Background: The Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) Name_____________________________________
Directions: As you read, highlight important terms, events, etc. Write "?" next to words or ideas you don't understand and then find the defintions. Add comments in the margins on the left. As you read, take as many notes as possible.
Fulgencio Batista seized power in a military coup to become the president of Cuba in March, 1952. During his early years in power, Batista supported the Communist Party of Cuba, but later became strongly anti-communist. He soon repealed most political liberties, including the right to strike.
While Cuba had high unemployment, Batista allied himself with the wealthiest landowners who owned the large sugar plantations. He soon formed links to organized crime and allowed American companies to dominate the Cuban economy. Batista profited from the exploitation of Cuba's workers and developed relationships with the American mafia, who controlled the drug, gambling and prostitution businesses in Havana. As discontentment against him grew, Batista established tighter censorship of the media and utilized the secret police to stop the demonstrations. Due to the economic interests of American sugar companies, President Batista received financial and military support from the U.S.
Early in 1953, Fidel and Raúl Castro planned an attack on military installations. Ultimately, this attempted overthrow was a failure and the Castros landed in jail. Their allies persuaded Batista to release them early. Fleeing to Mexico, the Castro brothers enlisted further support, including an Argentinean revolutionary named Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
While a separate group of revolutionaries failed to overthrow the Batista government, the U.S. imposed an economic embargo on Cuba.
Che Guevara and Raúl Castro helped Fidel to consolidate his political control in the mountain revolutionary camps of Cuba, often through execution of suspected Batista loyalists or other rivals of Castro's. In addition to armed resistance, the rebels sought to use propaganda to their advantage. A pirate radio station called Radioi Rebelde ("Rebel Radio") was set up in February 1958, allowing Castro and his forces to broadcast their message nationwide.
During this time, Castro's forces remained quite small, sometimes fewer than 200 men, while the Cuban army and police force numbered around 37,000. Yet, nearly every time the Cuban military fought against the revolutionaries, the army was forced to retreat. An arms embargo – imposed on the Cuban government by the United States on March 14, 1958 – contributed significantly to the weakness of Batista's forces. The Cuban air force rapidly deteriorated: it could not repair its airplanes without importing parts from the U.S.
On August 21, 1958 Castro's forces began a new offensive. Descending from their mountain camps with weapons captured or smuggled in by plane, Castro's forces won a series of victories. On December 31, 1958, the Battle of Santa Clara took place and soon the city of Santa Clara fell. Hearing of this defeat, Batista fled Cuba for the Dominican Republic in the early hours of January 1, 1959.
The revolutionary forces met no opposition on their journey from Santa Clara to Cuba's capital, Havana. Castro himself arrived in Havana on January 8 after a long victory march.
Hundreds of Batista's allies, policemen and soldiers were put on trial for human rights abuses, war crimes, murder and torture. Most of the people accused were convicted of political crimes, and were executed by firing squad; others persons received long sentences of imprisonment
Initially, the Castro government introduced a wide range of progressive social reforms. Laws were introduced to provide equality for black Cubans and greater rights for women, while there were attempts to improve communications, medical facilities, health, housing, and education. In addition, there were touring cinemas, art exhibitions, concerts, and theatres. By the end of the 1960s, all Cuban children were receiving some education (compared with less than half before 1959), unemployment and corruption were reduced, and great improvements were made in hygiene and sanitation. Furthermore, Castro implemented land reform by nationalizing large estates and subdividing them into government cooperatives. Soon, the government nationalized all American property, giving it to the government.
Local revolutionary committees were created to keep "vigilance against counter-revolutionary activity", keeping a detailed record of each neighborhood’s inhabitants' spending habits, level of contact with foreigners, work and education history, and any "suspicious" behavior.
"The greatest threat presented by Castro’s Cuba is as an example to other Latin American states which are beset by poverty, corruption, feudalism, and plutocratic exploitation ... his influence in Latin America might be overwhelming and irresistible if, with Soviet help, he could establish in Cuba a Communist utopia." Walter Lippmann (U.S), April 27, 1964
The Cuban Revolution was a crucial turning point in U.S.-Cuban relations. Although the American government was initially willing to recognize Castro's new government, it soon came to fear that Communist revolutions would spread throughout Latin America, as they had in Southeast Asia.
Castro, meanwhile, resented the Americans for providing aid to Batista's government during the revolution. The U.S. government soon froze all Cuban assets in America, severed diplomatic ties, and tightened its embargo of Cuba. Following the American embargo, the Soviet Union became Cuba's main ally. The two Communist countries quickly developed close military and intelligence ties.