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Fidel Castro's Reign In Cuba

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In 1959, a rebel, Fidel Castro, overthrew the reign of Fulgencia Batista in Cuba; a small island 90 miles off the Florida coast. There have been many coups and changes of government in the world since then. Few if any have had the effect on Americans and American foreign policy as this one. In 1952, Sergeant Fulgencia Batista staged a successful bloodless coup in Cuba . Batista never really had any cooperation and rarely garnered much support. His reign was marked by continual dissension. After waiting to see if Batista would be seriously opposed, Washington recognized his government. Batista had already broken ties with the Soviet Union and became an ally to the U.S. throughout the cold war. He was continually friendly and helpful to American business interest. But he failed to bring democracy to Cuba or secure the broad popular support that might have legitimized his rape of the 1940 Constitution. As the people of Cuba grew increasingly dissatisfied with his gangster style politics, the tiny rebellions that had sprouted began to grow.
Meanwhile the U.S. government was aware of and shared the distaste for a regime increasingly nauseating to most public opinion. It became clear that Batista regime was an odious type of government. It killed its own citizens, it stifled dissent. (1) At this time Fidel Castro appeared as leader of the growing rebellion. Educated in America he was a proponent of the Marxist-Leninist philosophy. He conducted a brilliant guerilla campaign from the hills of Cuba against Batista. On January 1959, he prevailed and overthrew the Batista government. Castro promised to restore democracy in Cuba, a feat Batista had failed to accomplish. This promise was looked upon benevolently but watchfully by Washington. Castro was believed to be too much in the hands of the people to stretch the rules of politics very far. The U.S. government supported Castro's coup. It professed to not know about Castro's Communist leanings. Perhaps this was due to the ramifications of Senator Joe McCarty's discredited anti-Communist diatribes. It seemed as if the reciprocal economic interests of the U.S. and Cuba would exert a stabilizing effect on Cuban politics. Cuba had been economically bound to find a market for its #1 crop, sugar. The U.S. had been buying it at prices much higher than market price. For this it received a guaranteed flow of sugar. (2) Early on however developments clouded the hope for peaceful relations. According to American Ambassador to Cuba, Phillip Bonsal, "From the very beginning of his rule Castro and his sycophants bitterly and sweepingly attacked the relations of the United States government with Batista and his regime".(3) He accused us of supplying arms to Batista to help overthrow Castro's revolution and of harboring war criminals for a resurgence effort against him. For the most part these were not true: the U.S. put a trade embargo on Batista in 1957 stopping the U.S. shipment of arms to Cuba. (4) However, his last accusation seems to have been prescient. With the advent of Castro the history of U.S.- Cuban relations was subjected to a revision of an intensity and cynicism which left earlier efforts in the shade. This downfall took two roads in the eyes of Washington: Castro's incessant campaign of slander against the U.S. and Castro's wholesale nationalization of American properties. These actions and the U.S. reaction to them set the stage for what was to become the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the end of U.S.- Cuban relations. Castro promised the Cuban people that he would bring land reform to Cuba. When he took power, the bulk of the nations wealth and land was in the hands of a small minority. The huge plots of land were to be taken from the monopolistic owners and distributed evenly among the people. Compensation was to be paid to the former owners. According to Phillip Bonsal, " Nothing Castro said, nothing stated in the agrarian reform statute Castro signed in 1958, and nothing in the law that was promulgated in the Official Gazzette of June 3, 1959, warranted the belief that in two years a wholesale conversion of Cuban agricultural land to state ownership would take place".(5) Such a notion then would have been inconsistent with many of the Castro pronouncements, including the theory of a peasant revolution and the pledges to the landless throughout the nation. Today most of the people who expected to become independent farmers or members of cooperatives in the operation of which they would have had a voice are now laborers on the state payroll. (6) After secretly drawing up his Land Reform Law, Castro used it to form the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) with broad and ill defined powers. Through the INRA Castro methodically seized all American holdings in Cuba. He promised compensation but frequently never gave it. He conducted investigations into company affairs, holding control over them in the meantime, and then never divulging the results or giving back the control. (7) These seizures were protested. On January 11 Ambassador Bonsal delivered a note to Havana protesting the Cuban government seizure of U.S. citizens property. The note was rejected the same night as a U.S. attempt to keep economic control over Cuba. (8) As this continued Castro was engineering a brilliant propaganda campaign aimed at accusing the U.S. of "conspiring with the counter revolutionaries against the Castro regime"(9). Castro's ability to whip the masses into a frenzy with wispy fallacies about American "imperialist" actions against Cuba was his main asset. He constantly found events which he could work the "ol Castro magic " on, as Nixon said , to turn it into another of the long list of grievances, real or imagined, that Cuba had suffered. Throughout Castro's rule there had been numerous minor attacks and disturbances in Cuba. Always without any investigation whatsoever, Castro would blatantly and publicly blame the U.S.. Castro continually called for hearings at the Organization of American States and the United Nations to hear charges against the U.S. of "overt aggression". These charges were always denied by the councils. (10) Two events that provided fuel for the Castro propaganda furnace stand out. These are the "bombing" of Havana on October 21 and the explosion of the French munitions ship La Coubre on March 4, 1960.(11) On the evening of October 21 the former captain of the rebel air force, Captain Dian-Lanz, flew over Havana and dropped a quantity of virulently anti-Castro leaflets. This was an American failure to prevent international flights in violation of American law. Untroubled by any considerations of truth or good faith, the Cuban authorities distorted the facts of the matter and accused the U.S. of a responsibility going way beyond negligence. Castro, not two days later, elaborated a bombing thesis, complete with "witnesses", and launched a propaganda campaign against the U.S. Ambassador Bonsal said, "This incident was so welcome to Castro for his purposes that I was not surprised when, at a later date, a somewhat similar flight was actually engineered by Cuban secret agents in Florida."(12) This outburst constituted "the beginning of the end " in U.S.- Cuban relations. President Eisenhower stated ,"Castro's performance on October 26 on the "bombing" of Havana spelled the end of my hope for rational relations between Cuba and the U.S."(13) Up until 1960 the U.S. had followed a policy of non intervention in Cuba. It had endured the slander and seizure of lands, still hoping to maintain relations. This ended, when, on March 4, the French munitions ship La Coubre arrived at Havana laden with arms and munitions for the Cuban government. It promptly blew up with serious loss of life. (14) Castro and his authorities wasted no time venomously denouncing the U.S. for an overt act of sabotage. Some observers concluded that the disaster was due to the careless way the Cubans unloaded the cargo. (15) Sabotage was possible but it was preposterous to blame the U.S. without even a pretense of an investigation. Castro's reaction to the La Coubre explosion may have been what tipped the scales in favor of Washington's abandonment of the non intervention policy. This, the continued slander, and the fact that the Embassy had had no reply from the Cuban government to its representations regarding the cases of Americans victimized by the continuing abuses of the INRA. The American posture of moderation was beginning to become, in the face of Castro's insulting and aggressive behavior, a political liability. (16) The new American policy, not announced as such, but implicit in the the actions of the United States government was one of overthrowing Castro by all means available to the U.S. short of open employment of American armed forces in Cuba. It was at this time that the controversial decision was taken to allow the CIA to begin recruiting and training of ex-Cuban exiles for anti-Castro military service. (17) Shortly after this decision, following in quick steps, aggressive policies both on the side of Cuba and the U.S. led to the eventual finale in the actual invasion of Cuba by the U.S! In June 1960 the U.S. started a series of economic aggressions toward Cuba aimed at accelerating their downfall. The first of these measures was the advice of the U.S. to the oil refineries in Cuba to refuse to handle the crude petroleum that the Cubans were receiving from the Soviet Union. The companies such as Shell and Standard Oil had been buying crude from their own plants in Venezuela at a high cost. The Cuban government demanded that the refineries process the crude they were receiving from Russia at a much cheaper price. These refineries refused at the U.S. advice stating that there were no provisions in the law saying that they must accept the Soviet product and that the low grade Russian crude would damage the machinery. The claim about the law may have been true but the charge that the cheaper Soviet crude damaging the machines seems to be an excuse to cover up the ...

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