Billboard outside Havana International Airport promoting the ongoing revolution
Ministry of Communications Building: quote from Camilo Cienfuegos “Vas bien, Fidel” i.e. “You’re doing fine, Fidel”
Ministry of the Interior Building: quote from Ernesto “Che” Guevara “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” i.e. “Always Toward Victory”
Billboard of the Young Communist League featuring Julio Antonio Mella, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos
Cuban History through Batista:
Cuba has had a significant history of revolution even before 1953. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 and the country was under Spanish domination until 1898 and the end of the Spanish-American War.
First War of Independence aka Ten Years War (1868 – 1878): resulted in continued Spanish domination
Little War (1879 – 1880)
Second War of Independence (1895 – 1898): The last three months are known in the U.S. as the Spanish-American War and included the death of José Martí and the destruction of the Battleship Maine, but resulted in the expulsion of Spain and at least nominal independence for Cuba.
Revolutions don’t occur in a vacuum. I used to wonder exactly how revolutions occurred; whether communist, populist, nationalistic, or other political ideology. Especially considering that once they have finished, so many people risk so much to escape them. What were the people fighting against and what were they fighting for?
Fulgencio Batista was a former army sergeant who came to power as army chief of staff in 1933 as the result of a military coup. He was elected president in 1940 and stepped down in 1944. The following administration was inept and corrupt which precipitated Batista’s own coup that installed him as president at which time he suspended the scheduled elections. Those elections included Fidel Castro as a candidate. It seems that Castro believed (perhaps correctly) there was no other way to effect change in the Cuban government than by revolution.
Continuing the Revolution:
How do you continue the passion of revolution when the revolution has become the establishment?
The Revolution seems to have changed with the times via a series of “updates” as the reforms are euphemistically known. Raúl Castro came to power in 2008 and identified the economy as Cuba’s single largest problem. He seems to have brought a sense of military or business-like practicality to the government. I was encouraged to see the variety of such updates that have been introduced:
- Laying-off 500 thousand government workers to be replaced with private business licenses recognizing nearly 200 newly recognized professions – a goal is to have 35% of the population employed in the private sector.
- For example: paladars which are relatively small restaurants operated out of homes have recently been allowed new leeway in operating which has resulted in more numbers, greater size, and higher quality
- Allowing private transfers of home ownership
- Allowing foreign travel by citizens
- Allowing Cubans to purchase cell phones and other previously restricted electronics
- Allowing Cubans to enjoy previously off-limits tourist hotels
I was impressed with the entrepreneurial energy that is alive in Cuba. We visited a paladar which is a small restaurant usually located in a home. These are typical in the Caribbean, although they are not always operated legally. They were first legalized in 1995, although with significant restrictions. In 2011, those restrictions were eased and these businesses began to flourish. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the old house and this was some of the best food of the trip.
While there was a fair amount of political propaganda to be seen, especially in Havana, I was surprised how little of it was venerating Fidel Castro. Che Guevara, other revolutionaries, the “Cuban Five” prisoners held in the U.S., José Martí, and socialism in general were all more popular subjects.