World War Turning Point Europe, Significant Change Occurred Emergence Legitimate Revolutionary Regimes

Self-Determination in Cuba

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There are few who would dispute the fact that following the conclusion of World War II and prior to its revolution (which began in 1953 and concluded on January 1 of 1959) Cuba was a prosperous region of the world that was certainly worth fighting for. The country’s leader prior to the ascendancy of Fidel Castro, Fulgencio Batista, had cleverly manipulated the assistance of a number of external forces, primarily that of the United States, to assist the country in achieving a degree of economic gain and modernity the likes of which were comparable to, if not surpassing, those of other parts of the world.

Its economic prowess may be demonstrated from the following quotation. “Cuba in 1958, prior to the government of the Communist Fidel Castro, paid its employees an average of $3.00 per hour, which was higher that year than that of Belgium ($2.70); Denmark ($2.86); France ($1.74; West Germany ($2.73); and comparable to the United States ($4.06)” (Epperson, 1985). In terms of standards of living, there is documentation to support the fact that among South American countries, Cuba was third in the percentage of literacy, first in the percentage of education, lowest in mortality rates, second in the amount of doctors per 1,000 people, third in the number of dentists per 1,000 people, second in per capita income, and fourth in wages per employee (Epperson, 1985).

However, it should be noted that such figures may be misleading when it comes to representing the daily life lived by the majority of the Cuban population, who did not factor into the labor union largess and see the apparent boons from benefactors such as the United States commerce and government. Income disparities existed, and despite the presence of a mercurial middle class, there were still vast amounts of impoverished people in agrarian environments who did not enjoy any of the aforementioned benefits. Therefore, when Castro’s regime was able to oust Batista from the country, it was able to legitimize its revolution under the banner of self-determination of a nation that would be (largely) free of external influences and one which would redistribute its resources and commodities to the vast majority of the people, who had previously only labored to produce them and not been able to utilize them in a significant capacity. This argument was justified to the masses by a number of nationwide reforms that took place shortly after the Cuban Revolution had resulted in triumph for Castro’s regime.


Some of the most convincing evidence for many of the concepts that have been used to substantiate the overall goal of self-determination for Cuba came directly from Castro’s regime itself. The following quotation from Castro’s brother, Raul, is indicative of the ideology that was used to validate the Cuban revolution in the eyes of the masses. This quotation was issued in defense of the July 26, 1953 assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago, which many historians have recorded as the opening salvo of the Cuban Revolution. “it marked the start of an action to transform Cuba’s political, economic and social system and put an end to the foreign oppression, poverty, unemployment, ill health and ignorance that weighed upon our country and our people’ (Rayne, no date). There are a number of salient points for this quotation, which in many ways provides a verifiable outline for the justification of the Cuban revolution. The first is the ready acknowledgment of penury and its accompanying ills, which Raul explained as “unemployment” and as “ignorance.” The second is that the source of such negative occurrences is due to a “foreign” influence — which of course implies that a dissolution of such an influence will allow Cuba to gain its own degree of self-determination, and right many of these inequities by doing so with the revolution.

Consequently, many of the earliest efforts of Castro’s regime were targeted towards those who lived in rural communities — and who potentially had the most to gain from the loss of Batista’s decidedly corporate reign. Conditions in such areas were largely deplorable, and evidence of the fact that the preceding statistical evidence was not entirely inclusive for everyone living within Cuba, as the following quotation indicates. “At the time of the Revolution, the largely rural population had an average annual income per person of $91.25 – an eight of that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the U.S.A. Only 11% of Cuba drank milk, 4% ate meat, 2-3% had running water, and 9.1% had electricity. 36% had intestinal parasites, 14% had tuberculosis, and 43% were illiterate” (Rayne, no date).

Subsequently, one of the initial measures proposed by the triumphant regime of the Cuban Revolution was aimed to counteract such conditions and became known as the Agrarian Reform Law, which helped to serve a variety of purposes, all of which were intrinsically related to the justification of the revolution to the common Cuban citizens. It provided a degree of instruction in the growth of products and the regulation of prices for such commodities produced (Epperson, 1985). More importantly, the land reforms (which were initially implemented in May of 1959 aimed to redistribute the land that had previously been monopolized by large landowners during Batista tenure, and proportion it more evenly to the number of farmers whose very livelihoods depended upon the working and tilling of the valuable soil. The majority of the land reform measures were instituted and overlooked by Che Guevara, who headed up Cuba’s Instituta Nacional de Reforma Agraria, and who made it quite clear from the following quotation that the redistribution of such valuable agricultural means (the land itself) was one of the primary points of substantiation for the Revolution for rural Cuban inhabitants.

“Radical agrarian reform, the only type that could give land to the peasants, clashed directly with the interests of the imperialists, the large landholders and the sugar and cattle magnates. In this way the course of the revolution itself brought the workers and peasants together. The poor peasants, rewarded with ownership of land, loyally supported the revolutionary power and defended it against its imperialist and counter-revolutionary enemies,” (Guevarra, 2001). Of particular note in this quotation is the fact that Guevarra is attributing the fact that peasants are able to own land as a direct result of the revolution, all of which would have legitimized the armed conflict for a number of Cubans, primarily those who were entitled to land after the conflict and who did not own any before it.

Providing a sense of entitlement and opportunity to the disenfranchised was another primary goal of the revolution — and a fairly efficient means of validating its occurrence in the eyes of the previously dispossessed. In addition to the reallocation of land resources, a number of other pecuniary measures were enacted by Castro’s government in order to help the personal finances of those minions who suffered economic and social repression. One such measure that was specifically proposed and effected is known as the Urban Reform Law, which provided for a number of monetary benefits to those who were previously disenfranchised. One of the principle ramifications of this legal mandate was that all leases and mortgages were effectively nullified, which benefited the lower classes substantially — and played a significant part in reducing the wealth of the upper and middle classes, many of whom fled the country as a direct result of this and other legislation passed by Castro’s regime — which made it clear that the sense of self-determination it would provide for the nation would primarily be for those who were impoverished (Epperson, 1985).

This piece of legislation also made the purchasing of homes an extremely more viable option than it had previously had been. The price of the purchase of domiciles would typically be the price of the rental for a fixed amount of time, which would vary between five and twenty years, depending on a specific piece of property and its intrinsic value (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2005). Furthermore, the Urban Reform Law was highly indicative of a number of principles that were of paramount importance to Castro’s regime — which was widely based upon principles of Communism. Those principles denoted that housing should not be a commodity but instead be considered a verifiable right for people. They also explicated the fact that there should be a large degree of parity in housing in respect to prices, availability, and quality of domiciles, and that the government would play a substantial role in the determination and the regulation of the logistics that would provide for such a manifestation (Kapur and Smith, 2002).

It is fairly apparent how this piece of legislation, that was enacted not long after Castro’s regime triumphed in January of 1959, would and could be used to substantiate the Cuban Revolution — particularly for those who had never owned homes before. The sheer amount of the impoverished and those with few options for their future should not be discredited nor overlooked, however, as the following quotation from Castro himself, who delivered this address as part of his famous (or infamous) ‘history will absolve me’ speech following his capture after the siege on the Moncada barracks in Santiago in 1953 readily demonstrates. “The masses, the 600,000 Cubans without work. The 500,000 farm laborers who live in miserable shacks, the 100,000 small farmers who live and die working land that is not theirs, the 30,000 teachers and professors, so badly treated and paid; the 20,000 small businessmen weighed down by debts; the 10,000 young professional people who find themselves at a dead end. These are the people, the ones who know misfortune, and are therefore capable of fighting with limitless courage” (Rayne, no date). This quotation makes it fairly apparent that the programs and government initiatives that Castro’s reign supplied immediately following its erection in 1959 were implemented to specifically for such misfortunate people, who the Cuban leader believed aided in the country’s revolution. These programs then, the Agrarian Reform Law and the Urban Reform Law, were initiated not only to justify the revolution to the Cuban masses, but also to largely assist them in their quality of life.

Finally, it should be noted that a large part of the validation for the Cuban Revolution occurred in the dissolution of foreign influences upon the country. Many resources, industries, and commodities that were previously commercialized and facilitated for the interest of foreign investors such as the United States became nationalized and appropriated by Castro’s government in the attempt to give Cuba national solidarity for perhaps the first time in the country’s history. In more specific terms, it should be noted that as part of agrarian reforms, United States own food production territory and infrastructure was appropriated by the Cuban government — and in some instances within certain facilities, was done so without compensation for the foreign power. An example of this occurrence can be found in the dispossession of the United Fruit Company, which was taken over by Castro’s government without any sort of remuneration to the former owners. A similar process took place with sugar mills that had been traditionally owned by the U.S. government (Rayne, no date). Such measures were calculated attempts on the part of Castro to enable Cuba to take possession of its own self-determination. This degree of autonomy and the solidarity it represented was also further evidence that the Cuban Revolution had been justified, as for the one of the few times in their country’s history, Cuban residents could truly claim an independence that was well removed from the reaches of the imperialist appetites of Europeans and their progeny in North America.

In consideration of the preceding arguments, it is perfectly understandable how Castro’s rendition of Cuba’s government could verifiably rationalize the Cuban Revolution to the masses following the successful completion of the insurrection. Castro’s regime effectively presented the population with a number of specific reforms, including the Agrarian Reform Law and the Urban Reform Law, that allowed the people — and those that had been previously impoverished, in particular — to see the immediate value in placing the self-determination of the country in the hands of those who actually lived there. This principle was further underpinned by the absolving of the previously highly prevalent foreign influence that played a significant part in the unequal distribution of the land’s wealth. In 1960, Castro himself said about the future of his successful revolution that, “I will do what I think is right, what I think the people want” (Jones, 1966). Perhaps this statement can be considered the ultimate justification for the revolution which did benefit so many previously disenfranchised peoplethat it was something that those people would “want.”


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Jones, L. (1966). Home. New York: William Morrow and Co.

Leonard, T.M. (1999). Castro and the Cuban Revolution. Oxford: Greenwood Press.

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