Fidel Castro, Cuba and the United States of America
On November 25th, 2016, one of the world’s brutal dictators, Fidel Castro, died. Fidel Castro led Cuba as its Communist dictator since 1959. During his 57-year rule, Castro was responsible for the murder, torture, and imprisonment of tens of thousands. Castro’s regime did not allow basic civil rights in Cuba such as the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. In addition, Castro did not allow Cubans to travel outside of the island and ordered his navy to kill those trying to leave by boat. Under Castro, the Cuban navy sank ships and used fire hoses to drown Cubans in the Caribbean Sea trying to escape island by boat.
Cuba, 1492 – 1895
In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World for Spain, and Spain quickly colonized much of North and South America. For the next four hundred years, Spain ruled Cuba. As Spanish colonies in the New World revolted in the early 1800s and countries such as Mexico gained independence, Cuba remained loyal. In the mid to late 1800s, Cubans wanted independence from Spain and fought for many years. In the Ten Years’ War (1868-78) Cubans struggled to break away, but Spain kept control of the island.
The United States of America and Cuba, 1895-1959
During the Second War for Independence (1895-98) the United States entered the war on the side of the Cubans, fighting what Americans call the Spanish-American War. The United States defeated Spain, and at the Treaty of Paris it was decided that Spain would surrender Cuba, Puerto Rico, parts of the West Indies, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. The Americans gave Cuba its independence in 1901, but the U.S. insisted on the right to have a permanent naval base on Cuba (Guantanamo Bay), and claimed the right to militarily intervene in Cuban affairs should there be unrest. Over the next 60 years, the U.S.A. militarily intervened in Cuba on numerous occasions.
Cubans suffered under military dictatorships, and at times, the United States supported Cuban leaders who were undemocratic. Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973) seized power militarily in 1933, was elected Cuban President in 1940, and he made himself rich through his connections as the Cuban President. In 1944, he left office and lived in Florida. While Batista was in Florida, Cuba became unstable and corruption was rampant. The American government supported Batista’s return to power in 1952, and for the next seven years he led Cuba as dictator. Batista did not tolerate anyone going against him, controlled the media, and arrested, tortured and executed those who he believed were Communists. It is not known how many he killed, and the number historians give ranges from 1,000 to 20,000 Cubans.
Cuba, 1959 – Present Day
In 1959, Communist Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro overthrew Batista. The Castro government nationalized (took over) all foreign owned businesses, and eventually took over all businesses owned by Cubans, as well. Communists believe that only the government should own property, and they do not trust businesspeople. Communists are also against religion, and anyone wanting to pray to God in Cuba is punished. In the first few years of the Castro regime, the Cuban government terrorized those who did not obey. Tens of thousands of Cubans were tortured and executed because they did not want to follow the Castro regime. Che Guevara, Castro’s chief enforcer, in response to questions about Castro's firing squads, said, "To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution. And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate."
For the next few years, the U.S.A. tried to get Cuba back into its sphere of influence, but failed. In 1961, President Kennedy approved of a plan to support a group of Cubans to invade Cuba and conquer Castro. Called “The Bay of Pigs Invasion”, it failed miserably. In 1962, America realized that the Soviet Union was building a network of nuclear missile launch sites on Cuba. After a U.S. naval blockade, the Soviet weapons were withdrawn, and the U.S. promised to never invade Cuba, again. From 1962 on, Cuba was allied with the Soviet Union, America’s enemy throughout most of the second half of the 1900s. The Soviet Union gave Cuba money, food, and a great amount of support.
Cuba after the Fall of the Soviet Union
In 1991, the Soviet Union fell apart and could no longer give Cuba subsidies. As a result, Cubans suffer greatly from a lack of food and basic necessities. After 50 years of Communist rule, Cuba has become a poor country run by a government that only cares about itself. The Castro brothers are much older now, but they remain rich, as the average Cuban suffers. Cubans are jailed because they oppose the Castros and the Communists, and some have been executed for their beliefs. Whoever tries to escape Cuba and is caught faces grave danger.
President Obama has changed the United States policy towards Cuba from starving the Castro government to recognizing it as legitimate. President Obama thinks that increased American tourism and business will open up Cuba. Other Americans, like Senator Marco Rubio, argue that doing business with Cuba means helping the Castros stay in power. All foreign money spent in Cuba goes straight to the Communist leaders, so more American business means a richer Communist regime.
The death of Fidel Castro has been met with diverse reactions from leaders in North America.
President Obama wrote, "Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him," in a White House statement.
President-Elect Donald Trump wrote, "The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation."
It is unclear if the death of Fidel Castro will have a great impact on the lives of Cubans. His brother, 85 year old Raul Castro, is currently the Communist leader of Cuba, and he has so far followed his brother Fidel’s model of repressive leadership.
Interesting Questions You Can Discuss With Your Students and Kids:
- Who controlled Cuba, from 1492 to 1898?
- Who fought over Cuba from 1895-1898?
- Who was Batista?
- What did Fidel Castro do?
- What do you think of the words of Obama, Trump, and Trudeau regarding Fidel Castro?