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Posted October 08, 2005 by publisher in Cuban History

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GlobalPolitician.com | Dawne Hendrix

Original title - Rewriting History: In defense of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro is one of the most controversial figures of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. When history books write about his leadership, he will in no doubt be cast as a villainous autocrat who isolated Cuba and its inhabitants from the rest of the world. His strangle hold on the power and position he fought for in the late forties and early fifties have oppressed the Cuban people’s right to travel freely out of Cuba, in addition to them not being able to express freely their discontent with Fidel’s government. However, when writing about Castro, historians and politicians cannot deny that Cuba, because of Fidel Castro, is a better place to live than before his reign.

To understand Castro’s rise to power and influence in Cuba, there were certain conditions that set the foundation for the people’s discontent. One specific eventóthe Platt Amendmentósteered Cuba on course to communism. Castro initially did not want communism for Cuba, but forced to contend with the country’s financial dire straits, he needed some assistance. Moscow was more amenable than the United States.

After Cuba’s independence, the Platt Amendment effectively castrated any freedom the Cuban people would have by placing its autonomy directly in the hands of the American government. According to biographer Peter Bourne, the Platt Amendment prevented the Cuban government from making alliances or treaties with any foreign nation without the permission of the United States’ government; in addition, it mandated Cuba only allow the American government access to land for its military installations. Other stipulations of this amendment were that the United States had the right to intervene in the affairs of the Cuban government at “any time it was dissatisfied with the manner in which the country was being governed,” and it prevented the Cuban government from obtaining international loans necessary for its economic development. In a final demeaning slap in the face, the amendment also mandated the Cuban government take certain public health safeguards to ensure Cuba would not pose health risks to the southern part of the United States.

Why didn’t the Cuban government just reject the stipulations, you ask? Cuba had been fighting for independence for years, and even when Cuba finally achieved its independence, the U.S. governmentówho had assisted Cuba in its plight for independenceórefused to remove its troops from the island, most likely due to the potential of the country’s flourishing sugar market. In addition, numerous companies like Carnegie Steel Company, Pennsylvania Steel Company, and Bethlehem Iron Works were heavily invested in the country’s iron, chromium, and manganese mines. Therefore, to achieve some measure of independence, the Cuban people capitulated to Washington’s mandates under Platt. After Cuba agreed to the amendment, U.S troops finally withdrew in 1902 and the Cuban people were at last allowed to elect their first president under its “independent” status.

Cuba may have developed a thriving economy had the United States not imposed its will on the Cuban government. First of all, the Platt Amendment prevented the Cuban government from seeking the financial assistance of foreign governments outside the United States. Because of this isolation that was forced upon Cuba, the country had few options in the way of protecting its own interest, as the United States government sought to influence what presidential candidates were elected and what policies operated the government. Sadly, the Cuban people became subjugated and this defeat left them further defenseless against abuses from both the U.S. and Cuban governments. Even worse, this agreement authorized the United States to reap the benefits of being the colonizing power through the garnishment of resources without actually being responsible for the rampant poverty that prevailed throughout much of the countryside. Platt’s role in this discourse is integral because, by stifling Cuba’s autonomy, the United States prevented it from acting in its own interest.

This period after its independence and before Castro was greatófor a few. However, although a small oligarchy benefited from the access to wealth, life for the majority of Cubans was filled with deprivation. Bourne asserts that while “vast tracts of property [were] owned by a privileged few” the majority of Cubans were “landless peasants who scratch[ed] to survive,” as they were “plagued by disease, and without hope for themselves or their children.” Castro estimated in 1954, according to Bourne, 600,000 Cubans were unemployed; 500,000 farm laborers lived in abject poverty; and 200,000 peasants lived without one acre of land to grow food on “while half of the productive land in the country [was] owned by foreigners.”

In the rural area during this period, life was even bleaker for the peasants. Seventy-five percent of the homes were palm tree huts, 4 percent of the people ate meat regularly, 50 percent of the dwellings lacked sanitation, 85 percent lacked running water, 91 percent had no electricity, and there was one physician per every 2,000 people. Further exacerbating the lack of adequate health care was the fact that there was no system of roads, which isolated many of the impoverished and prevented them from getting needed health care and other services. Of course, this description of life pre-Castro has been recounted in numerous articles and books; however, people really fail to connect Cuba’s entanglement with the United States to its inability to effectively govern and protect its economic interests.

It’s also extremely important to note, although the majority of Cubans were impoverished, the economy pre Castro was doing quite well. Bourne argues, “The Cuban economy at the start of 1959 was strong and vibrant.” In fact, sugar prices, although low, were stable, foreign investments peaked in 1958 to $1.2 billion, the unemployment rate dipped, stores were stocked with goods, and tourists contributed to the growth of the economy through rampant gambling and prostitution. However, even in this relative state of economic health, millions of Cubans lacked basic health care and were severely undernourished while the wealthy few enjoyed the fruits of Cuba’s burgeoning husbandry.

In addition to there being a lack of rights related to human dignity, the civil rights of the people were routinely trampled on by the wealthyóboth foreign and domestic. For example, one incident that was endemic of the manner in which the Cuban government failed to protect its people is of a wealthy man accused and convicted of raping a nine-year-old girl. Carlos Prio, before he became the president of Cuba, was the lawyer who represented the man. The man was convicted, sentenced to six years, and ordered to pay the girl’s family $10,000 restitution. After Prio became president of Cuba, he pardoned the convicted rapist and appointed him to the position of presidential civil secretary. This blatant exploitation of power is only one example of the many egregious abuses that went unchecked before Castro took power.

To that end, in looking at Castro’s attempt to steer Cuba on a course of self-reliance, it is plain to see Cuba is a better place to live than previous to Castro’s rise. Today, Cuba can grant access to free health care to all citizens, and this does not even exist in the democratically run United States. Additionally, their educations are free and they have access to food rations. Most importantly, the cost of living is low.

No, it is not a luxurious place to live, as those professionals who spend years educating themselves in their crafts often are paid poorly. One report this year states doctors, engineers, and university professors make about $24 dollars a month while most other occupations pay only $10 a month. The rations that are given only last half a month, and they allow for only a little meat. This has created the constant la lucha (literally the fight)ó“mismatch between salaries and goods consumed, money is always tight.” To get by, both government workers and those who work for other industries have found scams to pull in extra money; however, they are forced to scheme behind the government’s back because communismówhich initially served its purposeóhas been an economic noose for 45 years slowly strangling the people.

Quite interestingly, there are a number crafts where the people prefer to remain unlicensed because they do not have to pay the government tax or cannot maintain the licenseóas it is described as extremely bureaucratic process. Even more disconcerting, though, is the fact that corruption in the government still existsóas is the case for most governments. Ironically, the communism that once defined the country’s economic landscape has given birth to an underground capitalistic terrain. Additionally, many wonder because of his autocratic leadership whether or not Cuba will withstand change when he either steps down or dies.


Ultimately, though, when Castro took power in Cuba many people lived in such deplorable conditions; so deplorable that any effort to address the situation was welcomed. Bourne asserts, “When Castro came to power, the bulk of the Cuban population coveted access to education, health care, land reform, and a renewal of national spirit far more than they valued formal democracy.” Because of Castro’s tireless efforts to regain control of Cuba from the United States, Cuba is a much better place to live for most of the peopleóexponentially better. For this reason, instead of vilifying Castro, as so many have, hopefully, history and historians will absolve him.
Dawne Hendrix has a Master’s Degree from University of Florida. She currently teaches in several colleges.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on October 08, 2005 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Dawne,

    I, and probably many people, would agree with many of your reasons why Fidel Castro was good for Cuba. However, the keyword here is “was”.

    I think many Americans and Cubans agreed that Fidel was good for Cuba in 1959 and maybe 1960. The period of 1960 to 2005 is up for debate.

    Publisher



    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on October 09, 2005 by I-taoist with 213 total posts

    When government governs little, as with a light hand,
    The people are happy.
    When government governs much,
    They are miserable…

    Loa Tzu
    500 B.C.


  3. Follow up post #3 added on October 10, 2005 by cuba2k-NY with 4 total posts

    Yeah,just let us go back to Mariel 1980 when things were “good” by the standards of Communist Cuba….125,000 people took to sea…..Thousands of people in Santiago de Cuba were stranded.The cities were blocked….No one was allowed ater a certain point to leave the cities towards Mariel…..Havanas highways were blocked off .
      Cuba was bleeding !!!! Bleeding humanity !!! Had the exodus continued,who knows how many hundreds of thousands more would have fled ?!?
      1994….I was there and saw the rioting in Havana.It was REPULSIVE !!! a month later 30,000 left via Havana !!!!

      Lest we forget “la remolcadora” incident,where a tugboat left Havana Bay with men,women,children and elderly….The Cuban government sank the boat and drowned 41 people using hoses !!!!!

      There is little time left for Fidel.He has been falling apart and is already a stumbling idiot (See Santa Clara spill).He is closing hotels in Old Havana,he has ended cruise ships from making stops in Havana.My friend in Havana says that “cats are disappearing again”.Those of you who know Cuba know what that means !!!!!

      ....His circle is jumpy lately.they know their days are numbered….Much blood will run !!! The pressure cooker will explode !!!! DO NOT DOUBT THAT FOR ONE MINUTE !!!!

      It is sad that THIS U.S. will step in and fill the vacuum and the Cubans will worship the other side of the same tarnished coin for as a Cuban-American,The U.S. today is truly a shameful,dispirited,immoral hyper-Empire run by the zionist neo-cons and their warmongering puppet GW BUSH !!!!

                                  Eric,NYC


  4. Follow up post #4 added on October 10, 2005 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    Many of the stats that are given by Ms. Hendrix are questionable at best, having said that, there undoubtely was a need in Cuba for many of the social and economic reforms instituted after 1959. What most people fail to understand is that the institution of such reforms meant that Fidel and its revolution were marked for destruccion by the U.S., in other words, there were no options for the leaders of Cuba, whomever they might be, you either danced to the tune of U.S. interests or you weren’t allowed to dance at all.


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