The Transformation of the Cuban Revolution

From Emancipation to Repression

Erasmo Calzadilla

foto librosHAVANA TIMES — I would love to know when, how and why the metamorphosis took place. This is not idle, historical curiosity. At one point, we will have to go back to the time everything went wrong and try again, with or without a worldwide crisis.

Nearly all Cubans I know maintain that Cuba needed a revolution. Overthrowing Batista, restoring the constitution, reducing the excessive (and, for many, noxious) influence of the United States, distributing the land among peasants and undertaking a series of radical social reforms on behalf of the underprivileged…these were popular demands that half a century of governments in the republican era had not managed to address (or seemed at all willing to address).

Refusing to hand the cake over on a silver platter to the political class was, in my opinion, a brilliant move by Cuba’s young revolutionaries. I can also understand why they continued to wear their military uniforms during serious aggressions. But what happened later? Did they try to implement some type of democracy or did they simply become entrenched in power? Did they do everything possible to soften conflicts with the United States, or did they rather learn to draw political advantage from it?

At one point, the revolution began to set up more bars than it was tearing down. It turned police stations into schools, but these schools soon began to imprison ideas. When and how did this happen? It’s hard for me to say, exactly.

By the 1970s, the shoddiness of all this was already quite evident. As the seventh decade of the revolution begins, it is entirely clear that Cuba is burdened by yet another tyrant.

Fidel Castro, however, was not a tyrant like the ones that are typical in the region, the kind subordinate to the interests of imperialism and focused on fattening their pockets. Castro was a dictator who was genuinely concerned about the health, education and spiritual becoming of the people, or what he understood as such. This paternalistic gesture and his rabid anti-capitalism earned him the sympathies of half of the world, particularly from those who longed for a better world.

The above paragraph is the preamble o to a project I would like to present you with. Some days ago, near the trash, I came across a bundle of “revolutionary” books (it’s very common to see this type of literature in the garbage these days). One in particular caught my attention: it was a collection of speeches delivered by Fidel Castro at every anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, from 1960 to 1967.

This is a magnificent way of following the evolution of this process, year by year. I intend to read it carefully and, if you’re interested, share my impressions with you here.

15 thoughts on “The Transformation of the Cuban Revolution

  • I can picture the scenes you describe. My wife kept the family in funds for food during the special period, by running illicit rum one way and fresh eggs the other, between the town where she worked and the city where we live.
    My knowledge of the contents of the CDR files, was gained when having difficulty at Jose Marti airport. I was taken into an office by a fellow (obviously important) with three pips on his shoulder. He sought the name of my wife and our home address. When entered into his computer, the first thing that popped up was a photograph of my wife and then he scrolled four complete pages of information including our marriage date. So, yes they retain files on everybody including you and I. All that information is retained by MININT.
    It would be illegal for much of the information held by the regime about my wife and possibly you and I, to be held by the Government of Canada.
    I have no doubt that as the population has become more and more subjugated, and that there has been less dissent to report. It is actually astonishing that there are still so many dissenters and defectors who have only ever experienced the Communist dictatorship, and have been educated with all the indoctrination that the schools are obliged to provide.
    The guy who lives directly opposite our CDR Presidente has a nice little sideline going on with hardwoods. Where the stuff comes from, I don’t know, but being Cuba have little doubt that it is illicit.

  • Carlyle, we’re completely on the same page together regarding everything you wrote. We want the same things for Cuba and the Cuban people. Spot on. And yes, I’ve seen her files… she even has a file on me. Although she has a ‘tough as nails’ persona, she’s also very laid back…ignoring all of the illegal mom and pop backyard enterprises feeding the bolsa negra. I have an amigo who lives directly across the calle from her casa illegally bottling soda in his backyard…quite an interesting little operation he has. I’m sure he’s feeding her something for her support. She’s of the kinder gentler new breed of CDR…her main roles are now arbitrating disputes between neighbors in the barrio and organizing block fiestas. It seems to be perfectly fine to talk negatively about the Castros in front of her in a group setting. But she’s told me that she would take real exception if she learned that others were doing so privately and with the intent of plotting to undermine the revolution.

  • I am totally in favour of Cuba’s right to self-determination and sovereignty and agree that it should be free of US intervention.
    Where we disagree Terry is upon the definition of “Cuba”. To me Cuba is not the totalitarian dictatorship of the Castro family regime. To me, “Cuba” is the people of Cuba being given the right to free open elections, to freedom of speech, to freedom of the media, to freedom of the individual. Cuba is the country of the Cuban people not a fiefdom.
    As regards your relationship with the President of the CDR on your block, have you asked her what her responsibilities are as laid down by Fidel Castro Ruz when he established the CDR? Have you asked her whether she keeps a file on every person on her block and how she reports? Finally, have you seen an individual file? Yes, I have.

  • So is mine, after spending much time roughing it in the barrio with my extended Cuban family and friends. One of my best amigas is the President of the CDR. We’ve had many private and not so private long winded debates about the past, present, and future of Cuba. No subject is ever off-limits…including life after the Castros. Sometimes things get heated too…but never over Cuba’s right to self-determination and sovereignty free of US intervention, subversion, manipulation, and control.

  • Did you know that Fidel’s oft quoted boast, “History will absolve me!” was lifted from Hitler’s work, which Castro had read?

    “You may pronounce me guilty,” declared Adolf Hitler during the trial in 1924 for his failed Rathaus putsch, “but the eternal court of history will absolve me.”

    When the Castro regime finally falls and the truth of what his disastrous rule over Cuba inflicted on the long suffering Cuban people is out, then history will finally condemn Castro as the villain he is.

  • The judgement of history will in part be shaped by what may remain of the revolutions changes over the long run. The price the people paid was high. Odds are the scales will not tip favorably.

  • I am glad to learn that Terry. I thought that like me, you had a particular view. Mine as you know, is influenced by the experience of living in Cuba.

  • Of the comments so far, yours is the most perceptive, Bob. At some point the Revolution began to stagnate and become rigid, although this seems to have begun as far back as the late 1960’s, when the Revolution began dictating ideological lines to which writers, visual artists and musicians were commanded to adhere. Fortunately, to paraphrase a famous Fidel quote: “this people has had enough, and has begun to move,” and after four decades is beginning awaken from this rigid ideological coma. Perhaps the past history of the Cuban Revolution, in keeping with the histories of other revolutions before it (the French revolutions of 1789-94 and of 1832, 1848 and 1872, the American Revolutions of 1776 and 1932 the Russian Revolution of 1917, etc.) follows a certain inevitablility, like the humans who have made them, of growing old, loosing their dynamism, becoming rigid and even becoming like , horror of horrors, their parents, or at least the systems they overthrew (e.g. The American Revolution, The Mexican Revolution, etc.) Going back to the original Cuban revolutionary wars for independence of the mid-to late-1 9th Century, many of the surviving leaders of those struggles by at least 1912 onward had become oppressors, crooks and economic pirates! Thomas Jefferson said that Revolutions need to be renewed every generation. Though Jefferson had his faults (e.g. a slave owner, albeit one who, err, loved his slaves in more than platonic way!), he was perceptive in this–and other–matters, too! Hence, we should not judge past leaders by our own limited and blinkered standards. (Lest we ourselves be pitilessly judged in the future by those “perfect” judges whose own principles mirror those of Savanarola and the Puritans!) Despite their errors, those men and women of action actually got their hands dirty, and in some cases lost their lives, in making revolutions. In the end, fair minded individuals would have to agree that, despite his many faults, Fidel’s prediction that “history will absolve me!” is closer to historic truth than the cacaphonious chorus of the naysayers from the peanut gallery. Now, however, is the time for the Revolution to move on and to incorporate the conditions of a new world.

  • My belief is that Fidel Castro’s personal refusal to consider any sort of mid course adjustments over the decades since the triumph of the Revolution caused a hardening of feelings both among some of the Cuban people and internationally. As time demonstrated the need for shifts in policy, more resisted Fidel Castro’s refusal to adapt, and he responded by digging in his heels deeper and deeper. This internal conflict resulted in a downward spiral that existed for more then 40 years.

    Ultimately his refusal to adapt and the resultant downward spiral caused the Revolution to transition from a vehicle for the benefit of the Cuban people to one focused on his retaining power. I believe the loss of Celia Sanchez in 1980 was very significant as she was a major voice of reason guiding policy that the Revolution was for the people, not him.

    I struggle to grasp what caused Fidel Castro to change from his initial noble objectives for the Cuban people to unwillingness to adapt to new information. The best I can guess is some reaction to everything that transpired between the attack on the Moncada barracks to the final triumph of the Revolution. We remember that it was this same time frame and events that caused Che Guevara to transition from a humanitarian to one who held little regard for human life.

  • Griffin, Fidel correctly understood that with power and fame, the pursuit of wealth was unnecessary. As the all-powerful dictator, he had no need for a personal bank account when the national bank met his every desire. Nonetheless, his personal wealth, according to qualified sources, continues to grow. After his death and the fall of the regime, it will be interesting to see how his heirs will be able to maintain their jet-set lifestyles without exposing the ill-gotten wealth of the late despot. There will undoubtedly be a phalanx of forensic accountants dedicated to tracking down every dirty Cuban peso stolen from the Cuban people.

  • I would suggest the date that everything started to go wrong was January 1, 1959.

    Millions of Cubans had stood up to the dictator Batista and succeeded in chasing him from the country, fleeing on Dec 31, 1958. But the very next day, Fidel Castro moved to install himself in power, carefully positioning his supporters and ruthlessly sidelining his rivals, and eventually eliminating any possible rival or opposition to his rule.

    Despite repeatedly declaring he was no Communist, within the first month after Batista fled, Fidel Castro began a series of secret meetings with senior members of the Popular Socialist Party (as the Cuban Communists were known at the time) Blas Roca and Anibal Escalante at his beach house in Cojimar. Soon, Fidel began to appoint communists to key positions in the revolutionary government. When his fellow rebel ally Huber Matos, complained of the growing Communist influence, Castro had Matos arrested. This was before the US imposed the embargo, before the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Far from trying to reduce tensions with the USA, Fidel did all he could to antagonize the Americans, who in their typically ham-fisted style, readily fulfilled the role of the imperialist enemy. Fidel played them like a fiddle while drawing the USSR into backing the Cuban Revolution and cementing his own grip on power.

    True, Fidel was not interested in the personal accumulation of wealth and luxury, as was Batista. For Fidel, his only goal was POWER. Absolute power. That was his drug and everything he did was to ensure he held all power in Cuba.

    These events clearly show that Fidel had intended all along to take Cuba down a radical Marxist Leninist path. He never had any intention of restoring the 1940 constitution or of holding free & democratic elections, nor even of leading a popular revolution which placed the power in the hands of the people. Power in Cuba was for Fidel & Fidel alone.

  • I’m with you, Bob. Very interesting indeed. I too still have an open mind.

  • Fidel was only able to establish his reputation as a benevolent dictator because he was willing to prostitute the Cuban people, first for the Soviet Union and then after the desperate 8 years of the Special Period, for Chávez in Venezuela. He failed to develop his “socialist paradise” into a self-sustaining productive country. His anti-US, anti-capitalist rants have come back to haunt him. His photo-ops bulldozing golf courses have come full circle with his little brother’s current plans to build luxury golf resorts. He boasted that Cubans would enjoy a standard of living higher than the US. Today, Cubans face frequent shortages of toilet paper. The clock has nearly run out for the Castros. The only thing left for them to do now is leave town.

  • The revolutionary books have earned their place in the garbage. For Cubans, accessing books that are not approved by the regime is difficult. I went into our local library searching for books upon agriculture and expecting to find a few as we are in an agricultural area with beautiful red soils.
    I found only one very well thumbed agricultural book published in Spain in 1963. The photographs it contained were interesting as they were of British breeds of beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry (including the American Rhode Island Red).
    In the same library there were 37 copies of ‘LENIN’. most of them in pristine condition and a multitude of publications by Fidel Castro and by and about Che Guevara. There is an annual book fair when streets are cordoned off to enable the setting up of stalls all trying to sell yet more books about the revolution, Fidel, Che and Raul. One has to admire the work of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba, they work hard!
    It is interesting to study the three books shown in the photograph above and for doubters, the obvious importance that Fidel assigned to the CDR.
    The phrase “History will absolve me.” as a reference to Fidel’s self-defence at his trial for the raid on the Moncado Barracks is the title also of a heavily marketed book from many years ago, but new copies were available at the book fair in 2015. Although Cuba is short of paper for toilet rolls, there is evidently a supply available for Fidel’s views of himself.
    Erasmo has used a nice description of the political histories of the Castros as a sub-heading:
    “From Emancipation to Repression”
    Enough to make the Castro family regime supporters choke on their cheese and ham bogaditos!

  • Erasmo: I think you have lit the fuse on a stick of dynamite. Good for you! This is an appropriate post for everyone to vent and express their thoughts. I look forward to reading most of them.

    Personally, I find this a fascinatingly interesting topic. One that I have read much about and still have an open mind.

Comments are closed.