121). Political violence continued in 1926-1927, and although the U.S. managed to helped remove the dictator Machado in 1933 through political pressure, a reformist government in 1933 under Carlos Céspedes could not be sustained (Gilcrease & Dur 2002;Williamson 1992, pp441-442).
Essentially, the period from 1902-1959 saw unstable variants of electoral multi-party politics in which Liberals verses Conservatives were unable to either provide stable government or set in train a successful period of economic and social reform (see August 1999). It was also a period in which U.S. interests politically and economically remained extremely strong in the island (O'Brien 1993; Nackerud et al 1999). Part of this presence included a strong infiltration of the U.S. mafia in the island from 1934-1958, with key figures such as Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky operating out of their own hotels on the island (August 1999, p137).
In 1952 Fulgencio Batista organised a coup d'état and took direct control of the state (August 1999, p140), no longer remaining as a strongman behind the scenes. Thereafter Batista arrested or harassed opposition groups, as in the 1954 general elections (Qirk 1993, p79). The Batista government emerged as a military dictatorship which sought to oppress all serious opposition and coopt most senators, the police, and the armed forces (Mericle 1998; Quirk 1993, p38). This government also received military aid from the U.S. through the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement. The U.S. supported this government essentially in order to retain its privileged influence in the Caribbean, to protect financial investments, and in order to keep communist and socialist forces in check on the island. Batista's Cuba had 60% of its exports and 80% of its imports from the U.S. (Nackerud et al. 1999). Appeals to the Organisation of American States to restore 'legitimate rule' in Cuba were unsuccessful (Quirk 1993, p39). It was this regime and its harshness that set the stage for a new and eventually successful revolution.

5. Castro's Revolution
Fidel Castro was one of several young revolutionaries that returned to Cuba in 1956, and began the formation of a Rebel Army and military operations on the island. A young lawyer, he turned from political activity on the fringes of the existing Ortodoxo party towards direct action against the Batista regime (Quirk 1993, pp31-50). Among those who joined him was Che (Ernesto) Guevara, whose revolutionary gusto and courage soon gained him a command position. Che would later on try to bring revolution into South American and would eventually be killed by the Bolivian army in 1967 (Dorfman 1999). A range of other guerrilla leaders, e.g. Frank País and René Ramos Latour, would not retain such prominence, nor Castro's favour (Qirk 1993, pp141-148). This guerrilla war, led from the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, combined urban resistance and destabilisation campaigns in the countryside (Williamson 1992, p445; Quirk 1993, p130), culminating in a general insurrection and the crumpling of the Batista government through 1958-1959. The brutality of the Batista regime had alienated many Cubans and the Catholic Church (see Super 2003), while allowing elements in the international media to be sympathetic to Castro's 'heroic' struggle in the mountains, e.g. coverage by the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times and Paris-Match (Williamson 1992, p446; Quirk 1993, pp131-136). It was in such media coverage the Castro developed the persona of the bearded, rifle-carrying guerilla operating at will from mountain strongholds (Quirk 1993, p134). When the will of Batista's army collapsed, the dictator and some of his followers flew out of the island. By January 1959 revolutionary forces had secured Cuba. At first Manuel Urrutia was sworn in as provisional president (Quirk 1993, p216), but it soon emerged that Fidel Castro and his inner circle of revolutionary leaders directly controlled Cuba's future (Castro was at first Premier, and later became President).
Fidel Castro himself had earlier on been captured during a 26 July 1953 attack on the Moncada barracks (see Hickson 1996). His most famous exposition of revolutionary ideology was made in his two hour defence speech before a closed hearing, called History Will Absolve Me, and sometimes known as the July 26 Program (August 1999, pp151-153; Castro 1968). Although not yet overtly communist (Fidel was himself at first a member of the Partido del Pueblo Cuban - Ortodoxo, a progressive party), it outlined a plan of national liberation based on armed struggle and the aim of transforming society towards a more just system (August 1999, pp153-156). Something of the tone of History Will Absolve Me can be seen in the following: -
When we speak of struggle, the people means the vast unredeemed masses, to whom all make promise 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; who long for great and wise changes in all aspects of their life; people, who, to attain these changes, are ready to give even the very last breath of their lives - when they believe in something or in someone, especially when they believe in themselves . . . (in August 1999, p159)
Other aspects of this platform included 'industrialization, redistribution of land, full employment, and the modernization of education' (Williamson 1992, p445). These views were further refined during a period in prison and then in exile from 1955 (Quirk 1993, pp57-59, pp85-86). At first, his program might be viewed as more 'utopian than Marxist' (Quirk 1993, p160), but soon drew on a range of utopian and socialist ideas.
Views on Castro's Cuba tend to be polarised both by political ideology and by propaganda (those for and those against Castro). Strong anti-Castro lobbies exist in the U.S., at first mobilised through groups such as the Democratic Revolutionary Front (DRF) and the Movement for Revolutionary Recovery (MRR) which were active from 1960 onwards (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, pp264-265). Even by December 1960 there were 30,000 Cuban refugees in Florida (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, p273). More recently, the Cuban American Foundation (CANF) has been quite influential in lobbying and influencing American foreign policy (Vanderbush & Haney 1999). Today, a very vocal Cuban emigre lobby still remains highly effective in the U.S., but middle-of-the-road Cuban groups, though critical of Cuba, have tried to present more moderate views (Lantigua 2000). The point is that statements about Cuba (from both sides) need to looked at closely and critically.
The Castro government sought from the very beginning to link themselves to revolutionary tradition of the island: -
The regime sought to consolidate popular support behind it by identifying the revolution of 1959 as closely as possible with the nineteenth-century nationalist movement. The Cuban people consider the decades immediately preceding the winning of their independence from Spain as the most glorious in their history and regard the philosophers and patriot-heroes of this period as the noblest men the country has produced. Revolutionary spokesmen therefore depicted their program of economic and social reform as the culmination of an idealistic tradition which dates back to José Martí and the War of Independence. Premier Castro himself regularly and freely drew on Martí's writings for his public addresses and, when he posed for photographs, there was often a picture or statue of Martí somewhere in the background (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, p271).
Castro's and Che's ideas were at first not directly derived from Soviet thought. Rather, they combined socialist and utopian elements already developed in the Hispanic tradition. They aimed not just at a national and social revolution, but also spoke of a 'New Man' free from greed and personal ambition who would be the basis of a sharing and just society (Williamson 1992, p447).
The policies of the Cuban government included the creation of a single-party state (based on the merger of several revolutionary parties including the communist, student, and socialist groups), the development of mass-housing projects to provide every Cuban with the ability to have their own home, the extension of the health and education system, and the creation of a nationalised economy in which 80% of labour would be employed directly or indirectly by the government, and retain state control of all major publishing, media and film production units (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, pp275-278; August 1999, p161). Among the first actions of the Castro government was the nationalisation of most industry and expropriation of 41% of land which was divided up and given to peasants (August 1999, p174). They also promoted the creation of a new news agency for South America, Prensa Latina, which claimed to provide an independent new service free from 'imperialist' domination, while suppressing several critical newspapers and magazines (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, p279).
Fidel Castro also soon began to create a cult of personal leadership, in part based on his vigorous speeches and embodiment of revolutionary ideals, e.g. his continued public appearances in military fatigues and his avoidance of personal luxury. He came to be regarded 'as a patron, guardian, and guarantor of salvation in a sense that had both religious and secular overtones' (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, p285). In a very real sense, Fidel based his legitimation on cultural and nationalistic grounds as much as on a platform of left-wing social reform. In following years a strong personality cult developed around Castro as 'the Maximum Leader' (Quirk 1993, p255).
The revolution had a serious impact on Latin American politics generally: -
For the Cuban revolution discredited the cautious reformism of the communist parties, identifying socialism with long-standing Latin American traditions of armed rebellion. It also held out the hope of realizing the highest aspirations of nationalism: the forging of an authentic cultural identity once foreign imperialists and their agents had been driven out of the country. The Cuban guerrilla struggle was to provide a pattern for other wars of liberation in the continent, as well as in Africa and Asia. (Williamson 1992, p354)
Originally, the foreign policy of Castro's Cuba was based on good relations with all American states: hence his government was initially cautiously recognised by the U.S. and by all Latin American countries (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, p312). Relations soon worsened, in part due to the nationalisation of American companies, the U.S. welcoming of political refugees, and the U.S. fear of communist influence in Cuba. By January 1961, Cuba and the U.S. had broken off diplomatic relations (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, pp320-328). The strongly socialist and nationalising policies of Castro worried the U.S., and when Castro described his country as Socialist in a speech of May 1, 1961, this presaged a move towards alignment with the Soviet Union and the Comecon (socialist) countries (Quirk 1993, p385). In part, this alignment was based on a need to assure technology, trade and access to petroleum for Cuba. Through 1960-1961, this also included a conventional arms build up, the arrival of MiG fighter aircraft, and training from Soviet and Czechoslovakian sources (Hatch & Johnson 1998). In 1965 a new Cuban Communist Party was formed (Williamson 1992, p454), also indicating further alignment.
6. Conflict and Containment
The U.S. government soon moved against Castro's government, in part based on conflicts over 'intervened' and the seized resources of many U.S. companies (including nationalisation of Esso and Shell holdings on the island), but more importantly on Cuba's drift towards alignment with the Soviet Union (Quirk 1993, p283, p319, p348). Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy established the economic and trade embargo on Cuba. The embargo restricted ships which had been to Cuba from visiting the U.S., banned exports and imports, stopped the trade in food and medicines. At its peak: -
1) froze all Cuban bank accounts in the United States; 2) prohibited U.S. citizens from sending money to Cuba, spending money in Cuba, or doing business with any Cuban form in foreign countries; 3) banned U.S. trade with any country that contained Cuban components; 4) forbade U.S. companies abroad from doing business with Cuba; 5) refused to allow international financial institutions to issue credit to Cuba; and 6) prohibited foreign nations from using U.S. dollars with Cuba (Nackerud et al. 1999).
American containment continued with the effort to overthrow Castro's government through the backing of emigre groups in the U.S. who formed an army and invaded the island. From 1960 through 1961 military equipment and training camps were provided for them in Florida, Louisiana and Guatemala, including the training of pilots in a small number of old B-26 bomber aircraft (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, pp266-267; Quirk 1993, p367). The main planning and liaison for the operation was the CIA, with the U.S. government in general (and President Kennedy in particular) thereby hoping to plausibly deny that it had staged the invasion of another country.
An invasion force of 1,500 men landed at the Bahía des Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on April 17, 1961 but were unable to leave the beachhead they had established (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, p268). Planning for the operation had disastrously underestimated the effectiveness of the Cuban army and Castro's intelligence networks (see Kornbluh 1998). Within days Castro had captured most of the invasion force (1,189 of 1,500 troops), and made a formal complaint to the Security Council of the U.N. that this was a mercenary force in the employ of the U.S. (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, p329; Quirk 1993, p374). The result was extreme embarrassment for the Kennedy administration, but worse was to follow.
The Cuban missile crisis had its roots in superpower competition and Castro's need to secure the island against future U.S. military intervention. The Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev, in particular, was willing to test the abilities of the new American President Kennedy, and to try to gain strategic leverage in the Americas. In part, he hoped to use this pressure to push or leverage the Western powers out of West Berlin (Quirk 1993, pp408-416). In doing so, he directly challenged the balance of power between the superpowers, and also began to undermine the Monroe doctrine whereby the U.S. would resist outside influences in the Americas. To achieve these goals he began the positioning of medium range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles (SS-4s) in Cuba (Hatch & Johnson 1998). In fact, the initiative for locating the missiles just off the coast of the U.S. came from Russia, not from Cuba, and it now seems likely that Krushchev hoped to trade the removal of the missiles in Cuba for a pledge by the U.S. not to position nuclear weapons in West Germany (Ulam 1998).
On this basis, President Kennedy decided to impose a blockade (naval quarantine) of the island, and mobilised U.S. forces to a higher level of readiness. Crisis diplomacy followed, with the dispute being at last resolved with a series of personal communications between the two leaders. Soviet ships turned back before a direct confrontation at sea could occur. Soviet missiles were withdrawn from Cuba, but in return U.S. medium range Jupiter missiles were withdrawn from Turkey and the U.S. administration undertook not to invade Cuba (Ulam 1998; Quirk 1993, p429). A directly military confrontation had been avoided, but only just (see Chang et al. 1998).
The outcome for Cuba, however, was a long-term Soviet alignment. Cuba was now firmly entrenched in the Socialist community of nations, and supported by preferential trading arrangements and the supply of subsidised oil from the Soviet Union. Cuba sold sugar at good rates to the Soviets, and received petroleum, machinery, iron, steel, aluminium, armaments and technical assistance (Quirk 1993, p295). In 1989, '80% of Cuba's total trade was with socialist economies' (Monreal & Hammond 1999). Cuba also for a time continued an active policy of supporting revolutionary movements in South America and Africa, e.g. involvement in the Congo, Angola, Bolivia (where Che Guevara was killed in 1967), Ethiopia, as well as sending advisers and workers sent to Jamaica and Grenada (Williamson 1992, p455). However, in turn, Cuba to was subject to a continued U.S. embargo, which would begin to seriously undermine the Cuban economy from 1990 onwards.
After 1989 the USSR began to adjust its international policies, including some reduction in aid to socialist countries around the world, and eventual demands for hard currency payments for oil and armaments. From 1992, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the greatly weakened position of the Russian economy, this led to the loss of the $5 billion annual Soviet subsidy that had helped keep the Cuban economy viable (Robinson 2000, p116; Nackerud et al. 1999 argues that the subsidy may have been as high as $8 billion). After an initial 35% reduction in the economy in the 1993 in Cuba (Monreal & Hammond 1999), growth returned during 1995-1999, with 6% growth achieved in 1999 (Robinson 2000, p116). This growth was achieved in part of emphasising trade with countries such as China, but also by a new emphasis on connections with Europe, emphasis on tourism, and some diversification within the Cuban economy, allowing a larger private sector (see below). Through the transition period of 1994-2001 average GDP growth was approximately 4%, but from a relatively low baseline (see Brundenius 2002). Growth in 2002 was only 1.1%, but increased to 2.6 through 2003 (NotiCen 2004), with real GDP growth of 3% in 2004 (according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 5% says the Cuban government, Economist 2005a). The Cuban government claims 11.8% growth for 2005 (Prensa Latina 2006b).
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War this was not the signal for the softening of U.S. pressure on Cuba. On the contrary, U.S. pressure intensified, especially over the issue of lack of a multi-party democracy within Cuba (August 1999, p19). This can be seen in a range of U.S. legislation designed to increase economic pressure on Cuba (August 1999, p19), and on countries or business dealing with Cuba. This legislation included the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (the Torricelli Act, tightening the embargo), and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (the Helms-Burton legislation, designed to reduce investment and aid from other countries). The U.N. has regularly protested again the blockade, while no other government has agreed to support the embargo to the degree outlined in the Cuban Democracy Act (Nackerud et al. 1999).
One of the triggers for the support given the Helms-Burton legislation was the shooting down on 24 February 1996 of two civilian aircraft, piloted by a Cuban-American exile group (Brothers to the Rescue), by Cuban MiGs and involving the death of four people (Vanderbush & Haney 1999). The Helms-Burton provisions include a unilateral policy to prosecute foreign companies and individuals that deal with Cuba beyond specified levels - a move which the European Union said could draw counter-measures against American companies if it were ever applied (Tremlett 1998). The use of this internationally unpopular provision was eventually waved by former President Clinton (Nackerud et al. 1999). An important part of the Helms-Burton law (called Title II) sets out a 'list of conditions that any post-Castro government must meet in order to resume normal relations with the United States, to receive diplomatic recognition, seek aid and trait' (Robinson 2000, pp128-129). This list is highly reminiscent of the earlier Platt Amendment (Robinson 2000, p129), in which the U.S. tried to dictate terms to Cuba for some 50 years. Most aspects of the Helms-Burton legislation has been codified into law, meaning that it cannot be repealed by the President alone, but will need the support of Congress if there is to be any complete lifting of the embargo on Cuba (Vanderbush & Haney 1999). This approach does not bode well for future relations, even if the Castro regime falls. Furthermore, even if the embargo is lifted, there are some $6 billion in U.S. claims against Cuba's earlier confiscations of property, while Cuba in turn claims that it should receive $80 billion in compensation for the damage done by the forty years of embargo (Falcoff 2000). There was some slight softening in the U.S. government policies against Cuba through 2001-2002, but this has been complicated by the heightened security needs of the U.S., as well as by some concern that Cuba might still be directly or indirectly supporting terrorist or guerrilla groups, as well as possible contacts with the IRA and FARC in Colombia, charges denied by Cuba (for the Cuban view, see Hernandez 2002).
Ironically, this increased U.S. pressure may have strengthened the Castro regime, as noted by Linda Robinson: -
US pressure gave Castro an excuse to strengthen his internal position, a rationale for his refusal to change and a rallying point to demand greater sacrifices from the population. An enemy abroad is always a useful ally during times of trouble at home. Furthermore US policy-makers were unable to deny Cuba the alternative sources of external support that it sought to cultivate. And, finally, US immigration policy continued to aid Castro by providing him with an escape valve for internal discontent that he may not have otherwise been able to manage. (Robinson 2000, 117).
It is interesting to compare the hard line taken with Cuba in comparison to the fact that the US has normalised relations with Vietnam (Robinson 2000, p118) and China. Many Americans are beginning to wonder whether the embargo is effective. In a general 1999 Gallup pole some 71% of Americans thought it was time to renew diplomatic relations and 51% to raise the embargo (Robinson 2000, p118). The maintenance of the this hardline U.S. policy in part may be due to a traditional effort to keep control of Central American affairs, to a frozen foreign policy in Washington on this issue since 1962, and due to an emigre Cuban anti-Castro lobby that has been especially active in Florida. Likewise, some business and agricultural groups are keen to see an easing of restrictions on trade with Cuba.
7. The Case of Elian Gonzalez
The bizarre case of this 6-year old boy which hit the headlines during 1999-2000 helps highlight the strange relationship that exists between the U.S. and Cuba. Elian Gonzalez and his mother were among a group of refugees that tried to make the crossing to the U.S. Their boat sank and the mother drowned, but on the 25th of November 1999 Elian was found clinging to an inner tube off the coast of Florida. He was saved and found himself temporarily in the U.S. in the care of his great-uncle. At that point, the relatives of Elian wanted him to receive asylum and stay in the U.S. However, the father of Elian was still alive in Cuba, and demanded the boy's return. President Castro vowed to ensure the boy would return, while the U.S. Immigration and Naturalisation Service decreed that only the father could represent the boy (Romei 2000). This led to a major series of court cases and public protests in both the U.S. and Cuba. Efforts by the boy's Miami relatives to have courts mandate asylum for the boy ultimately failed after several months of highly public activity, and the boy and his father eventually returned to Cuba at the end of June, 2000.
The incident sparked off deep emotions in both Cuba and Florida. Within Cuba, millions of people marched in December 1999-January 2000 in support of the return of he boy, a protest that was not entirely orchestrated by the Cuban government (Robinson 2000, p126), but which was used by Castro as part of his sustained anti-American rhetoric (Tamayo 2000). The case seemed in microcosm to demonstrate extremism on both sides, and in the long run showed the vitriolic nature of the anti-Castro lobby on Florida as well as the political opportunism of Castro. The boy was eventually returned to his father, and then to Cuba in early July in conformity with the laws of the U.S. and with international law (Economist 2000). Overall, the case was something of a victory for those who wished to soften the embargo against Cuba (Tamayo 2000). Indeed, by late June 2000 moves were initiated to try to lift the embargo on food and medicine going to Cuba, a policy supported by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Brasher 2000). However, one cannot help but wonder about the long term psychological damage to a young boy who was on national television the day after his mother had died and he had been plucked from the sea (Morris 2000). In the long term, such events suggested that both U.S. and Cuban policies were playing out the legacies of the Cold War, in part directed to domestic audiences.
8. Modern Cuba: A Unique Culture Playing A Unique Strategy
It is not enough to simply dismiss the Cuban political system as an outdated communist regime. On the contrary, the Cuban system represents a complex mix of South and Central American political legacies, as well as socialist, cultural and nationalistic factors that has helped the regime to survive for four decades in the face of sustained U.S. opposition. Thus, in the Declaration of Santiago, made in the 1959 meeting of the Organisation of American States in Chile, Cuba among other states, had affirmed the 'seven principles regarding human rights, including the separation of powers, free elections, equality before the law, and freedom of the press and radio', though external invention to enforce these principles was not regarded as acceptable (MacGaffey & Barnett 1962, p330). However, by 1961 the United States had brought charges against Cuba in the OAS, arguing that it was destroying the inter-American system by aligning with the Soviets, with Cuba thereafter being effectively excluded from voting in the organisation (Quirk 1993, p397, p400).
Since that time, fierce debate has raged between Cuba supporters and opponents (especially among the Cuban exiles in America) as to whether the Cuban government is legitimate. In particular, however, it must be remembered that the current Cuban regime has never supported a multi-party system, in part because of the way the traditional party system was manipulated by elite and U.S. interests through 1902-1958 (August 1999, p166). Thus Cuba did run relatively free municipal elections in 1997-1998, allowing a range of candidates, but opposition parties were not allowed. Likewise, there has been a
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