The Rise of Fidel Castro

Fidel's rise to power greatly attributed to his massive popularity with the Cuban people. The people's oppression and the injustice he set out to abolish appealed to many people, and from this idea of social justice, he was able to gain tremendous support from many people.

Fidel's revolution would not have been achieved without his charisma, but it would be incorrect (or not) to say that the developments of Cuba are due to one man, but rather due to coincidence/circumstance "not of his choosing". Castro's rise to power on January 1st, 1959 followed decades of political struggles and violence. Cubans that rebelled were mostly discontent from economic insecurity. ²

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro first demonstrated his political ability and activism at the Havana Law school.
Activism, gang fights and other violence were common at the University. Castro suspended his education in 1947-1948 to pursue his concerns of politics of other Latin American countries, such as in Columbia where he joined in riots due to the assassination of liberal party leader Jorge E. Gaitan. Castro along with others passed out anti-American literature inciting the people to revolt.

After seeking asylum in the Cuban embassy, Castro returned to school. He graduated in 1950 and began practicing law. Castro joined as member
of the social-democratic Ortodoxo party (non-Marxist) in the late 1940s and early 1950s .In 1952 Castro ran for a seat to replace Ortodoxo party member Eduardo Chibas, however the elections were never held, because general Fulgencio Batista staged a military coup and took control of the government on March 10th. Castro became an early and vocal opponent of Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship,¹ he even petitioned Cuba's supreme court to declare Batista's government unconstitutional, but failed.² On July 26, 1953, Castro led a failed attack on the Moncada army barracks that brought him national prominence. At the time, his political ideas were nationalistic, anti-imperialist, and reformist, but he was not a member of the communist party. Following the attack, Castro was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was amnestied in 1955.

During the trial Castro gave his famous History Will Absolve Me speech.¹ At the trial Castro used the law to legitimize his rebellion by arguing that Batista's government was dictatorial, not using constitutional power². He was exiled to Mexico, where he founded the 26th of July Movement, he vowed that he will return to Cuba to fight Batista. In December 1956, he and 81 others, including Ché Guevara, returned to Cuba, in the boat Granma which he later used as a name for his official newspaper,² and made their way to the Sierra Maestra, from which they launched a successful guerrilla war against Batista. Castro proved to be a strong leader; and demonstrated shrewd political skill as he was convinced he had a historic duty to change Cuban society. Seeing his army collapse, and unable to gain support from the United States, Batista fled on Jan. 1, 1959. Castro's revolutionary regime, initially, included moderate politicians and democrats, but gradually it's policies became radical and confrontational.

Tension grew between the U.S. and Cuba when the American government criticized Castro's regime for purging the government of those loyal to Bautista, through trials and executions. The situation became worsen, when Castro nationalized American holdings in Cuba and enacted an agarian reform act which transferred land and other wealth "illegally" acquired during Bautista's regime, back to the Cuban farmers. The implications of this Act were great. The U.S government viewed it as a communist action (Cold War), and under pressure from the fruit companies and others who were effected economically, cut off relations with Cuba. Left with little options, Castro eventually turned to the only other plausible ally, the Soviet Union, which lead to Cuba becoming part of the Cold War.¹

Political Events 1959 ¹
Back from the Future: By Susan Eckstein ²

Rule Under Fidel Castro

In 1965 Castro established the Communist part as the sole party in Cuba, along with a "vanguard" to act as guiding function. He used Communist ideas from Marx, hopping to create a utopia Cuba and he followed Lenin's "vanguard party" to guide in the transition. Castro's vision was also influenced by Ché Guevara. The transition to communism resulted in the elimination of private ownership except for traces in the agriculture sector. The state nationalized land that was given to the workers. Some private farmers were pushed (not forced mind you) to give there land to the state. The concept of private ownership for left over private farmer changed by the farmer must help on state farms, sell their produce for a low price to the state, cooperate with state plans and not hire any labor. To equalize earnings the government eliminated most of the private sector and increased wages for the poor. Rather then being paid overtime or rewarded for exceptional behavior, individuals and groups were given non material rewards (diplomas, flags, titles) for serving the state, which they do it based on moral obligation. To further act as incentive the government gave out free social services (State housing, education, medical care, social security, day care) with great levels of equal distribution based on need. Money in this system had lost it original meaning. The government attacked any social distinction (classes) and privileges based on said distinctions.

By 1940 Castro got 40-57% of the total labor force to work part time in the agriculture sector, especially in sugar-related sectors. The transition also campaigned against bureaucracy. Membership into the vanguard groups were restricted to private farmers and workers (based on which group for ex. The Vanguard Workers Movement) who conformed with sate set norms. Also to become a member one must have overfulfiled daily production quotas, meet all standards of quality, contribute to cost reduction, volunteer, work in the militia, good behavior and have a positive attitude towards skill improvement and political involvement. Although workers had guaranteed employment and social benefits, they were not allowed to strike and organize independently from the state. Castro and the state also appoints top union leaders. Due to centralization of labor groups, these groups lost their bargaining ability they once enjoyed prior to the revolution. Labor groups pretty much became a system where the government can control the workers. Labor councils that formed were made up of members who conformed to government set norms and these councils did not have much power especially in terms of wage determination and planning. The government also introduced a identity card "labor file" system that regulated and kept track of the behavior of the Cuban workers.

During Castro's rule wages for everyone except for the poorest declined, by doing this the government can put money into investments, which was another priority at the time. These policies were made justified through the governments "moral crusade" which without it would result in the government to become quite unpopular. Another reason for these incentives was to quell counterrevolutionary CIA armed guerrilla forces, among with this Castro believed that by nationalizing small businesses he would be able to eliminate opposition to the revolution. Due to the revolutionary reforms sugar production has soured contributing to the Cuban economy, but at the expense of other agriculture and industrial sectors also on a per capita base the economy went down. The economy went into turmoil and as a result long term planning, an aspect of socialism, was suspended. Things became even worse when the Soviet Union scaled back on its assistance due to it's opposition to Castro's domestic "push for communism" and his "export revolution" (spreading radical revolution to other countries) because the Soviet Union, at the time, advocated "peaceful coexistence". Agreements between Havana and the Soviet Union declined, also the Soviet Union reduced oil shipments to Cuba. Further problems also arise when global prices on sugar dropped, since the Soviet Union, by agreement, only buy 36-56% of Cuba's sugar exports between 1966 and 1970, Havana hopped that the world market would buy the rest when it hit its 10 million tone sugar target. Unfortunately the hope that the increased sugar yield will result in increase revenue has not occurred due to low global cost of sugar (2cents/pound). Cuba has actually contributed to their problem by expanding the world's sugar supply which decreases the global price for sugar. (incompleat, personal note: con't from page 40)

Goals of Castro's Foreign Policy
- Unite Latin America under the ideals of socialism - social justice
- Lend out support to those nations expanding to the idea of socialism and social justice, outside of Latin America (Angola, Ethiopia)
- Avoid tension / U.S. aggression

Goals of Castro's Domestic Policy
- Socialist Reforms: education, health services, etc.
"To further act as incentive the government gave out free social services:
(State housing, education, medical care, social security, day care)
with great levels of equal distribution based on need"
Back from the Future: By Susan Eckstein