Cuba Essay, Research Paper
The Batista Regime
In March 1952 former president Batista, supported by the army, seized power. Batista suspended the constitution, dissolved the congress, and instituted a provisional government, promising elections the following year. After crushing an uprising in Oriente Province led by a young lawyer named Fidel Castro on July 26, 1953, the regime seemed secure, and when the political situation had been calmed, the Batista government announced that elections would be held in the fall of 1954. Batista s opponent, Grau San Mart n, withdrew from the campaign just before the election, charging that his supporters had been terrorized. Batista was thus reelected without opposition, and on his inauguration February 24, 1955, he restored constitutional rule and granted amnesty to political prisoners, including Castro. The latter chose exile in the United States and later in Mexico.
In the mid-1950s the Batista government instituted an economic development program that, together with a stabilization of the world sugar price, improved the economic and political outlook in Cuba. On December 2, 1956, however, Castro, with some 80 insurgents, invaded. The force was crushed by the army, but Castro escaped into the mountains, where he organized the 26th of July Movement, so called to commemorate the 1953 uprising. For the next year Castro s forces, using guerrilla tactics, opposed the Batista government and won considerable popular support. On March 17, 1958, Castro called for a general revolt. His forces made steady gains through the remainder of the year, and on January 1, 1959, Batista resigned and fled the country. A provisional government was established. Castro, although he initially renounced office, became premier in mid-February. In the early weeks of the regime military tribunals tried many former Batista associates, and some 550 were executed.
Cuba Under Castro
The Castro regime soon exhibited a leftist tendency that caused concern among U.S. companies on the island. The agrarian reform laws promulgated in its first years mainly affected U.S. sugar interests; the operation of plantations by companies controlled by non-Cuban stockholders was prohibited, and the Castro regime initially de-emphasized sugar production in favor of food crops.
Break with the United States
When the Castro government expropriated an estimated $1 billion in U.S.-owned properties in 1960, Washington responded by imposing a trade embargo. A complete break in diplomatic relations occurred in January 1961, and on April 17 of that year U.S.-supported and -trained anti-Castro exiles landed an invasion force in the Bah a de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) in southern Cuba. Ninety of the invaders were killed, and some 1200 were captured (see Bay of Pigs Invasion). The captives were ransomed, with the tacit aid of the U.S. government, in 1962, at a cost of about $53 million in food and medicines.
American-Cuban relations grew still more perilous in the fall of 1962, when the United States discovered Soviet-supplied missile installations in Cuba. U.S. President John F. Kennedy then announced a naval blockade of the island to prevent further Soviet shipments of arms from reaching it. After several days of negotiations during which nuclear war was feared by many to be a possibility, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed, on October 28, to dismantle and remove the weapons, and this was subsequently accomplished. For the rest of the 1960s U.S.-Cuban relations remained hostile, although, through the cooperation of the Swiss embassy in Cuba, the U.S. and Cuban governments in 1965 agreed to permit Cuban nationals who desired to leave the island to emigrate to the United States. More than 260,000 people left before the airlift was officially terminated in April 1973.
Despite several efforts by Cuba in the United Nations to oust the United States from its naval base at Guant namo Bay, leased in 1903, the base continues to be garrisoned by U.S. Marines.
Period of Isolation
Many of Castro s policies alienated Cuba from the rest of Latin America. The country was expelled from the OAS in 1962, and through most of the 1960s it was persistently accused of attempting to foment rebellions in Venezuela, Guatemala, and Bolivia. In fact, Che Guevara, a key Castro aide, was captured and summarily executed while leading a guerrilla group in Bolivia in 1967. Meanwhile, Cuba continued to depend heavily on economic aid from the Soviet Union and Soviet-bloc countries. In 1972 it signed several pacts with the USSR covering financial aid, trade, and deferment of Cuban debt payments, and also became a member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON).
The first congress of the Cuban Communist Party was held in late 1975. The following year a new national constitution was adopted. Among other provisions, it increased the number of provinces from 6 to 14 and created an indirectly elected National Assembly. The assembly held its first session in December 1976 and chose Castro as head of state and of government.
In the mid-1970s Cuba emerged from diplomatic isolation. At a meeting in San Jos , Costa Rica, in July 1975, the OAS passed a freedom of action resolution that in effect lifted the trade embargo and other sanctions imposed by the organization against Cuba in 1964. Relations with the United States also began to improve; U.S. travel restrictions were lifted, and in September 1977 the two nations opened offices in each other s capitals. The United States, however, warned Cuba that relations could not be normalized until U.S. claims for nationalized property had been settled and Cuba reduced or terminated its activities in Africa.
Cuban presence in Africa had begun inconspicuously in the mid-1960s, when Castro provided personal guards to such figures as President Alphonse Massamba-D bat of the Republic of the Congo. It was not until 1975, however, that Cuban combat forces were actively engaged on the continent, fighting for the Marxist faction in Angola s civil war. Cuban troops later shored up the Marxist regime in Ethiopia, providing the winning edge in its war with Somalia over the Ogaden region. By 1980 Cuban activities had expanded into the Middle East (Southern Yemen). In both regions the Cuban presence was generally seen by the West as the spearhead of a growing Soviet thrust. In return, the Cuban economy continued to be supplemented by some $3 million in daily Soviet aid. Despite its relationship with the USSR, Cuba in 1979 played host to a meeting of the so-called nonaligned nations, at which Castro was chosen the group s leader for the following three years.
In 1980, when Castro temporarily lifted exit restrictions, some 125,000 refugees fled to the United States before the outflow was again halted. The U.S. government accused Cuba of aiding leftist rebels in El Salvador; another sore point in U.S.-Cuban relations was the aid given by Cuban advisers to the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Several hundred Cuban construction workers and military personnel were forced to leave Grenada as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of that island in October 1983. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Havana in April 1989, when the USSR and Cuba signed a 25-year friendship treaty, but Castro explicitly rejected the applicability of Soviet-style political and economic reforms to his country. In July four army officers were executed and ten others sentenced to prison for smuggling and drug trafficking, in the worst scandal since Castro came to power.
With the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s, Soviet-bloc aid and trade subsidies to Cuba were ended, and Soviet military forces were gradually withdrawn. After the United States tightened its sanctions against trade with Cuba, the UN General Assembly in November 1992 approved a resolution calling for an end to the U.S. embargo. By 1993 all of the Soviet troops sent to Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis had been withdrawn. Cuba s sugarcane production dropped to a 30-year low in 1993 and worsened in 1994, precipitating an economic emergency. As the effects of this poor yield filtered down through the population, greater numbers of Cubans attempted to flee the country for economic reasons. One such group hijacked a ferry and attempted to escape, only to be challenged and sunk by the Cuban Coast Guard. The sinking sparked violent antigovernment demonstrations, to which Castro responded by removing exit restrictions from those who wished to leave for the United States. Already facing an influx of refugees from Haiti, the United States countered by ending automatic asylum to fleeing Cubans because the United States considered that they were fleeing economic rather than political conditions. More than 30,000 people were picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base or to refugee camps in Panama. The crisis came to an end when the United States agreed to issue 20,000 entry visas each year to Cubans wishing to enter the country.
In February 1996 Cuban authorities arrested or detained at least 150 dissidents, marking the most widespread crackdown on opposition groups in the country since the early 1960s. Many were members of the Concilio Cubano, a fledgling coalition of more than 100 organizations dedicated to political reform.
Later that month, Cuban jet fighters shot down two civilian planes that Cuba claimed had violated Cuban airspace. The planes belonged to Brothers to the Rescue, a U.S.-based group headed by Cuban exiles dedicated to helping Cuban refugees. The group used small planes to spot refugees fleeing the island nation and then reported their positions to the U.S. Coast Guard. The United States condemned the shootings as a flagrant violation of international law; the United Nations also criticized the downing of the planes. Cuba said that planes from the same group had previously flown into Cuban airspace and dropped antigovernment leaflets, but Cuba s repeated diplomatic complaints to the United States about the incidents had gone unheeded. Castro said he did not directly order the shootings, but acknowledged that in the weeks prior to the incident he had given the Cuban Air Force the authorization to shoot down civilian planes violating Cuba s airspace.
As a result of this incident, U.S. President Bill Clinton abandoned his previous resistance to stricter sanctions against Cuba and in March 1996 signed into law the Helms-Burton Act. The legislation aimed to tighten the U.S. embargo by making it more difficult for foreign investors and businesses to operate in Cuba. It made permanent the economic embargo, which previously had to be renewed each year, and threatened foreign companies with lawsuits if they were deemed to be deriving benefit from property worth more than $50,000 that had been confiscated from U.S. citizens during the Cuban revolution. Canada, Mexico, and the European Union complained about the U.S. law, claiming that the United States was trying to export its laws and principles to other countries.
Later that month, the Central Committee of Cuba s Communist Party held a rare full session and endorsed a harder stance against dissidents, as well as against Cuban businesses that had been allowed to engage in free-market joint ventures with foreign companies. The committee had met only five times since Communists took over the Cuban government in 1959. Cuban officials said that dissidents, self-employed workers, and Cuban intellectuals were being manipulated by Cuba s foreign enemies to undermine the authority of the Communist Party. Castro vowed to step up the government s efforts to silence opposition groups and enforce compliance with the party s economic and ideological beliefs.
In March 1997 the Cuban government allowed CNN, or Cable News Network, to open an office in Havana, making it the first American news bureau to operate in Cuba since 1969. Since that year, both Cuban and U.S. laws have barred American news organizations from maintaining offices in Cuba. However, in 1997 U.S. officials granted ten organizations licenses to set up operations there. Of the ten, CNN received Cuban permission as well.