Che Guevara - symbol of struggle
By Tony Saunois
Six, In Power - Cuba versus 'the gringos'
THE FALL of the Batista dictatorship did not end the revolutionary process which had developed in Cuba. Castro's triumphant entry into Havana represented the close of chapter one. A combination of factors came together and propelled the revolution much further than many of its leaders initially intended.
A Provisional Government was appointed which included Pazos, one of the Maestro Pact signatories, and was under the Presidency of Judge Manuel Urruita. All were under the umbrella of the July 26th Movement and Castro's guiding influence. It was precisely what its name stated - a movement and not a disciplined political party with a clear ideology or policy. The paralysis of 'liberal' capitalist Cuba was reflected in their acceptance of this 'Provisional Government'. The government rapidly announced elections would be postponed for eighteen months. The avowedly 'liberal' capitalist representatives lacked the vision or initiative to boldly enter the political fray. They had no choice but to allow Castro to pull the strings.
During the early days of January Castro played a typical Bonapartist balancing act. On the one hand he incorporated sections of the 'liberal' Cuban capitalist class into the government and verbally tried to reassure them and to some extent US imperialism that their interests were not placed in jeopardy by the revolution against Batista. He was still motivated by the radical ideas of Martí more than anything else. The revolution he promised was genuinely "Cuban, national and democratic". On 16 January he spoke at the grave of Eduardo Chibas (the former leader of the Orthodox Party), refuting that he was a communist and praising Chibas. Chibas had always been a bitter opponent of socialist ideas. At the end of January, when he was in Venezuela, Castro promised elections to a 'congress' within two years.
At the same time the workers, peasants, youth and even the middle class had been radicalised by the downfall of Batista. Castro rested on this mass movement as he moved to introduce measures which would assert Cuba's independence. He was also affected by it and pushed in an even more radical direction.
A combination of these processes at home and the reaction of US imperialism to these events resulted in the revolution going much further and faster forward than its central players had originally intended. US imperialism was horrified at events that began to unfold in its former playground.
The remaining US tourists staying at the Havana Hilton were undoubtedly somewhat disgruntled as this luxury hotel was transformed into an unofficial but de-facto seat of government. As they abandoned holidays prematurely they were forced to mix with "dirty" bearded armed guerrillas, workers and youth who now roamed the corridors. Amongst them was the figure who was increasingly becoming their bête noir - Che Guevara.
The Jury of a million
During January measures began to be taken by Castro, largely under Che's direction, which aroused the wrath of US imperialism. In order to protect itself from the threat of a counter-revolution from the remnants of Batista's regime a purge of the old repressive state apparatus began to be implemented. Known sympathisers and supporters of Batista were arrested, known torturers and thugs were executed. Over a period of months several hundred were executed.
Che was a crucial influence in enacting these justifiable measures to safeguard the revolution. In mid-January Che established the Academia Militar-Cultural to conduct an education programme amongst the army at La Cabaña. From here two critical aspects of work were conducted. A political education programme amongst the army was launched. About 1,000 prisoners of war were held from Batista's defeated forces.
Che was trying through these measures to re-build the army and by doing so construct it as a firm basis for the revolution. The guerrilla units and their leaders were incorporated into it increasingly with members of the PSP with whom Che was establishing closer relations.
From La Cabaña he oversaw the Revolutionary Tribunals which were used as a means of purging the army of its most pro-Batista elements. The trials centred on those who conducted torture and murder under the Batista dictatorship. Much of the Cuban population was in the mood to unleash lynching parties on those associated with the dictatorship. The tribunals provoked a massive attack by US imperialism which denounced such measures as criminal. However, the reprisals had the support of the mass of Cubans, especially the poor, who had suffered horrific crimes at the hands of Batista's thugs.
The Tribunals were not elected committees of workers, soldiers and representatives of the local community as would have been advocated by Marxists during such revolutionary conditions.
However, the measures taken by the Tribunals were to defend the revolution and to try and exact some justice for the victims of Batista's sadistic torturers. Those accused were given defence lawyers and the right to disprove or justify their actions. According to those who participated, in the main, nobody was shot for hitting a prisoner of the former regime. Only in the cases of brutal torture or death, which involved hundreds of cases, was execution the verdict. Former prisoners and the families of the dead or 'disappeared' were asked to give evidence and show the scars they were left to carry for life.
These elementary rights are in marked contrast to the "justice" given during the 1980s throughout Latin America as military regimes fell one after another across the continent. Unlike in Cuba after the fall of Batista, the new pro-capitalist governments have permitted a conspiracy of silence to take place in order to protect the military and police in their respective countries. Despite hundreds of thousands suffering torture and death, few prosecutions have been made against those responsible for such crimes in, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, and other countries. The victims have been denied the opportunity to speak out.
The friends and families of "los desapparacidos" (the disappeared) still get no reply to their simple question carried on placards throughout the continent: "Donde Están?" (Where are they?). In Argentina after more than a decade of weekly protests in front of the Presidential Palace the mothers of the disappeared are still asking this same question and still get no reply. Even the bodies of loved ones have not been returned to allow burial and grieving.
The silence of US imperialism about these crimes, in which it and its agencies such as the CIA are directly implicated, has been deafening. It has been in marked contrast to its reaction to the tribunal headed by Che in Cuba.
A gruesome picture was painted by US imperialism of what was taking place in Havana. The "terror" of the new regime was hypocritically denounced and Che was presented as public enemy number one. The wrath of US imperialism had now been unleashed as the revolution took retribution against the paid lackeys of Washington.
Che was determined to carry through this policy. The wound of recent history was still open and aggravated by his experience during the war. Che repeated endlessly to his Cuban comrades during this period that Arbenz had failed in Guatemala because he failed to purge the armed forces and allowed the CIA to penetrate and overthrow his government. He was determined not to allow history to be repeated in Cuba.
On 22 January a mass rally was called in Havana to support the government's "war trials" policy. Estimates vary but anything between half a million and one million participated in this mass demonstration. It was bigger than the rally which greeted Castro when he arrived in Havana on 8 January. The revolution was gathering momentum.
Banners denounced US imperialism for its double standards, compared the trials of Batista's assassins with the Nuremberg trials of convicted Nazis after the Second World War and demanded "revolutionary justice".
Castro asked all those who agreed with revolutionary justice to raise their hands. Up to one million hands were raised to a cry of "si".
Castro commented: " Gentlemen of the diplomatic corps, gentlemen of the press of the whole continent, the jury of a million Cubans of all ideas and all social classes has voted."
There was massive support for the measures being taken by the government. Castro was resting on this support and was now mobilising it to answer the attacks and threats from the 'imperialist gringos' in the USA. He was also being pushed along by the pressure of the mass movement which was now gripped with a revolutionary fervour. At the same time the arrogant response and demands of the US compounded this. Within a short space of months the revolution had gone much further than any of its central players had anticipated it would. Even Che had written in 1958: "...I began the struggle with that spirit: honestly without any hope of going further than the liberation of the country; and fully prepared to leave when the conditions of the struggle veered all the action of the Movement toward the right (toward what all of you represent)." ( Letter to the July 26th Movement co-ordinator in the Oriente, 'Daniel').
The Death of Capitalist Cuba
Although Castro was leaning on the masses and defended the "revolutionary trials" he still was not propagating the idea of a "socialist revolution".
All property belonging to Batista and his cronies was taken over by the state during the early days of the revolution. However, Castro was still refuting any "communist" objectives and declaring his support for the establishment of a capitalist "democracy" in Cuba.
US imperialism was terrified of the events which were unfolding only 100 miles from its coastline. Though it was justified in its fears, many of its political representatives were also suffering from a severe case of "communist paranoia" and saw a "communist plot" in every radical political movement south of the Rio Grande which it did not directly control or influence.
Castro was not trusted but still remained a largely unknown quantity. He was invited to the US by a group of newspaper editors with a view to "sounding him out". His visit took place during April and it was evidently intended also as a means of putting pressure on him to follow US wishes. While he was in Washington Castro met, amongst others, Vice-President Richard Nixon for "discussions".
Nixon demanded the end of executions resulting from the "revolutionary" tribunals and a severing of relations with "communists". He presented Castro with a file on "known communists" in and around his government. Moreover, these demands were linked to the question of economic aid. After the meeting Nixon concluded that Castro was either, "..incredibly naive about communism or was under communist discipline and that we would have to treat him accordingly."
'Accordingly', he then supported Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chief, J. Edgar Hoover, in urging the US immediately arm Cuban exiles with a view to overthrowing Castro. The forced removal of Castro became a matter of prestige for the ruling class in the USA and this has determined its policy ever since.
Castro tried to explain to Nixon that any measures his government took against US interests were just and spent the US tour arguing that he was not a communist, that foreign interests would be respected and that his heart was "in the west". For three hours he met with the CIA's "expert" on communism in Latin America, who concluded, "Castro is not only not a communist, he is a strong anti-communist."
US imperialism was not prepared to accept any challenge to its interests in Cuba or throughout the region as a whole. It certainly was not prepared to permit a loosening of its grip in its former playground through the emergence of a more independent, "national" and "liberal" reform minded regime in Havana. The result was that Castro, also under pressure from the revolution in Cuba, became locked into a conflict with the USA and capitalism.
Che, during these processes, was urging Castro to go further against capitalism at each stage. The revolution sank deeper and deeper roots and gained momentum. The blows struck against it by US imperialism only served to strengthen it and push it in a still more leftward and socialist direction. In his 1963 article, Building a Party of the Working Class, Che wrote: "Imperialism has been a very important factor in the development and deepening of our ideology. Each blow dealt by imperialism called for a response. Each time the Yankees reacted with their habitual arrogance, by taking some action against Cuba, we had to adopt the necessary counter-measures, and thereby the revolution deepened."
After Castro returned from his American visit a programme of agrarian reform was announced by the government. It had been drafted under Che's influence and its first article proscribed estates larger than 1,000 acres and supported the establishment of co-operatives. Exceptions were allowed and land could even be held by foreign companies if the government deemed it to be in the national interest. In fact this law went little further than the Constitution of 1940 but it did allow the government to confiscate land and the new legislation affected about 40% of total farmland.
The land reform programme was to be enacted through the Agrarian Reform Institute, INRA, which appointed farm managers and paid workers $2.50 a day throughout the year. Whilst the proposed agricultural reform may have differed little from the 1940 Constitution it was sufficient to arouse the opposition of Cuba's landowners and their friends in the USA from where the spectre of "Communism in Cuba" was raised.
The price of Cuban sugar on the New York Stock Exchange fell. US companies with investments in Cuba were beginning to panic about whether they would be paid compensation should their assets be taken over by the new government.
The US orchestrated a campaign to oust Castro by demanding he call elections. The response was a massive demonstration of hundreds of thousands on May Day, of armed Cubans chanting, "Revolution- Yes - Elections -No."
Within Cuba itself a massive radicalisation of workers, poor peasants and youth was taking place alongside a polarisation within the government. Vendors were selling fruit juice on the streets to raise money for the state and the revolution. During the summer of 1959 Castro was still vacillating and speaking of a "humanist" national revolution which was neither "capitalist" nor "communist".
The openly pro-capitalist 'Liberals' in the government lacked any serious figures around which they could rally their limited forces. However, they increasingly protested at the actions of Che in the armed forces and the promotion of known socialists and PSP supporters. They opposed the more radical measures which Castro was agreeing to implement, such as a decree cutting rents by 50% announced in March. An increasing polarisation developed within ruling circles reflecting the pressure of the revolution underway and the series of blows and counter-blows taking place between the USA and Cuba.
Manuel Urruita, the President, was forced to resign in July after massive protests against his opposition to the radical steps being implemented by the government. By November the liberal ministers had been sacked or forced to resign as they joined the Washington chorus against the "communist" policies of the Cuban government.
Che during these months was demanding still more radical measures. Since January he had been advocating a policy of rapid industrialisation of the economy based upon nationalisation of mineral wealth, electricity, the telephone company (a subsidiary of the US multi-national ITT) and other sectors of the economy.
More than anybody else in Cuba, Che now terrified US imperialism with what he was preaching. He anticipated the onslaught from the US government which would follow the adoption of more radical policies. On 27 January he delivered a speech, 'Social Projections of the Rebel Army". Che proclaimed: "Our revolution is intimately linked to all the underdeveloped countries of Latin America. The revolution is not limited to the Cuban nation because it has touched the conscience of (Latin) America and seriously alerted the enemies of our peoples. The revolution has put the Latin American tyrants on guard because these are the enemies of popular regimes, as are the monopolistic foreign companies...... Today, all the people of Cuba are on a war footing and should remain so, so that the victory against the dictatorship is not a passing one but becomes the first step to the victory of (Latin) America."
It was a clarion call to revolutionaries throughout Latin America and a declaration of war against US interests. The US was adopting a policy aimed at strangling the measures being taken by the new regime. The importation of sugar from Cuba was slashed because of the agricultural reform and the nationalisation of foreign petrol companies in June. This followed the importation of Russian oil which US companies in Cuba had refused to refine. The Cuban government appointed administrators at all the refineries owned by Texaco, Esso and Shell and then nationalised them.
Castro retaliated to the cutting of sugar imports with a decree legalising the nationalisation of all foreign assets. In October, 383 large Cuban industries and the banks were taken over by the state. Capitalism was snuffed out. In April 1960, Castro for the first time proclaimed the revolution in Cuba as "Socialist".