Celebrations broke out all across Cuba in the new year, ushering in 60 years of Cuban socialism. On this day (2nd Jan) after 3 years of guerrilla warfare by the army led by Fidel Castro rose victorious over the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. Along with many important provinces causing the dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee.
The people had triumphed.
As A Spanish Colony
Cuba spent some 400 years as a Spanish colony, having been ‘discovered’ by Columbus in 1492. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, a fierce anti-colonial struggle developed, lead by José Martí and the Cuban Revolutionary Party.
By 1897, the success of the independence movement seemed within reach, with the Spanish prime minister making the following statement: “After having sent 200,000 men and shed so much blood, we don’t own any more land on the island than what our soldiers are stepping on.” (Quoted in Prof J Cantón Navarro, History of Cuba)
However, just a few months later, in February 1898, the US battleship Maine blew up in Havana Bay and drew the US into a war with the Spanish. It is widely believed that the attack on the battleship was actually instigated by the US in order to pull Spain into a war for the ‘ownership’ of Cuba.
The US were the victors of that war, and so, in 1899, dominion over Cuba was transferred to the US, which granted nominal independence to the island in 1902, but retained economic control until the revolution in 1959.
As A US Neo-Colony: Passing The Baton Of imperialism
What media defines as the “post-war peace period” started with 2 atomic bombs dropping on Japan. The United States, the only country before or since to use Weapons of Mass Destruction, stood alone and uncontested in the arena of imperialism. Europe was devastated and the Soviet Union even more so having taken the brunt of casualties during World War 2.
When Castro announced the victory on January 1st 1959 it had been barely 15 years since the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan.
The United States imperialists saw their moment and ushered in a period of barbarism for the majority of the world. This would eventually bring them into full conflict with the small Caribbean island nation 90 miles to their south.
Under The Boot-Heel Of Batista
Arthur Miller described Batista society as hopelessly corrupt, a Mafia playground, a bordello for Americans and other foreigners.(https://www.thenation.com/article/visit-castro/)
Casinos began to develop in the 1920s in Cuba. The casino industry took off in the mid- to late 1950s as Batista and his cronies, working together with American Mafiosi, used the resources of Cuban state development banks, and even union retirement funds, to build hotels, all of which hosted casinos, like the Riviera, the Capri, and the Havana (Hilton.https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/09/cuban-revolution-fidel-castro-casinos-batista)
This was coupled with Batistas henchmen working with mafiosi in lining their own pockets, skimming the casinos proceeds, cheating investors and trafficking drugs.
However when the Revolutionaries put Batistas henchmen on trial they did not charge them with working with mafia, stealing Casino profits or trafficking drugs.
They were charged with torture and murder.
The mafia had gained a foothold in Cuba as a means to expanding their enterprise and escaping the reaches of the FBI/IRS and other US government agencies.
In December 1946, Havana’s classic Hotel Nacional hosted an important gathering of the Mafia attended by the heads of the most powerful families and organized by Lucky Luciano, who had been residing in the island since October of that year. (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/09/cuban-revolution-fidel-castro-casinos-batista)
Enrique Cirules, a Cuban writer, wrote in Mafia in Havana that the power of the Mafia, in a permanent alliance with the US intelligence services, had taken over every level of power in Cuba. Mafia in Havana won the Casa de Las Américas Prize for literature in 1993 and the Literary Critic’s Award in 1994.
The Revolution Sweeps Away The Exploiters
Still there is one argument more powerful than all the others. We are Cubans and to be Cuban implies a duty; not to fulfill that duty is a crime, is treason. We are proud of the history of our country; we learned it in school and have grown up hearing of freedom, justice and human rights. We were taught to venerate the glorious example of our heroes and martyrs. Céspedes, Agramonte, Maceo, Gómez and Martí were the first names engraved in our minds. We were taught that the Titan once said that liberty is not begged for but won with the blade of a machete. We were taught that for the guidance of Cuba’s free citizens, the Apostle wrote in his book The Golden Age: ‘The man who abides by unjust laws and permits any man to trample and mistreat the country in which he was born is not an honorable man … In the world there must be a certain degree of honor just as there must be a certain amount of light. When there are many men without honor, there are always others who bear in themselves the honor of many men. These are the men who rebel with great force against those who steal the people’s freedom, that is to say, against those who steal honor itself. In those men thousands more are contained, an entire people is contained, human dignity is contained …’ We were taught that the 10th of October and the 24th of February are glorious anniversaries of national rejoicing because they mark days on which Cubans rebelled against the yoke of infamous tyranny. We were taught to cherish and defend the beloved flag of the lone star, and to sing every afternoon the verses of our National Anthem: ‘To live in chains is to live in disgrace and in opprobrium,’ and ‘to die for one’s homeland is to live forever!’ All this we learned and will never forget, even though today in our land there is murder and prison for the men who practice the ideas taught to them since the cradle. We were born in a free country that our parents bequeathed to us, and the Island will first sink into the sea before we consent to be the slaves of anyone.
The guilty continue at liberty and with weapons in their hands — weapons which continually threaten the lives of all citizens. If all the weight of the law does not fall upon the guilty because of cowardice or because of domination of the courts, and if then all the judges do not resign, I pity your honor. And I regret the unprecedented shame that will fall upon the Judicial Power.
I know that imprisonment will be harder for me than it has ever been for anyone, filled with cowardly threats and hideous cruelty. But I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me. — Fidel Castro, 1953, History Will Absolve Me
Nevertheless, throughout this period, progressive forces continued to mobilise and struggle against the reactionary governments. The increasing strength of the movement was illustrated on 10 March 1952, when Fulgencio Batista, in a bid to prevent a communist candidate winning the elections, seized power by force.
Batista had been a military man for many years and had served the establishment well, suppressing uprisings during the 1930s and 40s. In 1940, he served a term of four years as elected president, during which time US trade relations increased and Cuba entered the second world war on the side of the allies.
Following the coup d’etat in 1952, Batista ruled Cuba with an iron fist. He abolished the constitution, dismissed the Congress of the Republic and firmly held open the door to US imperialism.
Fidel Castro, then a young revolutionary, denounced the coup and called on all Cubans to fight the dictatorship, warning: “once again there is tyranny, but there will also be men like Mella, Trejo and Guiteras [revolutionaries who had fought Spanish and US forces]. There is oppression in the homeland, but there will be a day of liberty again”. (Quoted in History of Cuba, op cit)
Following this call to fight, Castro got together with a group of other revolutionaries who had fought in previous uprisings, with the intention of carrying out an attack on the military regime and thus providing a catalyst for further uprisings.
The target of this attack was to be the Moncada Barracks, the second-largest barracks in Cuba, located a fair distance from any potential back-up forces, as well as being on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba, where the independence movement had always been strong.
During the night of 26 July 1953, a group of 131 combatants led in three groups by Fidel Castro, Abel Santamaria and Raúl Castro attacked the barracks. Despite extensive and secretive preparation by Fidel and others, the first attacking column was intercepted by an unscheduled patrol of Batista’s forces, sparking a battle and alerting the rest of the barracks to the attack.
Almost all the combatants were captured, eight being killed in battle while a handful escaped. The following day, a further 50 fighters were executed as a warning to others. The rest were tried, along with others who had been rounded up but had no involvement in the attack.
It was during the Moncada Barracks trial that Fidel gave one of his most famous speeches, now recognised by his final statement: “History will absolve me”. Fidel used the speech to expose the brutality of the Batista regime, the downtrodden existence of the Cuban people and the need to fight for liberty and freedom.
He also outlined five revolutionary laws that would have been proclaimed if the attack had been successful. These laws were to “return power to the people”, “give non-mortgageable and non-transferable ownership of land to all tenants”, “grant workers and employees the right to share 30 percent of the profits of all large industry”, “grant all sugar planters the right to share 55 percent of sugar production”, and to confiscate “all holdings and ill-gotten gains … of previous regimes … Half of the property recovered would be used to subsidise retirement funds for workers and the other half would be used for hospitals, asylums and charitable organisations.”
The success of the defence team, in spite of limitations imposed on them by the court, meant that only 26 were found guilty, and a large proportion of these were given lenient sentences.
Movement of 26 July
Fidel, however, along with several others involved in the attack, was sentenced to 15 years and imprisoned in Isle of Pines. Two years later, following continued protests for their release, and in the face of increasing unrest, Batista granted the release of Castro and the other imprisoned combatants.
On their release, they were greeted with great popular acclaim and determined to continue the work they had started. So, in June 1955, Castro and several other revolutionaries who had attacked the Moncada Barracks held an official meeting and formed the Movement of 26 July (M 26-J).
As M 26-J increased its activity, so too did the repressive measures of the Batista regime. By July, Fidel had decided that, in order to effectively organise, he needed to leave the country and train elsewhere.
Mexico and Guevara
Having relocated to Mexico, Castro and several others set up camp, specifically choosing remote terrain similar to Cuba’s in order to prepare themselves for the next stage of the struggle. It was here that they met Che Guevera.
Che had fled persecution in Guatemala and, having met some of the M 26-J comrades previously, was introduced to Castro and so began his involvement in the preparations for the Cuban revolution.
M 26-J members in Mexico maintained constant communication with the workers’ and peasants’ struggles taking place in Cuba. Fidel wrote manifestos for the movement analysing the struggle and the tasks ahead, which were distributed in Cuba.
While the revolutionaries trained in Mexico, hardships suffered by the Cuban population under Batista increased the support for the goals set out by the M 26-J.
After a year of mobilising troops and building up the forces both in Mexico and in Cuba, the M 26-J planned coordinated attacks across the country, with the Mexican contingent travelling across the Gulf to reinforce the eastern front.
On 25 November 1956, from the port of Tupax, Mexico, the Granma, only a small boat, carried 82 members of the M 26-J across the Gulf of Mexico, aiming for Cuba’s eastern coast. However, the heavy load on the boat slowed the journey, delaying its landing to 2 December, two days after the attacks of the M 26-J were to be launched.
This proved almost fatal for the insurrection as, despite the forces within Cuba mounting uprisings and making some gains, they had not been the outright victors. The delay of the Granma meant that Batista’s forces were at the boat’s landing site within an hour with all the planes and troops they could muster.
In the face of this military onslaught, and against all odds, the rebels continued towards the mountains of the Sierra Maestra. However, a large part of their contingent was captured and over 20 executed on the spot. The remaining 10 members moved deeper into the mountains and regrouped, ready to continue the fight against the regime.
During the next 24 months, the 10 members of M 26-J in the Sierra Maestra recruited workers and peasants from across the countryside and towns as a fierce war ensued against the regime.
As Fidel recounted on the 40th anniversary of the revolution: “the infallible tactic of attacking the enemy when it was on the move was a key factor [to success]. The art of provoking those forces into moving out of their well-fortified and generally invulnerable positions became one of our commands’ greatest skills.” (Speech made in Céspedes Park, Santiago de Cuba, 1 January 1999)
By December 1958, the rebel army, with Fidel as commander-in-chief, and Che Guevara, Camilio Cienfuegos, Raúl Castro, Juan Alemida and Celia Sánchez as leaders of the columns, led the forces across the country taking city after city and growing in number by the day.
Che Guevara’s Column №8, by this time made up of 300 well-armed and experienced troops, was joined on 29 December by 5,000 recruits trained in the Escambray mountains in the battle for Santa Cruz.
This was the dictatorship’s last and most powerful stronghold. The rebels captured enemy positions one by one, cutting off communication and finally taking all government troops prisoner and seizing control of the city.
At 2.00am on 1 January 1959, Batista fled the country, leaving the rebel army victorious. Thus it was, five years, five months and five days after the attack on the Moncada Barracks, that the programme publicised during the Moncada trial for developing a Cuba for the Cuban people was finally put into action.
Nuclear Brinkmanship: The Cuban Missile Crisis
After the United States installed nuclear missiles in Turkey and Italy, pointing them at the cities of the Soviet Union the Soviet Union began sending nuclear missiles to Cuba. Khrushchev stated at the time :
The United States had already surrounded the Soviet Union with its own bomber bases and missiles. We knew that American missiles were aimed against us in Turkey and Italy, to say nothing of West Germany. It was during my visit to Bulgaria that I had the idea of installing missiles with nuclear warheads in Cuba without letting the United States find out they were there until it was too late to do anything about them. Everyone agreed that America would not leave Cuba alone unless we did something. We had an obligation to do everything in our power to protect Cuba’s existence as a Socialist country and as a working example to the other countries in Latin America… The Americans had surrounded our country with military bases and threatened us with nuclear weapons and now they would learn just what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointing at you; we’d be doing nothing more than giving them a little of their own medicine.
However, as to be expected, Khrushchev was not operating under the American lexicon. Time magazine quickly enlightened us and let us know outright the layers of hyporcrisy and feigned morality that Washington operated under.
On the part of the communists this equating [referring to Khrushchevs offer to mutually remove missiles and bombers from Cuba and Turkey] had obvious tactical motives. On the part of the neautralists and pacifists [who welcomed Khrushchevs offer] it betrayed intellectual confusion.”
The purpose of the US bases in Turkey was not to blackmail Russia but to strengthen the defense system of NATO. As a member of NATO , Turkey welcomed the bases as a contribution to her own defense.”
(W.Blum, Killing Hope, 2003, p. 186)
Cuba having been invaded only the year before could have no such concerns. Times continued its sermon.
Beyond these differences between the two cases , there is an enormous moral difference between US and Russian objectives … To equate US and Russian bases is in effect to equate US and Russian purpose … The US bases, such as those in Turkey, have helped keep the peace since World War II, while the Russian bases in Cuba threatened to upset peace. The Russian bases were intended to further conquest and domination, while US bases were erected to preserve freedom. The difference should’ve been obvious to all.
The American lexicon of course means re-defining whatever suits the American position. Along with “good” and “bad” bases and missiles there are also “good” and “bad” revolutions.
The French and American revolutions being “good”.
The Cuban revolution defined as “bad”.
Defined as bad as the US no longer had “free-reign” in “it’s backyard”. But the Cuban people gained their well deserved dignity.
Fending Off Imperialist Sabotage, Bombing And Invasion Directed By The Worlds Super Power
What Cuba, a tiny island nation with a population of 7 ½ million, presented as a threat to the Worlds super power is almost unbelievable in how cartoonishly evil the Americans acted toward the country.
By October 1959 (if not before) the United States began bombing and strafing attacks on Cuban soil. In early 1960 there were several firebomb air raids on Cuban cane fields and sugar mills in which American pilots took part. (W.Blum, Killing Hope, 2003, p. 187)
In March a french freighter unloading munitions from Belgium exploded in Havana taking 75 lives and injuring some 200 more (some of whom subsequently died). The United States denied Cubas accusation of sabotage. (Ibid).
Finally culminating in the apex of the CIA-organised Bay of Pigs invasion in April. Over 100 exiles died in the attack and close to 1200 others were taken prisoner by the Cubans. The Bay of Pigs assault had relied ultimately on the mass of Cubans rising with the invaders. The leadership of the invasion former supporters and henchmen of Fulgencio Batista and would never have been welcomed back by the Cuban people who understood their oppression lay with Batista and those that had supported him.
Despite this acute embarrassment for the Kennedy administration (indeed because of it) a campaign of attacks was initiated on Cuba almost immediately.
Throughout the 1960s Cuba was subject to countless sea and air raids by exiles often accompanied by their CIA supervisors. Inflicting damage against oil refineries, chemical plants, railroad bridges, cane fields, sugar mills and sugar warehouses; infiltrating spies, saboteurs and assassins. (Ibid)
Anything possible the US could do to damage the Cuban economy, promote disaffection or make the revolution look bad.
Taking the lives of Cuban militia members. Pirate attacks on Cuban fishing boats and merchant ships, bombardments of Soviet vessels docked in Cuba, an assault upon a Soviet army camp with 12 Russian soldiers wounded. A hotel shelled from offshore because Russians and East Europeans were supposed to be present there. (Ibid)
The commando raids were accompanied with the effective removal of Cuba from the world market leveraged by the weapon, the US dollar.
Due to being the worlds defacto worlds reserve currency the Americans can remove and sanction countries they don’t like. This blockade genuinely hurts the Cuban economy and chipped away at the societies standard of living.
So unyielding has the embargo been against the peoples of Cuba that when cuba was hit hard by a hurricane in October 1963 and Casa Cuba (a New York social club) raised a large quantity of clothing for relief the United States refused to grant an export license on the grounds the shipment was “contrary to the national interest”. (John Gerrasi, The Great Fear in Latin America, 1965, p.278)
The US exerted its pressure upon over countries to send goods destined for Cuba to be sabotaged. From machinery damaged, chemicals added to lubricating fluids to cause rapid wear on diesel engines, a manufacturer in West Germany paid to produce ball-bearings off-centre, another paid to do the same with wheel gears-