Sunday, April 26, 2009

A SoapBox Brief History of Cuba

When North Americans think of Cuba, over the past 30 years or so, the first thought is often of a nation oppressed by fascist communism. The reality is, Cuba is a country which has been oppressed by exterior forces since "Discovery" by Columbus. Spanish plantation owners were the first to enslave the local "indian" population native to Cuba at the time, basically wiping it out through over-work. The diminutive natives were hardly suited to the difficult labor of manual sugarcane harvesting and processing. Once these initial human energy reserves were exhausted, black slaves were imported from the West Indies, their forms being larger and hardier and thereby more "suitable" for such labor.

At this point, certain "Cuban heroes" began to emerge. Rare wealthy landowners began to have conscience problems and, as in parts of colonial America, they began to turn their holdings over to their workers while trying to instill in them a sense of ownership and patriotism to Cuba. These workers were taught the importance of freedom along with the skills and determination to defend this freedom. This quickly led to Cuba's first "revolucion", which started Cuba toward eventually earning their independence from Spain.

Cubans seem to be intensely proud of this revolutionary history, yet there is little knowledge of or at least attention to the fact that the US was a strong supporter of this first revolution (thanks to the Spanish-American War). This support led to the Platt Amendment, basically placing Cuba under American protection/scrutiny and turning over control of certain Cuban lands to US control (including Guantanamo Bay which remains US soil). Following Independence, Cuba spent around 30 years in political turmoil, finally coming under control of its first Dictator, Gerardo Machado. Machado was fairly quickly unseated and a provisional government established under the leadership of Carlos Manuel de C├ęspedes (whose father had proclaimed Cuban independence in 1868, as one of those afore-mentioned "heroes"). Closely involved in this uprising was military man Fulgencio Batista who eventually overthrew this provisional government and established his own ongoing dictatorial and corrupt regime which lasted into the 1950's and led to violent opposition from many sources, including a young lawyer named Fidel Castro.

Given the ongoing socialist movement in Cuba, originated by those few conscientious Spanish cum Cuban plantation owners, it should be no surprise that Cuba became one of the prime regions for Communist involvement in Latin America in the 1950s and 60's. Cuba's proximity to the US made it a very inviting location to the Soviet Union, as did the sugar processing infrastructure which had been set up by American capitalists. If Castro and Guevara had NOT been pro-communist movement, it may well have been that the Soviet Union would have expended much energy in trying to take Cuba by force. As it was, Castro's Cuba joined forces with the Soviets and Cuban agriculture and architecture quickly showed Soviet control and/or influence. Cuba still shows signs of this switch from US to Soviet "oversight", as thousands of vintage US vehicles still fill the roads of Cuba, left behind after the expulsion of capitalists from Cuba.

To Cubans, the last battle for their independence was against the US in what is known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revoluci├│n) in Old Havana is filled with remnants of this battle, including the engine of a Lockheed U-2 spyplane which was shot down. Cubans are fiercely proud of the outcome of this battle, seeing themselves as the first country able to resist the might of the post WW2 US. Actually, Cuba is fiercely proud of its independence in general. Street decorations in all the towns and cities that I saw contained relics of Cuba's many battles for independence, mostly old Spanish cannons and cannonballs.

I am ashamed to say that I was aware of very little of this information, beyond the general "history class" stuff, prior to my trip this fascinating island. Having been, I am now very eager to learn more of this history and I am desperate to return and talk to more people. I will write of my too-short experience there, but I wanted to get some of this historical stuff down first, as a bit of a foundation. Cuba also contains a very interesting history of the ongoing relationships between capitalism and socialism over the past hundred years or so. More to come on this later as the discussion/presentation could be lengthy.

Until later. Peace and comfort to all.


Liz said...

Very interesting. Now I understand the US base at Guantanamo. Looking forward to hearing more.

linda said...

I'm glad you took the time to write this. Beyond the usual common knowledge, I don't know too much about Cuba's history. I am looking forward to reading more.

Theresa said...

Very interesting and informative - thank you SoapBox. I always wondered how the US became installed at Guantanamo Bay. Looking forward to your next installment!

SoapBoxTech said...

Thanks for the comments! I'm glad to have been able to share learning.