Michael, this is a fantastic article! A couple of statements are arguable, but overall it's extremely perceptive. I would love to send you a copy of my book, "Cúab: A Frame of Mind" (misspelling intentional). It should give you additional insight. Tell me where to send it. Again, ¡Gracias!
"Leftists often talk about “food deserts” in Western cities, where the poor supposedly lack options to buy affordable and nutritious food. If they want to see a real food desert, they should come to Havana."
A couple of things:
1. When you say: "Leftists," in the same sentence as complaining about leftists complaining about lack of nutritional food options in the USA, in an article about Communist Cuba, you are obviously comparing American "leftists" to "communists." Don;t do that. Stop watching Fox News. It isn't the same. At all.
2. You are using the fallacy of relative privation. Just because the main population of Cuba has it really, really bad....does not mean that American poor do not have it bad. A gallon of milk down at the corner store costs over $4/gallon in poor neighborhoods. In middle-class and rich neighborhoods, that same gallon of milk goes for about $3/gallon. Poor Americans cannot afford milk, without the assistance of welfare programs.
@daveinboca: Insulting somebody is the only thing you and all of the other supporters of Dubya can do? It must hurt your head (and the heads of most of the other Tea Party drones here at this site) to be so tied to right-wing Cold War dogma to not want the Obama administration to open relations with Cuba unless Cuba can meet certain 'demands'.
I guess your so-called 'Christian' values don't involve being good to people, just bad. But, that's par for the course with neocon drones like you still stuck in the Cold War past as much as Castro is (and no, I don't like him or his brother-I want both of them deposed, and Cuba to be given freedom to be what it wants to be.) You have to start somewhere, and Obama's opened the door; why not see where it might lead first before ASSuming bad things?
Thank you for your blow by blow account of what Havana is like. I knew when President Obama opened diplomatic relations it would be a one-way advantage for Cuba. I said to myself there is nothing that we need from Cuba. Based on your account how people are paid a monthly maximum wage the tourist industry will not pay employees the minimum wage. Workers will live off tips and other gratuities as just compensation since it will exceed the monthly maximum salary and they will be as happy as a lark singing in the tree. The only thing U.S dollars and tourists will bring to Cuba will be the seeds for a Democracy movement like the students staged in Hong Kong. Once Cubans see how average Americans live they will want the same. One you let the Genie out of the bottle it will be very difficult to put him back.
Hard to read this. Shame on the Sean Penns and Beyonces.
I watched a South Korean documentary on Cuba, and everywhere the camera crews went people were smiling and singing and dancing to that constant annoying music, like they were living in some TV commercial. It sure looked like a Potemkin village to me. Even if the happiness is real, I'd hate to live there -- I much prefer the U.S. with its honest misanthropic gloom.
Now we will send them billons of dollars to buy their friend ship
What about the prisoners Castro bled after the failed CIA Bay of Pigs? He killed all the captives by putting them on a gurneys, with needles in their arms, to bleed to death, with the blood going to North Viet Nam. And, he sent pictures of this scene to the press.
I took a chance on visiting Havana several years ago and decided to stay with a Cuban family rather than at a hotel. My reason to visit was to photograph a beautiful but decaying city and to experience Cuban life. When I arrived there I was rather naive in regards to the way that the average Cuban existed. This article is very accurate to what I experienced.
It will be many many years before Cuba turns around economically. The country's infrastructure has been virtually destroyed by lack of maintenance and companies who for years sold or traded their goods to the former USSR at inflated rates, are totally incapable of competing in a competative world market.
In short Cuba is an economic basket case and is in need of massive amounts of investment.
I was in Havana the day Castro took the city. The scruffy unshaven rebels were fresh from the jungle, looking grim, and and carring big serious guns. They were everywhere. I knew then what was to come.
To give you a better idea and to show that there is also for tourists an equal opportunity in poverty. I was flying out of Havana airport and had to go to the washroom whilst in the departure lounge. Inside the men's washroom was the usual female attendant, had a little table with a dish for tips and a single roll of toilet paper. When I headed for the cubicle she asked if I needed TP, of course I said and she tore off a single sheet from the roll.
Well, we'll see if the embargo being lifted makes a difference. I'm skeptical. The same Communists will be in charge. $20.00 a month? If things improve financially and they need new hotels, etc., there will be work for the Cubans, but they will still only make $20.00 a month. I haven't heard that opening up the doors of capitalism to China has improved the lives of the Chinese peasants. We'll see about Cuba. Communism is still Communism.
Today our jug-eared First Freak announced resumptions of relations with this terrorist autocracy.
The First Imbecile will find the next Congress unwilling to fund the embassy that will be required.
Very interesting piece. And disturbing. I have no personal experience, but this agrees well with what the Cubans I know have told me.
You'll see plenty of kids and professors at top universities sporting Che Guevara t-shirts. I remember a Cafe named after him at UC San Diego. However, the Cuban with whom I work has a seemingly involuntary lip curl when she hears the name mentioned.
I sometimes hear the argument that Cubans in the US are just critical of the Castro regime because they were the displaced wealthy that were stripped of their ill gotten gains in the revolution. I'm sure there were some Batista cronies of this type, but that isn't the history of the Cuban Americans I personally know.
From my 3 days in Havana this summer
If Americans are soooo very sad about Cuba's actual situation why don't they push to remove the embargo? Rather convenient to have the nearby bad guy to point at when a diversion is needed. Also, if Cuba was so great before Fidel, why people overthrew Batista? What is it that they couldn't take anymore that they opted for this? You should have included the fact that there where places (bathrooms, nightclubs, and barbershops) for blacks and for white separated. Also, during those days, americans went to Cuba to treat cubans like dirt in their own land. Not to mention bringing prostitution, gambling and trafficking. A lot of other latin countries used to get american visas just by asking. Very poor research, an obviously biased pamphlet of "we the good they the bad" maybe even paid for.
As a naturalized American citizen from Cuba, I appreciate Mr. Totten's article about my homeland. Although it is pretty accurate, I must disagree when he states that Marx would be shocked at what Communism is all about, "the misery endured by Cuba's ordinary citizens" and "the relatively luxurious lifestyles of those who keep the poor down by force." Those realities were ALWAYS the end goal.
Here is a nice little quote by Vladimir Lenin: "We are the masters. Complete indifference to suffering is our duty. The greatest cruelty is a merit. Through a systematic terror every lie shall be lawful. We will find a way to abase humanity down to the lowest level of existence. We must combat religion. Down with religion. Long live atheism. The spread of atheism is our task. Communism abolishes eternal truths."
Another Lenin quote: "The goal of socialism is communism."
Truth sets people free.
Great article. Mr. Totten eloquently describes the pathetic reality of present-day Cuba. The story of Cuba is a tragic one. Change has to come from within the island. When will the Cuban people finally wake up and say enough is enough??
With all due respect to Marshall, Mr. Totten did not exaggerate.
Havana is not in reasonable shape. The water supply is unreliable and the water is tainted with bacteria and Giardiasis, which is easy to understand as the pipes which supply the water leak most of the water out underground as there has been proper repairs for over 50 years.
Dengue fever is endemic, GI i
illnesses the norm.Children of various ages and of course adults, roam the streets in hundreds each night to sell themselves and this exists throughout the country, Cuba has become a major attraction, particular Havana for the sex industry.
Women and men, even professionals are out on the streets as they despair, they have no source of income otherwise.
The electricity is shut off for hours without warning.
The stores for foreigners are short of everything, the stores for Cubans retail goods that are garbage, milk from powder from China for example when before the revolution Cuba had one cow for each cuban and was self sufficient.
That was before the Castro organized central planning and the forced destruction of farm animals including the cows so as to plant sugar cane for export.
Marshall should revisit Havana Centro: it is not safe but dangerous as muggings are frequent, usually at night, but Marshall is welcome to be brave and walk through areas.
In the rest of Cuba, the people are despondent, as there is work and no money and the people simply exist, the people are resourceful and determined to survive but it takes all their ability to succeed.
Medicines produced in Cuba are for export, only with hard cash and luck can a Cuban obtain them. The hospitals lack basic and essential supplies and are decrepit so quality of services is poor.
How does Cuba survive ? By exploitation by foreign corporations from Spain, China and Canada, for example, Sherritt, a large mining company, which employs Cubans in unsafe conditions and recognizes that their workers are actually paid a pittance.
Tourists come and go, loving the beaches, the easily accessible sex and spending their money which goes ultimately to the Communist government.
The Cubans, a unique and cultured people, have been beaten down, appear complacent but are disgusted about where the revolution has brought them.No Cuban who is honest will tell you otherwise but there is whole scale survellance, everyone is watched, phones are tapped, its "1984" all over.
Sort of like the film, "the Lives Of Others" cuban variant. But of course, the Cuban secret police were trained by the Stasi, so what would you expect ?
The Castros, among the wealthiest people in the world, through their thievery and and those corrupt self serving elitists in their private Cabal, are too privileged, too well off, too powerful to leave soon. they have their private fiefdoms in Cuba, in various Latin American countries, Spain, France. They have everything whilst the people have nothing, in spite of Marshall's biased, and distorted views.
The people are too afraid, too repressed, too controlled. They wait patiently for regime change as they have for years, masking their anger and frustration
There is no even reasonably objective information available in the media which are completely controlled by the regime.
Those who speak out are jailed and/or murdered, who remembers Oswaldo Paya ? Not Marshall nor the liberal newspapers such as the NYT.
No Marshall, You are the "polarized extremist" not Mr. Totten.
It's unfortunate that the author needs to exaggerate. There's no questioning the problems of Cuba. Communism has not served the place well. The black market rules all. People are hungry for change. However, Mr. Totten describes to worst parts of Centro Habana and Habana Vieja and applies his experience to the rest of the country. The majority of Havana is actually is reasonable shape. The irony is actually that the worst part of the country is right there next to the tourist area. While Mr. Totten probably thinks himself brave and unique here, the worst parts of Havana are actually very safe and yes, it's very common for tourists to walk through it. The thing that Totten distorts (whether deliberately or due to ignorance, I'm not sure) is that outside of these areas of Havana, the rest of the city, and the country is decrepit, but not crumbling, poor but not destitute. You don't find shantytowns of the sort you see in the rest of Latin America. Even the Miami-spawned myths he parrots about Cuba's "glory days" before 1959 are based on a tunnel-vision view only of urban Cuba. Statistics about the country weren't even gathered. The "guajiros" couldn't read or write and were completely left out of the affluence of the cities. Any Cuban can tell you that today. No question that the revolution has failed and Cuba is long overdue for some change, hopefully starting with the regime. But lying and distorting the reality in a feeble effort to bring about this change sooner than later helps nobody. All I can recommend to people is that they visit the island themselves. It is somewhere in the middle of the inferno and paradise that polarized extremists (like this author) make it out to be.
Excellent article about an evil repressive government that is run by privileged few who are enormously wealthy (the Castro family) and those chosen by the regime as loyal compatriots who live in special gated communities. All dissent is pulverized. There is no real law for the average person, no justice, to speak out risks being jailed and or murdered for the majority who live in squalor and fear and spend time just trying to survive
My friend lives in Cuba and loves it there. He lives far from Havana but 90% of what this article purports definitely doesn't jive with what he's been telling me at all.
I really hope there is a hell that's severe enough to punish those who have done this to my country, destroyed our beautiful island in more ways than I can say without tears in my eyes, separate our familes, violate our most basic rights. One thing is for sure, they have not broken our spirit and our will to live life to the fullest. Don Haley, thank you for your kind words.
I recently spent a week in Camaguey, Cuba with a group from our church. I saw the real Cuba and spent time with real Cubans.
By necessity, they are the most resourceful people I have ever seen. They waste nothing, they salvage and recycle everything. They survive by the black market. But even in their meager existence, they are the most friendly, hospitable, loving people you could meet.
excellent article very well said!
should be read by many so they understand what these savages have done to our country.
cubans wanted change and they sure got it!
Great piece, thanks to Mr. Totten. One thing, though, by law Cubans who work in the foreign sector, including the tourism industry, may not keep their tips. Doing so (as many often do), is grounds for dismissal and even prison.
See in "Regulations Concerning Relations with Foreign Personnel in the Tourism System," in effect since 1990, amended by Ministry of Tourism Resolution No. 10 of 2005:
"Workers must reject any offers such as remunerations, gifts, contributions, lodging, and others... . Gifts must always be turned over to the director of the unit, who will determine their disposition and put in writing his/her decision."
The Castro brothers should be given a medal for their ability to take over a once-prosperous country, even with all its shortcomings and corruption, and destroying it. It is truly astonishing that Fidel predicted in the early 1960s that Cuba would surpass the living standard of the USA within a decade.
Well written very descriptive and sharp. It is very matter of fact and describes the actual reality vet well. I also apreciated the George Orwell allegory " Evey animal is created equal,but some are more equal than other" Which depicts the socialistic philosopy.
I think this piece is the most accurate description of life in Cuba I've read in a long long time. Thank you Mr. Totten, you have included most of all essential aspects in such a insightful, brilliant and to-the-point manner, it's amazing. Cuban people endure a suffering that few outside of the Island can really grasp. The lack of freedom, of a normal, decent life, the fear (of everyone around you), has destroy people's hearts and spirit in unimaginable ways. And who knows how deep the damage runs. I've seen in my life the involution: the poverty, the lack of education, the violence, the lack of morals. It's sad beyond words. I cry for my country reading this article. Thank you.
Thank you for giving us this honest look into what Communism does to people. S.R.
I visit this country about 35 years ago having similar experience, butd it seems that the time for them has worsened.
Cuban people are marvellous, not their goverment system. I pray for big changes, peolple deserve it.
Lloro lagrimas con mi abuelos y abuelas Cubanos.
Full disclosure: my wife is Cuban, I am bi-lingual, we spent a couple of weeks in Cuba in 1998 and again 2000, and we are in frequent phone contact with relatives who live there.
The piece is absolutely accurate and pulls no punches. I notice that the critics resort to abusive pseudo-Marxist rhetoric rather than providing any factual refutation. Contrary to all the lies, Cuba was one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America in 1959. Don't believe me, just consult Hugh Thomas'magisterial Cuba where he cites UN and WHO statistics. It was a wealthy country with a disfunctional, highly corrupt political system which gave Fidel his chance. The revolution was carried out largely by the middle class who despised Batista and his mafia sidekicks.
Anyone who has been all over the island--Santiago to Pinar del Rio as we have--notices lots of older middle-class housing that was well made--usually stone or brick. Since 1959? No maintenance and almost no new housing in spite of the fact that Cuba had the Soviet Sugar Day for 25 years or so and the Venezuelan one for another dozen or so.
This is a country which had, for example, perfectly good and safe water systems in the cities. Now, the locals warn you not to drink the water unless it has been boiled.
To believe in socialism after seeing Cuba is the equivalent of believing in leech craft in medicine or in astrology. Why has a largest percentage of the population fled Cuba since 1959 than any country in Latin America since the revolutions against Spain 200 years ago? Why do thousands every year continue to risk their lives to float across the Straits of Florida when only about 1/2 make it?
Oh yes, the wonderful medical system. It is a copy of the old Soviet system: one for the masses and another for the classes (the CP folks). Try going to a policlinico and getting an aspirin, alcohol, or bandages. Surgery is using techniques not seen in developed countries for 50 years. I could go on.
A great piece of work. It is one of the reasons I open City as soon as it arrives and usually read it cover-to-cover. Thanks.
I contemplated visiting Cuba in 1998 with a friend from Colombia. Our plans fell apart as he relocated to Canada, running away from a possible revolution. In my other travels through South and Central America, I have encountered the same tourist mentality, as they lionize Castro and think Cuba is a great place to live. One realist was a doctor who did a residency in ophthalmology there. He visited the 'prohibited' parts of Havana and a couple of other provinces as a doctor and can attest to the fact the average working class Cuban lives in deplorable conditions. How many more generations will be subject to this? Only time and 2 Castro deaths will tell...
ben @May 22, 2014 at 11:40 PM
"I've also been to Haiti, and although rough, Havana is 10 times worse."
And you could have said the same thing 50-60-70 years ago. Haiti is the basket case of Latin America today, as it was the basket case of Latin America 50-60-70 years ago.
Life expectancy at birth, total (years)
Country Name 1960
apparently the writer completely forgot that, in spite of what he claims to be interested in (communism) he judged his environment through western, capitaluist-raised and spirited mind. The language of economic values foriegn to the place (in the last half a century) is speaking through the journalist who forgot his role- to report, not to judge.
Fabulous article and very accurate, I've been there also, twice and agree with every word.
I've also been to Haiti, and although rough, Havana is 10 times worse.
Sad part is they are lovely people, bring on the new revolution.
Very nice job. It proves one may understand Cuba without years of research. The worse a place is, the easier it is to understand, perhaps.
One thing though: Raul Castro is not less doctrinaire than Fidel, but rather more. He was a Marxist during the revolution, Fidel only "became" one after it, as a trick to avoid elections and cover up the shame of becoming a Moscow dependant.
Power hungry Castro took over Cuba from corrupted bosses just like those now in Russia,China,Venezuela,Nicaragua, Argentina,Brazil or Cuba itself. That does not mean that Castro improved anything. He was the URSS protege while it lasted. Whatever Cuba had in development he run it down. Haiti has ruined itself all along without help from the USA same as Zimbabwe has. People in a dictatorial police state either adapt or die or go to jail, thus many stay put although hardly happy at all. A few get the heck out in a raft risking their lives because their are fed up with the Communist Paradise and want opportunities to a better life in the USA and mostly they find it.
Visited Cuba on holiday last year, fantastic people, but all communism has done is make everyone equally poor?
The analysis in this article is biased and ideologically driven. If Cuba were so wonderful for everyone prior to its revolution, how come so many supported the revolt?
Besides, it's not evil "communists" that took goods away from fellow Cubans - it's the embargo. Cuba is an island and has to import most of its goods; with US blocking trade and tourism, how on Earth could Cuban economy survive? Comparison with Berlin is rich, but unfair. GDR, Hungary and Poland could trade with other countries, and did.
As for comparisons with Iraq, they only remind us of yet another country, once prosperous, and now laying in ruin, because of the imperial interventions.
If they had not had the revolution they would have ended up like Haiti, Another US controlled Island. Which has seen no family planning, A huge population increase and complete environmental destruction (almost all the trees chopped down)
I just love the way you wallow in your abuse of another peoples culture for your own profit
Send this to Sean Penn, Danny Glover and all those "celebs" that have been sucking from Venezuela's communist government over the years.
That one also "isn’t a developing country; it’s a once-developed country destroyed by its own government" as out Michael J Totten puts so well in this article.
If Cuba is so bad? why are millions of inhabitants happy to remain, Cubans are racist and they got what they deserved.You'd better watch it before the same happens to your Amerikkka.
A very long article - but very thought provoking. I have read the odd article about Cuba essentially being poor but healthy and happy. It was jarring to read your article. Thank you.
"Capitalism is the unequal sharing of economic blessings whilst Communism is the equal sharing of economic miseries" - Winston Churchill
I wavered between anger and rage to near tears .....Why is it still in this condion and why havnt the people risen up?????..I'm crushedas I child I went there summers to visit my family...Now they are all over here..the ones that got out alive....God help them..
Having visited Havana I applaud your brutal honesty and find the analogy with Elysium completely accurate. I only wish you had mentioned the indomitable spirit of the Cuban people who still manage to laugh, dance and offer a smile even though they live in miserable conditions. They are eager for news from outside their "prison" and making that personal connection is reason enough to keep visiting Cuba.
Thank you for writing this artical. Ruth
My God! I had no idea that so many semi-literate people, unable to write a decent English sentence,or spell even simple English words, read this site.
Jon Claerbout May 17, 2014 at 5:20 PM
"He mentions, however, that pre-Castro Cuba had a large middle class similar to the one in Argentina at the time---having grown up in Argentina and lived in pre-Castro Cuba, this is nonsense. What I then saw in Cuba was a small, utterly corrupt elite lording it over a miserably poor majority."
Hugh Thomas, who has written a number of books and articles, does not agree with your opinion that pre-Castro Cuba didn't have a large middle class. Regarding a corrupt elite- not much argument there- which is why Batista fell so easily- according to Thomas only several thousand died.
From Hugh Thomas's article, "The Origins of the Cuban Revolution:"
"Wages apart, however, the general availability of consumer goods, the social services per head, the labour laws, the communications systems, literacy rates, all normal criteria indicate that Cuba was among the leading nations of Latin America- to be ranked in terms of development below only Argentina and Uruguay, and perhaps on a level with Chile. Certainly, Cuba had had for two generations before the revolution the highest standard of living of any tropical area in the world. It does not therefore seem to be poverty, any more than North American foolishness, that caused the revolution to take the turn it did.....
The origins of the revolution seem more likely to be found in the fact that Cuban society was not so much under-developed as stagnant: semi-developed perhaps...Cuba was not a country in the depths of poverty, but one extraordinarily frustrated, where opportunities existed for economic and social progress, but where these were wasted- and the fact of the waste was evident.....[Thomas, p 449]
The institutions of Cuba in 1958-59 were amazingly weak. The large middle and upper class had failed to create any effective defense against the demands of what may be taken to be the majority, when those demands came at last to be clearly expressed, as they did in January 1959, by a group self-confessedly middle class in origin." [Thomas. p 454]
Certainly Cuba in the 1950s didn't have as large a middle class as did Argentina, but Cuba's middle class was not as insubstantial as you believe.
Let us now flesh in Hugh Thomas's description of pre-Castro Cuba with some numbers.
"Cuba in 1958, with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $370, ranked fifth out of 20 Latin American countries, according to UN estimates based on commercial exchange rate conversions (1964, p. 322) Cuba ranked behind only oil-rich Venezuela ($975), Argentina ($474), Uruguay ($450), and Chile ($409)." [Renaissance and Decay, page 252]
For 1954-1957, Cuba ranked third in Latin America in per capita food consumption (Calories per day) at 2730 kcal/d, behind Uruguay (2,960) and Argentina (3,100). )." [Renaissance and Decay, page 250]
Cuba's literacy rate in the 1950's was fifth in Latin America at 76%, behind Costa Rica ( 79), Chile(81 ) and Argentina . (87), ).[Renaissance and Decay. page 249] [Uruguay is not on the list, but it certainly had a higher literacy rate than Cuba at the time)
Cuba's Life Expectancy was fourth in Latin America in the 1950s. behind Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. During the 1950s, Cuba's Life Expectancy was 8 years higher than the average for Latin America. [CEPAL/ECLA]
Life Expectancy 1955_1960
[World Bank data for 1960 has Cuba fourth in Latin America behind Uruguay, Argentina, and Jamaica]
"In terms of physicians and dentists per capita, Cuba ranked third in Latin America in 1957, behind only Uruguay and Argentina—both of which were more advanced than the United States in this measure. Cuba’s 128 physicians and dentists per 100,000 people in 1957 placed Cuba at the same level as the Netherlands, and ahead of the United Kingdom (122 per 100,000 people) and Finland (96)" [Renaissance and Decay, page 248] [Supporting data from World Bank Development Indicators: Physicians (per 1,000 people) for 1960.]
In summary, Cuba in the 1950s, for all its political problems, was one of the most advanced countries in Latin America. While its middle class was not as high as Argentina, Cuba's health and education indicators were similar but not as high as Argentina's. Recall what Thomas wrote: "the highest standard of living of any tropical area in the world."
Hugh Thomas, "The Origins of the Cuban Revolution," The World Today,Vol 19, No. 10 (Oct. 1963) pp 448-460 via jstor.
http://www.ascecuba.org/publications/proceedings/volume8/pdfs/30smith.pdf Renaissance and Decay: A Comparison of Socioeconomic Indicators in Pre-Castro and Current-Day Cuba
A friend writes me, "You may recall that Renata and I lived in Cuba from 1958-1960. We were in Havana when Castro entered, leaning out from the turret of a captured tank. We then enjoyed the beginning of Castro's nirvana, which began with mass executions of his enemies, many of who were criminals. Since we had just married, we had little too lose when we left, but those leaving later were not so lucky.
I also read Totten's article---judging from other accounts and conversations with people who have been there, it is reasonably accurate. He mentions, however, that pre-Castro Cuba had a large middle class similar to the one in Argentina at the time---having grown up in Argentina and lived in pre-Castro Cuba, this is nonsense. What I then saw in Cuba was a small, utterly corrupt elite lording it over a miserably poor majority--- which is precisely the reason why Batista, the former Cuban dictator, and who was the idol of the US right, fell after a three year civil war. The tragedy for the Cubans of course is that from then on things rapidly went downhill, so now while all adult Cubans are literate, they're still miserable, but at least not starving, as was the case for so many under the Batista gerontocracy."
Delfina @ May 16, 2014 at 4:37 PM
"1. Some friends of mine who work in Banks, Universities and Engineering facilities earn up to 40 CUC a month (half of which is in CUC and the other half in Cuban Pesos)."
This is a factual correction which is filed under the "damning with faint praise" heading. Offer a college educated professional in Latin America, one not in Cuba, a position which pays $40 a month, and find out how many takers there are.
"3. The healthcare seems to be working fine. I fell ill during one of my visits, and I was prescribed and given all the antibiotics I needed to recover."
Might there be a relation between your good treatment and your statement of origin: "I am European?"
"It is true that the quality of the medication there is definitely not as advanced as the one to be found in Europe or the United States, but then again in Cuba anyone can access it."
You are informing me that the quality of medical care in Cuba is the same for Juan Fulano compared to what a dollar-paying foreigner or a member of the Nomenklatura receives? Tell me another one. Or as they say in Venezuela, "Dime/decime otro de vaqueros."
I refer you to Totten's description of a two-tiered system. Totten is by no means the first to describe Cuba's two-tiered system. I refer you to Totten's quote of Orwell- "All animals are equal,but some animals are more equal than others.” Are you going to inform me that there is no such two-tiered system in Cuba?
"4. People ARE allowed to sell goods privately (as of 2009) but have to pay a fixed tax to the government. There are plenty of legal street vendors selling all sorts of things from vegetables to shampoo and art (for other cubans, not tourists)."
Michael Totten's other articles on Cuba mentioned vendors. See my comment@ May 16, 2014 at 10:01 AM.
"I find it excessive to demonize socialism...it is certainly true that Cuba has many flaws, the most important being the lack of free speech, democracy and lack of access to information and means of communication."
Very interesting. Would you say that someone who "demonizes" socialism for "lack of free speech, democracy.." is being "excessive"? Totten repeatedly "demonizes" Cuba, the mythological land of socialist equality, for its two-tiered system, which on the one hand has ordinary Cubans and on the other has the Nomenklatura or those with access to dollars. Do you consider it "excessive" to point out this inequality in the mythological land of socialist equality?
That's what communism does. I also know first hand because I came from Poland which used to be communist. Now I see with morbid fear what Obama does to America. We need to stop him.
I am not sure I agree with some factual information. I have lived in Cuba for several months at the time between the years 2008 -2013 in the city of Holguin and the surrounding countryside. I am European but I managed to learn spanish well enough to pass as a Latin-American university student and live in accommodations that are paid for in Cuban Pesos (rather than CUC, the currency that is allowed for tourists and imported goods) and my experience was the following:
1. Some friends of mine who work in Banks, Universities and Engineering facilities earn up to 40 CUC a month (half of which is in CUC and the other half in Cuban Pesos).
2. Before the fall of the Soviet Union (and the start of the Periodo Especial) the government did provide most of the social services that kept the population healthy. A family of mine workers could go visit their family some 300km away by just calling a state taxi. Some people were allowed to have cars (such as doctors and teachers).
3. The healthcare seems to be working fine. I fell ill during one of my visits, and I was prescribed and given all the antibiotics I needed to recover. My father has a neurodegenerative disease: when he accidentally finished the supply of medicine, the doctor at the hospital did everything he could to give us substitutes. It is true that the quality of the medication there is definitely not as advanced as the one to be found in Europe or the United States, but then again in Cuba anyone can access it, whereas it is not the same in the US or Europe.
4. People ARE allowed to sell goods privately (as of 2009) but have to pay a fixed tax to the government. There are plenty of legal street vendors selling all sorts of things from vegetables to shampoo and art (for other cubans, not tourists).
5. People are much more 'human' than anywhere else I have experienced in the world. I suspect that a heavy social care allows for people to worry about things other than hoping to have enough food tomorrow (nobody starves in Cuba. Colombians go to Cuba to study medicine, some of them are in awe of the country).
7. Cubans are now allowed to have private internet at home. One of my good friends sends me emails via her yahoo email account from her iPhone.
This said, it is certainly true that Cuba has many flaws, the most important being the lack of free speech, democracy and lack of access to information and means of communication. Many young adults strive to get out of the country and many try to get married to foreigners to do so. It is also true, like many big cities, Havana has some pretty degraded areas. I find it excessive to demonize socialism without emphasizing the recent positive changes and giving an accurate account of the historical factors that have contributed to the present state of the country.
BSM, I've been to Cuba in fact I spent 3 months there in 2002 so while this article seems a bit exagerated from my recollection it is pretty damn accurate. We Americans aren't always good at understanding some of the non-consumer joys in life, but I think it's safe to say that the average Cuban I met seemed to be under the weight of a failing society.
The mother of Cuba's problems are the uncompensated property confiscations (including wages) by the regime. There are no property rights, no clear title to any property, no credit since collateral is not secure and no mechanisms to protect property. There is no contract sanctity. The result is a toxic culture of theft, fraud and corruption just to survive.
Accountability, i.e., indemnification, and nothing else will cure what ails Cuba.
This is the best article I ever read about Cuba. God Bless You
BSM May 16, 2014 at 7:27 AM
"The difficulties of Havana's citizens, how they feel about product shortages and the government is a much more complicated and nuanced issue than what is presented here."
You are quite right. Citizens of a totalitarian regime are going to be very circumspect about expressing their opinions to a foreigner.
BSM May 16, 2014 at 7:27 AM
"The idea that this guy thinks he can traipse through Havana Centro for a few days and is in a position to sum up the opinion of Cuba's people regarding their current situation and their government is frankly ridiculous and is only made more-so by the simplistic approach and complete lack of self awareness."
You talk about "nuance," yet ignore Totten's other articles on Cuba. I suggest you read them before making some un-nuanced comment about Totten's writings on Cuba. Totten spent more than a few days in Cuba, and traipsed though much more than Havan Centro, contrary to your claim.
"Third, missing from this essay is any type of realistic context regarding where Havana is now compared to where it was in the early-nineties and the early-aughts. The Special Period isn't even mentioned. I can tell you that if the author is shocked by the shortages and lack of opportunity now, he should have visited ten or fifteen years ago - a sea-change has occurred in the last three years."
In "the early-nineties and the early-aughts," Cuba was suffering from the loss of its Soviet sugar daddy. Today Cuba has found itself a new sugar daddy- Chavista Venezuela. It would appear to me that a fair amount of economic improvement in Cuba between now and " the early-nineties and the early-aughts" is a result of Cuba's latching onto a new sugar daddy - in addition to tourism.
Great brief description giving the short time. The "embargo" only prevent the Cuban castros of getting goods from American enterprises (which they kicked out of Cuba 50 years ago) and/or receiving "credits/financing" from american financial institutions (which were kicked out of Cuba when Fidel decided to steal all american possesions in Cuba.) "But", still the castros can buy all food they want from any american financial enterprise... So, why cubans do not have food at a fair price, like every other country in the world? Why the castros do not allow Charity Organizations to bring "massive needed medicines" to Cuba (like Catholic Charities or many others?). It is hard, almost impossible to fight a corrupted government when you spend all your time looking for food, medicine and basic survival things, "that's the real and cruel answer"!
I have spent way more more time in Havana than this author has and I have big problems with this piece that have nothing to do with politics.
First, there's lots of description of what life is like for "ordinary Cubans" and how miserable they are, without any evidence whatsoever that the author is in a position to make that commentary. The difficulties of Havana's citizens, how they feel about product shortages and the government is a much more complicated and nuanced issue than what is presented here.
Second, this article's inability to deal with complicated issues in a nuanced fashion is fatal to its credibility. Fir example: the sentence, "Cuba was one of the richest countries in the world before Castro destroyed it" is factually wrong and completely conclusory. There are lots of causes of the current state of affairs in Havana and "Castro" is certainly one of them, but Cuba was never one of the richest countries in the world. If you look at Cuban history in even the most cursory fashion, you can understand that the country was beset by political instability continuously between at least the 1880s and the revolution.
Third, missing from this essay is any type of realistic context regarding where Havana is now compared to where it was in the early-nineties and the early-aughts. The Special Period isn't even mentioned. I can tell you that if the author is shocked by the shortages and lack of opportunity now, he should have visited ten or fifteen years ago - a sea-change has occurred in the last three years.
Ultimately, this article suffers from Colombus syndrome. The idea that this guy thinks he can traipse through Havana Centro for a few days and is in a position to sum up the opinion of Cuba's people regarding their current situation and their government is frankly ridiculous and is only made more-so by the simplistic approach and complete lack of self awareness. This is the type of tourist who visits a place briefly and thinks he knows everything about it because he walked down some streets where he didn't see any other tourists.
This is for the pro Cuban government commenters:
Some of you didn't bother to read the article. The US already is a big trading partner with Cuba, so lifting the embargo when the government will just take the additional largesse will do nothing.
That said - I thought the Fidel backers hated capitalism? The fact that you blame the capitalist country to Cuba's north for not engaging in capitalist trade with this anti-capitalist country means all of your irony meters are out of whack. If communism was such a good idea, Cuba wouldn't need to trade with free market countries. Which of course was the point of Totten's article.
But keep apologizing. In your echo chambers, you'll all be able to comfort each other.
No thanks to the US embargo.
no mention of the embargo then. Long live Fidel.
Thank you very much Michael. It is refreshing, although so very disturbing for this Cuban exile, to read the truth.
"So you stayed a few days in Cuba as a tourist and end up proclaiming yourself as an expert on Cuban affairs?"
What information do you have to refute his conclusions? Inquiring minds want to know.
I would suggest that you read Michael Totten's other articles on Cuba.
So you stayed a few days in Cuba as a tourist and end up proclaiming yourself as an expert on Cuban affairs?
"Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of The Communist Manifesto, would be appalled by the misery endured by Cuba’s ordinary citizens and shocked by the relatively luxurious lifestyles of those who keep the poor down by force."
Are you insane? That is EXACTLY what they were after.
Michael, you've hit the nail on the head with this insightful article. I first went to Havana in 2005 and recently went back in October 2014. Not much had changed. Still lots of crumbling buildings, crappy food, prostitution was everywhere. Cubans might be educated but everywhere you looked in Havana there were a whole lot of people with a whole lot of nothing to do but hang out. And lastly very little access to the Internet. Well there is at $6/hour. Will it ever change for the better? One can only hope so for the sake of the Cuban people.
The best description of Cuba's current social reality I have ever read. Congratulations to Mr. Totten for writing a near masterpiece. jf
"Michael, you don't think it's a little dishonest not to mention the embargo even once? I'm not defending Cuba's government. It needs to change. But to pretend that the mess that is Cuba is due entirely to communism demonstrates that you set out with an agenda to ignore reality in favour of your thesis. Come on guy."
I repeat my previous comment:
Michael Totten has dealt with it: "To Embargo or Not." [@worldaffairsjournal.org/blogs/michael-j-totten.]
From Totten's article:
"The United States is Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner after Venezuela, China, Spain, and Brazil. Cuba gets more of its products from the United States even now than from Canada or Mexico. Sanctions are still in place—Cuba cannot buy everything, and it must pay in cash—but the embargo is hardly absolute."
It is ironic that before the embargo, Fidelistas told us that US involvement in the Cuban economy was harming Cuba. Now Fidelistas tell us that lack of US involvement in the Cuban economy is harming Cuba.
[again, the link is incomplete because this website doesn't like links]
"All of that aside, Cubans are better off than most in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatenala, and a few South American countries.."
In the 1950s, you could have said the same,but with more countries: In the 1950s Cuban per capita food consumption was third in Latin America, behind only Uruguay and Argentina. It was similarly third in Latin America in Physicians and Dentists per capita. again behind Argentina and Uruguay.
Currently, Life Expectancy in Cuba is 5 years ahead of Latin America. But in the 1950s, Cuba's Life Expectancy was 8 years ahead of Latin America.
In general ,Cuba has fallen behind other countries in Latin America compared to where it was in the 1950s.
But go and praise Castro's Cuba all you want to.
Source: RENAISSSANCE AND DECAY: A COMPARISON OF SOCIOECONOMIC INDICATOR IN PRE-CASTRO AND CURRENT-DAY CUBA.
[this website doesn't like links]
Life Expectancy: ECLA, CEPAL
Great article, unfortunately it does not get to the thousands of Americans and others that still say that the best thing that happened to Cuba was Fidel and Raul Castro.
TOO bad!!!! y country was a beautiful island now is a "INFERNO"
Excellent article!!...... The cruel reality of a once prosperous society...... and is dupplicating now in Venezuela.......
Michael, you don't think it's a little dishonest not to mention the embargo even once? I'm not defending Cuba's government. It needs to change. But to pretend that the mess that is Cuba is due entirely to communism demonstrates that you set out with an agenda to ignore reality in favour of your thesis. Come on guy.
I've been travelling to Cuba for a long time and written a book on it - and have a blog www.mojitonovel.com -
The embargo makes interesting debate.
I can argue that it was a successful medicine but the patient died. I can also point to all the other Stalinist countries that recovered and joined the western economy only a decade or so after being freed up economically.
And I can point to the propaganda value to Castro(s) by always being able to point to the embargo as the cause of their basket case economy (neglecting to mention that they are free to trade with any other country). For more commentary - just read my blog.
My radio interview
The countless arguments that I have had with people that return from a vacation in Cuba espousing what a wonderful Utopian place it is have exhausted me. I have never been to Cuba, and that is intentional, and I will never go to Cuba as long as it remains in the grips of the Socialist Elite. If I could do more I would, for now I discourage everyone I know from going there as I feel, and this article confirms, it would only serve to prop up the twisted authoritarian leaders a little longer than they deserve.
This is what the leftist democrats want for us.
"It’s eerily dark at night"
"Havana looked like a glittering metropolis in the dark. Night washed away the rot and the grime and revealed nothing but city lights."
So which is it?
The first useful thing that should happen for these poor people is the lifting of the US travel ban. What right does the American govt have to tell us where to travel, anyway? The US blithely sends Americans around the world to kill, but balks at peaceful commerce and tourism.
"the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe"... well, it did. you a journalist? check it out.
concerning the fact that the communists destroyed cuba, you might also want to check out "embargo". or "bloqueo" as the cubans calls it.
BTW: many other things are true. cuba is no paradise. but see the comments by Bryan Ketter, Earl Buntley, Jose, etc., etc...
Elysium is not about the Comunism, Elysium is about the capitalism.
I don't like Comunism, I think Comunism is the negative of capitalism (the opposite, but almost the same)
I don't like your article, it's completly subjective, its a big source of misconceptions, falacies, and ignorance. The problem in all humans systems is the ambition of control and power, originated in the human fears, try to learn about that, before give some article to the comunity.
Truth. 100%. Great article. Well researched. In March 2013, I was in Havana by invitation of the Cuban Gov't and cleared by the US Dept. of State as a cultural exchange. I presented but I also escaped my handlers (when they came to my door in the morning - feigned stomach problems - walked out back door at night) The elderly are clearly malnourished. Young can hustle - including sexual tourism renewed. The elite live in a famous neighborhood off the same golf course the Castros grew up on - been there - seen the homes and the clubs. Meanwhile, Real Cubanos need trucked in water (SERIOUS WATERBORN ILLNESSES - 18TH CENTURY STUFF - Cholera even in Havana). The culture is crumbling like the columns but the Chinese are everywhere - at Hotel Nacional - and one understands they are working on communications infrastructure - to attach to the Florida Coast. I am an open minded person but the "new openness" is just a way to stop the eventual collapse through starvation.
Is it any wonder that Mexican nationals will risk life and limb to reach the US? Then why should it be a surprise that some Cubans do it?
Is it any wonder that Cuban nationals will risk life and limb to reach Florida.
Life in the poorest part of Miami must seem like heaven compared to what they leave behind.
Where do the Cuban Political Elite go to shop and eat? Apparently they have their own network set up outside of the tourist destinations.
I fail to see the distinction between the USA and Cuba.
Both countries are raft with poverty. Stop kidding yourself that the USA is any better, it has entire suburbs in major cities that would be best described as ghettos.
Both countries also have a massive disparity between the rich and poor. The USA also have gated communities for the wealthy. Even ones equip with their own 'police' force.
You are also wrong about education. The USA's literacy rates are significantly lower then that of Cuba's.
Also perhaps Cuba would have soap and better consumer goods if not for the many decade long trade embargoes the USA enforces on the nation to cripple its economy. The USA has done as much to lower and enforce poverty on the Cuba's citizens as its own goverment.
Simply put your entire article smacks of hypocracy. The USA is no bloody better.
This might be the worst bit of propaganda not on Fox News. I have hitchhiked Cuba from East to West and North to South, and it generally looks nothing like your actual photo or the way you paint it in your skewed prose. Aside from your glaring revisionist history, your current observations are ludicrous. Cuba is a poor state with little freedom, partly because of failed economic policies and partly b/c ofvfailed US policy. All of that aside, Cubans are better off than most in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatenala, and a few South American countries, all capitalist countries (save for about a decade in Nicaragua), which I have spent extensive time in.
Mr.Totten, you are not jost e journalist, but also a TALL MAN that said the thuth without fear of those nano peaple in that island. I wich every news paper in this nation could have some like you.
Thanks for being what you are.
Humberto Rstrada in Dallas Texas
"Being 90 miles away from the world's largest economy, and embargoed, effectively put's Cuba's economy on the moon since it makes it extremely expensive to import the sort of things that would be coming in if Cuba were trading with the USA."
Container shipping has taken so much of the cost out of shipping overseas that countries trade easily, even if they are oceans apart. So where is all the Cuban trade, Claude?
Havana was a magnificent Western city once.
Seriously? You should do a little research before spewing retarded lines like this. Havana was a narco-capital fueled by corruption and crime. Everyone knows that.
This is an intellectually dishonest argument of an article which erases the effects of the USG embargo. It is one, long lie by omission. It is the moral equivalent of condemning a cripple yet not mentioning the cripple was shot in both legs by your country's government.
Of course it sucks in Cuba. We've done everything in our power for the last 50 years to make it suck in Cuba.
I consider myself an unapologetic Obama supporter and Clinton supporter. I think Obamacare, for all its initial mistakes and quirks, is a great step forward. I am what some people call a "liberal" or "progressive" with scorn in many quarters.
I have been to Cuba and what has been written in this article is spot on. The Elysium comparison, however, is too generous. My brother, who worked in the music industry at the time, made connections with Cuban based DJ and we were able to see the Cuba from his perspective and it was and is a perspective of despair. We brought items to give to him including asprin, jeans, CDs, belts, which caused him to nearly break down in tears.
I was mostly shocked by many things in Cuba: The lengths the government goes to separate Cubans from foreigners in all walks of life, the proto-Jim Crow atmosphere against Afro-Cubans, the complete absence of Castro's portrait from the public viewing, no public displays or memorials to the Cuban military's activity in Angola and the Ogaden conflicts, and the abject quality of food that Cubans have access to.
The communism of Castro is clearly a failure but unfortunately is maintained in power, in my opinion, by the useful idiots of the so-called anti-Castro lobby.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same failed thing and expecting different results. I blame the Miami Cubans who maintain the ineffectual, counter-productive, and unsuccessful embargo. American goods still get into Cuba from American farms by lobbying by farm state Republicans. In addition, they provide the perfect cover for Castro to maintain power. Their regime's leverage would vanish in the face of an opened system of trade between the USA and the flood of tourists. Kind of a reverse Mariel.
Let me reiterate that I do NOT support the Castro dictatorship and think that communism as a system doesn't work. However,I think partisan sniping and failure to move on is causing Cuba-US relations to remain stalled, while other countries are opening their markets to the island.
F the Castros and the Miami Cubans
derp derp the free markets will save us all derp derp there is no poverty in America and everyone can get the medicine they need because capitalism is perfect derp
Fully agree. I visited Havana as member of a delegation in 2013. Regarding literacy, as I long ago told author Tad Szulc ("Fidel: a Critical Portrait"): what good is it to teach one to read and deny him access to most books by censorship? Now I add, what good is it to provide free medical care without necessary medicines, supplies? The deplorable condition of buildings and housing is worse than can be imagined, because fallen balconies and collapsed roofs are everywhere and yet these houses and rooms are occupied, AS IF IT IS TOTALLY NORMAL!
its funny how he has so much to say about how terrible the city looks and how there is nothing to sell but there is only one pictue, i can find places that look exactly like the picture or even worse here too, why doesnt he show some proof. also the part where he talks about that you need to bring your own medicine to use is a lie, my grandma got her kidney operated and she has to go to town to get her medicine, most people in miami have to go to cuba to get medicine. also the part that cops come and check your bags to see if you have cheese or other things is also a lie. we went fifteen m inutes away to another town and bought groceries got on the bus and went back and nobody checked anything. restaurants in la havan do not cost 5 months salary for one meal. i went with 5 people to a restaurant filled with cuban people, not tourists and we spent 37 dollars and we got full meals and dessert. also he says that cuba used to be a developed country and it was very prosperous. yes it used to be very prosperous and it was owned by america but therewas also no justice and it was corrupt, cops could do watever they want. if u looked at them sideways u would get shot and left dead on the side and you couldnt do anything. now cops in cuba dont even have the slightest superiority over except that they can give u a ticket, im not saying thats good. its actually bad but its better than having police that are there to protect and serve hurting their own people. in all countries in the world their are bad places and good places. obviously cuba is going to have more of those bad places because of its economy. also buildings are not falling apart as he says, they might not have paint but they arent splitting open and abandoned, buildings in cuba have been standing since they were created by the spanish made out of rock and cement, that can last hundreds of years. next time he goes to cuba he shoud take a bit more pictures since hes a journalist he should have more proof.
Magnificent and accurate!
Tragical situation for Cuba
the author is in complete arrogance mode, ohh a journalist, he definitively went to cuba believing how great his country are, and how miserable cubans are.
being a cuban i can tell him we have many many problems, including and old and crazy system. but i can also tell him we are happier than the most of americans, including himself. arrogant, that's what i would call this article.
I cannot wait for a free Cuba, may the Castros rot in hell forever as they have done to their fellow Cubans.
One of the best written articles about Cuba I have read. I was born there and lived until the age of 13, long enough to verify all that is written here. Sad, but true.
If as an exiled Cuban that I am I try to describe what is happening in Cuba and has happened during these past 55 years I do not believe I could have done it any better than this.
I continuously hear of many marxists how good such a system is for the people but NONE of them goes and lives in Cuba.
This was an excellent article with the truth of what is happening there.
Mr. Totten, the same happened to me when I visited Cuba in 1998. Met some tourists that spoke Spanish and ventured out from the "bubble", their feelings were clear, "we will never come back here" As a Cuban, I was devastated to see my once beautiful, elegant city crumbling down. But the real damage has been to the soul of the people, and not so obvious.
Thank you for this article
I visited East Berlin in the mid-70s and right after the fall of the wall, and then Moscow during peristroika, and they were very much like this deription of Havana. Very poor food (a real food desert for a foodie), nothing anyone would really want to buy in the famous Gum department store, whole city blocks in Berlin that were bombed during the war and not restored, and no color anywhere, except for the red communist party banners.
Grey cities full of grey people. It is too bad we have lost them as examples of our egalitarian socialist futures. And the progressives are sure that we will do it differently, better, next time. Yeah, sure.
Every American should read this article as a forewarning to the harm government can do in a relatively short period of time. The exiled Cubans who live in Florida know this; many politicians in Congress don't. Match Rubio should tell this story to alert us all.
But wait, Michael Moore told us that Cuba has much better health care than the US. I know Michael Moore is a paragon of truth and lover of Marxism. Is he lying?
Reminds me of Detroit. Google up pictures of Detroit and you can see what 50 years of corrupt progressive government have accomplished in that once great city.
VERY sad reality. I was born in Cuba, left 53 yrs ago and went back during Saint John Paul' s visit in '98, I could not believe the destruction and the VERY sad faces of the people.
Your article is just right. Many foreigners who visit HAvana do not grasp the rality of the people who are suviving there. May God have mercy on the Cubans soon!
Why History Will Absolve Him
Fidel Castro’s recent illness has focused attention on the Cuban dictator’s career. Castro’s successes in establishing and maintaining a Communist dictatorship 90 miles off the coast of the United States are remarkableachievements. Unfortunately, these successes have been achieved at theCuban people’s expense. By examining the history of the proceeding Batistaregime, a perspective will hopefully emerge which illustrates how Castrodeceived the Cuban people and how cruel and unnecessary his totalitarian
dictatorship has been.
This biography, of Castro’s predecessor, Fulgencio Batista is based on an earlier version written by David Bennett which appeared in August 1996 in the Melbourne based publication, The Sentinel.
The Historical Significance of Fulgencio Batista
One of the myths perpetuated by the extreme Left since Fidel Castro came to power in
January 1959 is that contemporary Cuba is a dynamic and politically vibrant nation.
Whatever Castro's past and present successes in promoting international discord, the current domestic Cuban political scene is staid and uneventful, as befits a totalitarian nation where all politics are controlled by Fidel Castro and/or his brother Raúl. This situation starkly contrasts with the fluidity, passionate dynamism and complexities of pre-Castro Cuba, which were personified by the major figure of that by-gone era, Fulgencio Batista.
Because the Castro regime's political repression is too brazen and apparent to deny, apologists for it have asserted that this has been offset by the tremendous achievements that have allegedly occurred in the area of higher living standards. To help justify this warped logic, the excesses of Fulgencio Batista's career have been exaggerated, his positive achievements ignored and in the process his important role in Cuban history negated. It is the purpose of this article to redress this historical vilification.
Spanish Colonial Rule and 'Yankee' Intervention: Their Respective Legacies
Until 1958 Cuba had a potent political tradition of competing political parties and activism. This tradition can be traced back to 1876 with the promulgation of a new Spanish constitution. Mid to late nineteenth century Spanish politics were immersed in dynastic struggles and ensuing wars of succession. The only substantive issue that lay outside this paradigm was that of Cuban autonomy. Cuban representatives in the Spanish Cortes* were successful in drawing attention to the cause of Cuban Home Rule.
(* Cortes – the Spanish Parliament).
A notable figure who took exception to this constitutionalist approach was the poet José
Martí, of whom Castro claims to be a disciple. Such a claim, while ridiculous and insulting, is not surprising, because the major ideological issue in Cuba up until 1958, was not that of free market economics versus state intervention, but what Martí stood for and which party and/or leader could claim his mantle. It was his death in combat in 1895 which sparked Cuba's War of Independence.
The United States' military intervention, at the point at which Cuba was about to break free from Spain and the ensuing four year occupation (1898-1902), became a tremendous
source of national frustration which is still to be fully exorcised from the Cuban psyche. On terminating its occupation, the United States retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs so as to protect American properties and investments under the notorious Platt
Amendment. If the aim of this amendment was to provide stability, then it proved to be
The new nation was polarized between the Liberal and the Moderate parties (the latter
metamorphosised into the Conservative and eventually the Democratic Party).
Consequently, a pattern developed whereby the losing party in an election, instead of accepting the result, would stage a revolt in order to provoke American intervention. Despite the economic boom that Cuba enjoyed following the First World War (which spawned a not inconsiderable middle class), American dominance, both real and imagined, as well as racial unrest amongst the Negro minority, served to retard Cuba's development of a positive national identity.
Frustrated Nationalism Spawns the Dictatorship of Gerado Machado
A milestone in Cuba's struggle for self-assertion was seemingly reached in 1924, when a
successful businessman, independence hero and retired general, Gerado Machado of the
opposition Liberal Party was elected president. He pledged that his business acumen would raise the standard of living and, most importantly, that he would bring true
independence to the island republic. Machado launched a vast and unprecedented public
works programme. A less benevolent innovation of his was the establishment of Cuba's first secret police and the subsequent imposition of a dictatorship in 1928 after being
re-elected with a new Constitution that favored him. The trappings of democracy were
maintained but their hollowness was evident in Machado's purge of the ruling Liberal Party and of the opposition Conservative Party. Machado justified these dictatorial acts on the basis that they promoted stability and thereby denied the Americans a pretext for intervention.
Cuba's New Class: 'The Generation of 1933
Machado (as is the case with Castro) was only interested in holding power for the sake of
having it. His regime's brutal suppression of student demonstrations in September 1930
spawned the 'Generation of 1933'. This caste would maintain their profile in Cuban politics for a quarter of a century between Machado's fall in 1933 and Castro's rise to power in late 1958. In the aftermath of the suppression of the student demonstrations, a clandestine and predominately middle class organization called the ABC was founded.
Between 1931 and 1933 both actual and suspected members of the ABC were hunted down by Machado's secret police.
Sergeant Batista's Emergence
Some of the dissidents that were apprehended were tried (if they were relatively fortunate
enough) by military tribunals. It was as a court stenographer, that a young Sergeant Batista was first exposed to and gained an invaluable insight into the dark side of Cuban politics. In 1921, at the age of twenty, Batista entered the Cuban army and by 1928 he had risen to the rank of sergeant, which was as far as someone of his humble background could rise.
The ill effects of the Great Depression, combined with the corrupt Machado's unpopularity, precipitated massive and violent ABC-instigated riots in July 1933. In the face of this explosion of unrest and the Roosevelt Administration's hostility, Machado resigned and fled first to Bahamas and later to Miami.
Due to the strong intervention of the American Ambassador Sumner Wells, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (whose father had led an abortive bid for independence from Spain from 1868 until his death in 1874 - the bid for independence continued until 1878) was chosen as the new provisional president. His elevation to the presidency was supported by the ABC, the National Union (an anti- Machado organization which had emerged from a split from the Liberal Party) and other smaller parties.
Céspedes’s assumption of the presidency was accepted by, (but not actively supported) by the Conservative Party. Despite Machado’s fall there was still a strong public groundswell for a radical break with the past and this was manifested by the lynching of
Machadistas*. (* One Machadista who escaped to America was Desi Arnaz, later of I Love
The students at Havana University were at the forefront in demanding a significant shift. Their capacity to affect change depended on their success in making common cause with the disgruntled elements within the army. During the unrest against Machado, a group of Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) were killed. As the chief orator at the funeral of
Sergeant Miguel Angel Hernández, Batista was able to project himself as, and gain acceptance as the champion of NCO concerns. From this position Batista helped lead a NCO mutiny demanding higher wages and better living conditions as a pretext to take part in the anti-Machado revolution.
The Revolution of 1933
Taking advantage of this discord, a newspaper editor named Sergio Carbó made contact with the mutineers and helped persuade them to make common cause with the students and depose the faltering Céspedes government. A five member junta (‘the Pentarquía’) succeeded Céspedes on an interim basis. However due to internal tension the Pentarquía did not function properly and the initiative subsequently passed to the Student Directory (Directorio Estudiantil), the leading student political organisation, which with Batista’s support, appointed the former Dean of Physiology, Dr. Grau San Martín as president in September 6, 1933. In his four-month stint as president, Grau made a profound impact on the public. His myopic, if not effeminate persona attracted widespread popularity because it contrasted with Machado's brutal machismo. The new president's declaration of 'Cuba for the Cubans' and his advocacy of what he termed 'Cubanism', which was essentially Yankee bashing, revived memories of the 1898 Revolution. For many, Grau had assumed Martí's mantle.
Batista Moves Against the Revolution's Flawed Idol
For Colonel Batista,* (* A promotion he received for 'services to the revolution and which he
would hold until promoted to the rank of General). Grau's first presidency provided a breathing space during which he could consolidate his hold over the army. This was accomplished in November 1933, when Batista crushed an ABC backed revolt by the army's hostile officer corps. By January 1934, with middle class opposition to Grau galvanizing and the continued threat of American intervention, Batista (with the support of some members of the Student Directory) moved swiftly by deposing Grau. This coup helped polarize Cuban society. For many people, Grau became an idol. Carlos Prío Socarrás, who had been a prominent leader of the Student Directory, helped found the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Cubano (Auténtico), which derived its popularity from its stated commitment of restoring Grau. Another avowed adherent of Grau's, Antonio Guiteras, (who despite being lionized in contemporary Cuba, was in fact a vehement anti-Communist) organized the Joven Cuba, a militant revolutionary organisation that
was committed to bring drastic changes by carrying out terrorist actions to promote
political unrest. Needing a shield, Batista installed Carlos Mendieta, the leader of the
National Union, as the new president.
The New Strongman
The Mendieta regime was primarily composed of the more moderate elements of the anti-
Machado opposition and they regarded Batista as a pliant tool who would help underwrite their rule. As army chief of staff, Batista concerned himself with bettering the living conditions of armed forces personnel (most of whom had received rapid promotion) and their families. Thus barracks were upgraded, pay hikes granted, health services and night school literacy classes provided for armed forces personnel. Consequently when the Joven Cuba led by Antonio Guiteras took advantage of a general strike in 1935 the army was committed and steady enough to crush the revolt. (Guiteras died in a shoot out with the army during this revolt). This abortive revolution highlighted the depth of the chasm between Cuban government and the Cuban people.
Reform From Above
As a result of this repression, the congressional and presidential elections held in January 1936 were of little meaning to most Cubans. Nonetheless the restoration of constitutional
processes was a positive development in that it helped promote a framework for later
democratic progress. Meanwhile Batista was confronted with the dilemma of commanding a largely inactive army, which faced a hostile populace. To surmount these interrelated challenges, Batista had over one thousand Escuelas Cívico Rurales (Rural Public Schools) built to educate peasant families and these schools were also built in the most remote parts of the island. Army officers were active in establishing these schools and in teaching in them. Despite the much-heralded advances attributed to the Castro regime in eliminating illiteracy, Cuba already had a literacy rate of 80% in 1958.
By exerting pressure on the Congress, Batista ensured that the tax base was broadened so that social and public works programs (including the construction of Tuberculosis sanatoriums in the remote parts of the country) could be increased.
Much of the military's reformist stance was influenced by the Roosevelt Administration's
New Deal policy. American/Cuban relations were considerably bolstered in 1934 with the repeal of the Platt Amendment. In the area of race relations, Cuba at this time was more advanced than the United States. Batista (who probably had African ancestry) took strong exception to racial discrimination. Batista also supported the Association of Cane Growers, and by doing so was able to mollify middle class reservations about his progressive orientation, whilst also undercutting American influence over Cuba's vital sugar industry. Consequently, in overall terms during the 1930s, Batista was able to reposition the role of the military from being the force that underwrote an unpopular elite, to an intermediary body, which safeguarded the public interest.
Democratization and Reconciliation
Nonetheless, the high rate of voter abstention in the March 1938 mid-term congressional
elections was a warning to Batista of continuing public discontent against the oligarchic political parties represented in the Congress. Realizing that new alliances had to be made, Batista allowed the legalization of the Cuban Communist Party, which eventually constituted itself in the pre-Castro era as the Popular Socialist Party (PPS). Accordingly, the PPS was given a free hand to organize amongst trade unions and the Communists entered into a strategic alliance with the Batista regime.
Of greater significance in terms of political re-alignments was Batista's reconciliation with the Auténtico Party. This was affected in November 1939 when the Auténticos took part in elections to a Constituent Assembly, which was charged with the task of writing a new constitution.
These elections, in contrast to the previous year's congressional elections, were a positive
milestone. The parties that took part ranged from staunch Machadistas to Communists. The party which made the greatest gains was the Auténticos. The Constitution of 1940, which the Constituent Assembly subsequently drew up, was highly democratic. It contained provision for a president that was elected for a four-year term, who was banned from succeeding himself for eight years. A quasi-parliamentary system was provided for with the creation of the post of Prime Minister. Provisions were made enshrining the right to strike, collective bargaining and compulsory paid holidays.
Batista retired from the army in December 1939 and subsequently presented himself as a
candidate for president under the 1940 Constitution. (Batista’s retirement laid the
groundwork for an abortive military revolt in February 1941 from army officers who were alienated by their loss of power). The non-Auténtico parties formed an alliance called the 'Democratic Socialist Coalition' which consequently rallied around Batista because he was considered to be the only figure that could defeat Grau. After fairly winning the June 1940 presidential election *. (*) The delayed completion of the1940
Constitution forced the postponement of the scheduled elections in February leaving the country in a
void without a president. Batista, in a patriotic gesture, picked-up his opponents Grau and Prío in his car and all three together with Chibás met President Laredo Bru to express their unanimous agreement for him to remain as President through October when the formal transfer of power ceremony took place).
Batista formed a broad-based cabinet, representing the parties which had backed him. The most remarkable appointment was that of Dr. Juan Marinello of the PPS as a Minister Without Portfolio in 1943. Marinello’s post was assumed in 1944, by another PPS stalwart, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez as part of a cabinet reshuffle that occurred that year. The appointment of the then 27 year old Rodríquez was subsequently to become all the more amazing because he would later hold the position of vice-president of Cuba under Castro and for a time he was the third most powerful man in the country after Castro and his brother Raúl. The PPS’s willingness to take part in the Cabinet of
National Unity was due to the Soviet Union’s alliance with the United States during the
Second World War. (The ABC Party also took the opportunity to join this new cabinet).
As president, Batista strictly adhered to the new Constitution. Cuba's relations with the United States were strengthened by her declaration of war on the Axis in 1941. The onset of the Second World War generated a strong economic recovery and there were increased
demands for Cuban exports, particularly sugar. Allowing US warships and aircraft to use Cuba as a base to refuel fostered further goodwill in terms of Cuban/American relations.
For many Cubans the real test of Batista's democratic sincerity was whether he would
retire once his term expired in 1944. With the notable exception of the new Republican Party (which had split from the Democratic-Republican Party in 1942 and entered into an
alliance with the Auténticos) the same parties that had backed Batista four years earlier, fell in behind his Prime Minister, Carlos Saladrigas, a one-time ABC stalwart. Despite this united backing, Saladrigas lost to Grau. This upset victory can be attributed to the mystical, if not saintly mantle that had been attached to Grau's persona since his previous interlude as president. To general disbelief Batista handed power over to Grau and departed for four years of self-imposed exile.
Failed Expectations: Auténtico Party Misrule – 1944 to 1952
The nearly eight years of Auténtico Party rule were to become the most corrupt that Cuba had yet experienced. Grau's unassuming personality conveyed the impression of humility and moral rectitude, but belied the fact that he was a highly manipulative and cynical character. During his four years in office, Grau and his sister-in-law extorted money and accepted bribes. This type of behaviour extended to the caste of the ruling 'Generation of 1933' and it became not uncommon for Auténtico Party politicians to acquire palatial residences. In spite of high taxation rates during the period of Auténtico Party rule, the government was often unable to service its commitments because taxation revenue was siphoned off to illegitimate activities. When Grau's term expired in 1948 his Education Minister, José Manuel Alemán brazenly absconded with millions of dollars. Having struggled mightily to gain power so as to advance the public good, the 'Generation of 1933 apparently regarded public money as their own.
Grau's attempt to alter the Constitution to allow himself a second term caused a split within the ruling Auténticos and led to the foundation of the Cuban People's Party in 1947, which became popularly known as the Ortodoxo Party. Their leader was the charismatic but unstable Senator Eddy Chibás (who had supported Batista’s deposition of Grau in 1934). Pressure from within the Auténtico Party caused Grau to relent in his attempts to amend the Constitution and seek re-election. Grau then backed Prío's presidential candidacy as the Auténtico Party standard bearer.
Prío's presidential election in June 1948 was primarily because of his adroit distribution of patronage, rather than the electorate's endorsement of Grau's performance as president. A revealing aspect of the election result was that the runner up was not the flamboyant Eddy Chibás, but the Liberal Party's Dr. Ricardo Nuñez Portuondo, a respected surgeon.
It was also noteworthy that the PPS's candidate Juan Marinello came a distant fourth and last. Nuñez’s strong showing was attributable to the exiled Batista, who was elected to the Senate. The corruption of Prío's regime exceeded that of his predecessor and the scourge of gangsterism continued to erode public life. It should be pointed out at this juncture that Batista has unfairly been portrayed as a front man for American and Cuban gangsters, (particularly with regard to his alleged links to Meyer Lansky). The caricature of pretotalitarian Cuban politics as essentially a shell game for gangster bosses is inaccurate and insulting to the Cuban people. The problem of gangsterism was derived from the deep involvement that crime gangs had in three revolutionary political groups: Acción Revolucionaria Guiteras (ARG), that descended from Joven Cuba plus two ostensible student political groups at Havana University, the Socialist Revolutionary Movement (MSR) and the Insurrectional Revolutionary Union (UIR)*. (*)Fidel Castro
in the University of Havana was a member of UIR). Grau’s action of bringing both the MSR’s and the UIR’s chiefs into the National Police in order to placate these gangs and subsequently align them to the Auténtico Party was probably his worst abuse of power because it promoted an environment of general lawlessness and extortion.
Batista on his return to power in the 1950s terminated this private political gangsterism
which subsequently resulted in some members of the UIR and MSR actually partaking in
political activity by supporting anti-government insurrectionary groups (which were more often than not financed by the exiled Prío). In order to limit the scope of opposition to his regime, Batista was somewhat more permissive to the gambling and smuggling by former members of MSR and UIR in return for their foregoing extortion activities and not opposing his regime.
Batista Re-Enters the Fray
However, Batista’s return to power still lay in the future and in the interim Prío would prove to be a wily opponent. As president, Prío attacked Chibás and in the process began to win over the Liberal and Democratic parties from Batista. On returning to Cuba in 1948 Senator Batista decided to run for president in 1952. To solidify his political base, Batista founded the Unitary Action Party (PAU) in 1949 as a vehicle with which to run for president. Rafael Díaz Balart, then Fidel Castro's brother-in-law led the PAU's
youth wing. The PAU in contrast to the Liberal and Democratic parties identified with the Revolution of 1933, asserting that the corruption of the 'Generation of 1933'
contrasted with Batista's positive record.
Batista's chances of winning the 1952 presidential election were seemingly bolstered
when the temperamental Chibás committed suicide in August 1951 and Grau split with the Auténticos and founded the Cubanidad Party. As Cuba approached what would have been the historic elections of June 1952, the man who seemed to hold the balance of power was the Mayor of Havana, Nicolás Castellanos, the leader of the Cuban National Party (PNC). Batista reached an understanding with Castellanos that whichever party, out of the PAU and the PNC, had had the most members in 1951 would support the other party’s candidate for president in the 1952 elections. As the capital's mayor, Castellanos held the second most powerful and lucrative position in Cuba (after the presidency).
Having declined Grau's offer to be the Cubinandad Party's presidential candidate, Castellanos fell in behind the Auténticos. The pay back from Prío was that he would back candidates of Castellanos' Havana based PNC in some electoral contests outside the capital. Once this deal was struck, Grau reunited his party in February with the Auténticos. The flow-on effect continued in the same month with both the Liberal and
Democratic parties pledging their support to the Auténtico Party presidential candidate, Carlos Hevia. His glaring point of attraction was that he was about the only apparently honest senior Auténtico Party figure. Consequently Hevia's candidacy began to swing the undecided voter away from the Ortodoxo presidential candidate, Roberto Agramonte.
These political re-alignments, particularly Castellanos's new alliance with the Auténticos,
seemed to thwart Batista's chances of victory. Between February and early March 1952 the PAU was racked by defections to the now Auténtico-aligned PNC. This state of affairs was intolerable to Batista. From Batista's perspective it was bad enough that the
Auténticos had been elected in 1944, but even more infuriating to him was that they would probably continue to hold office, even after proving themselves so unfit to rule.
10th March, 1952: Batista's Surprise Return to Power
A group of young, professionally trained junior officers approached Batista in January 1952 and asked him to lead a coup against Prío. These officers were sick of the corruption of the Auténtico Party and the favoritism shown to officers linked to the ruling party. They realized that Batista's support was crucial because he could persuade their superiors, who were NCOs in the 1930s, to withhold their support for Prío. Batista initially scorned their approaches (although his indignation was not such that he
would report them). But as the rate of defections from his party ripped into Batista's
base, his determination to re-assert himself increased. When informed on the 8th of March
of a further swag of defections from the PAU, the senator (who realized that a coup would be attempted regardless of his participation) decided to act. Two days later, without consulting his family or campaign staff, he detoured from a scheduled election rally and met up with the army plotters, who escorted him to the Columbia Barracks. Batista asked the assembled officers (most of whom were old comrades) to support his coup. Prío on hearing that the Columbia Army Barracks had raised the vertical five color standard of the blue, white, red, yellow and green flag of the 1933 Revolution, fled to Matanzas Province, but on discovering that no military units outside Havana would support him, entered the Mexican Embassy and then fled the country.
The Recycled Regime's Shaky Underpinnings
The coup was accomplished in seventy-seven minutes with only three (accidental) fatalities and this swiftness was due to the decadence of Auténtico Party rule. Other than Prío's banishment (and a nominal ban on the PPS, so as to gain US diplomatic recognition) there were no bloody purges or mass arrests on Batista assuming the post of Chief of State, although Castellanos was dismissed as Mayor of Havana. The new government forged a close relationship with the Central Organization of Cuban Unions (CTC) who, like their leader Eusebio Mujal, had been aligned to the Auténtico Party. The CTC, beside the army became the other pillar underpinning the regime. Meanwhile, Batista's second wife Marta established and headed a quasi-official charity.
Despite the ease of the coup (or perhaps because of it), the seeds of the second Batista
regime's demise were implanted, particularly with regard to the army. The officers who
initiated the coup resented Batista's preference for officers who had been NCOs in the 1930s. To insulate himself from any backlash, Batista cultivated links with contemporary NCOs – a policy that would later rebound because it undermined the lines of authority within the army.
Fidel Castro Gains Prominence
The man who would later draw out and capitalize on these internal contradictions was
Fidel Castro. On the 26th of July 1953 Castro launched his famous attack on the Moncada
Barracks. The attack was more comical than heroic, but still very tragic due to the number of people who died as a result of it. Castro, as Hitler had done following his failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, turned the situation to his advantage when he was placed on trial.
In contrast to contemporary Cuba, where there are some political prisoners serving terms of up to thirty years for the mildest forms of dissent, Castro and his cohorts received a fair trial. From the dock Castro utilized his extraordinary oratorical talents when he delivered a speech in his defense, later entitled "History Will Absolve Me". Castro’s cause subsequently received nationwide publicity. Sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment, Castro was sent to the Model Prison on the Isle of Pines. There he was treated in a decent fashion befitting the prison's name and even allowed to maintain a correspondence with his political contacts on the outside.
Castro launched his attack in 1953 for the calculated reason that it was the centenary of
Martí's birth. The Batista Government organized a year of national celebration. This
policy of glorifying Martí is the only one of Batista's that the Castro regime has continued. On another level, after he had returned to power Batista launched an extensive public works program, thus reversing the breakdown in services that had occurred under the Auténtico Party. Having ruled Cuba for two years as Chief of State, Batista scheduled elections for November 1954. Co-opting collaborationist elements
within the Auténtico Party, Batista re-launched the PAU as the Progressive Action Party (PAP) and used the Crane bird as his mascot. Batista launched an energetic presidential campaign. The opportunistic Grau offered himself as the opposition candidate to Batista as a means of reclaiming the mantle of Auténtico Party leader from the exiled Prío. Realizing that he had no chance of winning, Grau withdrew his candidature the day before polling. Although the government's claim that there was a 70% turnout was exaggerated, the balloting was generally fair. Shortly after his inauguration for
a four-year term as president in February 1955, Batista took the unfortunate and tragic step of releasing Castro, who shortly thereafter departed for Mexico. Batista's decision to
release Castro and other political prisoners was part of a general amnesty which was solicited by the opposition parties and the public. This release of political prisoners was made on the premise that the restoration of constitutional processes constituted a return to normality and the government’s political opponents would consequently take the opportunity to oppose him within the constitutional parameters.
Batista's Second Presidency: Positive Achievements
As a constitutional president once again, Batista exercised his prerogatives within institutional constraints. The government launched a National Program for Economic Development which encouraged foreign investment (most of it American, but also including French and West German investment) and the promotion of light industry (so as to boost permanent employment) and these policies led to a consumer boom. Using the leverage of increased investment opportunities the government lobbied the United States to increase its quota of purchases of Cuba's sugar crop. In the realm of industrial relations, the government took a strong pro-labor stand, supporting wage increases for unionized workers.
It was at the point at which Batista seemed to be at the pinnacle of his career that the painful descent commenced. The question therefore emerges of why such a promising government was to later so ignominiously and dramatically fall. An important piece in this jigsaw puzzle was Batista’s mishandling of talks with the opposition between December 1955 and March 1956 which became known as the ‘Civic Dialogue’. Batista’s intermediaries negotiated with representatives from opposition parties, who had assembled under the banner of the Society of Friends of the Republic (SAR) which was led by the elderly and highly respected independence war hero, Cosme de la Torriente. This dialogue was actually a dialogue of the deaf due to the irreconcilable differences and expectations between the respective negotiating parties. Batista conceptualized the talks as an entry point for the mainstream opposition parties by which they would acknowledge the legitimacy of his regime and consequently take the next step of opposing it within a constitutional framework. From the SAR’s perspective the talks were a means by which Batista would negotiate the mechanics of forgoing power in return for immunity for him and his supporters. The inevitable collapse of the talks resulted in the opposition announcing that they would boycott mid-term 1957 congressional elections. In response to this boycott announcement, Batista committed one of the worst mistakes of his second presidency, that of canceling the
1957 congressional elections. Although Batista committed himself to holding the 1958
presidential election (in which he was constitutionally barred from standing) the
failure of the Civic Dialogue and cancellation of the congressional elections served as a rousing confirmation to the broad mass of the Cuban people that the Batista regime was self-serving and could only be removed by force. With the considerable benefit of hindsight Batista should have proceeded with the 1957 congressional elections and instigated a break with the three junior parties in the ruling Progressive Coalition, the Liberal, Democratic and Radical parties so that there was a safety valve of electoral activity.
A violent revolutionary cycle ensued shortly after the collapse of the Civic Dialogue.
Between 1956 and late 1958 a myriad of revolts were instigated by a range of diverse
revolutionary groups. These revolts and the groups who undertook them do not warrant
detailing, except to make the general point that they created the necessary environment for Castro’s phantom guerilla force to triumph in
January 1959. One of the most important revolts was the one that was undertaken by a new university revolutionary group, the Revolutionary Directorate (DR). The DR launched an audacious attack on the presidential palace on March the 13th 1957 which almost killed Batista and his family. This attack (which was funded and instigated by Prío) failed because Batista kept his nerve. Although a subsequent loyalist rally drew an estimated quarter of a million people before the presidential palace to show their support for Batista, the attack actually marked the beginning of end for the regime. This was because the 13th of March attack on the presidential palace demonstrated the regime’s underlying vulnerability and because it contributed to a cycle of repression which
would subsequently benefit Castro.
Castro himself landed in Oriente Province in December 1956 and then proceeded to the
remote mountainous Sierra Maestra. The yacht that Castro and his party returned on, the
Granma, was purchased by Prío's ill-gotten funds. (During his exile, the ever scheming Prío wanted to establish a base of operations in Haiti and he subsequently helped finance the election campaign of a Dr. Francois Duvalier. Prío also made a pact with the Dominican Republic’s dictator Rafael Trujillo, but this later fell through). Castro's guerilla campaign has been mythologized as a military epic. The truth is somewhat different, as there were no more than three hundred combat deaths during the two-year insurgency.
Being the skilled propagandist that he is, Castro used his opportunities during his interviews with the New York Times journalist Herbert Mathews in the Sierra Maestra to convey the impression that his insurgency was more potent than it actually was. Castro's real achievement was primarily political in that he was able to make his 26th of July Movement into a heterogeneous organisation due to the bonanza of the Mathews-generated publicity. The 26th of July Movement was similar to the old ABC as it
was organized on a cell basis and was highly effective in conducting a campaign of
disruption in urban centres through selective assassinations, industrial sabotage, infiltration of government agencies, violent demonstrations and the kidnapping of foreigners.
Che Guevara, an influential 26th of JulyMovement strategist observed that the more the
regime resorted to repression, the more people would turn against it. The nature of the struggle was a class one, because most of the ranks of the 26th of July Movement were drawn from the middle class, while the personnel of the secret police, the SIM (the Military Intelligence Service) were drawn from humbler backgrounds and they were consequently motivated by class resentments. The ‘excesses’ that army officers committed in the 1950s were derived from the anger which they felt at seeing fellow officers being indiscriminately killed by terrorist actions committed by 26th of July Movement partisans. Castro was very successful in construing government action taken to protect the population from terrorist actions which killed innocent civilians. This lack of respect for human life set the scene for the Castro regime’s brutal repression.
As the democratic space narrowed, the Batista regime became more corrupt as it needed to maintain the support of the security forces. The nature of the societal divisions, which
underpinned Castro's rebellion, also existed within the army. Throughout 1957 Batista
refrained from launching an offensive against the rebels in the Sierra Maestra because the
Batistiano officers and the NCOs on whom Batista relied were not trained in guerrilla
warfare and not prepared to undertake successful sustained offensive action. The
professionally trained officers (who had instigated Batista's return to power) may have
been competent, but Batista distrusted them too much to allow them a free hand.
There were also deep divisions on the Castro side and had Batista exploited them, (the way that Castro was exploiting the government's) his regime might have survived. Even as Castro's reputation as a Robin Hood fighting Batista's Sheriff of Nottingham grew, it was apparent to some Cubans that a Castro triumph might not usher in a democracy. From the Sierra Maestra there were reports of executions of 26th of July Movement partisans for minor breaches of discipline and that Castro (later titled the 'Maximum Leader') demanded absolute loyalty from those he led. Castro's authoritarianism created strains between him and his liberal, predominately middle class operatives who were the backbone of the rebellion. While this tension might have proved fatal, even then, Castro displayed a remarkable knack for turning adversity to his advantage.
The unsuccessful general strike of April 1958 is officially regarded in contemporary Cuba as the greatest setback in the struggle against Batista. The truth however is that the strike's failure enabled Castro to consolidate his power over the 26th of July Movement and subsequently hasten Batista's demise. The organizers of the strike were the liberal elements within the 26th of July Movement. Although Castro pledged his support to them, he delivered none. The Batista Government's determined and brutal response, combined with the crucial support that it received from the CTC ensured the strike's failure. The resulting leadership vacuum in the 26th of July Movement was filled by ardent Fidelistas, while the strident measures that were taken to crush the strike solidified middle class
opposition to Batista. Fortified by the crushing of the strike, Batista ordered the professional officer corps to engage and wipe out the rebels in their Sierra Maestra
base. That the June 1958 offensive failed was testament to Castro's success in exploiting the army's weaknesses. Throughout his guerrilla campaign, Castro emphasized in his radio broadcasts his commitment to constitutional democracy and his distaste at fighting the honorable elements within the army, whom he hoped would unburden him by overthrowing the Batista 'tyranny'. This form of psychological warfare was highly successful; the officers in combat were often negligent in pressing their advantage. During the June offensive Castro maintained cordial contacts with officers such as Major Quevedo and this helped sabotage the offensive. This cultivation of the army concealed Castro's real intentions, for on coming to power he would destroy that institution, even executing those officers that had maintained their distance from Batista and in the process helped to deliver Castro victory.
The failure of the June offensive seemed to herald Batista's demise. The impression that the historical tide was against Batista had seemingly been confirmed when the Eisenhower Administration placed an arms embargo against his regime in March 1958,
which did much to undermine army morale. Nonetheless, Batista fought on, prophetically convinced that a Castro victory would mean a permanent dictatorship for Cuba. Meanwhile Castro held back, developing his psychological advantage and waiting for the time to strike when the army began to disintegrate from within. The timing of when matters would reach their climax, hinged on the success of Castro’s election boycott campaign.
Castro Deceives the Cuban People at the Crucial Juncture
Castro realized that a clean election would short-circuit his revolutionary route to power
and despite his declared and explicit commitment to constitutional democracy he pronounced all-inclusive death sentences against running candidates in the November
1958 general elections. The leading opposition presidential candidate, Carlos Marquez Sterling of the electionist wing of the Ortodoxo Party, the Free People’s Party, (Grau's candidacy and his wing of the Auténtico Party were too discredited to be taken seriously), courageously defied the strong election boycott movement because of his fears for the long term prospects for Cuban democracy should Castro prevail.
The election victory of the PAP's Andrés Rivero Agüero (who had initially built a political base in the Cuban Liberal Party but had followed Batista into the PAU in 1949) was due to the success of Castro’s boycott movement. Rivero Agüero had previously
served as prime minister and his humble background, apparent financial probity and
administrative competence (Cuba maintained a high economic growth rate despite the political turbulence during this period) made him the most credible candidate that the regime could offer. For all of Rivero Agüero’s possible virtues as president, it was tragic that the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people forewent the opportunity to vote for an impeccable democrat in the person of Carlos Marquez Sterling because he could have saved them from the totalitarian future that remained in store. Marquez Sterling had had an ambivalent political relationship with Batista, which reflected the latter’s ambiguity as a democrat. (Marquez Sterling had been the president of the Constituent Assembly which had produced the 1940 Constitution). Although Marquez Sterling had commenced his political career as an anti-Machado Liberal he finished it as an avowed Ortodoxo due to that party’s democratic bona fides. (Marquez Sterling’s presidential candidacy was also supported by minority factions within the ruling Progressive Coalition).
Castro’s success in seducing the overwhelming majority of the Cuban electorate
to boycott the November 1958 presidential election was testament to his charisma (which
still entrances many people around the world today). For all Castro’s personal magnetism, it is highly improbable that the Cuban people would have courageously rallied to his cause had they actually known that he was a totalitarian dictator in waiting. The overwhelming support that Castro enjoyed at this point was also due to his masterstroke in publicly designating Manuel Urrutia as the future provisional president of Cuba. Urrutia was a respected former judge who was a staunch democrat, avowed anti-communist and someone who was known to be committed to free and democratic elections. (Unfortunately, from the very beginning of his tenure as president, Urrutia ignored violations of the Cuban Constitution and thereby provided Castro with sufficient scope to consolidate his de facto dictatorial power). The cabinet that Urrutia assembled, which held nominal power between January and July 1959, was the most honest and talented in Cuban history. However the Urrutia presidency would be nothing more
than a useful front for Castro which enabled him to establish a police state. A crucial
prerequisite to Castro’s establishment of a permanent dictatorship was the bloody purge he undertook in eliminating hundreds of Batistianos so that his ‘Rebel Army’ displaced
Cuba’s regular army. For this reason the execution of Batistiano ‘war criminals’ was an
immediate priority for Castro on him taking de facto power.
The final and fatal missed opportunity which enabled Castro to assume dictatorial power was American ambivalence about offering Batista and his family asylum in the United States. In December 1958, William Pawley acting as an unofficial emissary of the United States government asked Batista if he would leave the government to a military junta and depart to Daytona where he had lived in self-imposed exile from 1946 to 1948. Batista, point blank, asked Pawley if he was authorized by the State Department to make the offer. Pawley remained silent. Later that month the American Ambassador, Earl Smith visited President Batista but did not offer him and his family asylum in the United States. The American failure to offer the outgoing Cuban president Batista an expeditious exit was a mistake because it could have forestalled the immediate catalyst for Castro’s revolutionary seizure of power. Furthermore, from Daytona Batista might have
exercised a degree of political influence because his outgoing Machadista vice-president
Dr. Guás Inclán could have secured a Batistiano political base in a post-Batista democratic Cuba. This was because Guás Inclán was due to
assume the post of Mayor of Havana which he had been elected to in November 1958. By
holding the second most important position in Cuba many Batistianos would have taken
refuge in Guás Inclán’s Liberal Party. Although the ostensible junior coalition party,
the Liberal Party, due Batista’s role in protecting it following the 1933 Revolution,
had always provided him (with the notable exception of 1952) with a legitimate block vote approximating between fifteen and twenty percent. (This voting base in conjunction with Castro’s successful boycott campaign had secured Rivero Agüero´s victory over Marquez Sterling). This scenario would have been possible only if the whole political structure had not collapsed.
The Regime Unravels
The stunning success that the Rebel Army enjoyed when it launched its December 1958
offensive was not due to its military prowess, but rather the breakdown in their opponent's morale due to overwhelming hostility toward the person of President Batista. The maxim that success in guerrilla war is not achieved by destroying your enemy militarily, but by destroying their morale was proven to be correct. Despite their overwhelming superior numerical strength, government units when confronted mostly surrendered, fled or defected. On learning that the Army Chief of Staff, General Francisco Tabernilla Dolz had ordered General Eulogio Cantillo, who commanded
operations in Oriente Province to meet with Castro behind his back, Batista decided to
abandon power as quickly as he had once seized it. At the 1959 New Year's party held at his home at Camp Columbia army barracks, Batista told his assembled guests of his immediate resignation. Batista took some of the guests with him and his wife (and those of his children that were still in Cuba), departing from Camp Columbia’s military airport. The impetuous nature of their escape belied the radical and tragic transformation that it heralded for Cuba.
Batista's Final Exile
Batista took initial refuge in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Realizing that the
unpopularity of Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican Republic’s dictator, in Cuba, doomed Trujillo’s support for an invasion of that country in August 1959 to be carried out by Cuban exiles, (this project is not to be confused with the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of April 1961) Batista broke with Trujillo and departed for Portugal and eventually settled in Spain. During his fourteen-year exile Batista remained in contact with former cabinet ministers, but not with Cuba's growing Diaspora. This ostracism did not particularly disturb Batista, because he blamed the Cuban middle class for his fall, and they now constituted the bulk of Cuba's exile community. Indeed, Castro's elimination of the
middle class gave Batista a sense of bittersweet satisfaction. Otherwise, the frustration of exile was lessened somewhat by financial security, the time that Batista spent with his family, him becoming a practicing Roman Catholic and the solace he found in writing. The two best known books that Batista published during his second exile were Cuba Betrayed and The Growth and Decline of the Cuban Republic. The latter book
was aimed at highlighting the role, and arguing the case that the 1933 Revolution was in
keeping with Martí's legacy and asserting that Castro's seizure of power was the antithesis of that tradition.
Indeed for all his faults, an objective analysis of Batista’s career indicates that he brought Cuba closer in line with Martí’s vision of an independent, democratic and prosperous
republic than Castro ever did. It was under Batista’s stewardship that the promises of the
1933 Revolution were being fulfilled: in 1934 the Platt amendment was abrogated, a
democratic constitution was promulgated in 1940 and from 1955, Cuba due to the
application of the Government’s National Economic Development Program utilized, its
geographical proximity to the United States as a strategic asset towards Cuba becoming a
developed nation with a diversified agricultural and industrial base. By contrast, Cuba as a totalitarian state under Castro became overly dependant on the Soviet bloc with regard to its trading and financial arrangements. Consequently Cuba was dangerously exposed following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. Utilizing the skills of brilliant technocrats such as Carlos Lage, Castro was able to stave off economic collapse. Nonetheless it is disturbing that Castro did not allow economic reform to be further advanced due to his concern that a civil society could
emerge which could threaten his power. Therefore Cuba in a post-Soviet world is now
even more dependant upon sugar as its major export and on tourism than it ever was under Batista. Indeed contemporary Cuban society is divided between those who through Communist Party connections have access to American dollars by having access to government run hotels that are patronized by foreign tourists and most Cubans who are denied such access.
While Batista, from his exile devoted his energy toward vindicating his legacy by writing books that extolled the virtues of his regime and attacked its communist successor, Castro
himself had not forgotten his former nemesis. In August 1973 Castro dispatched a special agent, Tony de la Guardia, on a secret mission to kidnap Batista and bring him back to Cuba for a show trial and subsequent execution. On the night that de la Guardia arrived in Madrid, Batista died from a sudden and unexpected heart attack in Marbella, Spain. (Interestingly, and brutally, Castro had Tony de la Guardia executed in July 1989, along with General Arnaldo Ochoa, by scapegoating them for drug smuggling, because the Cuban dictator feared that they possessed the capacity to stage a successful military coup).
Fulgencio Batista's Tragic Epitaph
That Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar continues to be reviled by history is testament to the scale of Castro's triumph over him. Batista might receive a more balanced and just re-appraisal should Cubans regain their freedom to objectively study and analyze their history. It was Batista's misfortune that his arch-nemesis Fidel Castro was such a formidable adversary.
For Batista was not so much an evil man, as a tragic one, who ultimately destroyed everything that he tried to build. More than anything, Batista craved acceptance and legitimacy. For that reason he initially gave way to a democracy, only to overturn it when faced with the prospect of rejection and Batista's failed struggle against Castro thwarted his attempts to liberalize his regime and Castro's victory over him has ushered in over two generations of totalitarian tyranny, which is yet to end. While Castro may have been more able than Batista, his striving for absolute power illustrated that Castro's motivations are more basic. Hence Batista is a more complex historical character and a more detailed study of him might eventuate in history offering some absolution for his actions in relative terms and a critical appreciation that he too, similar to the Cuban people whom he attempted to serve, ultimately fell victim to Castro’s chicanery.
David Bennett as Convener of Historical and Current Affairs Analysis (HCAA) would
like to thank Roberto A. Torricella for his comments, corrections and suggestions to a
previous edition of this article. Information and insight into pre-totalitarian Cuba can be
gained by visiting two websites assembled by Mr. Torricella
Argote-Freyre, F, Fulgencio Batista From Revolutionary to Strongman, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey and London, 2006.
Brenner, Leo Grande, Rich and Siegal (editors), The Cuban Reader-The Making of a Revolution, Grove Press, New York, 1989.
Edmund A Chester, A Sergeant Named Batista, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1954.
Andres Oppenheimer, Castro's Final Hour, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1993.
Louis A Perez, Cuba Between Reform and Revolution, Oxford University Press, New York, 1988.
Robert E Quirk, Fidel Castro, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., New York, 1993.
Rhonda P Rabkin, Cuban Politics: The Revolutionary Experiment, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1993.
SBS World Guide, the-, 5th Edition, Special Broadcasting Service, Reed Reference, Port Melbourne, 1995.
Jean Stubbs, Cuba: The Test of Time, Latin American Bureau (Research and Action), London, 1989.
James Suchlicki, Historical Dictionary of Cuba, Latin American Historical Dictionaries; No 22, USA, 1988.
Tad Szulc, Fidel: A Critical Portrait, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1986.
Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom, Eyre & Spohiswoode, London, 1970.
My Saddest memory of Cuba was going to a jazz club and seeing the line of 15-17 year old prostitutes waiting for a trick. Michael has it right. If you have contact with the tourists, you live well, if not....
Michael, its time for people anxious to visit the communist island to be made aware of factual information such as the one you provide herein. I hope your article is read by many Americans so they spend their vacation money elsewhere instead of helping the castro-communist regime. Thank you.
A bunch of Quakers from my Meeting in Jaffrey, NH just visited the small Quaker community there and I KNOW they saw only a small (impoverished) Potinkin Village and nothing really bad. I will not ask anything because I know what their sentiments are. Thanks for the eye opener. A dozen years ago I met the Cuban UN Ambassador at a party in Atlanta. My new wife hung around with some really serious lefties and I got towed along to the party after a Socialist Workers Party "solidarity meeting" honoring him. There was a lot of talk about achieving normal relations with the US. When I finally got this guy alone in conversation, I advised against such a course of action because, as bad as things were there, it would be desperately worse with the US sucking off the best of what they have left. Maybe I changed his mind but I sure gave him a different message than he got from anyone else there. Even learning from this article, I don't regret my message to him.
I went to Cuba and stayed at the Havana Libre. I also traveled outside of the bubble many miles from Havana. The author nailed it.
Makes me sick when liberal politicians come back from their government controlled tour and brag on Cuba. Micheal Moore is an idiot. Party members and tourist go to good hospitals, everyone else is screwed.
A guy showed me his ration book; when his son turned 7 no more milk. All the Cubans I met were great people, all were very cynical of the government.
You describe the Cuba I visited a couple of years ago. Everything needs a coat of paint. I did not see a properly maintained building. The cigar factory was a hot, dirty, and ramshackle place. I tipped a lady driver (we took a 1950s car tour)in pesos convertible and she gave me a hug that almost broke a rib.
In my home I have a Cuban rafters paddle. It is hand carved and held together by one rusty nail. A man's life depended on this nail holding together. The paddle is a great symbol of the human spirit, the desire to be free. I pray that Fidel will live lomg enough to one day see the collapse of his socialist state and he meet his people without the protection he now enjoys.
Sounds like south side Chicago
Glad to see you published here. Way back when, I had a professor of Latin American studies who kept telling us that Cuba was a wonderful country bit "...you guys wouldn't like it." I thought, no we wouldn't because we're not as stupid as you think we are.
And Communists rail against Capitalists!
What is described in this article is something out of an Insane Society.
What hath Marx, Stalin, and Castro wrought!
This article should be mandated reading for every College Student in the USA and Europe.
Also, Pres. O'Bama, every Liberal and Democrat Voter in the USA!
On behalf of my wife whose father's business, home, and everything but the clothes on his back were confiscated by the communists in Havana. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.
"It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic"
"Havana looked like a glittering metropolis in the dark"
does not square. Which is it?
"But rather than raise the poor up, Castro and Guevara shoved the rich and the middle class down. The result was collapse. "
"This is exactly what Obama is doing to the USA."
David, this is what leftists do, period. And we aren't talking about just money. Instead of bringing people up, just look at how they've brought society down to the level of the gutter from the standpoint of morality and personal ethics.
Don't encourage the underclass to have higher standards, take those with high standards and get them to behave the same way the underclass does.
Claude fails to mention however, that the United States is the ONLY country to embargo Cuba. If their system was so great, their trade with every other nation on this planet should compensate.
Dear Claude, the writer is clear that it is communists that created the situation that exists in Cuba. I don't know any communist Republicans, but I do know communist and socialist Democrats, including our current President, former member of the radical socialist New Party in Chicago. It is President Obama who wants to "redistribute the wealth". Unless you are an elite in the United States, that wealth won't be distributed to you.
I think a lot of the commenters are missing that the point of the article is not that this is what the Democrats want to do to America, but that it's what Republicans already are doing to America.
Being 90 miles away from the world's largest economy, and embargoed, effectively put's Cuba's economy on the moon since it makes it extremely expensive to import the sort of things that would be coming in if Cuba were trading with the USA.
Thank you for going to Cuba and writing this article.
I wish I could send it to my left-leaning (Democrat) relatives.
Obama will make sure that America becomes just like Cuba. That's the plans ladies and gents.
"free" heathcare which is a trainwreck. "free" obamaphones. Redistribution of my MY and your wealth.
No jobs.... Obama, our golfer in chief.
Cuba: North Korea with palm trees.
Powerful, insightful article. Allowing Castro to take and keep Cuba is one of our nation's greatest foreign policy failures. That we have allowed the Cuban people to suffer so greatly all these years is a travesty beyond measure. Thanks, Michael, for telling the truth about Cuba.
Not unlike what the Democrats would do to America, given the chance.
I have always been in favor of American culture bringing about change in Cuba.
I would even go in with force if necessary. The Castro's would be overwhelmed w/in a decade - and the authoritarians there would also see the light.
About now Putin could use a good knot pulled through his butt - this would be a great opportunity. Maybe Cruz can make it happen who knows. In the meantime, it is a shame to see such misery (long inflicted) so close to the beacon of freedom.
Un-teachable Marxoids. True that. Some time ago, I think it was in Nat Geographic, some green-red environmentalist was rhapsodizing about Cuba's Eden-like wilderness, which he of course wanted to make one believe stretched across the country, in a thinly-veiled swipe at capitalism. I'm sure he was looking at Raul-approved preserves though. As is ever the case among repressed people, in soul crushing poverty, I'm sure the opposite is true and the land gets despoiled for them to eke out a living. But try to get those Che fanboy tourist morons in that bar to realize that; they're completely taken in by the charade.
YOUTUBE ENTIRE DOCUMENTARY: "Grandchildren of the Cuban Revolution" - The Grandchildren of the Revolution gives the youth a voice to share their feelings of hope and despair. Some speak with humor, many do it in defiance. The film tries to capture the vibe of Cubas youth today. Featuring artists like: Los Aldeanos, Porno para Ricardo, Silvito El Libre and bloggers Claudia Cadelo, Yoani Sanchez and Laritza Diversent, the film was directed by Carlos Montaner with the help of young camera men and women who visited the island throughout a span of several months. SPANISH WITH ENGLISH SUB-TITLES
YOUTUBE: DOCUMENTARY: "Cuba and the Elephants" - Full version w / English Sub-titles: A Look at Cuba, in reality beyond its tourist attractions. A documentary that takes us to reflect on the achievements of the socialist system and how truly the common Cuban people live. A production of the Political Institute of Peru for Liberty.
YOUTUBE DOCUMENTARY: Habana - Arte Nuevo de Hacer Ruinas, Parte 1 de 6 - HAVANA: The New Art of Making Ruins In recent years, Havana has become famous all over the world for the morbid charm of its flaking façades – a curious blend of magic and decay – and romanticized in countless Hollywood films and documentaries, most notably perhaps in Buena Vista Social Club. Its beauty resides in the poetry of its ruins. But these ruins are far less poetic for the people who inhabit them. Houses frequently collapse causing fatalities. The decay of this city and its living quarters is a continual source of both danger and shame for its inhabitants. This unique documentary tells the stories of the people who reside in these modern ruins, from a homeless man who lives in an abandoned theater (in which Caruso once sang for Cuba’s high society), to an expropriated landowner who struggles against the decay of his parental home, to a writer who conceives a philosophy of the ruins to explain and bear the gradual collapse of the city and its political system.
Yay, equality! No matter how many tragic results of socialism they see around them in the real world, the liberals remain convinced that it's still the answer to all of America's ills.
Which will fall first, Castro's Cuba or us?
I'm sure any American liberal reading this says, "Wow! The Cuban revolution was an even bigger success than I ever imagined!" Of course you mentioned the free health care and education! The people have a low carbon footprint! The economy is eco-friendly: no wasteful meat consumption or lots of automobiles. Everyone is equal -- aside from the privileged elite, who of course can't be expected to live like the peasants. (And of course if America became more like Cuba, liberals take it for granted that they would be among the privileged elite.) The people are not corrupted by capitalism and consumerism! There's only one political party so there is none of this horrible partisan bickering! The place is practically a utopia.
Mr. Totten - please call Michael Moore.....
I grew up in Eastern Europe under socialism. Life was simple, squalid in places, but not as bad as what is being described here. I think that the economic isolation that was imposed on Cuba has something to do with these conditions.
I do not defend socialism. It is a bad system and civilization would collapse under it's problems if it was imposed everywhere. I even risked a little bit in my youth to help rid my own country of it. Nonetheless, one should recognize somewhat special circumstances that apply to Cuba: being a neighbor of a large and dominant country that remained impeccably hostile for more than half a century.
Now we all know what America will look like when the Obamas and Clintons have finished destroying our freedom and wealth.
Amazing how the US us becoming like Cuba, the government is destroying the People's desire and reason to work hard and gave nothing.
Taxes too high, harassment, inspections, license and extreme high cost to survive.
The Us us already much like Cuba in many ares where the business shut down and people struggle.
If Castro dies on Obama or Hillary's watch, I am certain that the Far Left in our own country, which is presently in control of the Democrat Party and most of the news media, will see to it that the Communist regime in Cuba is shored up, regardless of the cost to the American taxpayers. Obama is a dedicated Marxist and Hillary is a political who*re, ready to sell herself to the Marxists who control the DNC and the news media in return for power.
This article reminded me of discussions I used to have with physician friends back in the 1970's and 1980's. They volunteered with service groups that were permitted to travel to the then-USSR to teach new medical techniques. They were not unfriendly to the USSR at that time (it was the Upper West Side of Manhattan, fellow traveler territory,to be sure, enough said). What they all noted was that, in Moscow itself, there was a fair degree of prosperity, even if the housing stock was old and somewhat dilapidated, and even the new apartment complexes looked like they had been lived in and untended for generations. The medical clinics and hospitals were well-stocked and the staff well-trained.
When they travelled even ten miles outside of Moscow to visit clinics and hospitals in the suburbs, they described it like they were going back a century here in the United States. Crowded, dirty wards, surly staff,outdated and even dangerous medical equipment, no antibiotics, no anesthesia (these, of course, could be shipped in by courier for a 'consideration' to the doctor). Even these fellow travelers were appalled at what they saw in the Workers' Paradise. My own observation was that when Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin, he let the genie out of the bottle once and for all, and even the faithful in the West now were able to see the failures of socialism in a different light.
Mentioning the Sierra Maestra Restaurant made me think of the AIDs concentration camps in the mountains of the same name near Santiago de Cuba. The Libs here all talk of the great medical care in Cuba. If they only knew they would be horrified. This article is really eye-opening because apparently nothing has changed since the '6os when we were rescuing refugees off the Northern coast. Look it up on Amazon. I wrote about it.
Thank you and this is exactly right and true. Most folks that comment only know what they read online about the way Cuba was and they are ignorant to think that Cuba was full of mobsters. Cuba and the U.S. had relationship for years and those relationship survivied every revolution, except for the one that took everyone's properties! Castro is and was always a communist and he lied and fooled everyone.
For a time, I did some volunteer work helping Cuban refugees earn their citizenship (English lessons, filling out paperwork, etc.) I asked them what life was like under Castro, and they said that it's great as long as you can get in good with the government. You get a nice government-provided job, apartment, etc. So if you kiss the right person's ass or you're the right person's son or nephew, you've got it made. But everyone else is doomed to a life of third world poverty- no opportunities, no hope, no future. It's basically cronyism on steroids.
So when I hear some leftist idiot complain about how capitalism is to blame for the wealth inequities in our society, I tell them to check out Cuba if they want to see what real inequity looks like.
But they have free health care and 100% literacy. You cannot argue with that. They are dizzy with success
"Such people are clearly unteachable."
(Psssst, WST. He's talking about you)
Extraordinarily detailed and I believe also an accurate account of the "real" bi-polar situation in Cuba today. There is a CUBA FOR THE HAVES and a very poor and deprived CUBA FOR THE HAVE NOTS. KUDOS to Mr. TOTTEN
Did America have some obligation to shield Cuba from the conditions that lead to Castro taking power? Cuba could have been admitted to the Union as a state and was not for two reasons. First that we had promised them independence since we went to war with Spain on Cuba's behalf. That was honorable. The second and probably more decisive reason was the resistance from Southern politicians, especially from Louisiana. They wanted Cuba kept out for two reasons, sugar - which was a bad reason, and race and religion - which was a worse reason. In the 1930s Batista was considered a great reformer and Cuba was easily a more developed state than parts of the South. When Batista returned after his period of effective exile in Miami he threw in the towel and joined the hogs at the trough. The spectacle of rapacity was imposed on a conservative society. For the record the Cuban unions and the official Communists remained on his side until the end. The sight of their people being degraded by the American mafia, who were admitted to sit at the same table as equals by businesses like AT&T, gave the Castroites the emotional support for their revolution.
Nice article. You wrot something similar on your site, right?
I don't think a maid can clean 30 rooms a shift. Even half that is working fast.
Sad. I live in south Florida, an easy plane trip or even powerboat ride away from Cuba. Quite a few Cuban-born Americans live here in my neighborhood. Yet life could not be more different in these two adjacent societies.
If there is any upside to how bad Cuba is today, it is that once the Castros are gone, it is at least thinkable that someone else in leadership will decide that it's finally time for Cuba to rejoin the modern world ... and virtually any change at all towards a market economy and any semblance of human rights would be a huge, instant improvement. The poor Cubans have nowhere else to go but up.
" 'There are places in the United States that some can’t afford,' she retorted."
You can get a mixed drink at HMF at The Breakers, the most expensive restaurant in all ultra-rich Palm Beach, for under $15. Even the poorest person here in the USA could afford that as an occasional treat.
hypie Please migrate immediately! Traditional values in Russia? Lol. Russian traditions only please.
Sorry, forgot to tell you the name of Vance's book: Wyst.
Michael - the great scifi Author Jack Vance wrote a satire--in 1978!--that is uncannily close to how you describe Cuba. If you haven't read it, let me know and I will send you a copy.
My daughter, who is a lefty, went to Cuba soon after finishing college. She thought she would see Socialism "working." She is fluent in Spanish and could talk to the people she met. She was only there a few days before she realized it was a prison. It shook her confidence in Socialism.
Great article! Unfortunately, many of us in the USA have known all these horrible things about Castro's Cuba for YEARS and YEARS!! Yes, folks Communism does exist and NO it does NOT work, never has, never will. Freedom works, individual, personal freedom. True Capitalism works, free trade works. Cuba is only one of many countries that don't respect individual rights. It is a true tragedy, however, that still today Cubans must suffer.
Interesting article, but it would have been made immeasurably more powerful if it included more photos.
Next you are going to tell me that North Korea is not a Utopian paradise.
"But rather than raise the poor up, Castro and Guevara shoved the rich and the middle class down. The result was collapse. "
This is exactly what Obama is doing to the USA.
Even the scum running Cuba know that their great experiment is a wretched, massive failure. If they allowed a real liberalization it would probably run out of their control and they would be held accountable for the crimes they have committed against the Cuban people. And the hatred unleashed against them might very probably lead to their imprisonment or execution. That's why they must continue to hold a whole nation hostage and in misery.
Very much sounds like Managua, Nicaragua during the first Sandinista regime. Food and staple scarcities and exchange systems identical; Cuban elite and Sandinista elite the same; housing the same - dilapidated and un-reconstructed after the earthquake of '72.
Great article..!!! I'm cuban and i recommend it strongly.
Too bad we didn't exercise a little "regime change" in the Western hemisphere immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90s.
I've always imagined that Cuba could have been another Las Vegas but in the beautiful tropics instead of the desert.
I came back to this from directorblue.blogspot.com and wanted to mention:
In the movie version of 'Guys and Dolls', there's a scene and a song set in Havana, where Sky Masterton takes Sergeant Sarah Brown for a romantic weekend.
They fly down as easy as you please.
Thank you, Mr. Totten, for a wonderful and eye-opening article. I am quite impressed at how well you have done your "homework" in putting your observations into an accurate political, economic and historical context rather than merely parroting the distorted, oversimplified or outright false narratives one often hears (about pre-Castro Cuba, for example). I wish many of the so-called "journalists" who have "reported" from Cuba provided even a third of your many insights instead of spouting the Communist party line as if they were court stenographers. Sadly, they rarely do.
" 'There are places in the United States that some can’t afford,' she retorted."
The selective cognition which is the foundation of Leftist indoctrination is epitomized by this doltish woman's statement. Conveniently left unsaid is the fact that there are many MORE places in the United States which they CAN afford. Castro-worshippers such as Sean Penn, Danny Glover, and the nitwit wing of the Congressional Black Caucus are hypocrites without a single stake in the Cuban game. Would that they could all spend a year of their overprivileged lives amidst the squalor and deprivation of that "model" city!
.........but but but,
you forgot 2mention the imbargo & the fact that the USofA is the only major economy that participates.
That every other country on earth has no restriction on tourism, imports or buying cuban land to build hotels & restaurants for tourisim.
for example: http://havana-club.com/fr/
LOL, "too complex" indeed. When was a US Embargo ever more than an inconvience? What a laff ! Karl Jr's anyone?
How's this for complex. I'm 64 y/o & would WELCOME the Russian army to these shores as LIBERATOR's !
Raised in an era when "duck'n'roll" under your school desk was practiced weekly. The Russkies were the evil empire out to "get us" & deprive us :)
Well, how now, the US morphed into a PC Fedzilla & Russia is the up holder of "traditional" values & stands up for it's people while we mutated into the evil empire, ready to boycott, embargo, prehaps even to go to war against any place that doesn't buy into LBGTCDXD "rights". We conduct foreign policy by tweeting. We list in under a new McCarthyism that puts the original to shame & has ruined far more many peoples lives than ol'Joe could have ever hoped for.
Russia has more free speech than we do nowadays. We like the Cubans are learning the leftist lesson to be very very careful about saying anything at all: our jobs, our families, all we have are at stake over any non-approved opinion we have & may dare to express.
Slogan of the Times, delivered with an authoritarian Sneer: "U express, U regret"
These yapping running dogs of authoritarianism even have the nerve to praise themselves for speaking "Truth to Power" when they are now in Power & haven't spoken a word of truth forever.
Speak Truth To Power & you will regret it, your family will regret it as the mighty nanny state consigns them to impoverishment because "U express, U regret"
You are mistaken. The US embargo on Cuba began in October, 1960, after Castro seized all US property on the island. The embargo was tightened in steps over the following months.
Perhaps, in a century, Cuba will be an American state.
The best thing for Cuba is an American invasion. Needless to say, we would only have to invade a few 'gate communities' to win. There is enough private Cuban money in South Florida to resurrect the country in 10 years. Of course, that would require private property rights to effect the miracle of civilization. May Castro and his ilk suddenly die.
Don't you think some mention of the Embargo might have been relevant in an article dealing with the economic conditions of Cuba?
Michael Totten has dealt with this: To Embargo or Not. The United States is Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner after Venezuela, China, Spain, and Brazil. Cuba gets more of its products from the United States even now than from Canada or Mexico. Sanctions are still in place—Cuba cannot buy everything, and it must pay in cash—but the embargo is hardly absolute.It is ironic that before the embargo, Fidelistas told us that US involvement in the Cuban economy was harming Cuba. Now Fidelistas tell us that lack of US involvement in the Cuban economy is harming Cuba.
For a comparison between Cuba before Castro, and Castro's Cuba, take a look at Renaissance and Decay: A Comparison of Socioeconomic Indicators in Pre-Castro and Current-Day Cuba. As this was published in 1998,some of the information is dated, but the comparison is still overall a valid one.
Now, now, fair is fair. I want to hear an equally long defence of
the Cuban system from a left winger. Do we have any volunteers?
That would be really educational.
Rueben - The embargo followed the assassination of JFK, most likely with Castro involvement.
WST - you sound like Ronald Reagan. (Not 'left' or 'right' but 'up' or 'down' are the choices). Good for you! We need to implement economic policies that raise people up to their God-given potentials and where all have access to economic activity.
Don't you think some mention of the Embargo might have been relevant in an article dealing with the economic conditions of Cuba?
I went there in 2004 (without U.S "permission") and my experience was exactly the same.
And yet daily newspapers in major American cities, hipster rags catering to the presumably well educated, and literally dozens of college and university professors I've encountered over the years all rant about how cool it is to visit Cuba and what a shame that oppressive "Rethuglicans" prevent them from following Montrealians and Parisians and buffoons like Anthony Bourdain to vacation in socialist paradise.
I know they're useful, but I can never get my head around how they can all be such idiots.
Dinesh de Sousa's favourite anecdote is this: when he went back to Bombay for a visit, he met someone who was desperate to get to the US. He asked why and got this reply, "I want to go and live in a country where the poor are fat!" Are the poor in Cuba, fat?
copolla WASNT allowed to make godfather2 in cuba---though he still loved the dictatorship, from afar.
every Hollywood gringo loves cuba from afar...multi-millionaire dummies oliver stooped and Michael moorre$ love cuba and hate usa.
closed minded liberal francis coppola wanted to film "godfather 2" in Havana, but was allowed, despite it's pro-Cuban terrorist message....after the movie won Oscars, coppola sent a copy of the pro-Cuban terrorism movie to dictator fidel, who was very pleased with gringo coppola kissing fidel's but.
WST: "Don't kid yourself. Right wing ideology leads to exactly the same consequences as the left wing ideology of Castro."
What utter B.S., you useless idiot.
The only way you will be able to provide equivalent examples of "right-wing" misery will be to completely alter the meaning of "right-wing." Capitalism, freedom, individual liberty, the values of the right in the U.S. have succeeded in bringing billions of people out of poverty over the past two hundred years. Socialism has only death and misery to speak for it.
" But rather than raise the poor up, Castro and Guevara shoved the rich and the middle class down. " Substitute Obama for Castro and this is still true.
I laugh when I encounter a speaker who brings out the words "to complex." Often
those words mean we cannot accept the facts as reported because we do not want to believe that our story is incomplete.
We are full, content, happy with the misery of others.
Don't kid yourself. Right wing ideology leads to exactly the same consequences as the left wing ideology of Castro-- the people in power brutally suppress and enslave everyone below them by getting them to believe their self-serving lies. The radical right 1% is currently winning in this country and the consequences are the same impoverishment and enslavement of Cuba, in this case,Potterville. Ideology is the tyranny and the evil because it allows only a few winners and no balance. Valenzuela and Cuba are the result of the imbalance created when the right has won too thoroughly for too long and are simply a mirror image, the opposite side of the same coin of those evils. The strength of this country has always been balance, which is now largely a thing of the past. Don't kid yourself, the end games of left and right ideology are virtually identical.
Great article, Michael. Facts. As one born in Cuba in 1957 and was snuck out by my parent in '61', I applaud your enlightenment. I have a cousin born here in the US that teaches Marxist philosophy in Spain. So sad. They'll never get it.
Wow... Reading this is almost like reading about North Korea, only Cuba is practically in the U.S.' backyard. I don't understand why we continue to allow Cuba to run such a repugnant dictatorship.
What's so "complex" about Cuba's situation that the author (in your estimation) fails to grasp?
There's nothing complex about it at all: vicious communist dictator turns a caribbean nation into a squalid island prison.
And newly elected NYC mayor DeBlasio spent his honeymoon in that hell-hole; most likely getting economic advice.
Putin in Crimea, US retakes Havana and returns property to original owners. tit for tat
I have read in history classes several times what a disaster the "Bay of Pigs" was for JFK. Now it is evident how much bigger its failure was a disaster it was for the Cuban people.
This is what the Obama-style of government is trying to attain. Thank you Mr. Totten for a wonderful enlightening article on what Sen Tom Harken thinks is a 'paradise'. Watch The Lost City to see this article come to life. Andy Garcia did a wonderful job. Wake up America!
G Smith: Marxoid fellow traveler and apologist for tyrannical imbeciles. Clearly unteachable.
Unfortunately, this is a typical American analysis of a situation far more complex than a short article like this can describe. Having been to Cuba several times, I cannot help but react to this very superfical perspective. Spending time interviewing Cubans helps one to see the gaps between générations and between people in Havana and the rest of the country.
Having been havana and the tourist bubble i can say your article hits dead center. I rented two horses from a local farmer for me and my spanish speaking bride who is from peru, to ride horseback in the mountains, the farmer told me how one of his horses was stolen and since red meat is ilegal for cubans, the horse most certainly ended up On the barbecue. Well, he reported the theft and the police fined him----- for loosing government property. Also when he dies his family cannot inherit the farm and will be dispossessed from the land, homeless. because it will go to the people (read government) and go fallow. Fairness you know....
Unfortunately for Cuba their leaders are extremely efficient totalitarians, as good as East Germans and North Koreans.
Sadly they'll be communistic for decades more.