By Lynne Ann Hartnett, Villanova University
Convinced of the new Cuban leadership’s commitment to socialism, President Dwight Eisenhower signed off on a plan to foment opposition to Fidel’s Castro regime. In addition, Cuban exiles escalated propaganda attacks. Counterrevolutionaries dropped anti-Castro leaflets all over Havana from planes flown out of Florida.
Soviets Gain a Presence in Latin America
In January 1960, the Cuban government expropriated ‘another seventy thousand acres of US-owned sugar lands, half belonging to the United Fruit Company, whose executives maintained exceptionally close ties to the Eisenhower administration’.
The US government sent a letter protesting the action. Castro responded by signing a commercial agreement with the Soviet Union. This aroused even greater anxiety in Washington. US officials worried that the Cubans were in Khrushchev’s pocket. It seemed as if the Soviets had gained a presence in Latin America, at last.
Moscow Pledges to Defend Cuba
Meanwhile, anti-Castro Cuban exiles stepped up their counterrevolutionary actions. Instead of leaflets, they now flew from Florida to drop bombs on sugar fields and mills in Cuba. These attacks coming from US soil seemed ominous to many in Cuba and in the Soviet Union. Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, pledged that Moscow would defend Cuba militarily if the United States launched an aggressive action against the island. And Castro welcomed the support.
Instead of disavowing Khrushchev’s offer, Castro indicated that the Cubans would be foolish to renounce Soviet help and remain sitting ducks for American aggression.
In August 1960, the Organization of American States—a hemispheric policy body dominated by the United States at the time—declared that given Cuba’s ties to Moscow, the revolutionary government posed a security threat to all of the Americas. Castro responded with a public address before more than a million people in Havana’s Revolutionary Square.
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First Declaration of Havana
In this First Declaration of Havana, Castro condemned Yankee imperialism, and declared that the Cuban Revolution was an anti-imperialist, nationalist undertaking that had nothing to do with the Soviet Union or China. In short, he said, his government “condemn[ed] both the exploitation of man by man and the exploitation of under-developed countries by imperialistic finance capital.”
These arguments failed to sway Washington, however. The US government slapped a trade embargo on Cuba. In return, Castro nationalized all US-owned companies in Cuba.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion
In January 1961, a new US president, John F. Kennedy, took office. He went forward with plans developed by the Eisenhower administration to send Cuban counterrevolutionaries back to the island to overthrow the Castro regime. The CIA-backed, April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was a debacle. It increased the bad blood between the two governments and further elevated Castro’s popularity at home.
It also radicalized Fidel’s agenda. By the end of 1961, Che Guevara’s prediction of a turn toward socialism by Fidel came to fruition. In December that year, he said, “I am a Marxist-Leninist, and I will be a Marxist-Leninist until the last days of my life.”
Moderates Withdraw Support for Castro
The more moderate members of the original revolutionary coalition in Cuba now withdrew their support for Castro, and many members of Cuba’s professional class left the island. This left the new regime with scant professional and managerial experience in charge of the economy. Combined with the effects of the US embargo, this compelled the regime to institute a policy of rationing and compromised its plans for the island’s social and economic transformation.
The Castro regime also tightened political controls and backed away from its commitment to democracy. Anti-Castro news on the island was silenced. And newspapers, the radio, and television became government-controlled. Non-communist parties were outlawed. And members of the political opposition were deemed counter-revolutionaries, and often jailed.
Soviet Missiles in Cuba
The United States’ anti-Castro policies clearly had driven Cuba more firmly into the Soviets’ sphere. This became a matter of worldwide concern in October of 1962 when American spy planes discovered Soviet missile sites in Cuba. After 13 days, the dangerous standoff between two nuclear powers ended with the Soviets agreeing to withdraw the missiles.
Still, the international tensions fostered national solidarity, and tightened Castro’s control. In this environment, any challenge to the Cuban Revolution seemed unpatriotic and even treacherous.
Historian, Lillian Guerra, writes: “Willingly and even joyfully, millions of Cubans surrendered their rights, including the rights to public protest, an autonomous press, and free assembly. Incredibly perhaps… most Cubans hailed the collapse of these rights as the only way to prevent dissent from opening the floodgates of counter-revolution.”
Cuba’s Maximum Leader
When Fidel Castro died in 2016 at the age of 90, he remained, in the words of the New York Times’ Anthony DePalma, “The fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedevilling 11 American presidents.” DePalma also noted: “Some saw him as a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms. Many others hailed him as the crowds did that first night, as a revolutionary hero for the ages.”
After Fidel’s death, and the transfer of power to his aging brother Raul Castro, some functions of the economy were allowed to privatize. Slowly, Cuba’s US-inspired isolation from much of the world gradually eroded. And yet, for many of those in power in Cuba, the revolution continues.
Common Questions about Castro and the Cold War
Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, pledged that Moscow would defend Cuba militarily if the United States launched an aggressive action against the island
In the First Declaration of Havana, Fidel Castro condemned Yankee imperialism, and declared that the Cuban Revolution was an anti-imperialist, nationalist undertaking that had nothing to do with the Soviet Union or China.
In October of 1962, American spy planes discovered Soviet missile sites in Cuba. After 13 days, the dangerous standoff between two nuclear powers ended with the Soviets agreeing to withdraw the missiles.