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Fidel Castro Essay, Research Paper

In 1959, a rebel, Fidel Castro, overthrew the reign of Fulgencia Batista in Cuba; a small island 90 miles off the Florida coast. There have been many coups and changes of government in the world since then. Few if any have had the effect on Americans and American foreign policy as this one. In 1952, Sergeant Fulgencia Batista staged a successful bloodless coup in Cuba. Batista never really had any cooperation and rarely garnered much support. His reign was marked by continual dissension. After waiting to see if Batista would be seriously opposed, Washington recognized his government. Batista had already broken ties with the Soviet Union and became an ally to the U.S. throughout the cold war. He was continually friendly and helpful to American business interest. However, he failed to bring democracy to Cuba or secure the broad popular support that might have legitimized his rape of the 1940 Constitution. As the people of Cuba grew increasingly dissatisfied with his gangster style politics, the tiny rebellions that had sprouted began to grow. Meanwhile the U.S. government was aware of and shared the distaste for a regime increasingly nauseating to most public opinion. It became clear that Batista regime was an odious type of government. It killed its own citizens, it stifled dissent. (1) At this time Fidel Castro appeared as leader of the growing rebellion. Educated in America he was a proponent of the Marxist-Leninist philosophy. He conducted a brilliant guerilla campaign from the hills of Cuba against Batista. On January 1959, he prevailed and overthrew the Batista government. Castro promised to restore democracy in Cuba, a feat Batista had failed to accomplish. This promise was looked upon benevolently but watchfully by ashington. Castro was believed to be too much in the hands of the people to stretch the rules of politics very far. The U.S. government supported Castro’s coup. It professed to not know about Castro’s Communist leanings. Perhaps this was due to the ramifications of Senator Joe McCarty’s discredited anti-Communist diatribes. It seemed as if the reciprocal economic interests of the U.S. and Cuba would exert a stabilizing effect on Cuban politics. Cuba had been economically bound to find a market for its #1 crop, sugar. The U.S. had been buying it at prices much higher than market price. For this, it received a guaranteed flow of sugar. (2) Early on, however developments clouded the hope for peaceful relations. According to American Ambassador to Cuba, Phillip Bonsal, “From the very beginning of his rule Castro and his sycophants bitterly and sweepingly attacked the relations of the United States government with Batista and his regime”. (3) He accused us of supplying arms to Batista to help overthrow Castro’s revolution and of harboring war criminals for a resurgence effort against him. For the most part these were not true: the U.S. put a trade embargo on Batista in 1957 stopping the U.S. shipment of arms to Cuba. (4) However, his last accusation seems to have been prescient. With the advent of Castro, the history of U.S.- Cuban relations was subjected to a revision of an intensity and cynicism, which left earlier efforts in the shade. This downfall took two roads in the eyes of Washington: Castro’s incessant campaign of slander against the U.S. and Castro’s wholesale nationalization of American properties. These actions and the U.S. reaction to them set the stage for what was to become the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the end of U.S.- Cuban relations. Castro promised the Cuban people that he would bring land reform to Cuba. When he took power, the bulk of the nation wealth and land was in the hands of a small minority. The huge plots of land were to be taken from the monopolistic owners and distributed evenly among the people. Compensation was to be paid to the former owners. According to Phillip Bonsal, “Nothing Castro said, nothing stated in the agrarian reform statute Castro signed in 1958, and nothing in the law that was promulgated in the Official Gazzette of June 3, 1959, warranted the belief that in two years a wholesale conversion of Cuban agricultural land to state ownership would take place”. (5) Such a notion then would have been inconsistent with many of the Castro pronouncements, including the theory of a peasant revolution and the pledges to the landless throughout the nation. Today most of the people who expected to become independent farmers or members of cooperatives in the operation of which they would have had a voice are now laborers on the state payroll. (6) After secretly drawing up his Land Reform Law, Castro used it to form the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) with broad and ill-defined powers. Through the INRA Castro methodically seized All-American holdings in Cuba. He promised compensation but frequently never gave it. He conducted investigations in company affairs. He would hold control over them and never divulge the results or give back the control. (7) These seizures were protested. On January 11, Ambassador Bonsal delivered a note to Havana protesting the Cuban government seizure of U.S. citizen’s property. The note was rejected the same night as an U.S. attempt to keep economic control over Cuba. (8) As this continued Castro was engineering a brilliant propaganda campaign aimed at accusing the U.S. of “conspiring with the counter revolutionaries against the Castro regime”(9). Castro’s ability to whip the masses into frenzy with wispy fallacies about American “imperialist” actions against Cuba was his main asset. He constantly found events, which he could work the “ol Castro magic” on, as Nixon said, to turn it into another of the long list of grievances, real or imagined, that Cuba, had suffered. Throughout Castro’s rule there had been numerous minor attacks and disturbances in Cuba. Always without any investigation whatsoever, Castro would blatantly and publicly blame the U.S. Castro continually called for hearings at the Organization of American States and the United Nations to hear charges against the U.S. of “overt aggression”. The councils always denied these charges. (10) Two events that provided fuel for the Castro propaganda furnace stand out. These are the “bombing” of Havana on October 21 and the explosion of the French munition ship La Coubre on March 4, 1960. (11) On the evening of October 21 the former captain of the rebel air force, Captain Dian-Lanz, flew over Havana and dropped a quantity of virulently anti-Castro leaflets. This was an American failure to prevent international flights in violation of American law. Untroubled by any considerations of truth or good faith, the Cuban authorities distorted the facts of the matter and accused the U.S. of a responsibility going way beyond negligence. Castro, not two days later, elaborated a bombing thesis, complete with “witnesses”, and launched a propaganda campaign against the U.S. Ambassador Bonsal said, “This incident was so welcome to Castro for his purposes that I was not surprised when, at a later date, a somewhat similar flight was actually engineered by Cuban secret agents in Florida.” (12) This outburst constituted “the beginning of the end ” in U.S.- Cuban relations. President Eisenhower stated,”Castro’s performance on October 26 on the “bombing” of Havana spelled the end of my hope for rational relations between Cuba and the U.S.” (13) Up until 1960, the U.S. had followed a policy of non-intervention in Cuba. It had endured the slander and seizure of lands, still hoping to maintain relations. This ended, when, on March 4, the French munition ship La Coubre arrived at Havana laden with arms and munitions for the Cuban government. It promptly blew up with serious loss of life. (14) Castro and his authorities wasted no time venomously denouncing the U.S. for an overt act of sabotage. Some observers concluded that the disaster was due to the careless way the Cubans unloaded the cargo. (15) Sabotage was possible but it was preposterous to blame the U.S. without even a pretense of an investigation. Castro’s reaction to the La Coubre explosion may have been what tipped the scales in favor of Washington’s abandonment of the non-intervention policy. This, the continued slander, and the fact that the Embassy had had no reply from the Cuban government to its representations regarding the cases of Americans victimized by the continuing abuses of the INRA. The American posture of moderation was beginning to become, in the face of Castro’s insulting and aggressive behavior, a political liability. (16) The new American policy was one overthrowing Castro. It was at this time that the controversial decision was taken to allow the CIA to begin recruiting and training of ex-Cuban exiles for anti-Castro military service. (17) Shortly after this decision, following in quick steps, aggressive policies on the side of both Cuba and the U.S. led to the eventual finale in the actual invasion of Cuba by the U.S! In June 1960, the U.S. started a series of economic aggressions toward Cuba aimed at accelerating their downfall. The first of these measures was the advice of the U.S. to the oil refineries in Cuba to refuse to handle the crude petroleum that the Cubans were receiving from the Soviet Union. The companies such as Shell and Standard Oil had been buying crude from their own plants in Venezuela at a high cost. The Cuban government demanded that the refineries process the crude they were receiving from Russia at a much cheaper price. These refineries refused at the U.S. advice stating that there were no provisions in the law saying that they must accept the Soviet product and that the low grade Russian crude would damage the machinery. The claim about the law may have been true but the charge that the cheaper Soviet crude damaging the machines seems to be an excuse to cover up the attempted economic strangulation of Cuba. (The crude worked just fine as is soon to be shown) Upon receiving the refusal Che Gueverra, the newly appointed head of the National Bank, and known anti-American, seized all three major oil company refineries and began producing all the Soviet crude, not just the 50% they had earlier bargained for. This was a big victory and a stepping stone towards increasing the soon to be controversial alliance with Russia. On July 6, a week after the intervention of the refineries, President Eisenhower announced that the balance of Cuba’s 1960-sugar quota for the supply of sugar to the U.S. was to be suspended. (18). This action was regarded as a reprisal to the intervention of the refineries. It seems obvious that it was a major element in the calculated overthrow of Castro. In addition to being an act of destroying the U.S. record for diplomacy in Latin America, this forced Cuba into Russia’s arms and vice-versa. The immediate loss to Cuba was 900,000 tons of sugar unsold. This was valued at about $100,000,000. (19) Had the Russians not come to the rescue it would have been a serious blow to Cuba. However, they came to the rescue, cementing the Soviet-Cuban bond and granting Castro a present he could have never given himself. As Ernest Hemingway put it,”I just hope to Christ that the United States doesn’t cut the sugar quota. That will really tear it. It will make Cuba a gift to the Russians.” (20) Now the gift had been made. Castro had announced earlier in a speech that action against the sugar quota would cost Americans in Cuba “down to the nails in their shoes” (21) Castro did his best to carry that out. In a decree made as the Law of nationalization, he authorized expropriation of American property at Che Gueverra’s discretion. The compensation scheme was such that under current U.S. – Cuban trade relations it was worthless and therefore confiscation without compensation. The Soviet Unions assumption of responsibility of Cuba’s economic welfare gave the Russians a politico-military stake in Cuba. Increased arms shipments from the U.S.S.R and Czechoslovakia enabled Castro to rapidly strengthen and expand his forces. On top of this, Cuba now had Russian military support. On July 9, three days after President Eisenhower’s sugar proclamation, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev announced, “The U.S.S.R is raising its voice and extending a helpful hand to the people of Cuba…Speaking figuratively in case of necessity Soviet artillerymen can support the Cuban people with rocket fire. (22) Castro took this to mean direct commitment made by Russia to protect the Cuban revolution in case of U.S. attack. The final act of the U.S. in the field of economic aggression against Cuba came on October 19, 1960, in the form of a trade embargo on all goods except medicine and medical supplies. Even these were to be banned within a few months. Other than causing the revolutionaries some inconvenience, all the embargo accomplished was to give Castro a godsend. For the past 25 years Castro has blamed the shortages, rationing, breakdowns and even some of the unfavorable weather conditions on the U.S. blockade. On January 6, 1961, Castro formally broke relations with the United States and ordered the staff of the U.S. embassy to leave. Immediately after the break in relations he ordered full-scale mobilization of his armed forces to repel an invasion from the United States, which he correctly asserted was imminent. For at this time the Washington administration, under new President-elect Kennedy was gearing up for the Cuban exile invasion of Cuba. The fact that this secret was ill kept led to increased arms being shipped to Cuba by Russia in late 1960. President Kennedy inherited from the Eisenhower-Nixon administration the operation that became the Bay of Pigs expedition. The plan was ill conceived and a fiasco. Both Theodore Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger describe the President as the victim of a process set in motion before his inauguration and which he, in the first few weeks of his administration, was unable to arrest in spite of his misgivings. Mr. Schlesinger writes -”Kennedy saw the project in the patios of the bureaucracy as a contingency plan. He did not yet realize how contingency planning could generate its own reality.” (23) The fact is that Kennedy had promised to pursue a more successful policy towards Cuba. I fail to see how the proposed invasion could be looked upon as successful. The plan he inherited called for 1500 patriots to seize control over their seven million fellow citizens from over 100,000 well-trained, well-armed Castroite militia! As if the plan was not doomed from the start, the information the CIA had gathered about the strength of the uprising in Cuba was outrageously misleading. If we had won, it still would have taken prolonged U.S. intervention to make it work. This along with Kennedy’s decision to rule out American forces or even American officers or experts, whose participation was planned, doomed the whole affair. Additionally these impromptu ground rules ere not relayed to the exiles by the CIA, who were expecting massive U.S. military backing! The exiles had their own problems; guns didn’t work, ships sank, codes for communication were wrong, the ammunition was the wrong kind – everything that could go wrong, did. As could be imagined the anti-Castro opposition achieved not one of its permanent goals. Upon landing at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961, the mission marked a landmark failure in U.S. foreign politics. By April 20, only three days later, Castro’s forces had destroyed any semblance of the mission: they killed 300 and captured the remaining 1,200! Many people since then have chastised Kennedy for his decision to pull U.S. military forces. I feel that his only mistake was in going ahead in the first place, although, as stated earlier, it seems as if he may not have had much choice. I feel Kennedy showed surer instincts in this matter than his advisors who pleaded with him not to pull U.S. forces. If the expedition had succeeded due to American armed forces rather than the strength of the exile forces and the anti-Castro movement within Cuba, the post Castro government would have been totally unviable: it would have taken constant American help to shore it up. In this matter I share the opinion of `ambassador Ellis O. Briggs, who has written “The Bay of Pigs” He says that the operation was a tragic experience for the Cubans who took part, but its failure was a fortunate (if mortifying) experience for the U.S., which otherwise might have been saddled with indefinite occupation of the island. Beyond its immediately damaging effects, the Bay of Pigs fiasco has shown itself to have far reaching consequences. Washington’s failure to achieve its goal in Cuba provided the catalyst for Russia to seek an advantage and install nuclear missiles in Cuba. The resulting “missile crisis” in 1962 was the closest we have been to thermonuclear war. America’s gain may have been America’s loss. A successful Bay of Pigs may have brought the United States one advantage. The strain on American political and military assets resulting from the need to keep the lid on in Cuba might have lid on Cuba might have led the President of the United States to resist, rather than to enthusiastically embrace, the advice he received in 1964 and 1965 to make a massive commitment of American air power, ground forces, and prestige in Vietnam. Cuban troops have been a major presence as Soviet surrogates all over the world, notably in Angola. The threat of exportation of Castro’s revolution permeates U.S.-Central and South American policy. (Witness the invasion of Grenada.) This fear still dominates today’s headlines. For years, the U.S. has urged support for government of El Salvador and the right wing Contras in Nicaragua. The major concern underlying American policy in the area is Castro’s influence. The fear of a Castro influenced regime in South and Central America had such control of American foreign policy as to almost topple the Presidency in the recent Iran – Contra affair. Therefore, the U.S. government has again faced a crisis, which threatens to destroy its credibility in foreign affairs. This was all because of one man with a cigar.


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