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Castro &. La Revolucion. The Million Dollar Question:. So… H ow does an isolated, rag-tag band of less than 20 revolutionaries—probably fewer than the number of kids in this classroom—succeed in their revolution?. Cuba’s Perpetual State of Servitude.

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Castro &

La Revolucion

The Million Dollar Question:


How does an isolated, rag-tag band of less than 20 revolutionaries—probably fewer than the number of kids in this classroom—succeed in their revolution?

Cuba’s Perpetual State of Servitude

  • To say that Cuba stood under strong influence from the United States is an understatement:

  • USA had helped Cuba achieve independence from the Spanish in 1898 but had remained a powerful influence(think Platt Amendment)

  • Cuba was an independent nation but this was a stability often achieved with American troops and American dollars

US Domination in the Cuban Economy

  • USA held controlling stake in all Cuban industries

  • Owning:

    -Half of the land

    -3/5 of the railway system

    -The electricity production industry

    -The telephone system

    This sort of domination did not result in an efficient countryand bred great resentment in Cuba over the decades…


Seasonal unemployment created instability:

  • 8% unemployment during the five-month sugar harvest

  • 30% rest of year—so 1 in 4 were unemployed half the year

  • Trade unions were inactive

  • Havana was a rich and swanky place, full of corrupt government officials

    This scenario created an undercurrent of unrest leaving no reliable democratic system in Cuba.


  • FulgencioBatista, who had been at the forefront of Cuban politics won power in 1940 and seized it again illegally in 1952, ruling as dictator. (There had been more than 9 presidents b/w Gerardo Machado and Batista ‘40)

  • Batista did not introduce reforms

  • His regime was corrupt and brutal

  • Peaceful revolution did not seem possible

Fidel Enters the Stage

  • Middle-class Fidel Castro, a trained lawyer, was a leading exponent of this revolutionary view.

  • Before he came to power he was aliberal nationalist—not a socialist or communist

  • Wanted to end corruption and Batista regime

  • Hoped to introduce limited land reforms for every peasant to receive land.

  • On July 26th, 1953, Fidel, Raul and a band of at least 130 insurrectionaries attacked the Moncada Barracks:

    • -60 were killed—the rest were captured

    • -Fidel avoided execution because one of his old classmates recognized him

La Historia Me Absolvera

  • After serving 2 years in prison (where he authored his book La Historia Me Absolvera) he was released and fled to Mexico

  • I warn you, I am just beginning! If there is in your hearts a vestige of love for your country, love for humanity, love for justice, listen carefully... I know that the regime will try to suppress the truth by all possible means; I know that there will be a conspiracy to bury me in oblivion. But my voice will not be stifled – it will rise from my breast even when I feel most alone, and my heart will give it all the fire that callous cowards deny it... Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.

Castro’s Five Revolutionary Principles:

  • The reinstatement of the 1940 Cuban Constitution

  • The reformation of land rights

  • The right of industrial workers to a 30% share of company profits.

    4. The right of sugar workers to receive a % of company profits.

    5. The confiscation of holdings of those found guilty of fraud or corruption under previous administrative powers.

The July 26 Movement

  • In Mexico, Fidel only grew in his conviction to overthrow Batista

  • Here he encountered Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and became persuaded of the merits of guerilla warfare tactics

  • Fidel made his first contact with the Russian KGB, though it was largely uneventful and also receives monetary and personnel support from Cubans living in the U.S.

  • The revolutionaries began their military training under the leadership of a Spanish Civil War veteran, Alberto Bayo

  • And in November of 1956 set out for Cuba aboard the yacht, Granma

La Sierra Maestra

  • Most of the revolutionary force is killed or captured by Batista but 18 survive and retreat to la Sierra Maestra

    • including Fidel, Raul, Che and Camilo Cienfuegos

  • Tactical intentions are to overthrow Batista through guerrilla warfare and sabotage in the cities

  • Rebels soon controlled mountain areas to the north and east

  • Are popular with the people due to the implementation of Castro’s land reforms

  • Batista responds with characteristic cruelty against the uprising, unleashing brutality against the campesinos in support of Fidel

The Myth of Castro Grows

  • Batista’s tactics only glorify the legend of La Revolucion

  • Playing directly into Castro’s hand, the oppression merely popularises the struggle

  • Even the middle-class saw Castro as an alternative to brutal Batista

  • Morale of Batista’s army crumbled after an embarrassing series of defeats to Castro’s forces in the Operation Verano summer of 1958

  • The USA, embarrassed, withdrew all arms supplies from Batista

  • CheGuevara’s forces brilliantly gain control of the island’s main road

  • Santa Clara is taken by Che and CamiloCienfuego

  • Fulgencio Batista fled from Cuba on January 1st, 1959; a new, liberal government was set up under Fidel Castro.

Transition to Power

  • Fulgencio Batista fled from Cuba to Dominican Republic on January 1st, 1959 with an amassed fortune of over 300 million in US dollars

  • On Jan. 8th, Castro’s forces rolled into Havana behind a leader who claimed: “Power does not interest me, and I will not take it”

  • Castro immediately set up his regime and began pitting himself against US interests

US-Cuba Relations

  • The deterioration in relations was gradual

  • Initially, Castro was thought to be a social democrat—the reality was that he was a radical NATIONALIST

  • But he outraged the USA by nationalizing American-owned estates and factories

  • President Eisenhower reacted by threatening to stop importing Cuba’s goods

  • This, of course, forces Cuba to sign a trade agreement with Russia

US-Cuba Relations

  • July 1960:

    • USA stopped import of Cuban goods

    • USSR promised to buy Cuban sugar

    • Cuba confiscated all remaining American property

    • Relations between USA and Cuba worsened, but USSR relations with Cuba improved

    • USA broke off diplomatic relations with the two countries

    • Russiabegan supplying economic aid to Cuba

Crisis in Cuba

  • The new President, JFK, was virulently anti-communist and approves a scheme proposed by Batista supporters—the BAY of PIGS fiasco of April 1961

  • At this point, Castro declares Cuba a SOCIALIST STATE

  • Then, of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurs in October of 1962

  • At this point, JFK decides that he wants nothing further to do with Castro

  • Kennedy is assassinated a year later in Nov. 1963

Implementation of the Agenda

  • Domestically, Castro is faced with the usual bevy of problems: corruption, unemployment, poverty…

  • But, thenew government is enthusiastic and dedicated:

  • During his first ten years Castro totally reformed Cuba:

    • Collective farms were introduced

    • Factories and businesses were nationalized

    • Attempts were made to modernize sugar production and increase output

    • New industries were introduced to relieve heavy reliance on sugar (paper plants, textiles)

Early Successes

  • As is always the case in a totalitarian state, the achievements of the government come at a great price

  • Rights are secured for women and Negroes (homosexuals were sent to work camps and executed in the thousands)

  • Touring cinemas, theaters and art expeditions circulate

  • Castro continues preaching the gospel of Cuban socialism

  • Nearly all children begin to receive some education—approx. 50% before 1959

  • Infrastructure improves—along with a growing sense of UNITY

  • After the first decade, the gov’t seemed to be popular with most people


  • Governments failures:

    • The inability to diversify industrial and agricultural output was the most serious failure.

    • This made Cuba more dependent on sugar and Russia

    • In the 1970’s sugar production diminished, worsened by a series of devastating fungus infections (1980’s)

    • This plunged the country into a economic crisis:

      • Increased immigration to the USA

      • Food was rationed

      • Economy heavily subsidized by USSR

  • After a promising start, the regime began to falter…

Odds & Ends

  • Camilo Cienfuegos’ plane crashed on his way to Havana one night in October 1959—seems to have been a genuine accident

  • Castro survived dozens of assassination attempts by the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans

    • Fabian Escalante, Castro’s chief bodyguard, estimated that 638 attempts had been made against Castro

    • Including an exploding cigar, a fungus-infested scuba suit, a jar of poisonous facial cream, pills, etc.

      If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event,

      I would win the gold medal.



  • Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara:

    • Took various positions in Castro’s government

    • Wrote a book on the guerrilla warfare, which had big impact on Latin America

    • Wanted to see the eradication of money and human selfishness

    • By 1965 he became frustrated with government responsibilities

    • Left Cuba to organize revolutions in the Congo and elsewhere (there is no evidence of problems b/w Che & Fidel)

    • Was killed by Bolivian troops 1967

Che’s New Man

  • Man truly achieves his full human condition when he produces without being compelled by the physical necessity of selling himself as a commodity.

  • -from ‘Man and Socialism in Cuba’

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