Ernesto “Che” Guevara reunites with his parents at José Martí International Airport in Havana. January 29, 1959.
A Brief History of Cuba:
Cuba is located ninety miles south of Key West, and lies at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico between Florida and Central America. It is the largest island in the West Indies. Cuba’s geography is diverse. Most of Cuba is low, rolling country with hilly parts. The eastern end of the island is mountainous. Most of the southern part of the island is very flat and suffers from tsunamis driven by hurricanes. The highest point in Cuba is Pico Turquino, in the southeast. Its altitude is 6560 feet. From the east the land drops suddenly under the sea. There are few inland lakes, and the only navigable river is the Rio Cauto. Cuba has a tropical climate and a flora and fauna that are generally found in this climate. A large population of reptiles, insects and wide array of plants. Cuba was discovered by Cristobal Colon in 1492. It was settled nine years later in 1511 by his son Diego Colon who founded the city of Santiago three years later. Its original inhabitants the Arawak Indians were wiped out by the Spaniards. Cuba remained under Spanish rule for the next four centuries. Except for a brief period of British occupation in the eighteenth century. The soul of the Cuban nation was forged during the nineteenth century. Its teacher born in Havana on November 20, 1788 was Father Felix Varela. The culminations of his philisophical writings in Cuba was his Lecciones de filosofia which was for decades the textbook in logic, metaphysics, ethics, natural philosophy, and chemistry in the colleges of not only of Cuba, but of Mexico and other countries of Spanish origin. A random sample of the section headings give you an idea of Varela’s thought: “On the Good Use of Reason and on Its Opposites, Fanaticism and Pedanticism;” “On the Light of Reason and Natural Right;” “On the relations of Man with Society;” “On the Nature of Society and of Patriotism;” “The Knowledge Which Man Has of His Creator and His Consequent Obligations.” He viewed science and religion as not being in conflict. That one could not be blind to the truth surrounding one, and that truth would lead one closer to God. Among his studentswere the leaders of the ten years war. The Ten Years’ War was led by the Cespedes and Agramonte families who liberated large number of slaves that joined together for the independence of Cuba. Although this struggle failed it led to further uprisings in the 1890’s. One of the leaders described Varela as “the one who taught us Cubans to think.” These works and students went on to have a dramatic influence on Jose Marti the “Apostol” of the revolt against Spain in the 1890’s.
Jose Marti was born in Havana in 1853. At 17 he was exiled to Spain for his opposition to colonial rule. While in Spain he published a pamphlet exposing the horrors of political imprisonment in Cuba, which he himself had experienced. During his exile he became an accomplished writer and journalist drifting throughout Latin America trying to avoid living under dictatorship. His views on racism, liberty, class, patriotism, were heavily influenced by Varela. Marti stated, “there is no racial hatred, because there are nor races… the universal identity of man is evident in his victorious love and his turbulent appetites. The same soul, equal and eternal, emanates from bodies different in shape and color.” He was annoyed at the talk of social classes. Because to “recognize their existence is to contribute to them.” To refuse to would result in their destruction which was his end goal. Marti’s analysis of societal conflicts were that the root cause was not race or class based, but rather the ancient conflict between good and evil. In 1878 he returned to Cuba under a general amnesty, but he conspired against the Spanish authorities and again was banished. Marti then lived in New York from 1881 to 1895. In 1895, he left to join the war for Cuban independence that he had painstakingly organized. There he died in one of the first battles.
Cuba’s independence came about when the United States won the Spanish American War in 1898 and granted Cuba independence in 1902 after four years of U.S. occupation. The Platt Amendment was the price the Cuban rebels paid to get a withdrawal of U.S. troops. This amendment, grafted into the Cuban constitution of 1902, guaranteed the right of the U.S. to intervene in Cuban affairs to protect U.S. interests on the island. During the next thirty two years the U.S. continuously intervened in Cuban internal affairs.
The result was the rise of a corrupt political culture with two parties: Liberal and Conservative (which by the way wasn’t conservative) who often had business holdings with American corporations. This process continued until the election of Machado in 1924. Extending his rule to a second term by dubious means Machado’s administration fell right into the Great Depression. This aggravated the already existing resistance to his regime. In 1933 the crisis reached breaking point. Major uprisings along with pressure from U.S. ambassador Sumner Welles led to Machado’s resignation and the establishment of a U.S. backed regime under Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, son of the same named patriot of the Ten Years’ War. On September 4, 1933, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista led a revolt with student revolutionaries. Fulgencio Batista, a mulatto of modest background, would oversee and manipulate the Cuban political landscape for the next 26 years. Ramon Grau San Martin, a university professor, became provisional president, but refused to swear allegiance to a the 1901 Constitution with the planks that contained recognition of the Platt Amendment as US warships circled the island. 127 days later his government is brought down by a Batista led coup. Grau’s government had not been recognized by the United States. In 1934 the U.S. recognized that the Platt Amendment had been abolished. The end of the liberal and “conservative” governments led to the formation of two new parties “el Autentico” and later “el Ortodoxo” which claimed to be against the “corrupt Autentico’s.” Between 1934 and 1940 Batista controlled the Cuban government through a series of puppet regimes. In 1940 a constitutional convention meets in which all political forces in Cuban society are represented. After the new Cuban constitution is established in 1940. Batista is elected in 1940 as the constitutional president. The communist party made up part of the coalition that brought Batista to power. Batista described himself as a “progressive socialist.” He used the communist party to take control of the labor unions.
In 1944, Batista is defeated in a fair election and Grau San Martin is elected President. In 1948 Grau’s successor Carlos Prio Socarras is elected President. During the Autentico regime’s rule political gangsterism swept through Cuba and shook Cuban society to its very core. According to the constitution of 1940 the University of Havana was an area in which civil and millitary police were not allowed. The result was that these political gangsters were able to murder with impunity and use the University as refuge from the authorities. These groups were used by the Autentico’s to wipe out communist infiltration of the Unions. The situation worsened under Prio Socarras to the point that Fulgencio Batista was able to justify a coup de etat which took place on March 10, 1952. One of these political gangsters Fidel Castro would plan an ill fated attack on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953. Thanks to Batista’s abrogation of the constitution and an economic downturn in the 1950’s opposition to Batista begins to grow. Less than two years after the failed attack, Batista declares an amnesty in which the Castro brothers are released from prison. Castro leaves for Mexico to train and organize. He returns on the Granma and lands in Cuba. Taking up residence in the Sierra Maestra. Four months later the Directorio Revolucionario assaults the Presidential palace, but fails in assassinating Batista and are crushed. Leaving Castro’s July 26 movement as the main opposition group. Nearly a year later a general strike fails. Towards the end of 1958 the United States under the Eisenhower Administration began an arms embargo on the Batista Regime which is interpreted as U.S. support for Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries.
On January 1, 1959 Batista leaves Cuba and Castro takes over Cuba’s government. During the next year and a half Fidel Castro consolidates power and siezes properties. Castro allies himself with the Soviet Union. Due to the residual anti-Americanism left over from the Platt-Amendment the Cuban people enthusiastically support Castro’s independence from the United States. In 1961 Cuban exiles trained and armed by the C.I.A. formed Brigade 2506 which landed at the “Playa de Giron” otherwise known as the Bay of Pigs. Due to leaks within the State Department the Cuban government had for knowledge of the invasion. In addition to preserve “plausible deniability” the Kennedy administration renegged on its pledge of air and naval support. Cuban exile troops were left on the beaches to get shot up and or imprisoned. A number of American pilots refused to abandon them and died in action. Due to this fiasco and the Kennedy administration’s percieved or actual indecisiveness the USSR believed that it could place offensive missiles in Cuba. This would alter the strategic balance of power. In 1962, Soviet nuclear missiles could only reach Western Europe; while the United States had ICBM’s capable of targeting Soviet territory in the United States as well medium range weapons in Turkey. Missiles in Cuba would give the USSR the ability to accurately target U.S. assets and population centers.
The result of these developments was the Cuban Missile Crisis and the resulting Kennedy-Kruschev pact which guaranteed Castro’s rule for the next thirty years.In 1966 the Cuban Adjustment Act was signed into law. Over a million and a half Cubans sought political refuge in the United States. Building an enclave of economic and cultural power in Miami which has changed the face of South Florida. Cuban exiles organized into a huge umbrella of political and para-millitary organizations throughout this period. Groups such as Alpha 66, Commandos L, and Omega 7 targeted Castro agents abroad and millitary and security targets inside the island. In the 1970’s Cuba embarked on millitary adventurism in Africa and Latin America. Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and El Salvador just to name a few nations would experience revolutionary “struggles” aided and abetted by Cuban arms and or Cuban troops. In 1980, Cubans seeking freedom invaded the Peruvian embassy in Havana. The resulting wave of refugees came to be kn own as the Mariel boatlift. Castro in a cynical attempt to taint the exiles mixed in mental patients, homosexuals, and criminals into the mass of refugees. These elements totalled less than 5% of the over 125,000 Cubans that entered the U.S.A. During the Reagan Administration, Radio Marti began to operate. This terminated Castro’s monopoly on information. As a result human rights, and dissident groups began to gain strength and momentum. The knowledge that somone out their could know the truth filled them with hope and energy. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 placed the Castro regime in dire straits. It’s economy shrank by more than 60% as its Soviet subsidies dried up. During this special period Castro issued a new mantra for a weary populace: Socialism or Death. The Cuban people answered by taking to the ocean in innertubes and risking death on the high seas. In addition some of the banners proclaiming socialism or death were vandalized to read socialism is death. On July 13, 1994 a group composed of primarily women and children was attacked by the Cuban coast guard. According to eyewitness accounts the women begged for the lives of their children and the Castro’s henchmen responded by using high pressure hoses to wash women and babies overboard to their deaths. The coastguard then rammed and sank the ship. A month later, on August 5, 1994, this incident sparked uprisings in Havana. Once again Castro offered the people a chance to leave and the rafter crisis overshadowed the uprising. Scores of dissidents and human rights monitors were detained. One year later on July 13, 1995 a group of Cuban exiles traveled into Cuban waters to another those who died, a year earlier in the sinking of the 13 de Marzo. The flotilla’s lead boat Democracia, was rammed by two Cuban gunboats. Crew members were injured. Less than eight months later, on February 24, 1996, two Brothers to the Rescue Planes were shot out of the sky by Cuban MiGs. They had been shceduled to travel to the Bahamas, but thanks to the combined actions of the spy Roque, and the Cuban government they were forced to cancel their flight plan. Roque arrived earlier, with out Brothers To The Rescue’s knowledge, and incited the Cuban refugees in the Bahamian camps to riot. The Cuban government decided to send a delegation on February 24. Brothers to the Rescue was told not to land in the Bahamas. Leaving them their back-up plan which was to do a patrol in the Florida straits for Cuban rafters near the 24th parallel. They were assassinated in a premeditated fashion by the Cuban government. The Cuban government botched the assassination with their failure to blow Jose Basulto’s plane out of the sky. Thus, they were unable to turn Roque into a survivor and witness of Brothers to the Rescue’s intentions.
Victorious revolutionaries enter Havana, Cuba, January 1959
Havana: A woman carries a portrait of Fidel Castro during a concert for the Cuban revolutionary hero’s 85th birthday.
Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba