Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz became involved with political protests as a young student. After Batista s coup in 1952, he went to court and tried to have the Batista dictatorship declared illegal. However, his attempt to peacefully bring down the Batista government did not work, and so in 1953, Castro turned toward violent means. On July 26, 1953, Castro led a group of men to attack the Moncada military fortress. However, his little rebellion was immediately crushed by the Batista army.
In fact, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Santiago had to make the government promise that the rebels ould live, if they would stop fighting and come down from the mountains. Sure enough, the government kept its promise and Fidel Castro and his followers were sentenced to three years of imprisonment. Batista, in order to gain some popular support, released them after a few months. Castro s rebellion failed, it sparked hopes of revolution everywhere in Cuba. After a few years of exile in Mexico, Castro and a small band of about eighty-five men returned to Cuba in December of 1956.
Many of the men perished during the initial landing, but a small group including Fidel Castro and an Argentinian Marxist Ernesto “Che” Guevara, survived and went into the mountains. During the next two years, Castro and Guevara fought the Batista army continuously in small guerrilla wars. They called themselves the Twenty-sixth of July Movement, after the earlier unsuccessful raid on the Moncada barracks. Their group gained in numbers and popularity among Cubans as the desire for political change in Cuba increased.
Castro promised sweeping changes including free elections, non-corrupt government, land, improved educational systems, jobs and health care for all. Castro became sort of like a Robin Hood for Cuba and many flocked to his banner. The final blow to the Batista regime came when the United States withdrew its support as Batista was falling from power. Seeing that a full scale war against him was inevitable, Batista fled the country with his family and close friends to the Dominican Republic. On January 8, 1959, the revolutionary forces marched into Havana unopposed.
Tension between Cuba and the United States Tension between Cuba and the United States increased dramatically after the Castro takeover. The main reason was that Castro and Guevara were leading Cuba toward communism. As a part of the sweeping reforms that Castro had promise, he took all estates larger than one thousand acres and nationalized it, meaning that it was made the property of the government. Most of the seized land, including over 2 1/4 million acres owned by U. S. investors, were made into large state-owned farms.
The lost of sugar mills, banks, hotels, utility companies, etc. otaled about $2 billion. By then, it became clear that Castro was leading Cuba toward communism instead of his promise oward democracy. This conclusion was further bolstered when the USSR signed their first trade agreement with Cuba in February of 1960. Finally, in January of 1961, only two years after the fall of Batista, the United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba and imposed an unilateral trade embargo against the island country. Even before the United States broke relations with Cuba, there had already been plans made against the Castro regime.
The U. S. upported Operation Pluto, the secret name of an invasion on Cuba, in hopes of overthrowing Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs Incident, as it was later known as, began on April 15, 1961 with air raids on Cuba. Two days later, 1,500 U. S. trained Cuban exiles landed on Cuba with weapons supplied by the United States. At the time, the U. S. government was convinced that the Cuban people would join the invading forces once they land and that the Castro army would disband. However, this assumption was fatally wrong. The landing party were defeated with forty-eight hours. About 120 people died and more than 1,200 captured.
The U. S. government had to pay $50 million in food and medical supplies to ansom them. The tension between Cuba and the U. S. grew to a climax during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. After the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Castro openly admitted that he was committed to communism. “I am a Marxist-Leninist and will be a Marxist-Leninist until the day I die,” he declared. In the summer of 1962, U. S. spy planes saw that Cuba was receiving large amounts of military equilpment from the Soviet Union. Photographs revealed that the Soviets were building missile installations within Cuba.
The U. S. felt threatened because the missiles had a range of 1,000 miles and they were apable of carrying nuclear warheads. With a nuclear threat only 90 miles off the coast of Florida, President John F. Kennedy warned Americans of the danger of a nuclear war. He further demanded that the Soviet Union dismantle the missile installations or risk retaliation from the United States. Two days later, on October 26, Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the USSR stepped back and accepted the demands, effectively bring the world back from the brink of nuclear destruction.
The hostility between the two counties continuous today. U. S. citizens are not permitted to travel to Cuba. The unilateral trade embargo of Cuba is still effective. While the rest of the world has moved on to a policy of engagement with Cuba, the United States is still stuck in the Cold War mode trying to isolate the island nation. The most recent legislation against Cuba is the so called Helms-Burton Law, which punishes third-country businesses that invest in Cuba. Most businesses are unimpressed by the threat, the opposite, they are very angry.
Most businesses acknowledge that Helms-Burton Law will probably slow investment in Cuba, but more investment ill continue as long as profits can be made. Even our allies, such as Canada and Mexico have expressed deep regret in the passage of the Helms-Burton legislation. So while the rest of the world move on and look to the future, U. S. -Cuban relations continue to deteriorate. The Cuban Economy The Cuban revolution actually improved the standard of living from that of pre-Castro times. When Fidel Castro took over, he guaranteed free education and health care to all Cubans.
In fact, Cuba s education is free at every level, from elementary schools to the universities. It has the highest ducation budget in all of Latin America, and literacy rate is virtually 100% in Cuba. Much of this was possible due to Soviet help. Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Bloc as Castro committed Cuba to communism. With that, the USSR bought Cuban sugar at a highly inflated price. A ton of sugar, which has the equivalent value of 1. 4 tons of oil, was being bought by the Soviet Union at the price of eight tons of oil to one ton of sugar.
The subsidy effectively pumped $5. billion into the island economy annually. However, due to mismanagement and inefficiencies, unemployment went up during the 1970s. In 1980, 125,000 Cubans fled from Cuba to Florida, seeking for a better life. As the Soviet Union itself declined, Cuba s economy plunged with it. In 1987, domestic production declined 3. 2% from the year before. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1989, Cuba lost its much needed economic support from the former Soviet Bloc. Castro himself admitted, “[Cuba] have lost 70 percent of its purchasing power” after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The free fall of the economy finally stopped in 1995 after numerous economic reforms. In 1993, Castro did something that was unthinkable, he let Cubans o own and spend dollars and hold dollar denominated back accounts. In 1994, Castro authorized Cubans to own small private businesses, a departure from his policy of state controlled economy. But the most important reform happened in 1995 when foreign investors were allowed to own Cuban enterprises outright, not just in tourism, but in basically all sectors of the economy. These reforms generated much needed foreign investment which total about $5 billion as of 1996.
While this money is not nearly enough to make a significant difference in the Cuban economy, it has helped the conomy to rebound. After a decline of about 40% between 1989 to 1994, the economy grew 2. 5% in 1995. The price of the dollar dropped from 125 pesos to 25 pesos in mid-1994. Clearly, these reforms represent steps toward a market economy, and as the desire for improved living standards increase, the Cuban economy will undoubtably continue to open up. Road To Political Change Fidel Castro keeps a tight grip of the political scene in Cuba. The Communist Party is the only legal party in Cuba.
There are no opposition parties or any kind of official political opposition. Fidel Castro, being the President, basically have a monopoly of power in Cuba. Every decision must go through him in order to be valid. Cubans have enjoyed free municipal elections since the 1970s. The election is done by secret ballot, and remarkable, you do not have to be a member of the Communist Party to run. Yet these local elections do not affect anything on the national level. National and international issues are handled by the National Assembly. In the National Assembly, the equivalent of the American Congress, members are appointed instead of elected.
However, the political grip loosened in 1993 when for the first time, members of the National Assembly were elected by popular vote. The elections were tightly controlled and only one candidate could vie for each seat. Although as an election, this was a farce, it the high voter turnout rate shows that Cubans were eager to legitimize the government s attempt at reforms. This eagerness shows that Cubans are ready for political change and they are willing to take an active role in making this happen. As more economic reforms improve the economy, pressure for political change will increase.