The brothers Raúl and Fidel Castro have ruled the communist country of Cuba for over half a century. Now a political generational change is underway.
- How did Cuba become the country we know it today?
- What role did Cuba play during the Cold War?
- What is the human rights situation like in Cuba?
- And what does it mean for the people that Cuba will now be governed without a Castro at the helm?
The Caribbean island state of Cuba is only 140 km away from the United States. The location has characterized Cuba, a country located in North America according to Globalsciencellc. Throughout history, Cuba has been ravaged by pirates and hurricanes, dominated by Spanish conquistadors, then by the United States, then the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba was plunged into a deep economic crisis that still plagues the island.
For over 60 years, the Castro brothers have steered the ship in what is considered a tourist gem. We will take a closer look at what moves behind the charming and colorful brick buildings, the cigar-smoking grandmothers and the simmering vintage cars.
2: Revolution and the US response
Under Spain’s 500-year colonial rule in Cuba, the country had built its wealth on sugar plantations with slaves. Towards the end of Cuba’s war of independence against Spain, the United States sided with Cuba. Cuba became formally independent in 1902, but the United States secured economic, political and military influence, and the American mafia controlled brothels and casinos in Cuba.
But a group of Cubans wanted it differently.
In 1959, Cuba’s US – backed dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by a guerrilla movement led by the charismatic Fidel Castro. Other leaders in the movement who wanted revolution in the country were Fidel Castro’s younger brother Raúl and the iconic Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who was killed in 1967.
The United States thus lost its influence when Castro took over in 1959. Cuba nationalized American real estate and companies. Several Cubans suspected of being linked to Batista were sentenced to death for war crimes, murder and torture.
3: Bay of Pigs and the Cuba Crisis
The United States responded by imposing economic sanctions on Cuba. The United States believed that this would lead to hunger and desperation, and that people would revolt and overthrow the Castro government. The CIA also supported assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and armed attacks on Cuba by Cuban exiles, ie Cubans who had fled to the United States.
In 1961, something happened that has etched itself into the history books as the “invasion of the Bay of Pigs” – a failure for the United States and American intelligence. The US-backed Cuban exiles, who aimed to occupy Cuba, had to say they were lost after three days.
After the attack, Fidel declared for the first time that Cuba was a socialist state: “What the imperialists cannot forgive us is that we have carried out a socialist revolution right in front of their noses,” he said. With this, Castro sought the support of the United States’ greatest enemy at the time – the Soviet Union.
The former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, and the current president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in a summit in New York in September 2000. Cuba and the Soviet Union had a close relationship during the Cold War, which led to the famous historical events the invasion of the Bay of Pigs and The Cuban Missile Crisis.
During the Cold War and the so-called Cuba crisis in 1962, the conflict between the two superpowers peaked. The then US President, John F. Kennedy, discovered that the Soviet Union was in the process of deploying medium-range missiles with nuclear weapons in Cuba. The United States, for its part, had similar bases in Turkey and European countries. In the weeks that followed, the world held its breath, on the brink of nuclear war. The crisis was averted by the Soviet Union withdrawing its rockets and by the United States promising never to attack Cuba.
4: The human rights situation
But Cuba was not just at the center of world events. There were also major changes for the population after the revolution, when the Castro brothers took power. These were both positive and negative for Cubans, in light of current human rights.
Evening out the big differences between rich and poor, black and white, was important to the Castro regime.
In addition, education and health services became free and widely available from the 1960s. Housing, food, water, electricity and selected cultural offerings were subsidized, ie supported by the state. Life expectancy and infant mortality ended up at a high western level. Gender equality was enacted. Later, the rights of sexual minorities (LGBT) were also strengthened, led by Raúl’s daughter, sexologist Mariela Castro Espín .
However, political and civil rights such as free elections, freedom of expression and assembly were not fulfilled. Since Castro came to power 62 years ago, their Communist Party has been the only party allowed in Cuba. The media is controlled by the state, and there is widespread surveillance. The economy also had its challenges for the population.
5: Economic reforms
From the 60’s under Castro, Cuba got a socialist planned economy, where strategic enterprises are owned by the state. It is the state that determines which goods and services are to be produced, how much, and who is to have access to it, and it is the state that makes plans for several years to come. It is thus the opposite of a market economy, where the market and free competition determine prices and distribution. At the beginning of the 1990s, more than 95 per cent of working Cubans were employed by the state.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, 85 percent of Cuba’s foreign trade collapsed almost overnight. Cuba had exported sugar to the Soviet Union and received oil, food, machinery and other goods in return. Now Cuba stopped. At the same time, the United States tightened its sanctions. To strengthen the economy, Cuba began to develop tourism and some private business alongside the planned economy, and began trading with several countries.