Fidel Castro was a communist when he assumed power of Cuba in 1959 has been a debated issue over the last 40 years. His associations with Communist leaders and groups, including the Soviet Union, and his activities in both his own country and those against the United States helped government officials at the time to convince the population that Castro was a member of the Communist party. Upon examination of his life, and his time of power, however, it is clear that Castro was not a Communist in 1959. This paper will examine the life of Fidel Castro, and will show that while his associations at the time may have been Communist, Castro himself was not.
Fidel Castro was born on a sugar plantation in the Oriente province of Cuba in 1926. Coming from a family of plantation owners, Castro worked the family sugar cane fields throughout his youth. Additionally, Castro attended the Colegio Lasalie and the Colegio Dolores, both Jesuit institutions. In 1942, Castro entered the Colegio Belen, a Jesuit prep school, and obtained a law doctorate from the University of Havana in 1950 ("Castro, Fidel," online).
Castro's political career began in the election of 1952, in which he intended to run for a parliament seat. However, that same year, then President Carlos Prio Socarras was overthrown by General Fulgencio Batista. Batista cancelled the election, thus putting a halt to the inspiring Castro. When Castro attempted to protest Batista's violation of the constitution, his court case was overturned ("Castro, Fidel," online).
It was then that Castro turned to rebellion. In 1953, he attempted to attack the Moncada Barracks. The attempt was unsuccessful, and Castro was imprisoned. Upon his release in 1955, he went to Mexico, and created the 26th of July revolutionary movement. In 1956, he and his forces invaded the coast of his home province of Oriente. Castro, his brother Raul, a revolutionary named Che Guevara, and nine other rebels his in the mountains of Maestra and gathered an army that would overthrow Batista in 1959 ("Castro, Fidel," online).
It was after Castro came to power in 1959 that the issue of whether or not he was a communist became public. During the first half of 1959, Castro's relationship with the United States was fairly friendly. In April of that year, Castro came to the United States and flatly stated he was not a communist. Additionally, he voiced disagreement with the system of communism, and stated that his ideas for the future of Cuba were democracy (Smith, 41). On May 21, 1959, Castro said, "Our revolution is neither capitalist nor communist...Capitalism sacrifices the human being, communism with its totalitarian conceptions sacrifices human rights." (Binns, Gonzalez, 4).
Even more compelling is the fact that Castro was not, in 1959, a member of the Cuban Communist Party. As a matter of fact, the 26th of July movement was completely against communism. Those members noted with contempt that the communist party of Cuba did not even help with the revolution that overthrew the existing government of Cuba, stating, "we fought the Revolution while the Communists hid safely under their beds." (Smith, 43).
Generally speaking, it was not until ties with the United States began to deteriorate, with the U.S. reaction to the revolution, a severance of formal ties with almost all nations non-communist, and Castro's desire to liberate Latin America that led to his turn to communism (Welsh, 15). This liberation was in tune with ideas of the Soviet Union, who also assisted in funding Cuba, which the United States would not do.
In June of 1959, Castro attempted to put reforms into Cuban law. Those reforms included the nationalization of foreign refineries and the potential expropriation of U.S. controlled business, such as Chase Bank, United Fruit Company, and Texaco Oil. Additionally, the plan involved the seizure and expropriation of over 1,000 acres of farmland, and the outlawing of foreign land ownership in Cuba (Gruss, E16). These lands would then be given to the peasants that had worked those lands. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were scheduled to receive land from the land reform, and the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) was formed to do so (Taber, 26).
This redistribution of land was not communist, or even socialist in nature. Only the largest estates were affected. The largest farms were broke apart, and redistributed to the peasant workforce only to solve the issue of the indebtedness of the peasant. In the end, only 25% of cultivatable land was covered by the reform. The result was an increase in the proportion of land that went to immediate consumption, rather than to provide the country with more exports. Thus, Castro's actions were in no way comparable to other "collective" efforts, such as those in Eastern Europe in the 1950's (Binns, Gonzalez, 9).
Additionally, Castro's plans involved the dismantling of the existing Batista military, the outlawing of racist discrimination in hiring and social services, and the slashing of rents and basic goods. The idea behind the plan was to create an economy within which the middle class could survive. Castro had long believed in a diversified economy and in an end to the dependency on the United States. However, in an effort to do this, Castro drastically increased wages, created jobs to lower the unemployment rate, and cheapened all utilities and medicinal charges. The result was more money in the pockets of the workers, which increased the demand for consumption goods, which had to be imported. Since the only export by which to pay for these imports was sugar, Castro had to stabilize the economy (Binns, Gonzalez, 12). To Washington, however, the goals of the new Cuba were against the United States, and against the democratic view of the nation. Castro, knowing the U.S. would impose serious repercussions for his new ideas, concluded that he would have to break ties with the United States (Welsh, 48-49).
As one can see, Castro's ideas about a new Cuba were not based on communistic ideas, but rather, on diplomatic ones. His goals involved compensation for those workers who worked the lands for many years, and reassurance to the people that the basic needs would be supplied, at a reasonable price. He was attempting to create equality in an area that had previously not been known for such policies.
Even the United States supported the initial ideas of Castro's reform. The U.S. appointed Philip Bonsal as an ambassador to Cuba. Additionally, upon Castro's visit to the U.S. In April of 1959, Washington supported the basic principles of the reform, although they expressed concern at the expropriation of business (Robbins, 79-82).
It was not until hostilities between the United States and Cuba became drastic that Castro turned to other countries for help. Following a clash about the trials of the Batista groups, as well as the clash over land reform in Cuba, in which Washington demanded compensation for any American property seized, relations began to weaken between the two countries (Welch, 48). By August of 1959, the United States cut its import of Cuban sugar (Welch, 51).
Unable to maintain an independent economy without export, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for aid. When the U.S.S.R. agreed to supply crude to Cuba, the multinational companies would not refine it in their Cuban plants. Castro retaliated by seizing those plants, an act which resulted in a total trade embargo to and from Cuba by the United States (O'Conner, 199).
It was at this point that Castro turned to the Soviet Union for assistance. The economy of Cuba could not withstand the economic embargoes of the United States. Castro was forced to use the state in an active way in the economy. In September of 1959, Castro made the decision that the economic development of Cuba would have to be done with support of the state. He created over 400 co-operatives and 485 Peoples Stores. However, Castro made clear that the move was out of necessity, not out of socialism or communism, and still did not attempt to implement nationalization measures (Binns, Gonzalez, 12).
On the foreign policy front, Castro was aware that his options were bleak. Castro's attempts to liberate the rest of Latin America had failed, as had his economic policy. Additionally, at this point, the United States saw Castro as a threat, and knew that any continued pursuit to free Cuba from dependence would result in U.S. aggression. In order to continue with his objectives, he needed funding and power enough to combat those of the United States. Again, Castro approached the Soviet Union for assistance (Welch, 51).
.However, Castro's foreign policy was far from communistic. Castro promoted his own form of "diplomatic internationalism" or "A new view of Third World development based on ideals of equity and autonomy for small states, to be won through aggressive organization and bargaining" (Robbins, 58). This commitment to development was as radical as communism or democracy, practiced by the superpowers of the world. This promotion of development was…