Brief History of Cuba
When Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba for the first time on the 27th of October, 1492, and sailed around the Cuban Northeastern coast during forty days, he not only found a lush vegetation, but also peaceful and naive aboriginals presenting him with cotton, a sort of spin yarn and small pieces of gold, all of which they would trade for valueless trinkets.
Two years later, when exploring the South coast of Cuba during his second trip, the Admiral would realize there were several groups of indigenous inhabitants. The natives from the East of the country that were travelling with him could not understand the language of those that lived in the Western region.
Indeed, settlements in the island started four thousand years before with several migrations: the firsts, most probably coming from the North through Florida, and then several migration waves most probably coming from the Orinoco River through the arc of the Antilles.
When the Spanish conquest began there were about 100 000 natives in the island, each group with different degrees of social and cultural development. The oldest and most backward group ¾ which had almost disappeared by the 15th century ¾ made a living on fishing and fruit collection, and made their instruments with the shells of large mollusks. Another, more advanced, group made instruments mainly of stone and some with shells, and lived on fishing and hunting. The more advanced group, originally from South America, belonged to the aruacos. These practiced agriculture, and with their main crop, tapioca, made the casaba, which could not only be consumed immediately, but could last long enough to be preserved. They made ceramic jars and other objects and manufactured a variety of objects from shells and stone. They lived in "bohíos", thatched palm wood huts grouped in small "aboriginal" settlements. For centuries, the bohíos were an important element in the "habitat" of Cuban peasants.
Spanish conquest of the island began almost twenty years after Columbus first trip, as part of the occupation radiating from La Hispaniola (Saint Domingo) to the other Caribbean islands. The conquest and control of the Cuban territory was entrusted to Diego Velázquez, one of the richest landowners of Hispaniola. The whole process started in 1510 with an extensive operation of reconnaissance and conquest plagued of cruel events. Warned of the outrages of the Spaniards in neighboring islands, the aboriginals of the eastern region of Cuba offered resistance against the invasion under the leadership of Yahatuey or Hatuey, a runaway cacique from La Hispaniola, who was finally caught and burnt alive to set an example.
With the foundation in 1513 of the village of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa, the Spaniards began the foundation and establishment of seven villages with the objective of controlling the conquered territory ¾ Bayamo (1513), Santísima Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus and San Cristóbal de La Habana (1514); Puerto Príncipe (1515)¾ and Santiago de Cuba (1515), the last one, which was appointed seat of the government. Although almost all these settlements changed their original locations, they were used by the conquerors to exploit the resources of the island.
The economy was based on the slave work of the native Indians, which were assigned to the colonizers by means of a system of "encomienda", a revocable and non-transferable personal concession or grant. According to this system, the colonizer was bound to feed and dress the Indians, and teach them the Christian faith. In turn, the colonizer was entitled to make the Indians work for him and in his benefit. In practice, such system was even worse than slavery, and was one of the main causes of the quick reduction of the Indian population. The most important economic activity during the very first years was gold mining, in which assigned Indians worked. Also in this activity were used a few Black slaves, who thus integrated, from the very beginning, the ethnic conglomerate which, centuries after, was to form the Cuban population.
Very quickly the gold was exhausted, and the dramatic reduction of the population ¾ including the Spaniards who enrolled in the successive conquest expeditions into the continent¾ turned cattle raising in the main source of income in Cuba. Lacking gold, salt beef and leathers would become the almost only commodity with which the few Spaniards living in the country could make a living from, at the same time they introduced themselves into the commercial activity of the rising Spanish empire.
Under strict mercantile principles and rules, the Empires trade developed as a closed monopoly managed by the Casa de Contratación of Seville. Very soon, other European nations became jealous and anxious to participate in such a prosperous commerce. Thus, French, Dutch, English corsairs, privateers attacked and plundered Caribbean villages, towns and cities, and captured the ships that sailed in the area. Cuba was not spared. For over a century, Jacques de Sores, Francis Drake and Henry Morgan, to mention a few, was a real danger for the Island and its inhabitants. On the other hand, wars and piracy had also some advantages. To safeguard its trade, Spain decided to organize a system of large fleets that would have a mandatory stop in the port of Havana, a well-protected natural harbor strategically situated in the Gulf Stream. The crowd of travelers and merchants that visited Havana and the workers permanently working in the construction of fortresses became an important source of income for the country. In addition, the soldiers stationed in the fortresses like Morro Castle that protected the city from pirates attacks were an important source of revenue. The people in far away regions, who did not enjoy similar benefits, appealed to a highly profitable illegal trade with the same corsairs and privateers. Tight commercial monopoly from Seville was outwitted in a less aggressive way through smuggling. However, colonial authorities, bent on suffocating the illegal trade, clashed with the neighbors, most of all with those from Bayamo. The uprising of the village in 1603 is an early evidence of the differences between "the people from the country" (those who had been born in the Island), and the government of the metropolis. Shortly afterwards, in 1608, on of the contraband incidents served as an inspiration for the poem Espejo de Paciencia (Mirror of Patience), one of the very first works in the history of Cuban literature.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Island, with a population of 30,000, was divided into two governments, one in Havana and the other in Santiago de Cuba. Havana was appointed as the capital city. Slowly, the economic activities grew and diversified. Cultivation and production of tobacco and sugar cane developed. Steadily, new villages were founded, generally far from the coasts, and the first seven villages grew. The first seven villages became wealthier and showed a more comfortable life-style, offering frequent distractions ranging from games, gambling and balls to bull fights and religious feasts and ceremonies. Important religious buildings remain as an evidence of the strong religious activity, dominant in the social life. Among these buildings, mention must be made of the magnificent building of the Santa Clara Convent.
The ascent of the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish throne at the beginning of the 18th century brought an updating of the mercantile concept presiding over colonial trade. Instead of weakening, the monopoly diversified and manifested in the economic life of all the colonies. In the case of Cuba, the monarchy implemented the monopoly on tobacco, already the most important produce in the Island, aimed at controlling not only the production but also the trade in its own benefit. Producers and merchants resented the measure, which gave way to several protests and revolts. The third of these revolts of tobacco growers was violently repressed with the execution of eleven tobacco planters in Santiago de las Vegas, a town close to the capital. Unable to beat the strict control of the monopoly, the wealthiest class decided to participate and benefit from it. In 1740, they, in association with Spanish merchants, managed to make the King interested, and obtained his permission to create the Real Compañía de Comercio de La Habana. For over two decades, this organization monopolized all the commercial activity in Cuba.
The 18th century witnessed successive wars between the major European powers, wars that in the American scenario pursued a defined mercantile interest. All these wars affected Cuba in one way or another, though the one that undoubtedly had more impact for Cuba was the Seven Years war (1756-1763). It was precisely during this war that Havana was attacked, overtaken and occupied by an English expeditionary force. The inefficiency of top Spanish authorities during the defense of the city contrasted with the disposition to fight of the "creoles", whose most outstanding leader was José Antonio Gómez, a courageous militia captain from the nearby village of Guanabacoa, and who died as a consequence of the wounds received in combat. During the eleven months of the British occupation (August 1762 to July 1763), Havana was the theatre of an intense commercial activity, thus showing evidence of the enormous possibilities of the Cuban economy, until then under a stern control by the Spanish commercial system.
Once the Spanish domination was reestablished in the Western part of the Island, King Charles III and his "enlightened" ministers adopted a series of measures favoring development. The first was to increase and improve the system of fortifications aimed at defense, of which the most outstanding example would be the magnificent, imposing, and extremely costly, Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña. Other constructions would come after the fortress, this time several civil constructions, like the Palace of the General Captains (seat of the government), and religious, the Cathedral of Havana, which would become symbols within the scenery of the city. Also foreign trade was increased and extended, at the same time domestic communications were improved. New towns like Pinar del Río and Jaruco were founded and developed. Other steps were aimed at the renovation of governmental management, especially to the creation of the Intendance (or Superintendence) and Revenue Administration. Within the framework of all these measures, the first census (1774) was made, showing a population of 171 620 inhabitants.
On the other hand, several events abroad contributed to the development of the Island. The first was the War of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies in North America, during which Spain ¾ participant of the conflict¾ authorized trade between Cuba and the fighting Americans. The importance of this market, so close geographically, became evident a few years afterwards, during the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleons Empire, in which Spain was also involved with great damage for Spains colonial communications. Under these circumstances, trade with neutrals ¾ meaning the United Sates ¾ was authorized, and as a consequence, the economy of the Island experimented a dramatic and rapid growth with the favorable opportunity that was the slave revolution in Haiti for the prices of sugar and coffee. The criollo planters became richer and their newly acquired power materialized in Institutions that, like the Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País (Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country) and the Real Consulado (Royal Consulate) paved the way for implementing their influence in the colonial government. Under the leadership of Francisco de Arango y Parreño, these criollo potentates managed to benefit from the unstable political situation in Spain. Once the Bourbon dynasty was restored in power in 1814 obtained important concessions, like the free trade, lifting of the monopoly on tobacco and the possibility of legalization of their agricultural possessions.
However, such progress was based on the terrible increase of slave trade. Starting in 1790, in only 30 years, more African slaves were imported in Cuba than in the century and a half before. By 1841, when the population was over a million inhabitants, the society of the Island was highly polarized, on one side, an oligarchy of creole landowners and large-scale Spanish merchants, and on the other side the slave masses. In between, there were the middle classes of the freed blacks and mulattos and the poor whites that worked in the countryside and the cities. These last ones were increasingly reluctant to work as hand laborers, because it was considered humiliating and proper for slaves. Slavery was to become a major source of social instability, not only because of the frequent demonstration of rebelliousness from the slaves ¾ both as individuals and as groups ¾ but also because the rejection against it gave way to conspiracies which purpose was to abolish slavery. Examples are the conspiracy headed by the black José Antonio Aponte, a former slave, discovered in Havana in 1812, and the so-called Conspiracy of la Escalera (the Ladder) in 1844. Because of this last one, a cruel repression was unleashed, in which many slaves and free blacks and mulattos were killed. Among them was the mulatto poet Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Plácido).
The development of the colony sharpened the differences of interests with the metropolis. To the undoubted signs of an emergence of a Cuban nationality that appeared in literature and other cultural expressions during the last quarter of the 18th century, followed defined political trends with various proposals and possible solutions for the problems of the Island. The cautious reformism of Arango and other wealthy creoles, found equally liberal reformists followers in José Antonio Saco, José de la Luz y Caballero and other intellectuals of prestige related to the sector of the rich Cuban planters and landowners. The rapacious and discriminatory Spanish colonial policy towards Cuba after the loss of the rest of the colonies in the American Continent was to frustrate several times the expectations of reform.
This entire situation favored the development of still another political trend, which hoped to solve the Cuban situation by annexation to the United States. In this trend were found the group of slave owners and landowners and another group of individuals with democratic feelings. The first group sought annexation as the possibility for the continuation of slavery, with the support they would find on the part of Southern slave owners and planters; the latter with the hope of finding freedom in the North American democracy as compared with the Spanish despotism. The first, grouped in the "Club de La Habana", favored the several intents by the government in Washington to buy the Island, as well as the possibilities of a "liberating" invasion under the leadership of a US General.
To the annexation, aimed all its efforts Narciso López a Venezuelan general, who, after serving several years in the Spanish army, got involved in the conspiracies. López was the leader of two expeditions into Cuba, but both of them failed. In 1851, during the second expedition, he was captured and shot by the Spanish authorities.
Another, more radical, trend hoped to obtain total independence for Cuba. This trend appeared as early as 1810, when the first independence conspiracy, under the leadership of Román de la Luz, was discovered. The height of this movement was reached in the first years of the 1820s. Under the influence of the independence movements in Spanish America and of the constitutional period in Spain, in the Island proliferated all sorts of masons lodges and secret societies. Other two important conspiracies were discovered during these years: the Soles y Rayos de Bolívar (Bolivars Suns and Rays), in 1823, in which the poet José María Heredia, one of the most outstanding representatives of the Cuban Romantic movement was involved; and the Gran Legión del Aguila Negra (The Black Eagle Great Lodge) supported from Mexico. In addition, during those years the work of Priest Felix Varela prepared the ideological basis to the movement for independence. Varela, a professor of Philosophy at the Catholic Seminary of San Carlos in Havana, was elected representative to the Cortes (the Spanish Parliament) in 1821 and was forced to escape from Spain when absolute monarchy was restored in Spain. Living in the United States, Varela began to publish the newspaper El Habanero devoted to spreading the independence ideals. In spite of his efforts, the circumstances and the conditions, both internal and external, were not favorable for the Cuban independence and it took long years to win independence.
In the following years, significant changes took place in the Cuban economy. Coffee production collapsed due to the clumsy tax policy of Spain, to the competition offered by Brazil that has a coffee of much better quality, and to the higher income-producing capacity of sugar cane. Even the sugar industry as forced to improve productivity in view of the mercantile thrust of the sugar beet in Europe. Depending more and more on one only production ¾ sugar ¾ and from the U.S. market, Cuba was in urgent need of deep socioeconomic changes, to which slavery and Spanish colonial exploitation posed enormous, almost insurmountable obstacles. The failure of the Board for Information called for in 1867 by the Madrid government to revise its colonial policy towards Cuba, meant a demolishing blow for the once more thwarted hopes of reform. However, the same circumstances helped the development of latent independence sentiments in the more advanced sectors of the Cuban society, favoring at the same time the organization of a vast conspiratorial movement in the central and Eastern regions of the country.
The Struggle for National Independence
The first war for independence began on October 10, 1868 when the lawyer from Bayamo, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, one of the principal conspirators. Céspedes, in his property "La Demajagua" proclaimed independence and granted freedom to the slaves, uprised. The uprising, followed shortly after by the conspirators in Camagüey and Las Villas, gained strength in spite of the merciless reaction from the Spaniards. The Spaniards in the cities, organized in voluntary militias, unleashed terror among Cuban families and became an important factor influencing political decisions. At the same time, the Spanish army advanced over the city of Bayamo, capital of the rebels forcing the Cubans to abandon it, for they never surrendered. However, before abandoning the city, the rebels themselves set the city on fire, as a symbol of their revolutionary will. Although the extremely difficult conditions were against the movement, unity was necessary, and legality was conquered through the Constitutional Assembly held in the town of Guáimaro. The legal constitution of the Republic in Arms was passed.
The Cuban Liberation Army, after several months of military learning obtained an impressive offensive capacity that reached its highest point during the invasion of the bountiful Guantánamo region by General Máximo Gómez, and by the brilliant battles in the plateaus of Camagüey by the cavalry commanded by Ignacio Agramonte. However, the military victories were turned in a way into a set back due to political differences among the revolutionaries, which eventually led to Céspedes removal from his position as President of the Republic in Arms (1873). At the same time, these differences prevented arrival in Cuba of the needed supplies of armaments and other means being sent by the Cubans emigrants. On the other hand, the hostile policy of the US Government towards the Cuban revolutionaries was also negative. The United States Government decided to abide, by its old policy, that the Cubans should remain under Spanish rule until they fall unfailingly into the control of the North Americans.
Between 1874 and 1875, the Cuban military forces were very successful, first with Máximo Gómezs campaign in Camagüey, marked by the victories at La Sacra and Palo Seco and the battle at Las Guásimas, where the Cuban army defeated a Spanish column of more than 4 000 soldiers, and afterwards by the invasion of Las Villas by the rebel troops under the command of the outstanding Dominican General. However, internal disagreement and dissension again lessened the importance of such victories and important strategic advances. This, together with the non-arrival of refreshment troops prevented the success of the planned invasion aimed at extending the war to the rich Western region of the Island.
While the revolution weakened, the Spaniards improved their military capabilities, for the restoration of the monarchy in 1875 put an end to the violent events that had characterized thew life in Spain after the so-called "glorious revolution" of 1868 and the establishment of the Republic shortly after. The conditions, unfavorable for the rebel army and the lack of unity forced the rebels to accept the peace proposals made by the Spanish General Arsenio Martínez Campos. In 1878, the Peace Treaty was signed at Zanjón, but independence had not been obtained. Nevertheless, not everybody in the Liberation Army accepted the truce and the peace, particularly General Antonio Maceo, Chief of the Army for the Eastern region. Maceo, a mulatto born in a poor family, had reached the highest positions in the Liberation Army thanks to his courage, his intelligence and his capabilities.
Even though insurgent actions could not be sustained for much longer, the Protestation of Baraguá, headed by Maceo and his troop, who were the most popular sectors of the revolutionary movement, was a proof of the Cubans irrevocable will to continue its struggle for independence.
In the 1880s, the Island will traverse a period of great economic and social changes. Spain finally abolished slavery, much weakened as a result of the Ten Years War. This brought notable transformations in the organization of sugar production that reached, at last, the rank of industry. Cubas economic dependence from the United States was bound to be practically complete and absolute while US investment capitals was more and more present in several sectors of the economy.
The bourgeoisie in the Island, estranged from their independence aspirations, had formed two major political groups or parties: the Liberal Party, which would later become the Autonomist party, and the Constitutional Union. The first was resuming the old trend of trying to obtain some reforms within the Spanish colonial system, aiming at an eventual home-rule. The latter was the most reactionary expression of the sectors interested in the full integration of Cuba into Spain. Meanwhile, mostly the Cubans that had been forced to emigrate to the United States and other countries were supporting the efforts for independence, more popularly rooted. A first outbreak, the "Guerra Chiquita" (Short War) in 1879, once again sent the Cubans to the battle fields in the Eastern and Central regions, but was easily controlled after a few months due to its lack of organization and political coherence. Several landings, conspiracies and uprisings followed, usually organized by military chiefs of the Ten Years War, but were aborted or suffocated by the Spanish authorities because of the rebels incapacity to articulate their actions with a more comprehensive and united movement within the masses. That would be the work of José Martí.
Working for independence from early adolescence, José Martí Pérez, (born in Havana, 1853) suffered imprisonment and deportation during the Ten Years War. From his work with later conspiracies and revolutionary movements, he realized that the Cuban Revolution had to have new organizational and programmatic foundations. To this task, he devoted his work and his whole life. Gifted with exquisite poetic sensibility and being a terrific and bright speaker, Martí also possessed a tremendous foresight and a profound political thought, enriched by the experience of the years he lived in Spain, the United States and other Latin American countries. All his work for the union of the Cuban revolutionaries, mainly among the Cuban emigrates in the United Sates, had an important repercussion in Cuba, and became a reality in 1892, when the Cuban Revolutionary Party was founded.
Conceived as the only and unique organization of all the Cubans in favor of independence, the Party had to find the means, both material and human, for the new liberation endeavor. At the same time, it should grant the military chiefs the indispensable political authority to carry out the "necessary war."
The war started on February 24, 1895. Martí landed in Cuba with Máximo Gómez, General in Chief of the Liberation Army, and shortly after was killed in combat at Dos Ríos. Though Martís death was a terrible loss for the Revolution, the revolutionary movement became stronger and stronger in the province of Oriente, where Maceo ¾ who had come in an expedition from Costa Rica ¾ had taken command of the mambí troops. Systematically, Maceo extended the actions to the provinces of Camagüey and Las Villas. Delegates of the Liberation Army met in Jimaguayú to draft the constitution that would rule the destiny of the Republic in Arms. The Assembly elected Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, a patrician from Camagüey, for the Presidential post, and appointed Máximo Gómez General in Chief of the Liberation Army. And Maceo was appointed as Lieutenant General. Shortly after, Maceo would set out from Baraguá commanding a column that would carry out the invasion to the Western regions together with the forces under the command of Máximo Gómez, who was waiting for Maceo in Las Villas. After the victories at Mal Tiempo, Coliseo and Calimete, the invading troops entered in the province of La Habana panicking the colonial authorities in the capital. Maceos troops arrived in Mantua, the most Western town in Havana. The invasion had met its objectives: the war was making devastating effects in the whole territory, whose main productions dropped dramatically. This time, Spain was prevented from taking out from the Island the necessary resources to fight for her own independence.
To face generalized insurgency, the metropolis appointed Valeriano Weyler General Captain (Governor). Weyler arrived in Cuba with numerous refreshment troops to support his campaign and unleashed a bloody war of extermination. In spite of the high cost this type of war represented ¾ above all because of the reconcentration of the peasant population in towns and cities ¾ Weyler was unable to stop insurgency, and the victories of the Cuban troops. Gómezs campaign in Havana, and Maceos in Pinar del Río would keep the colonial army in a stress. Although the rebel forces also faced difficulties, they would receive with some regularity supplies sent by the Cuban emigrants in the United States and by the Cuban Revolutionary Party. This, together with the armament captured from the enemy would enable the Cuban Liberation Army to maintain its operational capabilities.
In December 1896, Maceo is killed in the battle of San Pedro, and General Calixto García, another brilliant army leader from the time of the Ten Years War is appointed as 2nd Lieutenant and Assistant to the General in Chief of the Liberation Army. At this time, Gómez decides to concentrate against himself, as much as possible, Spanish elite troops and submitted them to a demolishing campaign in the central region of the Island. In this way, he left García free to fight important battles in Oriente and to take important and well fortified places in Las Tunas and Guisa. At the same time, in the Western side of the Island, the Liberation Army is fighting continuous small and medium size actions. The fate of Spanish colonial regime was cast.
The development of the Cuban Revolution, which had been gaining more and more sympathy from the American people, making the US government to take the decision of involving in the conflict in a manner favorable to American interests. Yielding in part to US pressures, Spain hands over grants autonomy to the Cubans, but the step was taken to late to have the desired effect. Then ¾ February 1898 ¾ the US battleship Maine was blown in Havana harbor, an event Washington would use as a pretext to mobilize public opinion and involve directly in the war. Formally admitting Cuban independence, but not recognizing its institutions, the United Sates enters in war against Spain and, with the cooperation and help of the rebel troops American troops land in Cuba through the South coast of the Eastern region. Actions will take place in the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba. The Spanish fleet was trapped in the port of Santiago de Cuba, and on trying to sail to the open sea is annihilated by the superiority of the American naval forces. After the assault against the city defenses by Cuban-American troops, the Spanish command has no choice but to surrender. An important event then takes place: Cuban troops, commanded by Calixto García are forbidden to enter in the city. Several months after that, according to the Paris Treaty, Spain will transfer Cuba to the United States control without taking into account the institutions established by the Cuban people.
The Neocolonial Republic
On the 1st of January 1899, the United States formally occupies Cuba, true to its secular ambition. The question now was defining the future of the Island. Whatever the future would be, the Government in Washington considered it would be convenient to dissolve all institutions that represented the Cuban liberation movement. To this end, the US would work to increase the weaknesses and contradictions already existing, namely, the differences between General in Chief of the Liberation Army, Máximo Gómez, and the Representatives of the Constitutional Assembly, the highest political body of the Revolution, in reference to the methods used to license the Liberation Army. Consequently, both institutions disappeared and this, together with the dissolution of the Cuban Revolutionary Party by its delegate Tomás Estrada Palma dispersed independence forces and left them without a leadership.
The military occupation, legitimated by the Treaty of Paris (signed on December 10,1898) became the experimental framework in the implementation of the policy towards Cuba. This period in the United States was, at the same time a period of strong domestic and foreign tensions, characterized by constant pressure and negotiations regarding governmental decision-making.
Among the factors that had a bearing on the internal restlessness was precisely the way in which the Cuban situation was manipulated by the sectors that were, in one way or another, interested in a particular end for such situation. In spite of the efforts of the groups in favor of peace in the northern nation, the annexionist trend, in any of its diverse modalities, was opening itself a wider and wider space in the various spheres of power. The rather pejorative concept that the Cuban people suffered from "infantilism" was present in all the annexionist groups. The infant, meaning the Cuban people, was starting to walk and had to have the strong arm of the father for support and protection from any fall.
The campaign in favor of annexionism reached its climax at the end of the government of John Brooke, the first military governor in the Island. In the United States, the idea of transferring in one single stroke the sovereignty of the Island to a government that will turn Cuba into a part of the American territory was gaining force among expansionist circles and their spokesmen.
However, internal opposition and, above all, the Cuban peoples resistance to the idea, made the new Governor, Leonard Wood think of the need to "Americanize" the Island by means of a long occupation. His idea had two main directions. First, a centralized comprehensive project of reforms "from above", which essentially aimed at the transformation of the Cuban social context (schools, health care, judicial reforms, city councils). Second a line of action aimed at encouraging immigration, Anglo-Saxon of course, and a gradual colonization which would establish "from bellow" the spirit and customs of the American people.
None of the measures had as an objective the transformation of the old colonial structures. On the contrary, they aimed at creating the necessary conditions to encourage a "land market" and to facilitate transfer of properties to the hands of US politicians, financial tycoons, economists and planters. Meanwhile, the scarcity of investment and loan capitals placed Cuban planters in a very difficult position, a great disadvantage to restart business, mainly all the activities related to the sugar industry.
However, the need for a change in policy increased every day. The issue of how the way for annexation could be paved, not by extending occupation, but by establishing a Republic in a short term and under certain specific conditions had been discussed since very early in 1899. The alleged incapacity of the Cubans to rule themselves would eventually force them to plead for annexation with their powerful neighbor.
The first stone of the building would be passing the decisions to convene the Cuban Constitutional Assembly according to what the Military Order No. 301, dated on July 25, 1900 established. The Convention had to, according to the military orders, should draft and adopt a Constitution for the Cuban people and, as part of such document provide and regulate with the Government of the United States all matters related to the relationship between both countries and governments. While the Cuban constitutional commission in charge of regulating on the future relationship between Cuba and the United States was working, the US Congress passes the Platt Amendment, according to which the US government had the right to interfere in the internal affairs of the Island whenever it was considered convenient. In spite of the opposition of the delegates to the Constitutional Assembly, the American pressure placed the Cubans in a very difficult disjunctive: having a Republic with an amendment to the Constitution which limited its independence or continue under a military occupation. The Cubans had no other choice, and the Constitution was thus passed with the Platt Amendment on June 12, 1901.
Nevertheless, the major problems affecting the Island had not been solved. On the contrary, the contradictions sharpened and in turn promoted a climate of social unrest among the different sectors and groups of society. Low wages, long working shifts and discrimination against local workers, who were displaced from the best paid jobs, were among the most important demands of the newly born working movement. The unmet demands triggered strikes and other protests, for example the so called "Apprentices Strike" soon after the proclamation of the neocolonial Republic on May 20, 1902.
US authorities had "approved" the first President, Tomás Estrada Palma, sought as a possible restraint to a more radical potential military leadership in the country and, at the same time, to prevent them from increasing their prestige within the revolutionary circles. This entire situation turned José Martís substitute as delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party into one of the favorite candidates among the popular sectors of the Cuban population, notwithstanding political affiliation. After the constitution of the Pro-Masó coalition, the Estrada Palma-Masó political candidacy ¾ that Máximo Gómez had promoted ¾ failed. This and the further aloofment of the last President of the Republic in Arms dramatically increased the lack of union that already existed and strengthened the political position of the most conservative sectors, which had grouped themselves in the coalition.
The first Cuban government will have among its tasks one unpleasant and unrewarding: the formalization of a relationship that would tie the dependence towards the United States. To this effect, a set of treatises were voted, passed and signed. These included the Treaty for Commercial Reciprocity, which ensured the control of the Cuban market by the United States and consolidated the structure of an economy based on one product. And the Permanent Treaty, which granted a lawful, juridical form to the Platt Amendment and was designed to define the establishment and final location of the US naval stations.
Estrada Palmas peculiar austerity granted him in history the halo of a well-founded honesty, much more well founded because of the blatant dishonesty of his successors. However, the elder president could not resist his political ambitions and managed a rigged reelection that inaugurated an invariable republican tradition. The act provoked an uprising of the opposing Liberal Party, which in turn unleashed the events leading to another US intervention. For almost three years (1906-1909), the Island was once more under a US administration. Again, the period will contribute to define the traits of the republican system by means of a curious combination of juridical norms and government corruption.
Under the empire of the Platt Amendment, two major political parties, the Liberal and the Conservative, founded on the dominance of the local bosses and on the needs of clienteles, disputed power one to the other by means of electoral cheating and riots. The winners loot would be the public treasure, a source of wealth for a "political class," which, given the growing control of the Cuban economy by US capitals, could not fin a better area in which to use, in a more profitable way, its talents. Government management would thus become the motive for frequent scandals.
Scandals would be frequent during the government of José Miguel Gómez (1909-1913). His government would be also marked by the bloody repression of the uprising of the Independientes de Color (Colored Independents), a movement in which many blacks and mulattos tried to fight against racial discrimination, though without a clear awareness of how to do it. The severe conservatism of his successor, Mario García Menocal (1913-1920) was not enough to hide corruption, which was in this case favored by the economic boom after the First World War. Menocal managed to win a reelection with the already usual and normal procedures, which, in turn, caused another liberal uprising and the resulting interventionist haste from the United States.
The Government in Washington, concerned by the already frequent political unrest in its new colony, had devised a new tutelage policy. The so-called preventive diplomacy, which reached its highest point with the designation of General Enoch Crowder as a virtual proconsul to control and meddle into the government of Alfredo Zayas (1921-1925).
This administration would witness transcendental socio-political movements. Generalized rejection against US interference and government corruption gave way to several movements for nationalistic and democratic claims. The students movement showed particular radicalism and it will soon go beyond its initial purpose of a university reform under the leadership of Julio Antonio Mella and would assume open revolutionary scope. The working movement, which origins went as far back as the last decades of the 19th century, had followed also an upward course characterized by strikes ¾ the Apprentices (1902), and the currency strike (1907) ¾ among the most important. The inflation resulting from World War I would thus favor the subsequent wave of strikes. At the same time, the development of the proletariat reached ¾ both organizational and ideological ¾ due to the influence of the October Revolution in Russia, brought about the constitution of a national workers union in 1925. Coincidentally and as an expression of de conjunction of the most radical political trends of the working movement personified by Mella and Carlos Baliño, will be founded the first Communist Party in Havana.
The political and social unrest had profound roots. The Cuban economy had grown quickly during the first two decades of the century, encouraged by the Treaty for commercial reciprocity with the United States and the favorable situation of after the world war. However, such economic growth was unilateral, based almost exclusively on the production of sugar and on the relations with the US market. US capitals increasingly being invested in the Island had been practically the sole beneficiaries of the economic growth, for they controlled 70% of the sugar production apart from controlling also the infrastructure and other collateral businesses. The economic wellbeing originated by this process ¾ testimony of which can be found in the magnificent houses in Vedado ¾ would be extremely fragile and unequally distributed. This became evident by 1920, when the sugar prices dropped dramatically creating a bank crack and producing the bankruptcy of almost practically al the Cuban and Spanish banking institutions in the country. Shortly after, at a time sugar production in Cuba went up to 5 million tons, saturation of the markets became evident, a clear sign of the fact that the Cuban economy could not continue to grow based exclusively on sugar. The other options were either stagnation or diversification of production, though this last choice was hindered by the monopoly existing in land owning and by commercial dependency.
The ascent of Gerardo Machado to the presidency of the Republic in 1925 would mean the alternative of oligarchy to face the latent crisis. In the implementation of its program, the new regime would try to reconcile the economic interests of the different sectors of the bourgeoisie and US capitals. The government offered guaranties of stability to the middle classes and new jobs to the most popular sectors of the population combined with a selective but at the same time harsh repression against political adversaries and opposition movements. Under a supposedly efficient administration, the government tried to put an end to the conflicts between traditional parties with the assurance that they would enjoy access to the national budget or treasure by means of the formula of "cooperativism." Once the consensus was obtained, Machado decided to reform the Constitution and perpetuate himself in power.
Despite partial successes during the first years of the administration, Machados dictatorship could not silence political dissidence and much less crush the peoples movement. Heated by the regimes excesses and the rapid deterioration of the economic situation as a result of the 1929 world crisis, these forces started to show a growing belligerence. Being the students and the proletariat the fundamental pillars for the opposition against Machado an endless succession of strikes, uprisings, attempts against members of the government and sabotages began to all of which the dictatorship responded by increasing the repression against the people to intolerable levels. By 1933, the regime was at the brink of giving way to a revolution.
Concerned by the situation existing in Cuba, the new U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, appointed B. Summer Wells as ambassador in Havana, with the specific mission of finding a way out to the crisis within traditional mechanisms of neocolonial domination. However, the events overcame mediation of Wells: on August 12, 1933 Machado fled from the country overthrown by an extended general strike.
The provisional government, installed by the rightwing opposition under the auspices of the US ambassador would barely last a month. An uprising amidst the rank and file of the army, together with the Directorio Estudiantil Universitario (University Students Directorate) and other insurgent groups led in power a revolutionary government presided over by Ramón Grau San Martín. By the initiative of Antonio Guiteras ¾ Secretary of Government, War and Navy ¾ the government passe several measures for the benefit of the people. Nevertheless, harassed by the United States and the opposition, and at the same time victim of its own internal contradictions, the revolutionary government could only stay in power for a few months. An extremely important factor influencing the fall of the government would be the former sergeant who had become Colonel-Chief of the Army, Fulgencio Batista self- appointed arbiter in the political process.
In spite of the unconditional US support made evident by the abrogation of the Platt Amendment and by the measures for economic stabilization ¾ namely the system of sugar quotas and a new Treaty for commercial reciprocity ¾ , the parties of the oligarchy, once again in power, showed an open inefficiency in the exercise of government. For this reason, Batista and his followers in the army would in fact rule the destiny of the country. However, a ruling formula, which combined repression with certain socio-economic reforms, was eventually unable to offer a stable reliable solution for the Cuban situation. In turn, this led to a compromise with the revolutionary and democratic forces ¾ weakened by internal division ¾ compromise that appeared in the Constitution of 1940. With this new Carta Magna, which included many important popular measures, a new period of institutional legality was opened.
Fulgencio Batista was the president of the first government in this new period. His candidacy for power had been supported by a coalition in which the communists participated. Though this alliance brought many important improvements for the working movement, other sectors of the population did understand neither its advantages nor the need of it at that time, and so was a factor for division among the revolutionary forces. Under Batistas government, the countrys economy improved considerably favored by the Second World War. Such situation also favored Batistas successor, Ramón Grau San Martín who was elected president in 1944, with a wide support from the population that thanked him for the nationalistic and democratic measures adopted during his previous administration.
However, neither Grau nor his successor, Carlos Prío Socarrás (1948-1952), both leaders of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (auténtico), were able to take advantage from the favorable economic conditions existing during their respective terms. Timid and scarce reforms barely affected the existing structures of agricultural property and commercial dependence that blocked rather than prevented the development of the country. They did, however, took advantage of the economic bonanza produced by the sugar industry to plunder the public treasury at unprecedented rates. Administrative corruption shared the republican scenario with gangster mobs that were used by the "Auténticos" to get rid of the communists who were part of trade unions leaderships within the favorable atmosphere provided by the cold war. Rejection to such shameful situation paved the way for the appearance of the political civic movement "orthodox" leaded by the charismatic Eduardo Chibás, who committed suicide in 1951 in the midst of a heated argument against government representatives.
It seemed that the triumph of the orthodox party in the elections of 1952 would be evident, but the hopes of the Cuban people were frustrated by a military coup détat. The "authentic" had plunged the reformist formulas and the republican institutions into disrepute. At the same time, the favorable disposition on the part of American interests and some sectors of the bourgeoisie for a "strong man" government favored the ambitions of Fulgencio Batista, who, at the head of the military coup, assaulted power in 1952.
The revolutionary movement (1953-1959)
The inertia and incapacity of the bourgeois political parties to fight against the military regime ¾ even some of those parties joined the regime in one way or another ¾ was in sharp contrast with the belligerence of the popular sectors, especially with that of the young generation which had just been born to political life. From its ranks a movement of new type was born and at its head was Fidel Castro (Birán, 1926), a young lawyer who had performed his first political activities within the University and the Orthodox party.
Advocating a strategy of armed struggle against the dictatorship, Fidel Castro devoted himself to the silent and tenacious preparation for the struggle to come. Actions would start on July 26, 1953, when army garrisons Moncada in Santiago de Cuba, and Céspedes in Bayamo were simultaneously attacked in an action meant to become the trigger for a vast popular insurrection. The operation failed and was followed by the mass assassination of dozens of participants in the attacks who had been taken prisoners during and after combats. The survivors, among them Fidel Castro, were sentenced to long prison terms. During the trial, the young revolutionary leader delivered a bright self-defense allegation ¾ later known as History Will Absolve Me ¾ in which he argued the right of the people to rebel against the tyranny and explained the causes, ways and objectives of the struggle they had planned to carry out. This allegation would become the program of the revolutionary struggle.
Meanwhile, the dictatorship was facing a critical situation because of the dramatic drop of sugar prices in the world market and of the formula of reducing production. To reduce the effects of the depression, the government started the compulsive mobilization of financial resources most of which would end up in the personal bank accounts of the regime members. Despite the introduction during the previous decade of new production items, the Cuban economy, yoked by sugar, could not develop satisfactorily. Proof of it was the huge masses of unemployed and subemployed that by the middle of the 50s they would represent a third of the total work force in the country.
However, by 1954 the tyranny intended to legalize its status by spurious elections that at least would serve to placate the bloody repression. Such circumstance was used by the mass movement, which in 1955 had significantly increased its pressure to obtain the liberation of political prisoners ¾ including the participants in the Moncada Garrison attack ¾ and made workers strikes, particularly in the sugar industry sector. That same year the Movimiento Revolucionario 26 de Julio (26th of July Revolutionary Movement) is created by Fidel Castro and his comrades, and a year later the Directorio Revolucionario (Revolutionary Directory) by the most combative university students.
Once the possibility of any legal struggle against the tyranny was recognized as impossible, Fidel Castro travels to Mexico with the purpose of organizing an expedition to start the revolutionary war. On the other side, the opposing bourgeois parties were rehearsing another operation to make a compromise with Batista trying to find a "political" solution to the situation, but their failure would end up plunging them into disrepute.
On December 2 1956, Fidel Castro landed at the head of the Granma expedition in Las Coloradas, Oriente province. The members of the 26th of July movement in Santiago de Cuba, under the command of Frank País had prepared an uprising as a backup for the landing, but, as the landing had been programmed for two days before, the uprising had ended in an unfortunate failure. After the setback in Alegría de Pío, that dispersed the expeditionary forces, Fidel Castro and a group was able to reach the Sierra Maestra Mountains and create the initial nucleus of what would be the Rebel Army. The letter of introduction of the Rebel Army would be, barely a month afterwards, the attack and occupation of the small garrison "La Plata." This action would serve to refute the rumors spread by the dictatorship about the complete defeat and supposed extermination of the expeditionary forces.
In 1957, while the Rebel Army was gaining experience through a series of actions ¾ among them the battle at "El Uvero", in which a force of 59 soldiers was completely annihilated ¾ the underground struggle was developing in all its force in the cities. On March 13, a group of members of the Directorio Revolucionario failed in their purpose to kill the tyrant during an attack to the Presidential Palace. In the actions the President of the University Students Federation, José Antonio Echeverría was killed. To sabotage and other attempts the tyranny would respond intensifying torture, detentions and a wave of assassinations. In July Frank País was caught and assassinated in Santiago de Cuba, an act that would trigger a spontaneous popular strike and paralyze most of the nation. Shortly after that, in September, the uprising of the naval station in Cienfuegos shows how deep the division was within the armed forces. The army was unable to defeat the Rebel Army in an offensive launched against it in the mountains where already two guerrilla columns were increasingly strong.
At the beginning of 1958, the revolutionary movement decides to speed up the offensive against the tyranny by means of a revolutionary general strike that at the same time had characteristics of insurrection. Fidel Castro creates two new columns of the Rebel Army under the command of Raúl Castro and Juan Almeida respectively who are assigned the task to open respective guerrilla fronts in other mountainous regions in Oriente province. The strike of April 9 was unsuccessful and this was a serious setback for the revolutionary movement in the cities. Batista, on his part, considers that the time to put an end to the whole insurrection has come and decides to launch an offensive with 10 000 soldiers against the Sierra Maestra mountains. In ferocious battles ¾ Santo Domingo, El Jigüe, Vegas de Jibacoa, and others ¾ the rebel troops defeat and destroy the battalions of the tyranny that could enter the mountains and force them into retreat. This would be the final turning point. The parties in the opposition, which up to that moment had been maneuvering to capitalize popular rebellion, hasten to admit the undoubted leadership of Fidel Castro.
Several rebel columns start for different parts of the country. The columns under the command of Ernesto Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos advance towards the province of Las Villas, where several groups of guerrilla fighters ¾ from the Directorio Revolucionario and the Peoples Socialist Party (Communist) ¾ are already operating. On November 20, under Fidel Castros personal direction the battle of Guisa was launched, action that marks the beginning of the final revolutionary offensive. In coordinated actions, the now numerous columns integrating the II and III Oriental Fronts occupy several towns and close the circle around Santiago de Cuba. In Las Villas, Che Guevara occupies one after the other the towns alongside the central highway and gets ready for the final assault against the provincial capital, Santa Clara, while Camilo Cienfuegos obtains a resounding victory after a tenacious battle over the Yaguajay Garrison. On January 1 1959, Batista flees from the country and in a last minute maneuvering, with the blessings of the US Embassy in Havana, General Eulogio Cantillo tries to establish a "civic-military" government board. Fidel Castro forces the surrender of the troops in Santiago de Cuba and calls the people to a general strike that, with the support of all the population, will finally guarantee the triumph of the Revolution.
The Cuban Revolution
Once installed in power, the Revolutionary Government started to dismantle all the neo-colonial political system. Repressive institutions were dissolved and, for the first time, the citizens were guaranteed the full exercise of their rights. Public administration was cleaned and all misappropriated properties and wealth were confiscated, thus eliminating such practice from the republican life. Batistas supporters and criminals were tried and sentenced. Corruption was also swept from the leadership of the working movement and political parties that had served and helped the tyranny were dissolved.
The designation of Fidel Castro as Prime Minister in February would accelerate the adoption of measures for the benefit of the people. A reduction of house rents was passed, private beaches were placed at the disposal of the people and companies that monopolized public services were nationalized. A transcendental landmark during this period was the Agrarian Reform Act, passed on May 17. This would definitely eliminate large estates through the nationalization of all properties over 420 ha and granted the ownership over the land to thousands of peasants who had been sharecroppers or leaseholders.
This measure, which banished one of the strongest supports of the neocolonial system, caused the heated response of the affected persons. The US government had not concealed its disagreement with the triumph of the revolution and, promoting an ill intentioned press campaign, adopted a policy of systematic harassment against Cuba, encouraging and giving support to counterrevolutionary movements with the purpose of destabilizing the country. In July, the obstacles created by the President Manuel Urrutia against the revolutionary transformations caused Fidel Castros resignation from his post of Prime Minister. A few days later, Fidel Castro would return to his position due to popular demonstrations on his support and at the same time determined the resignation of president Urrutia and his substitution by Osvaldo Dorticós. In October, military sedition is aborted in Camagüey, concocted by the military chief of the place, Commander Hubert Matos in open agreement with landowners and other local counterrevolutionary elements. Meanwhile, sabotage and terrorism began to kill innocent victims.
To fight against the wave of counterrevolutionary activities, the National Revolutionary Militia Troops and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution were created. These two organizations, together with the Cuban Women Federation and the Association of Young Rebels and other organizations created during the next few months would allow a wider participation of the people in the defense of the Revolution. US permanent hostility is implemented in several successive steps aimed at destabilizing the Cuban economy and isolating the country from the international community. The Revolution responds to all these measures with a dynamic foreign policy that widens its relationships and agreements with other countries, including socialist countries. This was proof of the strong decision on the part of the Revolution to break with the traditional commercial dependence. In August 1960, after the decision by the government in Washington to cancel the sugar quota, Fidel Castro announces the nationalization of all US properties in the Island. A few months after, this measure would be followed by the decision to nationalize all the companies of the Cuban bourgeoisie that had finally sided with the US and with the sectors of the oligarchy and had also helped systematically to all actions aimed at economic sabotage and decapitalization.
Nevertheless, US aggressions were not limited to the economy. While encouraging the creation of counterrevolutionary organizations and groups of bandits fighting in different regions of the country to which the US supplied arms and other needs, the Eisenhower Administration breaks relationships with Cuba and starts the preparation of a mercenary force to invade the country. The invasion would begin on April 17 through Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) two days after the surprise bombing of several airforce bases and airports. In the burial of the victims from this attack, Fidel Castro proclaimed the socialist character of the Revolution, something that could be said by the measures and steps adopted during the last months of 1960. In less than 72 hours, the invading force that the CIA had spent months to prepare was defeated. In spite of this historic defeat, the US did not stop in its ambitions of crushing the Cuban Revolution. The objective of "Mongoose Plan" was a succession of aggressions, not discarding direct military intervention. This would lead to a serious international crisis in October 1962, when installation of soviet missiles in the Island became known. The compromise to put an end to the crisis did not stop the aggressive practices of the imperialism.
Likewise, the decisive attitude of our people, organized in the National Revolutionary Militia Troops and in the Armed Forces, made possible the fight and eventual defeat of the counterrevolutionary armed bands. Bandits were eliminated in 1965, when the last band operating in the country under the command of Juan Alberto Martínez Andrade was captured on July 4. Other bandits, who were dispersed, tried to escape from revolutionary justice, but were captured in the following months. This would finally put an end to the dirty covert war unleashed against the Cuban people by imperialism and reactionary classes. The armed struggle against bandits lasted seven years and affected all the seven provinces in the country.
Between 1959 and 1965 in this war imposed by the US operated in all the national territory 299 bands with a total of 3,995 members. There were 549 victims among the soldiers of the regular troops and the members of the militia including victims of the crimes perpetrated by the bandits against the civilians. Many other victims were disabled. During all those years, so difficult for the Cuban economy, the country was forced to spend about 100,000,000 pesos.
The combination of military actions and political ideological actions played a decisive role in the victory over the bandits. Their defeat showed it was impossible to win over the armed people when they are part of an authentic revolution.
In the international arena the US managed to get Cuba separated from the Organization of American States, as well as to force most Latin American nations with the honorable exception of Mexico. However, the Cuban Revolution was strengthening its links with the socialist countries and with other Third World countries. Cuba then participates as founding member in the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement and develops an active policy of solidarity and support to all national liberation movements.
The nation that was resisting direct-armed aggression was to survive also economic siege. The US had suspended all trade with Cuba and at the same time was doing everything in its power to involve other countries in such a criminal blockade. Cuba was thus deprived of supplies vital for its agriculture and its industry. Nevertheless, the active solidarity displayed by the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, together with the tremendous efforts of the Cuban people enabled the economy not only to function but also to grow.
In the midst of critical economic difficulties, we managed to eliminate unemployment and meet first priority needs of the population. A comprehensive campaign against illiteracy was implemented in 1961 to teach all the people how to read and write. Though professionals and technicians were exiting the country encouraged from the US, especially those in the health sector, the creation of a rural health care considerably improved health care in the country, as it brought medical attention to the farthest corners of the nation. The educational system covers, also for the first time in history all the national territory. A comprehensive program of scholarships, grants and boarding schools facilitate access of the vast masses to all levels of education, including higher education. An important work of cultural broadcasting improved the quality of life by edition of literary works ¾ generally mass edition ¾ the creation of many artistic groups, and the promotion of a wide movement of amateur groups of artists. Also production and exhibition of Cuban films and films from other countries was an important aspect for the cultural development of the Cuban people. Generalized practice of sports increased the participation ¾ outstanding participation ¾ of the Cubans in international sports events.
Such popular effort would not have been possible without an adequate political leadership. From the very beginning of the Revolution, revolutionary organizations would implement ¾ with some difficulties ¾ a comprehensive integrating work. In March 1962, after Fidel Castro denounced sectarian deformations within the process, the future Partido Unido de la Revolución Socialista (United Party of the Socialist Revolution) would determine as an essential condition for membership exemplarity of the workers proposed to become members. The constitution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1965 as the highest organ of direction of the Revolution would be a decisive landmark for the unity in the country.
In 1963, taking into consideration the characteristics of the Cuban economy and the perspective commercial relations with the USSR and other socialist countries, the leadership of the Revolution adopted a new strategy for economic development. The pivot of the countrys economy would be agriculture and the first priority task would be the production of 10 million tons of sugar by 1970. This was undoubtedly an enormous challenge baring in mind the organizational, material and technical conditions existing in the country at the time. In facing this challenge, serious distortions appeared in the direction of economic processes and in the activities of revolutionary organizations, which were focusing in the mobilization of the vast mass of workers required because of the poor technical development of sugar agriculture and because of disproportional demographic structures. The set back of the "10 million tons sugar harvest" would lead to a deep revision of the economic policy.
From 1971 on, revolutionary organizations are revitalized and an institutionalization of the country starts. The peak of such deep reorganization would be the First Congress of the Communist Party after a detailed analysis of all the documents by the people. On the 24 of February 1976, a new Constitution was passed by a direct and secret ballot with the vote of 95.7% of the population over 16 years of age. The various levels of the Peoples Power are created through the election of a delegate of constituency who would be the representative of the neighbors to the local or municipal government.
During those years, Cubas stand in the international arena is strengthened. Diplomatic relationships are reestablished with Latin American countries like Peru, Jamaica, Panama, Chile and others, which breaks the siege imposed by the US in the previous decade. After signing several commercial agreements with the Soviet Union ¾ with very favorable trade conditions far from the unequal practices of the international market, ¾ Cuba becomes a member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. In 1976, Cuban troops were sent to Africa at the request of the government of Angola to help in the liberation of that country from South African intervention. Shortly after, another Cuban contingent would participate in the defense of Ethiopia from Somalia aggression. The celebration in 1979 in Havana of the sixth Summit Conference of the Non Aligned Countries is another proof of the international prestige obtained by the Revolution.
After a short period of détente during the first years of the Carter Administration, Cuban-US relations deteriorate with the increased aggressiveness of US policy at the end of that Administration.
With Reagan ascension into power, aggressions against Cuba increased to the highest point. The US government intensifies espionage against Cuba with the creation of Radio and TV Martí. Military maneuvers, rehearsals of air raids and attempts to get sanctions against Cuba in the UN Human Rights Commission are some of the activities carried put by the US. Even the possibility of a new direct military aggression was considered.
Cubas response was the upgrading and perfecting of the overall defense system of the country and the preparation for all events under the concept of "the War of All the People."
Essentially, it consists in that each Cuban should have a position and a means in the struggle against a possible imperialist aggression. For this, the people are organized into Territorial Militia Troops, Brigades in charge of Production and Defense and Defense Zones. Cubas quick organization and readiness to respond to direct aggression stopped imperialist intentions and plans.
After the Revolution, apart from obtaining its true independence and national dignity, Cuba eliminated all forms of exploitation and eradicated racial discrimination, discrimination against women and against youth. Other significant social achievements and economic developments were also attained.
The five-year period 1980-1985 was a period of significant developments and achievements both economic and social, even in spite of the systematic increase of the imperialistic aggressiveness and adverse climate events. However, from 1985 on, certain deficiencies and negative trends become evident, because of the incorrect implementation of the managing and planning system.
In April 1986, the President of the Councils of State and Ministers stated the need to start a process of correction of all the mistakes and negative trends aimed at solving the problems that were restraining and deforming vital and unique principles of the Cuban Revolution. Among these principles were the constant participation of the people in tasks and decisions of the revolution, the close relationship between the economic development and the social development, the creation of the new man about whom Che talked, the renovation of historic values, mainly Martís thought and a more creative application of Marxism-Leninism.
Despite the inefficiencies and deficiencies and the need to perfect the work of socialist construction, the Cuban people had really obtained impressive conquests.
In health care, there is an integrated system ranging from primary medical care with the family or area doctor and policlinics to specialized hospitals and research centers. Gratuitous medical care is carried out through a comprehensive network including nursery schools, schools, institutions and homes.
In education, our country has the highest rates of literacy in Latin America with an average education of nine grades. There is not one single child that does not attend school. Year after year, the number of teachers and professors, researchers and doctors grows, as well as the number of professionals of university level. In 1993, the worst year of the economic crisis, the budget allocated for education was 1,384 million pesos.
Regarding sports, Cuba has placed herself among the ten top countries in the world ranking.
A special word deserves the scientific-technical development obtained that has become a vital factor for the survival of the country and of the Revolution. Important scientific research institutions had been created, for example, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the National Center for Scientific Research, the center for child cardiac surgery of the William Soler Pediatric Hospital (the largest in the world), the Center for Immunology Research and the Center for Neurology Transplants and Regeneration of the Nervous System.
Expression of this development is also the creation of a medical team specialized in magnetic resonance, of Evalimage a thermograph system for visualization and analysis of images and the Cuban surgical knife with the use of laser. Cuban doctors in Cuban hospitals make kidney, liver heart and heart-lung transplants. We have also made significant contributions to medicine, like the vaccine against meningitis, Cuban white-cell alpha interferon, and the discovery of a substance that cures vitiligo, the obtention of epidermis growth factor, and others.
The Revolution was immersed in the development and perfecting of its work at the time of the collapse of the socialist block and the disintegration of the USSR. These events dramatically affected the Cuban society as the Cuban economy was integrated into the socialist community. It was beside conditioned in a great measure by the stern, cruel and illegal blockade imposed by the US against Cuba since the very first years of the Revolution, which limited extraordinarily the possibilities of establishing relationships with the rest of the capitalist countries. In 1989, 85 percent of Cubas trade relationships were carried out with the Soviet Union and the rest of the socialist world. All trade was done based on fair prices and mutually beneficial exchange, avoiding unequal the prices that characterize trade with capitalist developed countries. At the same time, there was the guaranty of transfer of technology and granting of loans at satisfactory terms and interest rates.
When socialism collapsed in Europe and after the disintegration of the USSR, Cubas buying capacity decreased from 8,139 million pesos in 1989, to 2,000 million pesos in 1993.
The collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the USSR unleashed an exceptional euphoria in the US Government and the counterrevolutionary groups of Cubans in Miami. The collapse of the Cuban Revolution, the said, was a matter of days or perhaps weeks. They even started organizing a new government. However, months went by, the crisis became worse, but there was no collapse in Cuba.
As early as July 1989, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro had alerted about the possibility of the disappearance of the socialist block and even the disintegration of the USSR. In October 1990, he had elaborated the guidelines to face the crisis of the Special Period in peacetime. This concept belonged to the military doctrine of the "War of All the People" that referred to the steps needed to fight against total blockade, air raids and attacks and systematic covert attacks, as well as an open direct invasion.
In 1991, the IV Congress of the Communist Party analyzed the situation and established the need to safeguard the Motherland, the Revolution and Socialism, that is, the work of the Cuban people, which had cost so much blood, sacrifice and efforts. The Congress adopted several important measures in reference to modifications and amendments to the Constitution and Party bylaws. It also established the bases for the strategy to overcome the crisis and start the recovery from it.
The strategy implemented several measures aimed at improving economic efficiency and competitiveness and internal economic health, at solving the internal debt and reincorporating the Cuban economy into the international economy, at encouraging foreign investment, and at strengthening the system of Cuban state enterprises. This last one was a necessary and indispensable condition for socialism. Implementation and perfecting of economic changes was to be carried out in a gradual and orderly manner.
In short, the objective was to use the mechanisms of monetary-mercantile relations and of capitalist management in a controlled manner to stop the decline of the Cuban economy, to reactivate domestic economy and start the recovery, preserving, at the same time, the essential postulates of social justice and conquests of the Revolution.
Of course, US imperialism and the Cuban counterrevolutionary groups in Miami, annoyed by the reality of Cuban resistance, increased their actions to discredit and destabilize the Revolution and to make the economic blockade even worse.
Thus, by the middle of 1992 the US government passes the "Torricelli Act." This Act grants the President of the United States the power to implement economic measures against all countries that have economic relationships with Cuba, and forbids all Subsidiaries of Us companies in third countries to trade with the Island. This Act was another step in the intentions to make the Cuban people surrender by hunger.
However, in Spite of the Torricelli Act, Cuba expands its markets and gets some financing for specific economic activities. Companies from various nations invest in Cuba and establish economic relations with our country.
On the other hand, in February 1993, the worst year during the crisis, new elections were held. The results show unequivocally the Cuban people support to the Revolution: 99,7 per cent of the voters participated, and only 7,3 per cent annul the ballot or do not mark it.
Nevertheless, the anti Cuban groups in the US recurs to internal subversion, acts of terrorism, sabotage, infiltration of CIA agents and intensification of propaganda against Cuba. Over one thousand hours of radio broadcasts are directed against Cuba. Top priority is given to encourage illegal emigration, mostly in stolen crafts, either boats or planes.
All this activity led in July 1994 to an increase of craft abductions by persons mainly under the pressure of the economic situation, though there were some cases in which crimes and assassinations were committed. It was under these circumstances that towboat 13 de marzo was abducted and boarded by more than 60 persons with the purpose of travelling to the United States. In spite of the warnings about weather conditions and the poor sailing conditions of the craft, they went on persecuted by several other towboats. There was a collision and in the accident the 13 de marzo wrecked. All the crafts that could reach the area of the wreckage made everything in their power to rescue the people, but in spite of all their efforts some 32 persons died. This accident was used to launch a slandering campaign accusing Cuba of ordering the sinking of the small boat.
In face of the situation, the Cuban Government decided not to prevent illegal emigration forcing the US authorities to sit with Cuban authorities and start conversations on the migration problem and eventually sign a migratory agreement with Cuba. After 36 years, the US government had to adopt steps to discourage illegal immigration into the US.
In 1995, the Cuban people again gave undoubted proof of the unity and support to the Revolution in the partial elections of the Peoples Power voting for the delegates to Parliament. Despite the campaign of the propaganda encouraging abstention, 97,1 per cent of voters participated, 7 per cent of the votes were annulled and 4,3 per cent were not marked. This means that over 87 per cent of the voting population expressed its support to the Revolution.
The expectations of the counterrevolutionary Cuban exiles in Miami and of some sectors of the US government, after the collapse of the socialist block, failed. Nevertheless, they charged again, this time with a project more akin to the cave men: the Helms-Burton Act.
This Act is aimed at a complete and absolute economic international blockade and at preventing at all costs foreign investment in Cuba. Also it intends to stop all sorts of financing, supplies from abroad, and establishes sanctions against companies maintaining trade relations with Cuba. Apart from this, the Helms-Burton Act legalizes US support to counterrevolutionary groups in the Island and establishes the right of that country to determine what type of government, of society and relationships should have our country after the Revolution is ousted. In short, it intends to make the Cuban people surrender by hunger and annex Cuba to the United States.
After Congress passed the Act, ultra right wing groups lobbied and exerted pressure within the US Administration to sign the Act and put it into force in August that same year. To get their purpose they used the incident created by the counterrevolutionary organization "Brothers to the Rescue" on February 24 1996, when the Cuban Government was forced to shot down two airplanes that had violated several times the Cuban air space.
The Helm-Burton Act has not only been rejected by the Cuban people, but by practically all the peoples and governments of the world, and of international institutions and agencies. Proof of this is the vote against the blockade in the United Nations, the Declaration of the Organization of American States against the Helms-Burton Act, and the position of Mexico, Canada the Group of Río the European Union and others.
In spite of the negative effects generated by this Act and of the creation of a much more complex and difficult situation, Cuba has continued to implement its strategy and has managed to stop the decline of the economy and to start the gradual recovery of the Cuban economy.
On the other hand, the educational, health care and social security systems continue to exist no matter what the difficulties are. Not one Cuban has been left unprotected. In 1977, infant mortality rate was 7,3 for one thousand births, and life expectancy is now more than 75 years.
In January 1998, new elections for Parliament members were held in which 98,35 per cent of the voting population participated. Out of the total ballots, only 1,64 per cent were annulled and 3,36 per cent were not marked. The one-vote proposal (a united vote for the candidates proposed by the National Assembly of the Peoples Power) was accepted by 94,39 per cent of the voters.
That same month, Pope John Paul II visited Cuba. The whole people ¾ believers and non-believers ¾ offered the warmest hospitality and respect, during the welcoming ceremony, the religious services and all other activities held in Cuba. It was then evident that all the campaigns and all the propaganda against Cuba were false, for the rest of the world had the possibility to observe the freedom of His Holiness in Cuba, not only in his homilies, but also in his activities during all his visit.
In short, all the efforts of the counterrevolution and of the imperialism against Cuba had been useless, because they have ignored something vital in our history: the Cuban peoples capacity to resist, its intelligence and the capabilities of the revolutionary leadership. Moreover, they have ignored the justness of the struggle of our people for its independence.