An IntroductionBefore we can dwell upon the very significant Cuban revolution we need to grasp the idea of a ’revolution’ itself. There are times when it's necessary to fight against things that have become so wrong that they should no longer be. Things that were once small have become big, but are no less wrong, must be made small again; a revolution, or a complete circle, is needed. Whether you want freedom from another country, or you want to overthrow an oppressive government, every fight is the same. A revolution (from the Latin revolutio, "a turnaround") is a significant change that usually occurs in a short period of time. Revolutions have happened throughout human history and vary widely in terms of methods, duration, motivating ideology, and the number of participating revolutionaries. Their results include major changes in culture, economy, and socio-political institutions. Economists argue that revolutions have a major impact on the world economy since we are living in a ‘Global Village’, instability of any magnitude in any one country, irrespective of its economical stature, is bound to have certain repercussions on the world economy. Again, this is just one piece of the puzzle, several other less prominent factors are at play during a country wide revolution consequently bringing other ramifications that might and might not be in the favor of the public and at large the world.
A Revolution in a Nutshell
Knowledge of the Goal. One dedicates their life to this goal. Decision is made well and from the heart. A good question arises, “What about the political system in which one lives, what flaws are highlighted? And what kind of system does one want to create for the people of that country?” The goal of the revolution forms its heart.
Build Support and Consensus: Nothing happens if the only rebels are a small group of people. This is an important step and the setup for either a successful revolution or a small civilian rebellion flop. For the first part of this step one builds support by handing out flyers and pamphlets, by word of mouth and advertisements and through today’s technology. Everything that is done to get the word out of the revolution and build support. Once cultivated, support doesn’t meet together or agree on actions or even know each other, but they are united under a common goal and shared fundamental principles. This forms the principal uniting factor.
Awareness about the Revolution. Knowledge about what and why this fight must happen and how it can be won is crucial for the cause. Identifying the goals and the most efficient means of achieving them without compromise is the primary target. Appreciation and respect for a diversity of tactics directs the revolution towards making things better. This is what is called a "positive vector".
One of the most important aspects of a revolution is that the people are angry. However, the cause for anger ought to be of true convictions, and in their anger there must also be discipline to their cause.
Intentions which are very popular among the population are put together. It aims towards the improvement of certain aspects of society, economics, culture, or any other aspects of a social group. Again appreciation and respect for a diversity of tactics comes into play. As Egypt has shown us, the devil can be in the details, here -- and one’s revolution can easily be co-opted. This is recognized as a sign that the idea was popular enough to attract attention, and preparation to overcome attempted splintering is done.
Like-minded people are tracked who are ready for action. Field of communication is set. Non-hierarchical principal is followed where all voices are equally heard. If a small group is dedicated to the same cause, it is useful for someone to serve as a front woman/man; these are humble people and they must not be identified as "the leader" or "the leaders," but as individuals chosen because they reflect consensus.
Finally action is taken. This is the most important step because the revolution dies without it. Action is taken whether it is a nonviolent protest or a sit-in or a boycott. The leader motivates the support and dutifully works day and night to improve the Revolution. The power in place defends itself, for that is the nature of power. Illegitimate "governments" are not happy about a rebellion from their people and will do anything to crush resistance. Armed struggle is not an option. No matter how well armed or trained the revolutionists are, they cannot withstand an organized country's military - especially if a superpower and its allies are backing the regime in place. For the success of the movement the revolutionists do not give up. Often they are discouraged by loss or lack of morale but many other countries have revolted and after several losses still have still overcame overwhelming adversity. The goal is the heart of the operation, the consensus is the mind of the revolution, and the actions are the hands of the revolution.
Work for collective liberation is done, because everyone's liberation is tied to each other's. If they are going to be free, they all need to be free. If they are to have a voice, all must have a voice.
The popularity of the movement to the people of power, legislature, and military is demonstrated. The greater the popularity among the society, the more the likelihood of violent repression is reduced.
A drastic political or social revolution is almost always about freedom. In general, revolutions are about major changes in some aspect of society. A peaceful revolution requires solidarity and agreement.
A New Chapter in Cuba – Revolution
The Causes Primarily Cuba had a very brutal and oppressive dictatorship. Fulgencio Batista had been Cuba's leader for most of the time since coming to power in a military coup in 1933. He remained a dictator until 1940 when he officially became an elected president. The election was not a fair one, but Batista honored the notion of democracy when he was defeated in the 1944 election, and peacefully handed power over to his opponents. He had close ties to US businesses (and is suspected to have had close ties to organized crime, just like in Godfather Part 2). In 1951 he entered the race to become President again, but when an opinion poll showed him in last place he staged a second coup and seized power again. After the 1952 coup Batista faced massive public disapproval and civil disobedience, including a rebellion lead by Fidel Castro which was crushed. The US had many ties to Cuba, which legalized gambling in an attempt to woo American tourism. Prostitution also became very common. Cuba experienced massive widespread poverty because Batista placed all the country's resources into providing holidays for the rich Americans he did business with. He declared an election in 1954, but with himself as the only legal candidate the consequences were inevitable. Student protests and street riots followed and became rampant. Batista held power only with the aid of an army that many suspect was financed by America.
Sequence of Events
The revolution began in 1952, when former army Sergeant Fulgencio Batista seized power during a hotly contested election. Batista had been president from 1940-1944 and ran for president in 1952. When it became apparent that he would lose, he seized power before the elections, which were cancelled. Many people in Cuba were disgusted by his power grab, preferring Cuba’s democracy, as flawed as it was. One such person was rising political star Fidel Castro, who would likely have won a seat in Congress had the 1952 elections taken place. Castro immediately began plotting Batista’s downfall. On the morning of July 26, 1953, Castro made his move. For a revolution to succeed, he needed weapons, and he selected the isolated Moncada barracks as his target. 138 men attacked the compound at dawn: it was hoped that the element of surprise would make up for the rebels’ lack of numbers and arms. The attack was a fiasco almost from the start and the rebels were routed after a firefight that lasted a few hours. Many were captured. Nineteen federal soldiers were killed, and the remaining ones took out their anger on captured rebels and most of them were shot. Fidel and Raul Castro escaped, but were captured later. On the morning of July 26, 1953, Castro made his move. For a revolution to succeed, he needed weapons, and he selected the isolated Moncada barracks as his target. 138 men attacked the compound at dawn: it was hoped that the element of surprise would make up for the rebels’ lack of numbers and arms. The attack was a fiasco almost from the start and the rebels were routed after a firefight that lasted a few hours. Many were captured. Nineteen federal soldiers were killed, and the remaining ones took out their anger on captured rebels and most of them were shot. Fidel and Raul Castro escaped, but were captured later.
“History Will Absolve Me”
Castros and surviving rebels were put on public trial. Fidel, a trained lawyer, turned the tables on the Batista dictatorship by making the trial about the power grab. Basically, his argument was that as a loyal Cuban, he had taken up arms against the dictatorship because it was his civic duty. He made long speeches and the government belatedly tried to shut him up by claiming he was too ill to attend his own trial. His most famous quote from the trial was “History will absolve me.” He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, but had become a nationally recognized figure and a hero to many poor Cubans. Mexico and the Granma In May of 1955 the Batista government, bending to international pressure to reform, released many political prisoners, including those who had taken part in the Moncada assault. Fidel and Raul Castro went to Mexico to regroup and plan the next step in the revolution. There they met up with many disaffected Cuban exiles who joined the new “26th of July Movement,” named after the date of the Moncada assault. Among the new recruits were charismatic Cuban exile Camilo Cienfuegos and Argentine doctor Ernesto “Ché” Guevara. In November, 1956, 82 men crowded onto the tiny yacht Granma and set sail for Cuba and revolution. In the Highlands Batista’s men had learned of the returning rebels and ambushed them: Fidel and Raul made it into the wooded central highlands with only a handful of survivors from Mexico; Cienfuegos and Guevara were among them. In the impenetrable highlands the rebels regrouped, attracting new members, collecting weapons and staging guerrilla attacks on military targets. Try as he might, Batista could not root them out. The leaders of the revolution permitted foreign journalists to visit and interviews with them were published around the world.
The Movement Gains Strength
As the July 26th movement gained power in the mountains, other rebel groups took up the fight as well. In the cities, rebel groups loosely allied with Castro carried out hit-and-run attacks and nearly succeeded in assassinating Batista. Batista decided on a bold move: he sent a large portion of his army into the highlands in the summer of 1958 to try and flush out Castro once and for all. The move backfired: the nimble rebels carried out guerrilla attacks on the soldiers, many of whom switched sides or deserted. By the end of 1958 Castro was ready to deliver the knockout punch.
Castro Tightens the Noose
In late 1958 Castro divided his forces, sending Cienfuegos and Guevara into the plains with small armies: Castro followed them with the remaining rebels. The rebels captured towns and villages along the way, where they were greeted as liberators. Cienfuegos captured the small garrison at Yaguajay on December 30. Defying the odds, Guevara and 300 weary rebels defeated a much larger force at the city of Santa Clara on December 28-30, capturing valuable munitions in the process. Meanwhile, government officials were negotiating with Castro, trying to salvage the situation and halt the bloodshed.
Victory for the Revolution
Batista and his inner circle, seeing that Castro’s victory was inevitable, took what loot they could gather up and fled. Batista authorized some of his subordinates to deal with Castro and the rebels. The people of Cuba took to the streets, joyfully greeting the rebels. Cienfuegos and Guevara and their men entered Havana on January 2nd and disarmed the remaining military installations. Castro made his way into Havana slowly, pausing in every town, city and village along the way to give speeches to the cheering crowds, finally entering Havana on January 9.
Summery, Aftermath & Legacy
So briefly the Cuban Revolution was an insurgence led by Fidel Castro against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista from 1953 to 1959. Castro’s forces adapted the guerrilla strategies to circumvent the Batista’s military forces. The revolution altered the capitalist state of Cuba to a left-wing communist one. This was achieved through a series of skirmishes between Fidel Castro’s guerrilla forces and Batista’s army; with the revolutionaries coming out as the victors of the revolution and Castro emerging as the new Prime Minister of Cuba. In 1960, Castro’s decision to industrialize all foreign-owned property in Cuba vexed the bond between US and Cuba. The US rebutted to these reforms by imposing an economic embargo on the Cuban government in the same year. This served as a milestone in the crisis-laden Cuban history that was to follow and the bitterness that proliferated between the two nations. The social and economic devastation resulting from this embargo ended up causing disdain among the supporters of the once-inspirational Cuban revolution and, with it, of the idea of a Communist-Marxist state. Although the Cuban Revolution achieved unprecedented advancement in developing health care, infrastructure and education, and in battling against social inequality, however, its failure to sustain its inspiration is marked by the long-term economic crisis, human rights violation and the gradual restoration of capitalism.
One of the primal reasons for the failure of the revolution is the perpetual economic stagnation that Cuba has been undergoing to date. This started with the introduction of the agrarian reforms of 1959; which redistributed lands between peasants and confined landholdings per owner (Quirk, Robert, Fidel Castro, pg. 280). This had an adverse effect of alienating the middle-class landowners; an aftermath that was not anticipated by Fidel Castro. Then the industrialization of foreign-owned lands, in 1960, put the patience of US and the middle-class of Cuba to a test. Fidel’s indifference to consolidate the middle-class demands led to a massive 700,000 middle-class Cubans, with mostly doctors, engineers and other professionals, fleeing to Florida (Arnold 171). The US, thus, decreed a trade embargo on the Cuban government in 1960. This, combined with the mass exodus of thousands of middle-class Cubans to the US earlier, rendered the decline in the Cuban economy inevitable. “…the Cuban economy was dominated by American business interests, dependent on the USA for investment, tourists and a market for its main crop, sugar” (Arnold 171). The ravaging effect of the trade blockade and the large-scale immigration of middle-class Cubans can be seen as how eagerly Fidel Castro re-oriented Cuban economy towards the Soviet bloc. It also shows how heavily dependent was the Cuban trade on US and how crippled Cuban economy became after the blockade. “…the average rural worker earned only $91 a year” while the Americans “owned 75 per cent of the arable land and controlled 90 per cent of essential services and 40 per cent of sugar production” (Arnold 170). Therefore, Cuba formed close ties with USSR in the following years but it was only in 1980 that the Cuban economy was troubled after sugar prices went down. Now the Cuban economy relied mostly on petty commodity production, tourism, prostitution and informal economy; black market and grey market (Konrad 1). The economic regression deepened further by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 so this meant a 90 per cent drop in the trade and commerce of the state and an end to all the special favors for Cuba from the Soviet bloc, be it military or monetary (Mujal-Leon 151). The economic decay was accompanied by swelling social inequality contributed largely by the “de-penalization of the possession of dollars in 1993, re-opening of free peasant markets in 1994, and authorization of foreign investments in 1995” (Konrad 1). Thus, the revolution failed to propagate the egalitarian ideas it once stood for due to miscalculations in the fight against world market and US imperialism.
Although the foundations of the Cuban Revolution may have been laid down by the notions of social egalitarianism and leftism in the Cuban society, however, the prevalent abuse of human rights under the reign of Fidel Castro suggests quite the contrary. Cuba has, to date, maintained its status as a socialist State by suppressing the voices of the dissidents. This was ensured by the censorship of Media or by Fidel Castro’s extra-judicial influence on the state. Counter-revolutionaries were indicted of treason and any other seditious activities that endangered the existence of a socialist state in Cuba were silenced by the government. The freedom of Press, Radio, Television and Films was circumscribed so that they didn’t go beyond the goals of the socialist state. Also, there were regulations on the academic freedom which promoted communist training and Marxism (Impediments to Human Rights in Cuban Law (Part 3). In addition, there were restrictions inflicted on emigration, in 1961, in response to the mass exodus of the Cubans, mostly middle-class, to the US after the revolution. In 1980, “Cuban government lifted emigration restrictions and huge numbers of Cubans immediately fled the country and went to the USA or Peru to seek refuge” (Arnold 592). This example precisely illustrates the subjugation of the Cubans and renders them captives rather than citizens of a socialist-classless society. According to the UN Statistical Yearbook, in 1950s, the Cubans enjoyed a total of 58 daily newspapers; which shrunk to a total of 17 by 1994 which, too, remained under government control (Smith and Llorens 256). The Cuban Law, as a whole, is marked by unjust trials, arbitrary imprisonment and extrajudicial executions. Cuba’s failure to modify its laws to conform to the human rights and its unrelenting prosecution of peaceful activists subjects the role that Cuban law plays in its machinery of repression (Impediments to Human Rights in Cuban Law (Part 3). Therefore, the revolution which carried principles of Marti and Marxism as its rallying cry; and advocated against institutionalized violence and other forms of exploitations of the bourgeoisie, now seems to renege on its primary goals by oppressing the proletariat by constraining their freedom and human rights.
Socialism or Capitalism?
Cuba’s gradual capitalization due to an alarming degree of bureaucratization blemishes the exalted standing of the Cuban Revolution as a socialist; classless and egalitarian revolution. The transition to capitalization would mean that the revolution has succumbed to the neo-liberal ideology and therefore deceived its true ideology of classlessness and social ownership of means of production. This slow transformation also means a welcome to reformism that was not originally promoted by the revolution. The social and economic pressure in Cuba after the disintegration of USSR in 1989 gave way to radical reforms being introduced in the 1990’s. For example; the de-penalization of the possession of dollar in 1993, after its prohibition in the penal codes of 1979 and 1987, opened the gates for the state to adopt further privatization in the future. This was achieved by the government’s decision in “issuing permits to engage in limited self-employment, re-opening farmers’ markets” and in “authorizing joint ventures with foreign investors” (Konrad 1). Now the revolutionary government became analogous to the Batista’s regime in terms of social stratification; which was a possible consequence of these reforms. The authorization of these pragmatic reforms also meant a breach into the ideology of socialism and a gradually perishing socialist state that Fidel Castro assiduously clung onto. From one point of view, the restoration of market relations might have become extremely essential for the revolution to thrive economically. From another, the restoration also traded off equity from the society in return. So the revolution now lost its inspirational value which, at one time, had agitated all of the Latin America as well as some African socialist groups overseas to overthrow capitalism. According to Evo Morales, the former President of Bolivia, on an interview with Spiegel, Fidel Castro is the “grandfather of all Latin American revolutionaries” (Spiegel interview with Bolivia's Evo Morales, 2006). However, this sentiment attached to the Cuban revolution in the many leftists of today has, somewhat shrunk due to the failure of the revolution in creating a Socialist utopia in Cuba. Hence, the “growing social inequality, widespread corruption and the continuing repression of dissidents have, for the most part, killed off the remaining vestiges of the left’s romance with Cuba” (Brociner 1).
Despite the failings of the revolution, it did manage to achieve prodigious advancement into health care, education and infrastructure which was unheard of in Cuba before. During the Batista regime, there was only little development into health care and education within Cuba; which was stricken with poverty, food shortages and social inequality. Therefore, the Cuban people were in dire need of a change- a calling which can be assumed to be answered in form of the revolution. The revolution thus saw reforms that authorized free education and medical facilities to increase the standard of living for the Cubans. Medical facilities were nationalized and expanded on the whole island; universal children vaccination programs were organized which drastically decreased infant mortality rate of Cuba from 32 deaths per 1000 live births in 1957 to 10 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990-95 (Smith and Llorens 248). As a result, the average life expectancy has escalated to 78 years according to the World Health Organization, whereas it was just 58 years in 1959. Moreover, the revolutionary government adopted Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti’s slogan “To be educated is to be free”. Thus, in 1960, a literacy campaign was set up which recruited 300,000 young Cubans to volunteer to teach the peasants and rural workers to read and write (Rock around the Blockade, 24). Consequently, literacy rate rose from 76 per cent in 1957 to a second highest in Latin America with a 96 per cent in 1990-95 (Smith and Llorens 249). The Cuban medical and educational services were not just confined to the state but also to other socialist states that required them. In an interview from the SPIEGEL, Evo Morales said that Fidel “has donated seven eye clinics and 20 basic hospitals. Cuban doctors have already performed 30,000 free cataract operations for Bolivians. Five thousand Bolivians from poor backgrounds are studying medicine at no charge in Cuba”. Cuban doctors were also sent in support to the left-wing socialist groups in Vietnam, Bolivia and Algeria which rose against capitalism. Besides the apparent expansion in health care and education sectors, Cuban government also implemented social schemes to develop infrastructure of Cuba. Social projects initiated in 1960 also saw great improvement in the construction of infrastructure; 600 miles of road were built with 300 million US dollars were used up for water and sanitation arrangements (Bourne 275-276). Therefore, the failings and deficiencies of the revolution should not carry us away from “acknowledging the many real accomplishments that it has achieved – especially in the fields of health and education” (Brociner 1).
Apart from the unequivocal progress into health care, infrastructure and education in Cuba, the abolition of racism, gender-discrimination and other forms of social stratification are one of the first and foremost achievements of the Cuban Revolution. In an attempt to achieve these ends, the revolution was given the face of a socialist one; a revolution which propagated the ideas of impartiality, classlessness, egalitarianism and a Communist Party which ensured that these ideas were put into effect. However, the true ideology behind the revolution was purely nationalistic which happened to be parallel with the ideology of socialism in the case of Cuba.
Prior to the revolution, Cuba under the Batista’s capitalist regime was a victim of unfair division of wealth; with a majority of foreigners, Americans specifically, and a minority of wealthy local landowners, businessmen and merchants exploiting riches from the local poor. Fidel Castro took immediate measures to enforce equality; one of them being the Agrarian reforms of 1959. Now, the other way of looking at these Agrarian reforms, unlike mentioned above, can be how it destroyed the influence of the affluent landowners over Cuba’s agriculture and distributed the land equally between the poverty-stricken peasants (Quirk 280). The revolutionary government also ordained an increase in the wages of the local workers and a decrease in the housing rents as to compensate for the homelessness and poverty of the state (Quirk 234). Cuba’s stance against racism has always aroused great emotions overseas. Preceding the revolution, there was a significant per cent of Afro-Cuban population in Cuba which was down-trodden and targeted with discriminatory acts. Yet, with the advent of the revolution, racism was prohibited and discriminatory laws were vetoed. Not only did the revolution abolish racism inside Cuba but it also sent military support of 300,000 Cubans, from 1975 to 1988, to Angola in combatting the South African apartheid regime (Richards, 2008). By 2002, Women, who were widely engaged as domestic servants or prostitutes prior to the revolution, now constituted 62 per cent of college students and 65 per cent of the technical and professional workers in Cuba (Richards, 2008). So, to deprive the revolution of its hard-earned reputation in maintaining social equality will tantamount to holding a subjective judgment against the ideology of socialism.
The Cuban Revolution portrayed a whole new dimension of social ownership that the capitalist world has yet to discover, however, this picture of socialism was soon to falter when the revolution faced strong opposition. Its miraculously remarkable survival, to date, has expunged any illusions of the world about the capabilities of the Third World countries. The existence of an underdeveloped island which does not rely on capitalist mechanisms is a paradox itself. The trade blockade, frequent military attacks and assassination attempts at Fidel Castro by the US; to which the Cuban economy was dependent by 80 per cent before the revolution, further accrues to the phenomenal and inspirational value of the revolution. Perhaps the most important reason behind this continued existence is Cuba’s inclination towards promoting international solidarity, health care and education; in return receiving economic support from other Latin American countries that helped the revolution survive. In 1999, Hugo Chavez, former President of Venezuela, began to start providing an annual 3.5 billion dollars to Cuba especially since the revolution was undergoing its ‘Special Period’ of economic adversities and regression (Mujal-Leon 151). Then the perpetual allegations of US against the deprivation of human rights in Cuba raise questions; does the US blockade implemented on Cuba, which befits the definition of ‘genocidal’ under the Geneva Conventions and cost the island more than the equivalent of two Marshall Plans, not tantamount to repression of human rights? (Rock around the Blockade 36). However, the fact that there is human rights subjugation on the part of US does not make the repression of human rights in Cuba any less. Then the failure of the revolution to provide the population with better standard of living is marked by its extreme dependence on sugar. If only the economy is diversified, the unemployed will boost up the workforce and productivity along with the country’s output and standard of living (Smith and Llorens 256). In the long run, the struggle against imperialism has only been waning over the years; and the revolution has only been conforming to the capitalist mechanisms. So, one must not under-rate the failure of the revolution for not being able to deliver complete civil liberties and freedom to the Cubans; neither should it misjudge the failure of the revolution in abolishing social classes and in providing better standard of living to the population. Hence, the once-aspiring Cuban Revolution has met with a defeat by reneging on its true notions and no more remains the ‘beacon of hope’ for socialism due to its incessant yet fruitless struggle since its birth.
This brings us to the inherent question that whether the struggle for justified civil rights, greater degree of social freedom, transformation from capitalism to communism and a movement to embellish hope in the masses in Cuba a worthy and justified enough endeavor or was it just another wasted effort?
The answer that quenches this controversial question lies in the pages of history. History prevails as a great teacher and when we skim through it and observe the ages when man resorted to revolutionary approach to end the repressions conducted against him and stand up for what was rightfully his, we realize that struggle brought transformation, conviction granted freedom and that revolutionists were always deemed as paragons. ‘The last resort’ so they say was undertaken by men belonging to different eras and parts of the world under different circumstances yet the similarity lies in the fact that he was desperate and foolish enough to sacrifice everything to achieve freedom on every instance or was he?
When we analyze the Cuban Revolution from a utilitarian approach we can safely come to the conclusion that yes there was a set of setbacks and defects attached with the movement, however, the overall transformation brought about and the rekindling of hope in the public was a factor that outweighs all other and the negative impacts seems menial in its face. Also, something essential to take into account is the fact that a revolution although aimed to relieve the citizens of the suppression and tyranny of the rule, brings a complimentary product that being chaos. Most of the negative effects of a revolution are contributed to this chaos rampant in the country at the spur of the moment. By the principal that we follow we also encounter the question that was the revolution successful enough to provide a better socialistic environment in the country than the restricted one preceding it?
In terms of comparison done extensively above, the answer is clearly yes with the outlined reasons being quite obvious. There is an entity that man values more than particularly anything, strives for it and will go to any lengths to preserve it, that entity is freedom. When we realize that the Cuban revolution granted the Cubans the external freedom something that’s substantial for sustained survival and eventually grants a society the internal freedom, all the other factors become irrelevant and all the repercussions are overshadowed for a successful revolution is indeed which grants people the two forms of freedom; the external one, the freedom from an entity, in our case the dictatorship of Batista; the internal one, the freedom to do anything, be anywhere, be anyone and etc. And we have the making of a perfect ‘free man’!