The Cuban Revolution completed its 60 years anniversary on 1 January 2019. José Cipriano de la Luz y Caballero was a Cuban scholar, acclaimed by José Martí as "the father ... the silent layer of foundations" in Cuban intellectual life of the 19th Century. He, shortly before his death in 1862, defined the ethic that the nation yet to be born should embrace: "I'd prefer the collapse of the institutions of men, kings and emperors, and to see the stars fall from the firmament than to see a human being lose their sense of justice, that sun of the moral world."
The Cuban revolution was the spark that ignited the flame of communism in Cuba. The developing nation gained independence only as recently as 1898, and was already filled with an atmosphere of distrust and resentment towards the United States. In July of 1953, a revolution began in Cuba between the United States backed President Batista and Fidel Castro. Fidel and his brother Raul Castro lead a series of guerilla warfare battles against the forces of President Batista. "I am Fidel Castro and we have come to liberate Cuba," stated Fidel Castro.
Had Fidel Castro and his comrades not been triumphed on January 1, 1959; history would finally have not done justice to Cuba and its revolutionaries. The Cuban revolutionary victory was a news event of epochal proportion even for those who knew little about that country. For many, it was like discovering a new world. And as in the age of the great navigators, encountering it was clouded both by ignorance and the prejudices that usually accompany such revelations as have been propagating by US imperialism and its chums since long.
Curiosity, fascination, and surprise were provoked by the revolution's unique character. The dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by coordinated rural guerrilla warfare and urban revolt. Moreover, the sustained rising was indigenous, waged by forces that were unknown in the wider world and had no connection to the international socialist movement or any other supranational agency.
In addition, the struggle was carried on in head-on confrontation with US imperialism. Finally, and despite claims to the contrary, the revolutionaries had no hesitation about identifying with socialism. The shock of these events focused the minds of researchers and analysts on the Cuban experience, albeit from a perspective blinkered by a Eurocentric viewpoint.
In the international Cold War climate of the time, Cuba needed and got support and solidarity from the Soviet Union. The rapprochement between the two countries led the vast majority of specialists to interpret the events surrounding Cuba in terms of the East-West confrontation.
The commonplace Western explanation of the Cuban Revolution including its causes and origins has been to see it as arising from that antagonism, as if Cuban national life had started in 1959, as if Cuba had no history and was merely a product of events beyond its shores. 6 decades later and nearly thirty years after the end of the Cold War, that is still the deciding factor in the mindset on Cuba of a large part of the West's liberal academia. For them, Cuba remains terra incognita.
Only those who know little or nothing about Cuba would be surprised to learn of the success of an autochthonous programme that strays from what others consider the rule. In truth, the search for a different, independent path, inspired by an original idea and way of thinking, deriving from that search and not copied from abroad, is at the very root of Cuba's national identity and has always accompanied it.
Cuba was in the centre of what Juan Bosch who in the mid-sixties was president of the Dominican Republic until overthrown by the Johnson administration for his clear anti-imperialist stance called "the imperial frontier." The Creole oligarchy, under siege, generated two tendencies that differed greatly but were united by the same desire to preserve its class interests and, above all, to keep the population of African origin in a state of subjugation.
The first of these was reformism, which produced some notable thinkers who studied colonial society in depth, perceived its evils, and advocated changes aimed at improving education and public health and promoting economic, scientific, and cultural development. They repeatedly petitioned the Spanish government but achieved nothing. Their reform proposals went so far and no further: they too regarded slavery as a necessity, and believed that Cuba should remain Spanish.
The second trend was annexationism, which aimed to make Cuba a part of the United States. It was the dominant attitude among the major sugarcane plantation owners in Western Cuba and enjoyed the support of influential academics, intellectuals, and professionals.
It was also favoured by Washington, which from the turn of the century actively promoted it. This faction was responsible for the first plots and large-scale military actions to overthrow Spanish suzerainty, including an expeditionary force dispatched from US soil of which the vast majority was foreigners.
At a deeper level, another process took place among the academic minds and was reflected in certain publications that circulated among the educated minority.
Their philosophy was based on a severe critique of scholasticism developed in the late 1830s by two priests, José Agustín Caballero and Félix Varela, and by their follower, José de la Luz y Caballero. Luz was at the centre of a philosophical controversy that has been described as the most original event in the history of the Latin American challenge to Eurocentrism in the Americas.
It reflected a persistent search for a uniquely Cuban approach and way of thinking, as he put it, "a Cuban sophia [wisdom] that is just as much a sophia, and just as distinctively Cuban, as the Greek was to the Greeks."
Varela was the first thinker of the national independence movement. He passionately preached in support of independence in El Habanero, Cuba's first newspaper, which he published in exile in the United States to be circulated clandestinely on the island. His thinking to the core pro-independence and antislavery-anticipated the notion of a Cuba that should be as much an island politically as it is geographically.
The struggles of the slaves for emancipation and of the intelligentsia for cultural independence would have to merge into a single movement to create a nation and liberate it. This movement was born on October 10, 1868.
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, one of the main revolutionary leaders in eastern Cuba, had repeatedly suffered imprisonment, exile, and other forms of persecution and had plotted in Jacobin freemasonry lodges that had sworn "War to the death on exploitation and discrimination of Man by Man." On that day he proclaimed both Cuba's independence and the freeing of the slaves whom he referred to as citizens, and to whom he extended an open invitation to join the war to achieve both those aims.
Born in 1853, José Martí was also a patient, systematic organiser, an astute strategist, and a visionary who studied the experience of the Ten Years War in depth, including the causes and influences that led to that terrible defeat. Uniting the patriots was a true apostolic passion for him: healing wounds, overcoming grudges and rivalries, and cementing relations between the veterans and the younger elements. Before he had ever taken up arms, he won the respect of seasoned fighting men. He proved able to unite them and, step by step, acquired their recognition of his moral and political authority as a new revolutionary guide.
The essence of his strategy was to form a party composed of all the revolutionaries, a unique political instrument that would free Cuban people of the dire consequences of internal divisions. A party whose main support, whose majority base, was the Cuban-born manual workers in Tampa, Key West, New York, and other US cities as well as throughout the Cuban Diaspora in Mexico, Venezuela, Central America, and various Caribbean countries.
It was José Martí who introduced the idea of imperialism, especially US imperialism to Cuban political culture, together with that of a single party as an essential tool of revolution. Martí rescued the founding ideology of the 1868 revolution. For him also, winning national independence was not the sole aim: it was inseparable from that of a radical social revolution. Céspedes's goal of establishing "perfect equality" between the citizens of the Republic was identical to that announced by Martí: "We will achieve total justice."
Washington's military intervention took place in 1898, with the whole of Cuba at war, the colonial army reeling and the rebel forces operating close to Havana. Céspedes's prophesy was fulfilled, imperialism carried out the plan that Martí had denounced and had given his life trying to prevent. Thirty years of heroic, unequal struggle ended, once again, in catastrophe.
In the 1990s, many official US documents till then kept secret were declassified. In 1991, the State Department published a thick volume entitled Foreign Relations of the United States 1958-1960, Volume VI, Cuba, which contains hundreds of documents, reports, internal department analyses, minutes of the National Security Council and other government agency meetings, messages exchanged with the US embassy in Havana and other diplomatic missions and allied countries, and other materials. These cover the last years of the Batista regime and the first two years of Cuba-US conflict, up to the breaking of diplomatic relations.
The volume contains irrefutable proof of Washington's close alliance with the bloody dictatorship which scourged the island. Nineteen fifty-eight was a crucial year which holds the key to understanding what was to happen later. Collaboration between the two governments existed in the most diverse spheres, even the nuclear energy sector. Military aid was unlimited, extending beyond the supply of weapons, munitions, equipment, and assistance at all levels.
All officers in Cuba's air force, nearly all army, navy, and police officials, and complete units of the troops that fought against the rebels in the Sierra Maestra were trained in US military schools. Batista also found support in domestic US agencies. The FBI and Department of Justice kept a tight rein on exiles and anti-Batista émigrés and worked to thwart all their efforts to aid those who struggled for freedom at home. The two governments exchanged information and coordinated their actions to that end.
As the Batista regime's deterioration became more and more evident, concealing the aid which it continued to receive became a priority for the Eisenhower administration, as did the obstinate and fruitless efforts aimed at preventing the people's victory. "We must prevent a Castro victory" was the conclusion often repeated at White House meetings.
The declassified documents reveal more than the political, military, and economic commitment between the two governments, which at times appear to merge into a single body. We come across anxious and perplexed characters, actors in a drama they are unable to understand. In the course of 1958, more and more meetings see Eisenhower, Nixon, Dulles, and their generals drew up desperate plans looking for a magic formula to save the old regime and prevent its complete collapse.
As in soap operas there is intrigue and melodrama, like the scene in which the president, in a grave and solemn tone, asked "everyone present to promise they would deny, without exception, having heard what was discussed there. Or his precise and unquestionable instruction, that "the hand of the United States remain hidden." And, as if this were not enough, as though suspicious of his closest advisors, there was his personal instruction to the CIA director to stop discussing plans against Cuba at National Security Council meetings.
In 1997, the CIA declassified another document it had zealously kept secret for over thirty years, with the pertinent omissions and finishing touches. It is the report of General Lyman B. Kirkpatrick, CIA inspector general for the actions undertaken in 1959, which, in essence, describes the policy the United States has continued to apply to this day.
On the Cuban Revolution, practically anyone can see that Cuban continent has begun a new era. Campaigns by old and new social movements were underway everywhere, progressive governments were consolidating their positions, neoliberal dogma is degenerating into bankruptcy, and the peoples of Latin America are becoming increasingly united. None of this would exist if Fidel Castro and his comrades had not triumphed on January 1, 1959. History has finally done them justice.
The writer is a senior citizen, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs
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