George Mason University Role of Cuba in Latin America Discussion


Draw on Lecture 4 and associated readings. Discuss the special role of Cuba in Latin America. What is so special about Cuba? Why is it important to our understanding of Latin America? In its colonial days? Today? When did Cuba gain its independence from Spain? How did the United States help with that and how did that affect the future of Cuba? When was the Cuban Revolution and how did it change Cuba? Who supported the revolution and who didn’t? Who were the important leaders? How have things changed in Cuba since 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. As you answer the above questions mention the following: Platt Amendment, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, the embargo, the Special Period.

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Cuba – It’s Unique Place in
Latin America’s History
Read Sweig: Introduction, pp. 1-34, 35-39, 44-52, 68-72,
75-89, 125-139, 214-219, 258-264
To introduce Cuba – because we can’t
understand Latin America without understanding
some things about Cuba.
Why was it special to Spain?
Why was it special to the United States?
Learn about Cuba’s independence and the
Cuban revolution.
Learn about Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet
Union and what happened when that fell apart.
What do you know
about Cuba?
Fidel Castro – led the
revolution 1958
Leader of the country
until 2006
Raul Castro (Fidel’s
brother) president
until 2018
Fidel born in 1926,
Raul in 1931.
President Obama met with Raul
Castro in April 2015 – diplomatic
relations restored in July 2015.
Obama & his family visited Cuba
in March 2016. Things began to
open up. Reversed by Trump.
Cuban Missile Crisis – October 1962
Guantanamo Bay
U.S. Navy Base since 1903
U.S. Military prison since 2002
Bay of Pigs Invasion –
April 1961
Nice place to visit
Christopher Columbus came to the
“New World” in 1492
Visited Bahamas,
Hispaniola, and Cuba
Columbus decided to
settle on Hispaniola, &
Santo Domingo became
the first Spanish
headquarters in the
New World
Havana settled in 1514
Cuba is the largest island
in the Caribbean and only
90 miles from Key West.
The port of Havana was
naturally protected.
Spain decided to send all
the silver and gold from
the New World thru the
port of Havana.
Cuba prospered as a colony of Spain
Tobacco was the earliest important crop, later sugar & coffee.
African slaves were brought, since the native Taíno died.
In 18th century, Havana was among the most important cities
in the Americas. (3rd largest)
In 19th century, Cuba was most important producer of sugar in
the world.
Wars for independence in New World
13 British colonies declared independence 1776
Enslaved Africans in Haiti successfully revolted
in 1791 – (took over all of Hispaniola till 1844)
Most of the countries in Latin America won their
independence from Spain between 1810-1824.
But not Cuba. Spain held onto Cuba. Slavery
abolished in 1886.
Cuba had close ties to the U.S.
Thomas Jefferson
wanted to annex Cuba
as early as 1805.
The U.S. offered to buy
Cuba from Spain several
times during the mid1800s – but Spain
The U.S. bought 80% of
Cuban sugar in 1860.
Monroe Doctrine
U.S. President James
Monroe specifically
addressed Cuba (as
well as other European
colonies) in his
proclamation of the
Monroe Doctrine in
Warning to European countries to leave
“America for the Americans”
Cuban wars for independence 1895-98
Jose Martí founded & led the
revolutionary party and began the
war. (Died early on in battle,
1895.) The U.S. finally intervened
in 1898 after offering to purchase
Cuba again. (Spain declined.)
The Philippines and Puerto Rico
were also at stake in what then
became known as the SpanishAmerican war.
Martí was a poet,
organizer, political
thinker – critical of
U.S. imperialism
The U.S. and Spain signed peace
treaty in Paris, Dec 1898. Cuban
leaders were not even allowed to
The Platt Amendment
Cuba did not become the property of the U.S.
(like the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico)
But the U.S. occupied it from 1899-1901
And when Cuba passed a new constitution in
1901 – “the Platt Amendment” had to be part
of it. The U.S. Congress insisted on it.
This essentially gave the U.S. the right to
intervene in Cuba and gave it a naval base at
Guantanamo. No other power would be
allowed to obtain control over Cuba.
Further U.S. occupations as Cuba tried
to get its feet on the ground politically
Fulgencia Batista ->
(right) led a military
takeover in 1933 and
assumed power after a
brief provisional
government under
Ramon Grau
Cuba, Batista & the U.S. (1934-58)
Batista cultivated a comfortable relationship
with the U.S. He worked behind the scenes
when he was not president.
Elected president in 1940.
Amid complicated politics, Batista staged a
U.S. backed military coup in 1952 – by that
time he was more corrupt, and less well liked.
Fidel Castro began revolutionary activity in
Batista finally fled the country Dec 31, 1958.
Century Cuba
Much U.S. investment in Cuba in both sugar and tourism.
U.S. Cuba Economic Ties as of 1945
According to Sweig, “U.S. Capital controlled
over 40% of Cuban sugar industry, 23% of all
non-sugar industry, 90% of all telephone and
electric services, and 50% of Cuba’s railway
Havana was important tourist destination for
Americans. Sex trade and gambling
boomed, promoted by locals and U.S. mafia
– especially because of prohibition 1920-33.
to get a feel for why Cubans didn’t like their role as a tourist
destination for Americans looking for women and booze.
Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro & Che Guevara
Who was Fidel Castro?
By the time of the1952 military coup, Fidel
Castro was a trained lawyer, planning to run
for congress – 26 yrs old.
He already had some revolutionary
experience in the Dominican Republic – was
involved in 1947 effort to overthrow Trujillo
dictatorship. (returned to Cuba at last minute)
In Bogota, Colombia 1948, he joined a riot
started in response to assassination of a
presidential candidate campaigning for land
Who was Che Guevara?
Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a doctor – a couple
years younger than Fidel. Born in Argentina.
Traveled thru-out Latin America as a medical
student – impressed by the poverty and poor
working conditions.
Involved in revolutionary activities in Guatemala.
Met Fidel & Raul Castro in Mexico – they were in
exile plotting further revolution.
Che played an important role in the Cuban
revolution & subsequent government – head of
land reform, president of National Bank of Cuba.
Che Guevara – symbol of rebellion
Che went on to travel
the world supporting
revolutionary efforts –
Africa, eastern
Europe, Asia, Bolivia
Executed in 1967 in
Bolivia with help of
the CIA. 39 yrs old
Became a martyr.
Fidel was the “most charismatic hero
of the Cuban revolution”
Fidel’s brother Raul was his right-hand man.
Bay of Pigs Invasion
April 1961 – less than 4
months into the Kennedy
Invasion planned under
Eisenhower, executed by
CIA with help of 1500
Cuban exiles.
It failed!! – Kennedy
canceled planned aircover — embarrassed the
U.S., but covert
operations continued.
Cuba turned to the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union
bought Cuban sugar
at favorable prices.
Soviets also provided
oil at a discounted
price & Cuba resold it
at a profit.
Provided military
Fidel Castro with Leonid Brezhnev, 1981
Brezhnev in power 1964-82
Cuban Missile Crisis – Oct 1962
Castro thought
U.S. would stop at
nothing to destroy
the revolution.
U.S. had missiles
in Turkey pointing
at Russia.
CIA discovered
missiles pointing
at U.S.
? After 13 very tense
days, the Soviets &
Americans cut a deal.
Americans were
terrified at the
possibility of
nuclear war.
Thru-out 1960s &
beyond, Americans felt
threatened by Cuba.
Meanwhile, Kennedy
established the Peace
Corps, March 1, 1961.
The Alliance for
Progress for economic
cooperation w- Latin
America was proposed
the same month.
March, 1963
The “Cuban Model” failed to generate
Revolutionary gov’t nationalized sugar mills, oil
refineries, utilities, transportation companies,
most land, and also small businesses.
It also made health and education important
“Allowed citizens to relish the intangible but
unmistakable high of successfully defying the
United States.” Sweig
Many Latin Americans looked up to Fidel Castro,
others feared him.
U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba
Prior to 1959:
59% of Cuba’s exports went to the U.S.
76% of its imports came from the U.S.
50% of it sugar harvest went to the U.S. – Cuba
supplied about 1/3rd of total U.S. sugar imports.
U.S. imposed a partial trade embargo
beginning in Oct 1960. The terms changed
over the years. Complete embargo in 1962.
Thus the turn to Soviet Union which bought
sugar and provided other assistance.
Collapse of Soviet Union in 1991
wrought havoc in Cuba
Cuba had no one to buy their sugar –
especially at subsidy prices.
Soviets had also provided oil at a discounted
price, & Cuba resold it at a profit.
So Cuba went into immediate decline – it was
called “the Special Period.” The economy
contracted by 34% between 1990 and 1993.
Material conditions deteriorated
substantially during Special Period
Cutbacks in social services
Food and electricity in short supply
Cubans lost weight and became
Infrastructure deteriorated further.
Education and health care also deteriorated –
even while Cuba exported education and
health services to earn foreign exchange.
But the Cuban regime did not collapse.
New constitution 1992 brought change
Recognized freedom of religion
References to soviet-style ideology toned
Allowed for a bit more popular participation
All sectors of the economy (except health,
education, and armed forces) were made
open to foreign investment in the form of joint
ventures – Cuba would retain a majority
share, however.
This meant big new joint ventures in tourism.
Varadero – Cuba’s prime resort area
Varadero, 20 km
long, 1.2 km
wide at widest
Economic reforms
First, farmer’s markets were opened and
growers could sell food directly.
State farms converted to cooperatives.
Possession of the U.S. dollar was legalized –
it had been the currency of the black market.
Self-employment activities were allowed:
repairs, taxi driving, beauty salons (some of
these were tourist oriented).
People were permitted to open small
restaurants and B&Bs.
Reform process has not been steady
The Castros didn’t want to give up on the
ideals of the revolution.
With the increases in tourism, private sector
and black market activities have offered
much higher returns than working for the
So there has been some reversing of course
and higher taxes and licenses for privatesector activities – inability to manage the
transition to private sector-led growth.
Many Cubans have left over the years
Most of the elite left early on & established a
powerful anti-Castro community in Miami.
Mariel boatlift in 1980 – under Carter –
emigration of 125,000 people. Working class
Cubans participated in a mass exodus.
Carter suggested he would open doors to
those who wanted to leave Cuba. Castro
took Carter up on that offer and Castro
encouraged those that wanted to leave.
Raul assumed power in 2006 when
Castro’s health collapsed suddenly
More economic reforms
More market mechanisms
Many challenges to come, e.g. rapidly
aging population (many young people
have left Cuba)
Just prior to the special period, sugar dominated exports.
Cuba &
Hugo Chavez president of Venezuela in 1999
? Cuba & Venezuela exchanged health care for oil
? As of 2013, 41% of Cuban exports went to
Venezuela, (Netherlands, Canada ~8% each,
China 6%)
? 32.5% of Cuban imports were from Venezuela
(10.4% from China, 8.3% from Spain)
During the
special period
Cuba began
to invest
heavily in
Although few
could go,
many others
Cuba is still second to the Dominican Republic in hotel stock.
Cuba’s international diplomacy
Opposed apartheid in S.
Africa, as well as other
authoritarian regimes
Cuba sends humanitarian
assistance, especially doctors,
medicine, equipment when
disaster strikes. (In 2005 U.S.
turned down help for hurricane
Fidel Castro died Nov 2016
He was in power 48 years – 1958-2006
There were 10 U.S. Presidents during that time.
Sweig says that “by Havana’s count” there were
“several hundred attempts to assassinate Fidel
When his health suddenly failed in 2006, there
were reports of his death and his imminent
He lived another 10 years and died at the age of
Now you have some background about
Cuba – if you didn’t already.
Why it was special to Spain.
Why it was special to the United States.
Why its relationship to the United States
was painful on both sides.
This will help you to understand what you
read in the news about Latin America, and
what Latin Americans think about the U.S.

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Latin America



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