The country of Cuba was one of the richest nations in the Americas for its size and was blessed with the soil capable of producing 6,000,000 tons of sugar annuallyi. The country had a long history of corrupt politicians ranging from Gerardo Machado to Fulgencio Batista whom both would eventually get overthrown by their populace due to their loathsome ruling. Fulgencio Batista became head of the army of Cuba in 1933 when he promoted himself to colonel after displacing officer’s superior to him during a revolt in the country. During the period in which Batista ruled the country its citizens chalked up records of brutality by its police and military and lost some of their best newspaper editors and politicians. There was much opposition of Batista’s dictatorship during his tenure as ruler and the new Chibas’ party began to gain momentum during the 1952 presidential election. A young lawyer named Fidel Castro who had recently received his doctorate degree from the University of Havana became a candidate for congress and chose to pursue the goals of the Chibas party. The ideology behind the party was based on combating corruption in the government and advocate reform and an honest administration. Four months before the 1952 elections could take place General Fulgencio Batista was able to displace the army commanders and eject Carlos Prio as President of the Republic. Within twenty four hours of the ambush Batista took over power in Cuba and had control of the entire island. It would only be five days later when Castro wrote a letter to Bautista informing him that his “coup of March 10 was going to produce for Cuba graft and corruption, torture and death for many and a reaction of the people which would eventually overthrow himii.” Known for winning the admiration and the affection of all, Fidel Castro was a well educated, persuasive and passionate man whom entered Cuba’s newest revolt with a plan; this plan was to overthrow the current progressive regime ruling Cuba in the 1950’s. The problem with Castro’s plan was that it was not well conceived and involved many calculated risks which would end up being detrimental to the countries likelihood of becoming prosperous.
A freight train burned by rebels in the Oriente province of Cubaiii
In the fall of 1945 Fidel Castro entered the University of Havana and began his studies in the Law School. This was a fiery phase of Castro’s life and while he became more active in student affairs he had no idea that this activity would soon lead him into the vortex of Cuban politicsiv. In 1947 Castro’s studies were interrupted when he decided to join an expeditionary force with the objective of invading the Dominican Republic and overthrowing its dictator Generalissimo Trujillo. This was Castro’s first endeavor with an expeditionary force and he was soon to learn how difficult invasion was. The amphibious offensive was financed by a Dominican exile and led by natives of that island with volunteers from Cuba set sail on August 1947. While en route to their destination President Ramon Grau San Martin of Cuba ordered the vessel to be intercepted by the Cuban navy before it would reach target and commanded that all of its occupants be arrested. Fidel Castro, aboard one of these ships was not going to let himself get caught and jumped overboard with his submachine gun and managed to make it ashore unharmed.
Upon his return to university Castro continued his rabble-rousing activities in an attempt to gain prominence on campus knowing that this was a stepping stone to politics in Latin Americav. During this time Castro would pursue his first endeavor of political manipulation. The first to fall under his manipulative ways were the communist party whom supported him for election to the vice presidency of the student government body at the Law School. Once elected Castro began a militant campaign against them and the Communists immediately denounced him as a traitor. Upon a sudden resignation by the president of the student body Castro seized control over the government. Castro lived dangerously at the university, clashing with leaders of the student federation often getting so serious and intense that Castro was in danger of being gunned down by rival factions.
One of the more interesting episodes of Castro’s career was in Bogota, Columbia during the 19th Conference of American States. The communist party he belonged to had a vested interest in disrupting the conference or bringing pressure to bear on a particular delegation. When Castro and his anti-colonialism and anti-imperialist student congress traveled to Bogota they had planned to interview Jorge Elecier Gaitan the popular leader of the Liberal Party. On April 9th 1948 while commuting to the newspaper office where the interview would take place, Jorge Gaitan was shot dead. This spark was enough to ignite a holocaust between the Conservative and Liberal parties of Columbia. Fidel Castro now became part of a mob that was shouting death to almost every Conservative leader. During these riots Castro witnessed the manner in which hundreds of natives devoted themselves to looting of stores, setting streetcars on fire, and even stealing jeeps from the American embassy. This technique of looting appalled Castro and his attempts to persuade rioters to stop failed. Within the hour after confirmation of Gaitin’s death the Communists were in control of the Governor’s Palace and the Communist party flag was flying from the balcony. Castro was taken to the headquarters of the Liberal Party where he was able to speak with some of the leaders but found no organization for direction of the spontaneous uprising that followed the assassination. While the whole country was in disorder Castro realized that this was the time for him to leave. Fidel and a few students headed towards to Argentine embassy knowing that they would be able to extradite him back to Cuba. During their travels they faced a twenty-four hour battle of sporadic firing in what was Fidel Castro’s first taste of guerrilla warfarevi. When they managed to escape the battle Castro found himself in a bad position. The President of Columbia Luis Ospina had denounced that the Cuban students in Bogota were Communists and accused them in playing a role in the frustrating uprising. Castro and his classmates would eventually make it to the embassy and were arranged to be shipped back home aboard a cargo plane.
Finally in 1950 Fidel Castro graduated from the University of Havana where he followed to become a member of the law firm of Azpiazu, Castro y Rezende. Now known as Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz he devoted his time to people of the poorer classes, handling most of these cases without fees.
Seizing Control Over Cuba
After Batista took control over the island on March 10th 1952 an angry and shameful Fidel Castro sent the new president a prophetic letter informing him that his coup would destroy the country and his regime would eventually get overthrown. Nine days later Castro filed a brief before the Court of Constitutional Guarantees in Havana in which he request that the assumption of power by Batista be declared unconstitutional. The court had rejected Castro’s petition against Batista and the second brief he filed was ignored. While this was the verdict of the court, an overwhelming majority of the people of Cuba did not see Batista as their constitutional chief executive. From that day forward the young lawyer decided that there was only one way to settle the issue: revolution. Castro soon met with friends to plan a military operation that would hopefully spark a nationwide revolt against Batista. The young men (none had reached thirty) met regularly to discuss the future of the island, contributing their saving or whatever money they could scrape together to purchase weapons and ammunition. The night before the revolution was planned Fidel met with his colleagues telling them “you will win tomorrow or be beaten” and did not have a plan of what they would do if the revolution prevailedvii. The next morning after only several hours of fighting the revolution ended with the arrest of Fidel Castro and other top aides. When taken to court Fidel elected to act as his own counsel, and would eventually be sentenced to fifteen years confinement starting on October 1953.
A sugar cane freight train derailed by rebels in the Oriente province of Cubaviii
Only one year after his indictment Fidel was being clamored for his freedom. A large crowd turned up at the start of the campaign for former president Ramon Grau, but instead of cheering for him the crowd shouted “Viva Fidel Castro!” (Free Fidel Castro.) This is one of the first times Fidel saw himself as a leader and he then realized the people had lost faith in the old-line politicians. Finally after mounting pressure to call for a new and free election, Batista gave amnesty to political prisoners including Fidel Castro May 15 1955. Once free, Castro would make speeches promising the removal of censorship that had impaired the country for too long, freedom to all political parties and a striving agriculture throughout the country.
Castro went back to his rebellious ways and began planning the revolution of Cuba. Fidel began planning how to mobilize his men and purchase arms. Castro new his army would need intensive training and after much investigation he had learned of a former colonel of the Spanish army who had a considerable amount of experience in guerrilla warfare. Based in Mexico City, Colonel Alberto Bayo was the man. In Mexico Castro met Ernesto "Che" Guevara, another proponent of guerrilla warfare. Guevara joined the group of rebels and became an important force in shaping Castro's evolving political beliefs. After many battles including the July 26th movement, Operation Verano, and the Battle of Yaguajay finally the Batista regime had collapsed in Cuba. On January 8, 1959 Castro’s army marched into the streets of Havana victorious and Fidel shortly thereafter declared that "power does not interest me, and I will not take it."
Castro and Communism
Fidel Castro has often said that the Cuban revolution is a “process” that is made up of “stages.” The first stage was to administer a socialist revolution without an actively ruling “socialist party”. The country began implementing socialist ideologies as early as 1960 when they ceased 382 business enterprises and compiled them into a nationalized entityix, by 1961 about 80 per cent of Cuban industry had been nationalizedx. Castro had promised the country full restoration of the rights of political parties with each party given the opportunity to present their programs before the people and participate in general elections. But after Castro took power none of the former parties were recognized and no new parties emerged. Those with the power to protest would find themselves out of favor with Castro. Fidel had a clear alliance with his brother Raul and Che Guevera and, with them or through them to the Communists. A group called the Fidelistas began to emerge, they believed and promoted devoutly in Fidel. Castro once said “capitalism may kill man with hunger” and “Communism kills man by wiping out his freedom” they believed in what he was saying and that they could “use” communists but could never embrace Communism or merge with themxi.
From time to time as late as 1959 Castro said some harsh things about Communism, Castro was apologetic about the weakness of the revolution’s leaders “in the ideological sphere” and claimed that “we had so many silly ideas. I had so many silly ideas, my head; there was so much crap in it.xii” Soon enough his speeches changed character and began to sound like the ABC’s of Marxism-Leninism when he said “It is necessary to study and to learn constantly in order to be able to find the correct explanation, the clear explanation, the Marxist-Leninist explanation of problems.” Castro said the Cuban revolution was different (then the Russian revolution) in that it did not intend to sacrifice the current generation for future generations he seemed good for his word. The country spent large sums of money on housing, beaches and schools to soak up the unemployment and build popular support.
In 1960 when the United States hit Cuba with the embargo the country was pleased with their decision and Guevara declared that Cuba would not be seriously harmed by the embargo because they were prepared for it and black-marketers in the United States would defy itxiii. Soon thereafter the Soviet Union replaced the United States as Cuba’s chief source of exports and imports. The dependence on countries thousands of miles away created an economic monstrosity. The Soviets produced more sugar annually then Cuba did but were willing to give the Cubans advantageous terms only for political reasons. The country was in a perennial crisis in spare parts because all their American machines were breaking down and a campaign was started to “construct your own machines.xiv” Cuba was completely unprepared for the expanded role the government had undertaken and to worsen the blow the country lost part of their administrative and technical personnel to exile. This caused the government to train a new generation of Cuban administrators and technicians that could barely fill the need. Castro’s Cuba had at its disposal far fewer administrators and technicians then pre-Castro Cuba had and had undertaken to build an economy which would require far more responsibilities.
This sign read “Socialism or die” with a picture of Fidel Castro
Havana in Trouble
Nevertheless serious shortages began to appear in the summer of 1961. Fats and meats became scarce and often unobtainable, while housewives would be forced to spend hours in line frequently leaving empty handed. The price of pork had risen to astronomical prices and the essential foods and goods became available intermittently. Castro has offered various explanations as to why these shortages and difficulties commenced but mostly points the point directly at the embargo it has with the United Statesxv. The revolution has done the least for and taken the most from the middle class and industrial workers and Castro began to lose his people, so much so that “it was necessary to talk to them as if one were giving them a dose of medicine.” An invisible barrier arose when the working class gave the impression that it did not understand their new role in which it had to play. This new role the middle class took became apparent when oil, electrical, and telephone workers had not directly benefited economically from the revolution.
In early 1962 the sugar industry had gone from bad to worse, the previous year’s sugar crop had been very poorly harvested owning too great dependence on voluntary labor, most of which did more bad then goodxvi. This crisis arose due to mismanagement and premature allocation of funds to industrialization instead of agriculture. The trade-union congress implemented the revolutionary terror law which provided the death penalty for all those who protested against Castro’s regime or even burn sugar cane (a tactic once used by Castro.xvii)
Fidel Castro has always blamed himself for having been so ignorant and naïve but this is not his main motif. Castro began doing a balancing act during his speeches in order to repudiate his past in order to get closer to the communists and also salvage his past so he could preserve his leadership. He would lean to one side or the other but before he went too far in one direction he was able to catch himself and start back off in the original direction. Even though Fidel spoke like this in his speeches he was still absolutely convinced that the ideas about the communist party were like the ideas of many people.
So where did the promises of the restoration of political parties, distribution of land to peasants instead of state farms and free trade unionism go? The closest explanation that Castro has given is by referencing the communist doctrine of “objective conditions” which states that when conditions are unfavorable then communists may justify any deception as long as it is aimed against the enemy. But Castro still denies that he ever deceived anyone about anythingxviii. The Fidelistas have raised as many questions as they have seemed to answer because so much consisted of a play on words with Marxism, Leninism, Socialism, and revolution but where one begins and another one ends was never made clear.
i Dubois, Jules. “Fidel Castro” Rebel-Liberator or Dictator? 1959. Page 11
ii Dubois, Jules. “Fidel Castro” Rebel-Liberator or Dictator? 1959. Page 26
iii Dubois, Jules. “Fidel Castro” Rebel-Liberator or Dictator? 1959. Page 208
iv Dubois, Jules. “Fidel Castro” Rebel-Liberator or Dictator? 1959. Page 15
v Dubois, Jules. “Fidel Castro” Rebel-Liberator or Dictator? 1959. Page 17
vi Dubois, Jules. “Fidel Castro” Rebel-Liberator or Dictator? 1959. Page 22
vii Dubois, Jules. “Fidel Castro” Rebel-Liberator or Dictator? 1959. Page 30
viii Dubois, Jules. “Fidel Castro” Rebel-Liberator or Dictator? 1959. Page 208
ix Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 115
x Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 129
xi Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 119
xii Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 125
xiii Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 127
xiv Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 128
xv Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 131
xvi Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 132
xvii Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 142
xviii Draper, Theodore. “Castro’s Revolution.” Myths and realities. 1967. Page 151