The Cuban Revolution
As the Cuban presidential and congressional elections of 1952 approached, it appeared that the democratic-nationalist Party of the Cuban People, more commonly known as the Orthodox Party, was about to capture the Cuban presidency. This set off alarm bells in Washington. The U.S. government feared the election of a democratic-nationalist government in Cuba would encourage democratic anti-imperialist forces throughout Latin America. In response, Washington supported a coup d’etat by another presidential candidate, one who had no chance of winning a democratic presidential election.
That was Colonial Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973). Batista had headed the Cuban military during the 1930s and 1940s, dominating the Cuban government from behind the scenes. Between 1940 and 1944, Batista served one term as elected legal president of Cuba. After completing his term, Batista left Cuba and moved to the United States. He later returned to Cuba to run what appeared to be a doomed presidential bid. In reality, Batista was preparing with Washington’s support to seize power illegally to block a victory by the Orthodox Party. Batista’s coup cut off any hope for democratic change in Cuba through electoral methods.
The young Fidel Castro (1926-), a former radical student leader, had run for Congress on the Orthodox ticket during the aborted 1952 election campaign. Castro, a lawyer by profession, then sued Batista for overthrowing the legal government of Cuba, but that failed to dislodge the dictator. Fidel then organized, along with other young Cubans, an uprising on July 26, 1953, at the Moncada Barracks, hoping it would develop into an island-wide insurrection that would bring down the Batista dictatorship. Many of Castro’s associates were killed in the abortive uprising, but Fidel survived.
The Batista government then tried Castro on the charge of attempting to overthrow the Cuban government by force and violence. Castro’s defense was brilliant. At the trial, he pointed out that the Batista government itself was guilty of precisely the charge that it made against him. Fidel’s defense was published under the title “History Will Absolve Me” and circulated within Cuba.
While Batista’s judges found Castro guilty and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, Batista effectively lost the case before the Cuban people. As a result, in 1955 the Batista government was forced to release Castro. Unable to do much within the legality of the Batista dictatorship, Castro went into exile, where he was to meet a young left-wing Argentinian medical doctor named Ernesto Guevara (1928-1967). Guevara went by his Argentinian nickname “Che”.
The young Guevara had been in Guatemala when the democratically elected government of Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán (1913-1971) was overthrown in a Washington-organized coup in 1954. President Arbenz, who had won the 1951 Guatemalan elections, had attempted to carry out a land-reform program that was bitterly opposed by the infamous U.S.-based United Fruit Company. United Fruit had long dominated the Guatemalan economy and was bitterly opposed to President Árbenz’s reforms.
In response, Washington falsely claimed that the democratically elected Arbenz government was “communist.” The CIA-organized coup that overthrew him resembled the Cuban coup of 1952. The result was decades of brutal dictatorship that cost the lives of thousands of Guatemalans. The experience of witnessing a Washington-organized coup against a democratically elected government further radicalized the young Che Guevara.
In 1955, in Mexico, Guevara met Fidel Castro, who had just been released from prison in Cuba. In 1956, the two men and a few supporters including Fidel’s younger brother Raul rented a yacht called the Granma. They set sail to Cuba with the intention of launching a guerrilla war aimed at overthrowing the Batista dictatorship. To accomplish this, Fidel had organized a multi-class organization, the July 26 movement, that combined militant young workers and bourgeois democrats who were prepared to struggle arms in hand against the dictatorship.
At first, the landing proved to be a disaster, but Fidel, Raul, Che and few other survivors managed to escape into the Sierra Maestra mountain range and began to organize the peasants who lived there into a rebel army.
Though in terms of numbers and arms the guerrilla forces were no match for the far more numerous professionally trained forces of Batista’s army, the latter had one disadvantage that was to prove fatal to them. Most of the rank and file had no desire to die for the cause of the Cuban “pseudo-republic,” which had lost all pretext of legitimacy as a result of Batista’s 1952 coup. As a result, toward the end of 1958 Batista’s army began to disintegrate. As New Year’s Eve approached, the dictator prepared to flee the island with as much loot as he could take with him.
There were last-minute attempts to save the Cuban military and police apparatus by setting up a junta that would negotiate with the rebel army. However, Fidel insisted on the dismantling of the so-called Cuban army that failed to defend Cuba from its only real enemy—the United States—but instead served as a police force—and a very brutal and corrupt one at that—for U.S. imperialism. Therefore, when Batista fled on New Year’s Eve, not only did Batista’s personal dictatorship collapse but the entire, thoroughly rotten, military-police apparatus of the Cuban bourgeois state as well.