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.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

15 thoughts on “The Transformation of the Cuban Revolution

  • 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.

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