For readers who may be new to the Cuban side of the blogosphere and wondering just who fidel castro really is and why Cubans hate him so much, read this.

By Humberto Fontova | July 15, 2005

Fidel Castro entered Havana on January 8, 1959, to wild acclaim from all quarters. Most Cubans were jubilant; Castro was promising an end to the corrupt governments that had plagued Cuba since independence. Far from any Communism, Castro was promising a revolution “as green as Cuba’s palm trees!” with national elections in three months. Private property would be secure, a free press guaranteed, friendly relations with the U.S. were essential.

“Fidel esta es tu casa!” read impromptu signs that were springing up across the front of thousands of Cuban homes, including mansions, humble country shacks and everything in between.

The New York Times had been singing Castro’s praises since the first interview with him as a rebel in February 1957. By now most of the international press had joined the cheerleading. Jack Paar never treated a guest on his Tonight Show as deferentially as he treated honored guest Fidel Castro. Ed Sullivan hailed Castro as “Cuba’s George Washington.” Retired president Harry Truman called Castro a “good young man trying to do what’s best for Cuba. We should extend him a hand.” The U.S. actually accorded diplomatic recognition to Castro’s government more quickly than it had recognized Batista’s in 1952. In fact, the promptness of this U.S. recognition set a record for recognition of a Latin American government. Usually the process took weeks; for Castro, it took mere days.

Yet within three months of his entry into Havana, Castro’s firing squads had murdered an estimated 600-1,100 men and boys, and Cuba’s jails held ten times the number of political prisoners as under Fulgencio Batista, who Castro overthrew with claims to “liberating” Cuba.

Barely a year in power, Castro was referring to the U.S. as “a vulture preying on humanity!” And most of Cuba’s newspapers and TV stations (Cuba had more TVs per capita at the time than Germany, Canada or France) were under government control, to better serve “the people.” Six months later he confiscated all U.S. properties on the Island, 5,911 businesses worth $2 billion worth, along with most property and businesses owned by Cubans.

On January 3, 1961, outgoing President Eisenhower finally declared, “there’s a limit to what the United States in self-respect can endure. That limit has been reached.” He broke diplomatic relations with Cuba. During the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, Castro finally declared his revolution “Socialist,” and in December of that year he declared himself “a lifelong Marxist-Leninist!” Cuba was now officially Communist.

They say you can boil a live frog in a pot by gradually turning up the heat. He will not jump out, because he can’t tell the temperature’s changing. Something like this happened to Cuba. Castro’s Revolution was a stealth revolution, done in stages, dividing and conquering till he had the whole prize. “First they came for the Batistianos and I didn’t protest because I had no connections with Batista’s government. Then they came for the big landowners and I didn’t protest because I didn’t have a Sugar mill; I had a small tobacco farm. Then they came for the big businessmen and I didn’t protest because I was a small shopkeeper not a factory owner. Finally they came for me…” and, well, we’ve heard this song before.

Large landholdings were initially “nationalized” on the pretext of “land reform” where the massive latifundia would be parceled out to landless peasants. A New York Times editorial hailed the confiscations: “This promise of social justice brought a foretaste of human dignity for millions who had little knowledge of it in Cuba’s former near-feudal economy.”

As with so much else regarding pre-Castro Cuba, major misconceptions abound in this editorial. To wit: in the 1950’s the average farm-wage in “near-feudal” Cuba was higher than in France, Belgium, Denmark, or West Germany. According to the Geneva-based International Labor Organization, the average daily wage for an agricultural worker in Cuba in 1958 was $3. The average daily wage in France at the time was $2.73; in Belgium $2.70; in Denmark $2.74; in West Germany $2.73; and in the U.S. $4.06. Also, far from huge latifundia dominating the agricultural landscape, the average Cuban farm in 1958 was actually smaller than the average farm in the U.S.: 140 acres in Cuba vs. 195 acres in the U.S. In 1958 Cuba, a nation of 6.2 million people, had 159,958 farms — 11,000 of which were tobacco farms. Only 34 percent of the Cuban population was rural.

Confiscated farms remained in Cuban government hands as state farms on the Soviet model. By early 1959, Soviet advisers from the Ukraine were already directing Castro’s Institute of Agrarian Reform. As the pattern became clear a major rebellion broke out in the Cuban countryside. According to Raul Castro (Castro’s brother and the head of Cuba’s military), the rebellion involved 179 different “counterrevolutionary bands.” This guerrilla war lasted from 1960 to 1966. It took the Castroites 6 years, tens of thousands of troops, scores of Russian advisors, squadrons of Soviet tanks, helicopters, flame throwers, and a massive and brutal “re-location” campaign where thousands of rural families were uprooted at gunpoint and relocated to concentration camps the very western tip of Cuba, to finally crush the rebellion.

“Cuban military units commanded by Russian officers employed flame-throwers to burn hundreds of rural palm-thatched cottages,” reads one account of the rebellion. “We fought with the fury of cornered beasts,” recalls one veteran from Miami today. And alone, one might add. The Kennedy-Khrushchev pact that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis completely starved the rebels of even the meager supplies they’d received by airdrop in 1961.

Continue reading here.

7 thoughts on “Monster”

  1. Ziva,

    I have read the entire article by Mr. Fontova and considered it the most concise encaptulation of events from 1959 to the present.
    It is an excellent companion piece to my current reading of DePalma’s “the man who invented fidel.” I’m going to print it and use it as a “hand out” to all who need to be educated. Thank you for this posting.

  2. Boy did this article bring back memories. As refugees we would sit around the kitchen table as the adults would share stories about Cuba. We children would sit around and listen as these very same stories were told. One could not have written a better piece than has been written. If only some major newspapers would carry this.

  3. “The Soviets ended up pumping some $130 billion into Cuba.”

    It obviously did Cuba no good, so where did it go, Switzerland?

    Forbes may be seriously underestimating their numbers.

  4. Ziva,

    Thank you for posting this great article. Mr. Fontova, as usual, has outdone himself.


    “If only some mayor newspapers would carry this.”

    I agree with you. Unfortunately, the only way this article will ever be printed on a mayor newspaper is if Cuban-Americans pitch in and buy the page.

  5. Gentlemen, A couple of years ago, a few of us here at Babalu talked of this very idea, of raising money for an ad in the NYT for instance. Emails and phone calls went back and forth, but in the end, we couldn’t put it together. I for one am willing to contribute in any way I can to such an effort. There should be some way to accomplish what appears a simple task. Gather funds and buy a page in a newspaper. Also, keep in mind that this work is Mr. Fontova’s and we’d have to obtain his permission.

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