In the year 1950, Carlos Prío Socarrás was the President of Cuba, but we should start a few years earlier to get a better understanding of Cuban history.
In 1940, Cuba elected Fulgencio Batista as president and subsequently adopted a new Constitution. In 1944, Batista’s hand-picked successor lost the presidential election and Batista left Cuba to live in the United States. Over the next six years from 1944-1952, Cuba saw increased prosperity. However, with this prosperity came corruption in government and economic dominance by U.
S. mob bosses capitalizing on Cuba’s proximity to the U.S.
Batista returned to Cuba to run for president again in the 1952 elections but faced multiple popular opponents for office. After a primary opponent had supposedly committed suicide, Batista took the opportunity to seize power in a military coup. Three months before new elections were to be held, Bautista simply took the presidency and canceled the scheduled election. Opposition parties mounted from all sides, but when elections were held again in 1954, Batista was re-elected in an election without opposition (which was widely seen to have been fraudulent).
Although corruption in Cuba continued to be rampant under Batista’s rule, Cuba flourished economically and saw wages rise significantly. The average industrial salary in Cuba was the world’s eighth-highest in 1958 and Cuba was one of the five most developed countries in Latin America. An eight-hour workday had been established in 1933, and Cubans were entitled to take a full month’s paid vacation and even paternity leave.
Furthermore, Cuba’s health services were remarkably developed. By the late 1950s, it had one of the highest numbers of doctors per capita, and Cuba had the fourth highest literacy rate in the region.
Although the industrial class of Cuba was reaping the benefits of a flourishing economy, one-third of the nation still lived in poverty. The high wages demanded by labor unions created a disparity in the working class and increased economic regulations. Outside investments declined and the Cuban GDP rose by only one percent per year from 1950-1958.
In 1945, Castro was studying law at the University of Havana and became increasingly involved in (at times violent) student activism. In 1952, he had garnered enough political support to run for congress but was denied this chance when Batista canceled the elections of 1952. Castro saw Batista as a political enemy who had moved towards imperialism, and corruption, and was now acting as a dictator.
On 26 July 1953, Castro and his supporters launched a failed attack on a military barracks and many of these rebels were executed without trial. The remaining rebels were rounded up and set to trail. Fidel defended himself in court and said this attack was not against the Cuban government but against Batista who had taken power unconstitutionally. Fidel, his brother Raul, and 25 other rebels were sentenced to prison. During this time, Fidel and his comrades read communist literature and were able to continue to organize resistance movements from within prison. Backed by the U.S., powerful mob leaders, and major corporations both inside and outside Cuba, Batista believed Castro to be no threat, and on 15 May 1955, Castro and his comrades were released from prison.
Castro and his remaining supporters went to Mexico where they met the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara who was working as a journalist. While in Mexico, Guevara and the Castros crafted the “26th of July Movement” to become a Cuban Revolution and overthrow Batista’s regime. In December 1956, Castro and 82 fighters sailed to Cuba aboard the yacht Granma and landed in the eastern part of the island. Upon landing, Batista’s forces promptly killed, dispersed, or captured most of Castro’s men.
However, Fidel, Raul, and Che escaped and fled to the mountains where they hid and organized growing support for their revolution. Combined political pressures from the Castros and the U.S. caused Batista to flee the country. In 1959, with the support of around 9,000 guerrilla fighters, Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and many Cubans fled to the U.S. to avoid being marginalized by the new regime.
Castro set up military tribunals for opponents (politicians, journalists, professors, and teachers) and consolidated power by selecting his brother Raul as his second in command. Many people were accused of supporting the previous Batista regime, and roughly 200 were convicted and executed by firing squad or received life imprisonment. However, for the following decade Cuban education opportunities increased, unemployment and corruption had reduced, and improvements were made in hygiene and sanitation. Additionally, Castro was dedicated to equality among Afro-Cubans.
By 1960, Castro had confiscated U.S. assets on the island and established Soviet-style collective farms, much to the praise of the growing communist party. Tensions grew between the U.S. and Castro as trade embargoes and travel restrictions were implemented. The U.S. went on to pressure other countries to restrict trade with Cuba, further damaging the Cuban economy.
Castro reached out to the Soviet Union to assist with an increasingly difficult economic situation in Cuba. Although at first, the Soviets were skeptical that Castro was working with the CIA, they open trade negotiations and began supporting Cuba through a sugar for fuel deal. The Soviet Union paid a 20 percent premium on sugar from Cuba and extended Cuba with a $100m line of credit. Subsequently, China offered Cuba a similar deal for breaking the relationship with Taiwan and recognizing Communist China.
In 1961, the U.S. staged a failed military invasion of Cuba in an attempt to overthrow Castro. Following this attempt, Castro declared Cuba was to become a socialist republic. This attempt to gain further support from the Soviets worked, and in the summer of 1962, the Soviet Union contracted several missile-launch facilities in Cuba at Castro’s request. This situation brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, as the U.S. found these neighboring missile facilities a direct threat. Eventually, negotiation between the U.S. and the Soviets brought an end to the situation, and Cuba lost much military support from the Soviet Union as well as representation in the Organization of the American States.
In 1965, the Integrated Revolutionary Organization (Cuba’s only political party) was renamed the Communist Party of Cuba. From 1976 to 1980, the Soviets invested $1.7 billion in the construction and upgrading of Cuban industries. During this time, the Cuban economy was greatly dependent on aid from the Soviet Union.
In 1965, Cuba and the United States agreed to airlift Cubans who wanted to emigrate to the United States, and by 1971 over 250,000 Cubans had flown to the United States. In 1980 another 125,000 came to the United States in the 6 months known as the “Mariel Boatlift,” including many criminals. It has been discovered that the Castro regime was using the emigration event to get rid of unwanted segments of Cuban society.