He soon suspended all elections and named himself “President for Life”, jailing or executing all who opposed him. He established a communist government with himself as a dictator and began relations with the Soviet Union. At the beginning of his rule, the United States supported Castro.
However, once he embraced communism, the U.S. attempted to overthrow him. Cuban exiles, armed and trained by Americans, formed an army known as La Brigada and invaded Cuba’s Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961.
The army was crushed by Castro after President Kennedy refused to directly involve the U.S. armed forces, and 1200 of the invaders were captured. The United States was forced to give $53 million worth of food and supplies to Cubafor the release of the captives. Due to Kennedy’s lack of involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion, Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, felt that the U.S. would do little to resist Soviet Expansion.
So, in July 1962, Khrushchev began installing missile sites in Cuba. When this was discovered, Kennedy completely blockaded Cuba and threatened to invade. The U.S.S.R. promised to withdraw from Cuba if the U.S. did not invade, and the conflict known as the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved. After the Crisis, Soviet aid represented 75% of Cuba’s economy.
The United States had issued a trade embargo around the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion, so when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, so did Cuba’s economy. Strict rations were imposed on food and supplies and Castro’s regime continues to be on the verge of collapse.
The Cuban revolution was a turning point in recent history. With Castro’s regime in place, Cuba became an important player in the global power of the Soviet Union and the severity of the Cold War.
Castro was involved in unsuccessful rebellions in Venezuela, Guatemala and Bolivia, which caused Cuba to isolate itself from the surrounding world. The communist regime in Cuba gave the U.S.S.R. an ally neighboring the United States during the Cold War, thus bringing the threat of nuclear war to an all time high.
Castro presents no immediate danger to the U.S. today, but his status as dictator is still highly opposed by many nations because of the violations of human rights practiced under his rule.
Post-1959: After the revolution:
“Our revolution is endangering all American possessions in Latin America. We are telling these countries to make their own revolution.”
Castro went to the United States later on to explain his revolution. He said, “I know what the world thinks of us, we are Communists, and of course I have said very clearly that we are not Communists; very clearly.”
Hundreds of suspected Batista-era agents, policemen and soldiers were put on public trial for human rights abuses and war crimes, including murder and torture. Most of those convicted in revolutionary tribunals of political crimes were executed by firing squad, and the rest received long prison sentences. One of the most notorious examples of revolutionary justice was the execution of over 70 captured Batista regime soldiers, directed by Raul Castro after capturing Santiago.
For his part in Havana, Che Guevara was appointed supreme prosecutor in La Cabana Fortress. This was part of a large-scale attempt by Fidel Castro to cleanse the security forces of Batista loyalists and potential opponents of the new revolutionary regime.
Others were fortunate to be dismissed from the army and police without prosecution, and some high-ranking officials in the ancien regime were exiled as military attaches.
In 1961, after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the new Cuban government also nationalized all property held by religious organizations including the Roman Catholic Church. Hundreds of members of the church, including a bishop, were permanently expelled from the nation, with the new Cuban government being officially atheist.
Faria describes how the education of children changed as Cuba became officially an atheist state: private schools were banned and the progressively socialist state assumed greater responsibility for children.
According to geographer and Cuban Comandante Antonio Nunez Jimenez, 75% of Cuba’s best arable land was owned by foreign individuals or foreign (mostly U.S.) companies. One of the first policies by the newly formed Cuban government was eliminating illiteracy ‘and implementing land reforms. Land reform efforts helped to raise living standards by subdividing larger holdings into cooperatives.
Comandante Sori Marin, nominally in charge of land reform, objected and fled, but was eventually executed. Many other non-marxists, anti-Batista rebel leaders were forced in to exile, purged in executions, or eliminated in failed uprisings such as that of the Beaton brothers.
Shortly after taking power, Castro also created a Revolutionary militia to expand his power base among the former rebels and the supportive population. Castro also initiated Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or CDRs in late September 1960. Informants became rampant within the population. CDRs were tasked with keeping “vigilance against counter-revolutionary activity.”
Local CDRs were also tasked with keeping a detailed record of each neighborhood’s inhabitant’s spending habits, level of contact with foreigners, their work and education history, and any “suspicious” behavior. One of the most widely persecuted groups were homosexuals, particularly homosexual men.
Sex became a form of liberation and protest against the Castro government; Reinaldo Arenas, a famous Latin American writer, depicts such subjugation and protestation in his autobiography, “Antes Que Anochezca.”
In February 1959 the Ministry for the Recovery of Misappropriated Assets (Ministerio de Recuperaci6n de Bienes Malversados) was created. Cuba began expropriating land and private property under the auspices of the Agrarian Reform law of 17 May 1959. Cuban lawyer Mario Lazo writes that farms of any size could be and were seized by the government.
Land, businesses, and companies owned by upper and middle class Cubans were also nationalized, including the plantations owned by Fidel Castro’s family. By the end of 1960, the revolutionary government had nationalized more than 25 billion dollars worth of private property owned by Cubans Cuba also nationalized all United States and other foreign- owned property in the nation on August 6, 1960.
The United States, in turn, responded by freezing all Cuban assets in the United States, severing diplomatic ties, and tightening the embargo on Cuba, which is still in place after 50 years. In response to the acts of the Eisenhower administration, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for support.