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Cuban Revolution

by Nate Kang December 2020

Leading up to the 1959 revolution, for the last twenty-five years, Cuba had largely been under the control of one man: military dictator Fulgencio Batista. Although Colonel Batista himself was officially President of Cuba for “only” eleven of those years (from 1940 to 1944 and then again from 1952 onward), since 1933, he had managed to maintain firm control over the country via a number of puppet presidencies, which were essentially appointed by him. In the 1930s, not long after the coup d'état that thrust Batista into power, the United States, under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, began lending their support and aid to the Batista regime; this continued for the next two decades, until the U.S. turned against Batista following his ouster from power. The three primary leaders of the 1959 revolution against Batista were Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and Fidel’s younger brother Raul. Fidel Castro, a former lawyer turned communist revolutionary, was the leader of the 26th of July Movement (a.k.a. M-26-7) , and he had actually been leading the push for rebellion in Cuba throughout the decade of the 1950s. Guevara was an Argentine Marxist guerrilla soldier who attained legendary status for his involvement and leadership in numerous rebellions in several different countries throughout Latin America.

Despite some early struggles and failures in the early 1950s, ultimately, the revolutionary movement was able to gain momentum and popular support from the people; the communists succeeded in toppling Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, and Batista fled the country in January 1959. With the success of the revolution, Fidel Castro would go on to rule Cuba with an iron fist for five decades. He transformed Cuba into a repressive one-party state, instituting Marxism-Leninism and a controlled economy, and dealing an indelible blow to the neighboring United States’ influence in the region. The most lasting significance of the Cuban Revolution was that by establishing the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere, it marked a watershed event in international affairs and politics, with Cuba serving as a key Cold War battleground in the years to come. The shocking news of Cuba’s so-called ‘fall’ to communism was perceived by the capitalist United States as a serious threat to its doctrine of ‘containment’ and led to fears that communism would ‘spread’ throughout the Americas. Not only did this lead to a shift in the regional and global political balance, but it also wound up playing a major role in escalating Cold War tensions between the larger powers of the U.S., who became fierce rivals with Cuba, and the USSR, who developed a strong alliance with the Castro regime. The subsequent American humiliation during the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion and the dramatic 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis both only furthered the growing American-Soviet divide.

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