In recent world history, the western hemisphere has evolved to give birth to some of the most successful, and troubled, countries of the modern world. The history of triangle trade and the Columbian exchange of disease, food, and diseases. The Spanish imperialized much of the New World, disturbing native politics and society to establish their own. This included an economic focus on sugar production, leading to the mass enslavement of native people and the introduction of African people as another source of slave labor. Thus, the history of the New World began, leading us to Cuba. This Spanish colony stayed loyal to her mother country for about 400 years until the Cuban War of Independence in 1898. Castro effectively played on Cuba’s political unrest and employed USSR connections, speeches, and the radio to gain power, and he was not successful in fulfilling his declared ideology.
From time under Spanish colonial rule, Cuba has developed a unique culture. There has long been tension between white and non-white populations originating from times of slavery. It is estimated that around 60% of the population today are descendants of slaves (Cuba Libre). After the Spanish-American War, there was a labor shortage in Cuba, and many ex-Spanish soldiers such as Castro’s father, Angel, migrated to Cuba in search of prosperity (Cuba Libre). Fidel Castro was born an illegitimate son of his father and was raised with kids of others under Angel’s employment (Cuba Libre). This aided Castro’s understanding of the struggles of the lower classes.
Cuba has long had an established economic tendency of crop specialization. In the 1500s, Cuba’s main crop was tobacco, but it also produced substantial amounts of sugar (Cuba Libre). By 1850, sugar had overtaken the economy (Gonzales 96). The United States was Cuba’s top buyer and had an enormous quota of sugar, which stabilized Cuba’s risky monocrop economy (Cuba Libre). During harvesting season, Cuban unemployment is relatively low, yet during the off-season it shoots up, leading to an impoverished nation with economic troubles.
For such a young nation, Cuba has also had much political turmoil and corruption. The United States fought for Cuban independence during the Spanish-American War and enforced the Platt Amendment in Cuba, giving them much control (Whitney 2). After this, US corporate investment skyrocketed, amounting to over $150,000,000 by 1906 (Cuba Libre). In 1901 Cuba had a successful constitutional convention, after which Cubans voted for the 1st time, and in 1924, Gerardo Machado ran for office on a platform of self-reliance and economic restructuring away from US corporate control (Cuba Libre). Corporations had invested in Cuba’s railroads, and Machado initiated a national highway investment to put money back into Cuba’s economy (Cuba Libre). This strategy of self-reliance is very similar to what Fidel Castro later intended to do. Unfortunately, the global economy collapsed in 1926, causing more economic troubles and anti-Machado riots pushing him to resign (Cuba Libre).
In 1933, General Batista took power after Machado. Batista led a puppet government, but in 1940 Batista himself ran for president and established the 1940 constitution pushing reforms (Whitney 3, 4). The US was skeptical of such a left-leaning constitution and Batista’s relations with the USSR, but he complied with US policy (Cuba Libre). After his term, Batista left Cuba for Florida, returning in 1952 to take power in a coup, leading to a police state by 1953 (Cuba Libre).
As Fidel Castro entered higher-level schooling, he was exposed to new ideas and ideologies at his college campus. Students held riots and pledged allegiance to communism (Gallo 18). Around the same time, WWII began, increasing sugar prices and benefitting Cuba’s economy so much that the period was named tiempo de vacas gordas, with record-low unemployment (Cuba Libre). Yet after the war, Cuba was producing much more sugar than before, despite plummeting sugar prices, sending Cuba into its tiempo de vacas flacas (Cuba Libre).
Before attempting to overthrow Batista, Castro was training himself and followers on the island Cayo Confiles in preparation to join the 1947 Dominican Republic revolution, yet the group didn’t go (Cuba Libre). Castro went to Bogota the next year to take part in the revolutionary riots (Gallo 5). At home, Castro worked as a lawyer, allowing him to legally challenge Batista’s government, yet this attempt failed (Cuba Libre). Castro later led an attempt to take the Moncada Barracks, the second-largest military installment, on July 26th (Gallo 14). This drastically failed, leading to the arrest or execution of himself and his comrades in 1953 (Gallo 14). Castro’s History Will Absolve Me speech given during his trial is still quoted today. The speech demonstrated Castro’s ideology and had planks for farmer-owned farms, reestablishing the 1940 constitution, more profit to workers, and confiscating items obtained through fraud (Gallo 14). Batista released Castro and other surviving attackers on Mother’s Day of 1955, and Castro publicly announced his intent to return and succeed (Cuba Libre).
Upon his release from prison, Castro and some followers left for Mexico where they met Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a socialist revolutionary, and other Cuban exiles (Cuba Libre). With this crew, Castro and Guevara planned their return to Cuba in 1956 (Gallo 5). Around the same time, there were many riots in Cuba from workers, students, and former soldiers (Cuba Libre). Castro and Che accumulated a crew and weapons, and Dr. Carlos Prio provided most of the supplies (Gallo 9). Castro had released a manifesto beforehand and had made plans with contacts in Cuba to meet, but the journey took 2 additional days and Batista’s army awaited the arrival of the Granma and her passengers (Cuba Libre). They engaged in a battle where most of the 82 members were killed (Cuba Libre). Castro and his remaining crew fled to the Sierra Maestra Mountains and engaged in guerilla warfare, moving from town to town, accumulating a following and extracting resources (Gallo 8). They implemented religious elements when working with common folk to tie them to the revolution (McGuinness 2).
Castro intelligently employed mass media in his campaign. He had connections with the New York Times, which ran articles revealing his survival after the conflict with Batista’s soldiers (Cuba Libre). In 1958, Havana hosted an international motorcar grand prix where Castro supporters kidnapped racer Juan Fangio before the prix (Cuba Libre). Upon his release, Fangio publicly made known his support for Castro’s cause (Cuba Libre). Guevara ran the radio station Radio Rebelde, through which Castro’s campaign accumulated most of its fame and support (Judson 9).
In 1958, Castro’s campaign split into 2 groups to take Havana and Santiago. In Santiago, Castro nearly lost a battle against Batista’s forces, but broadcast it as a win on the radio (Cuba Libre). The US soon asked Batista to resign, and he fled to Santa Clara, leaving Cuba in chaos (Judson 12, Cuba Libre). On January 1st, 1959, Castro and his troops were able to take over Santiago and Havana without resistance (Cuba Libre). Much of Castro’s success is due to the weakened position of Batista and his forces. Batista agreed to hold fair elections overseen by international committees in 1958, yet his soldiers continued to increase violence against dissenters, leading to US refusal to send arms (Gallo 10).
Castro united many of the other anti-Batista groups under his regime, establishing one government with a council of ministers, making him the single party ruler of Cuba (Cuba Libre). As time went by, Castro replaced ministers with his own people and appointed himself prime minister (Gallo 11). He had presented himself as a friend to the US, yet as an anti-American to Cuba and the USSR (Gallo 4). Castro sent his dissidents and other nonconforming populations to labor camps to silence them and unify the nation (Fletcher).
With his power, Castro expropriated many American companies (Cuba Libre). This correct fraud committed under Batista as demonstrated as show Castro’s support for people, not companies. The United States swiftly responded to this with an embargo, and later cut its sugar quota (Purcell 1, Cuba Libre). Much US investment disappeared, and many elites left Cuba (Cuba Libre). The CIA planned and executed an attack later known as the Bay of Pigs in 1961, and they also supplied weapons to the plentiful anti-Castro rebels in the Escambray Mountains (Cuba Libre). The Bay of Pigs attack was a drastic fail, cementing the appearance that Castro was the rightful leader of Cuba (Cuba Libre).
As Castro alienated himself from the US, he closely tied Cuba with the Soviet Union. They were the economic model of national industrialization Castro saw for Cuba, and the USSR aided in attempting to accomplish this (Cuba Libre). The USSR also helped economically where the US cut down, such as on the sugar quota (Cuba Libre). Collaboration with Cuba also benefited the USSR when the US placed nuclear warheads in Turkey. Cuba was used to equalize pressures, leading to the Cuban-Missile Crisis which caused a mutual de-escalation between America and the Soviets (Todd). Cuba also helped spread the reach of communism throughout Latin America (Kline 3). This was not one of his planks, but rather a way to differentiate himself from Batista.
Castro had always been happy to let those who disagree with him leave, and many people took advantage of this. Especially as the economic situation in Cuba degraded, people were unhappy and left Cuba for the US, placing more strain on Cuban-American relations (Purcell 3). Castro was never truly communist, and his public conversion to communism in 1963 and compliance with USSR demands was intended to make Cuba politically and economically stronger. For a time, this tactic worked, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro lost a strong ally and economic security, leading to economic collapse and increased willingness to reform, beginning 1991 Special Period (Purcell 2, Gonzales 39).
Castro implemented drastic social changes while in power. He supported a campaign against illiteracy in the 1960’s and created labor organizations such as the Student Work Brigades (Gonzales 33, 34). Here, the youth was indoctrinated into the regime. Yet, many were unhappy with the regime and, with the return of richer relatives, the 1980 Mariel exodus to Florida ignited (Gonzales 38). The Cuban pension program was another initiative, supporting the elderly and reducing poverty (Gonzales 44). The Federation of Cuban Women was created, aimed at increasing revolutionary actions for women (Randall). Racial tensions against Afro-Cubans remained, visible in the tourism industry (Gonzales 107). Castro’s relationship with religion fluctuated. He initially fought against Catholicism, most likely because that population included his largest dissenters (McGuinness 1). Yet Castro met with the Pope in 1996 and took a warm approach to religion in Cuba (McGuinness 1). It is also possible that Catholicism was discouraged because the USSR model of socialism had no place for religion.
Castro failed in establishing his ideology in many ways, but mostly because of his attachment to the Soviet Union and thus necessity to do things as they wanted. There is also an element of obscurity about Castro’s real ideological beliefs. He was an opportunistic leader, demonstrated in his gradual conversion to socialism as well as the integration of Guevara’s guerilla warfare. Due to this, Castro’s beliefs seem to evolve with time, creating a situation where it is very difficult to identify what Castro truly believed in when grasping for power. Therefore, the History Will Absolve Me speech, the stated ideology of the first attempt at seizing power, is the most accurate ideology to compare with.
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