Cuba`s Politics


While the isle of Cuba was initially discovered on October 27, 1492 during one
of Columbusí first voyages, it wasnít actually claimed by Spain until the
sixteenth century. However, itís tumultuous beginnings as a Spanish sugar
colony provides an insightful backdrop into the very essence of the countryís
political and economic unrest. From itís early revolutionary days to the
insurrectional challenge of the Marxist-Leninist theories emerged the
totalitarian regime under Fidel Castro in present day Cuba. Cuban colonial
society was distinguished by the characteristics of colonial societies in
general, namely a stratified, inegalitarian class system; a poorly
differentiated agricultural economy; a dominant political class made up of
colonial officers, the clergy, and the military; an exclusionary and elitist
education system controlled by the clergy; and a pervasive religious system.1

Cubaís agrarian monocultural character, economically dependant upon sugar
cultivation, production and export severely restricted its potential for growth
as a nation, thereby firmly implanting its newly sprouted roots firmly in the
trenches of poverty from the very beginning of the countryís existence. In

1868, Cuba entered in to The Ten Yearsí War against Spain in a struggle for
independence, but to no avail. Ten years of bitter and destructive conflict
ensued, but the goal of independence was not achieved. Political divisions among
patriot forces, personal quarrels among rebel military leaders, and the failure
of the rebels to gain the backing of the United States, coupled with stiff
resistance from Spain and the Cubansí inability to carry the war in earnest to
the western provinces, produced a military stalemate in the final stages.2 The
war had a devastating effect on an already weak economic and political
infrastructure. The defeat, however, did not hinder the resolution of the Cuban
proletariat for an independent nation. In the words of one author, The Cubansí
ability to wage a costly, protracted struggle against Spain demonstrated that
proindependence sentiment was strong and could be manifested militarily. On the
other hand, before any effort to terminate Spanish control could succeed,
differences over slavery, political organization, leadership, and military
strategy had to be resolved. In short, the very inconclusiveness of the war left
a feeling that the Cubans could and would resume their struggle until their
legitimate political objectives of independence and sovereignty were attained.3

The years following the Ten Yearsí War were harsh and austere. The
countryside, ravaged and desolate, bankrupted Spanish sugar interests in Cuba,
virtually destroying the industry. The Spanish owners sold out to North American
interests, a process accelerated by the final abolition of slavery in Cuba in

1886.4 The end of slavery, naturally, meant the end of free labor. The sugar
growers, therefore, began to import machinery from the United States.

Essentially, Cuba deferred its economic dependence from Spain directly to the

U.S. What became known as the American Sugar Refining Company supplied from
seventy to ninety percent of all sugar consumed by the United States, thus
mandating the direction of the Cuban agricultural industry and thereby
controlling its economy. Moreover, the United Statesí interventionism in the

Cuban-Spanish war in 1898, motivated primarily by interests in the Cuban market,
led the surrender of the Spanish army directly to the United States, not Cuba.

This war later became known as the Spanish-American War. The leader and
organizer of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, Jose Martiís, goal of true
independence was buried without honor in 1898.5 In the years from 1902 to 1959,
following the institution of the Platt Amendment, which was an amendment to the

Cuban constitution, that stated that the United States had the right to
intervene in Cuba at any time, a period which came to be termed the "Pseudo

Republic" ensued. In the words of General Wood: Of course, Cuba has been left
with little or no independence by the Platt Amendment...The Cuban Government
cannot enter into certain treaties without our consent, nor secure loans above
certain limits, and it must maintain the sanitary conditions that have been
indicated. With the control that we have over Cuba, a control which, without
doubt, will soon turn her into our possession, soon we will practically control
the sugar market in the world. I believe that it is a very desirable acquisition
for the United States. The island will gradually be "Americanized," and in
the due course we will have one of the most rich and desirable possessions
existing in the entire world...6 The Great Depression however, had a immense
impact on United Statesí holdings of the Cuban sugar industry. In the summer
and fall of 1920 when the price of sugar fell from twenty-two cents a pound to
three cents a pound, Cubans were left poverty stricken and starving, as their
sugar market was totally dependent upon the United States. Additionally, America
began to disengage itself from the strangling hold it had over the Cuban economy
by vastly diminishing the amount of its imports from forty percent in previous
years to eighteen percent. In the wake of this massive monetary pull-out, a
vacuum formed in which a basically leaderless Cuba (its current leader,

President Machado, had lost the ability to govern after his promise of"tranquility of the government and the country" had not been delivered)
became ripe for radical student uprisings and the introduction of Marxist ideas.

Thus was formed the Cuban Communist Party, led by Julio Mella and Carlos Balino,
the former an eighteen year old university basketball player and the latter, a
veteran socialist and comrade of Jose Marti. In 1933, President Roosevelt sent

Cuban ambassador, Sumner Wells, to Havana in an attempt to stop the "political
whirlpool in which an estimated $1,500,000,000 in U.S. investments was likely to
drown".7 Welles proposed the appointment of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, former

Cuban ambassador to Washington, as president. Shortly thereafter, leaders of a
radical student organization "transformed their rebellion into a revolt",
and informed President Cespedes that he had been deposed. Cespedes abandoned the
presidential palace as inconspicuously as he had arrived.8 From 1930 to 1935,

Antonio Guiteras led the island on a "revolutionary path" and formed a
government that was "for the people, but not by the people or of the
people"9, which the U.S. refused to recognize. In 1935 Guiteras was
assassinated by Fulgencio Batista who proceeded to run Cuban affairs for the
next decade. It was a government that the United States recognized as the"only legitimate authority on the island".10 Then in 1944, Batista, the

"American darling", lost the presidential election to Grau San Martin, who
had recently returned from exile. The Grau presidency has been described as
such: The Autentico administrations of Grau (1944-1948) and Prio (1948-52) had
failed to curb the political corruption and the associated gangster violence;
more importantly they had failed to satisfy popular aspirations for independence
and social progress. here were still disruptive protests against U.S. control
and exploitation of the Cuban economy; and when Prio agreed to send Cuban troops
to support the U.S. invasion of Korea in 1950, the offer was backed by a
successful campaign around the slogan, ĎNo cannon fodder for Yankee
imperialistsí. The general political instability, the growing unpopularity of
the Autenticos, the rampant corruption and violence - all were again setting the
scene for political upheaval.11 On January 1, 1959 unable to withstand the
burden of both a politically and economically failing nation, and under pressure
from the Cuban Communist Party led by Fidel Castro and his Marxist-Leninist
revolutionary followers, Batista fled Cuba. Paradoxically, the breakdown of the
authoritarian regime in Cuba illustrates the fragility of presumably reliable
clientelistic arrangements, insofar as these cannot substitute for strong
central authority.12 Foreign investment in the economy was substantial once
again in the late 1950s, with U.S. capital dominant in the agricultural
sectors.13 Having gained a substantial amount of support from the Cuban people,

Fidel Castro was quick to move into power as the countryís most prominent
leader. Shortly thereafter, Castro allied his nation with the Soviet Union and
denounced the United States as an imperialistic and capitalist aggression. In
essence, the U.S.S.R. became Cubaís new "lifeline". Naturally, the Cuban
relationship with the Soviet Union made for inevitable tensions with its
neighbor.14 The United Statesí belief that the "Cuban leader had allowed his
country to become a Soviet satellite, and that Castroís regime might produce a
spate of revolutions throughout Latin America"15 led directly to the Bay of

Pigs invasion of 1961, a failed attempt to overthrow Castro. The Bay of Pigs
invasion combined with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 sufficiently set the
stage for the present day political tensions between the United States and Cuba.

Due to the isolationist mood in the United States in the years following the
failed Cuban Missile Crisis and then the Vietnam War, Fidel Castro was free to
rise to power and create the communist island he so desperately endeavored to
achieve. Without the U.S. to interfere, Castro could be likened to a "kid in a
candy store". Because Cuba had historically always been in political turmoil,
it was not difficult for Castro, for all his charm and charisma, to win the
popular vote of the people. Traditionally, in a nation as oppressed as Cuba had
been, citizens tend to fall easy prey to totalitarian or authoritarian rule due
to their need to be led by a government, any government, that may possibly
facilitate any kind of economic growth. The end of the Cold War, however, left

Cuba isolated when it lost its Soviet Patron.16 It has been argued that there
are two schools of thought on how to deal with Castro in the post Cold War era:

One school, championed primarily by the exiled Cuban community and Senate

Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms, wanted a full court press to bring

Castro down. They assumed further economic deprivation would push the Cuban
people to rise up and rid themselves of the Castro dictatorship at last. The

United States, with new laws penalizing countries, corporations, or persons
doing business with Cuba, would compel the international community to join in
the strangulation. This strategy received no international support. The second
school wanted to coax Cuba out of its shell without trying to overthrow Castro.

For all his brutality and repression, Castro provided education, jobs, health
care, and equality for Cubanís large lower class, many of whom are of African
descent. They appreciated it then, and some still support Castro now. With the
sudden end of Soviet subsidies (estimated at $5 billion a year), Cuban living
conditions went from bad to worse. From 1990 to 1993, Cubaís GDP declined by
forty percent. Many Cubans went hungry. Castro, reading the desperate mood of
the masses, discovered his approaching obsolescence and gave indications that he
might reform. The Cuban people, yearning for reform, began to hope for a new
day.17 It is evident that the political disposition of the country, as in most
countries, has been influenced by its economic status which, for Cuba, dates
back to the sixteenth century. Cubaís plight as a third world nation is
directly akin to its historical inability to break away from its dependence on a
single export economy. This fact, confounded by that of other, larger nations
serving only their own national interests by encouraging this type of economy,
has held Cuba in chains of indigence for decades. Cuba does, however, despite
its low domestic living standards, have extensive overseas commitments. The
question has been raised then, as to why Cuba, with such a limited domestic
resource base, would expand its overseas civilian and military commitments.18 A
particularly viable explanation could be viewed as the following: The Cuban
government asserts that it aids other Third World countries because it is
committed to internationalist solidarity. While official views may conceal
underlying motives, if the island primarily supports overseas activities for
moral and ideological reasons, Cuban should receive no regular quid pro for its
assistance, and it should limit its aid to ideologically sympathetic countries.

If Cuba gains materially from its involvement, the benefits should be minor and
they should have been unanticipated at the time the aid was extended. The island
should risk receiving no economic pay-offs... The Castro regime has a long
history of assisting revolutionary and national liberation movements, and the
governments to which they have given rise, possibly because its own social
transformation depended on the assistance of other socialist countries. yet its
identity with progressive, anti-imperialist states has not been contingent on
the adoption of a Marxist-Leninist model or membership in the socialist camp.19

Why would Castro go to all the trouble then, when his own people were starving
in the streets? Perhaps it was simply due to the fact that Third World countries
viewed Cuba as helpful and influential and that overseas activities have
enhanced the islandís stature in the less developed world. Seemingly, this
theory would lend support to the hackneyed images of "strength in numbers"
or the "big fish in a little pond" cliches. This is, of course, theory
however, and not fact. Despite these and many other questions which could be
asked of Castroís governing style, there are, in fact, many positive
transformations that the socialist leader has brought about for his country.

Though unlike most other socialist countries, Cuba has been noted for its
far-reaching social and economic equality that has resulted from the Cuban

Revolution. Additionally, Cuba, by no means a wealthy nation, has achieved a
certain amount of significant success in the areas of education, health care and
its economy in comparison to the Cuba of years past. However, even a very
favorable interpretation of these structures would have to point out their
limitations (and one should not ignore the significance of their formal
similarity to Soviet structures). Organized opposition is not allowed....the

Cuban government would not tolerate efforts to establish an independent union
movement, and there is no question of compromise on the political hegemony of
the Cuban Communist Party.20 Presently, tensions between Cuba and the United

States, however, are still high as the U.S. continues to maintain its policy of
diplomatic and economic isolation. It has been noted that: ....years after the
breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Cuba continues to
command the attention of U.S. policymakers. Although Russia and the former
eastern bloc countries have undergone widespread democratic and free-market
economic reform, Cuba remains one of the only communist dictatorships in the
world. Removing Castro from power and implementing reform in Cuba are top U.S.
foreign policy priorities, but lawmakers disagree on the best course of action.

While some argue that the U.S. trade embargo has proved ineffective and
inhumane, others respond that the United States should continue to apply
pressure on Castro until he is toppled from power. As the lawmakers debate, the
misery in Cuba is worsening, and some countries are now beginning to blame U.S.
policy. Time will tell whether the United States continues its present course or
revises a policy that is increasingly unpopular with even its most loyal
allies.21 Every now and again Castro allows a thaw in relations, but when the

United States gets overly friendly he arranges a provocation, such as the
drowning of two small planes piloted by Cuban exiles in 1996, which led to the
passage by the United States congress of the Helms-Burton Act a month later.22

Presently, Cuba is in the process of developing an advanced telecommunications
system with the help of communist ally China. Cuba was visited recently by

Chinese delegate Wu Jichuan and Fidel Castro claims that relations between Cuba
and China have never been better. Additionally, Cuba is seeking to end the

40-year United States trade embargo against the island. Should this occur, it
would greatly enhance the countryís currently sagging economy. There is
increasing pressure from United States business and agricultural communities to
begin brisk trade with Cuba and take advantage of a new and potentially highly
profitable market.23 If Cuba is successful at expanding its monocultural economy
the country should experience remarkably auspicious results in the event of a
lifting of the U.S. embargo. More importantly, Castro would no longer have an
excuse for the deficiencies in the Cuban economy. Additionally, housing for

Cubans, which is guaranteed in the constitution, or the recent lack thereof, has
reached epidemic proportions in Havana, the islandís capital. Reportedly, the
government admits the country does not have nearly enough building materials or
manpower to give everyone the home they have been promised.24 For a socialist
society dedicated to taking care of its people, the country seems to have fallen
short in this arena, as well. Another recent political Cuban event overshadowing
most other important Cuban political events, if only due to the extensive media
coverage than the actual quality of newsworthy content, is the "tragicomedy"
of the custody battle of near Cuban defector, Elian Gonzalez. In what should
have been nothing more than an international custody battle over the six year
old Cuban child, an all out political battle between the United States and Cuba
ensued. In my opinion, the incident had been seemingly spawned mainly from
harbored resentment by Cuban-Americans over the failed Bay of Pigs event, in
addition to their hatred of the authoritarian leader. Again, they fought and
lost to Castro. This time, however, Fidel Castro was legitimate in his reproach
and used the situation to portray the United States in an extremely unfavorable
light. He succeeded, as the rest of the world looked on wondering what all the
hype was about. What is extraordinary about Fidel Castro, however, is that he is
still here at all. More than 40 years after coming to power, he survives. He
survives in the face of the unremitting hostility of a superpower only 90 miles
away. He survives in spite of the fact that his main patron, the Soviet Union,
has disappeared, his ideology, Marxist-Leninism, is discredited, and his economy
is less than perfect. Despite the fact that an inordinate number of common
citizens prefer to chance death at sea rather than remain in his nation, Fidel
survives.25

Bibliography

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