Ocean Press edit at oceanpress.com.au
Sun Aug 28 16:05:11 MDT 2005


By Germán Sánchez

[Germán Sánchez has been the Cuban ambassador to Venezuela from 1994 to
the present. This is the first part from a new pamphlet from Ocean
Press, published in both English and Spanish-language editions. The
pamphlet contains a chapter from the book “Cuba and Venezuela” by Germán
Sánchez, which is forthcoming in English from Ocean Press in early 2006.
A Spanish-language edition of the book will published by Ocean Press in
September 2005. “Cuba and Venezuela” is a comparative historical
analysis of the Cuban Revolution and the process of change and
revolution currently unfolding in Venezuela. Another pamphlet taken from
the same forthcoming book is “Barrio Adentro and Other Social Missions
in the Bolivarian Revolution”. For further information visit
www.oceanbooks.com.au or write to info at oceanbooks.com.au].

In the heat of the change led by President Hugo Chávez, speculation that
Venezuela intends to replicate the revolutionary course Cuba initiated
in January 1959 is steadily proliferating. Those who promote such a
distortion are nearly all adversaries of President Chávez, who have an
interest in creating confusion, and who themselves are distorted by
hatred. It is only on rare occasions -- including on the part of the
Bolivarian revolution -- that logical and balanced comparisons between
the two nations are made.

This has motivated me to put together this analysis of the Cuban
Revolution in its initial, decisive years. It is an attempt to
contribute to the memories of older Venezuelan readers and give younger
ones a quick view. It is devised for people who would like to make an
unprejudiced historical comparison between our revolution in Cuba and
the process of change currently occurring in Venezuela.

The Cuban revolutionary evolution of the 1960s cannot today be repeated
in other countries of the region. This is as much due to the
geopolitical circumstances in which the revolution occurred and the
heady speed of its transformation, as to the far reach of core measures
it adopted in a very short space of time. The Cuban Revolution’s unique
complexion is located in those factors.

That does not, however, mean that Cuba’s initial decisions, or the
revolution’s impact on Cuban society, are irrelevant in the case of
other Latin American or Caribbean nations. On the contrary, given that
it has been the most complete historical rupture to occur in any country
in the hemisphere, the Cuban Revolution represents a paradigm -- a
laboratory of indisputable relevance for the peoples of our region.

This comparison has the objective of contributing information and
reflection; it in no way seeks to replace anyone’s own thinking or their
own process of drawing conclusions.

1. More than 40 years of socialist discourse in our homeland confirms
that the option chosen by Cubans was and is still appropriate.

No revolution in the Americas has generated so many crucial changes in
such a short period of time. In less than 24 months -- from January 1,
1959, to April 16 and April 19, 1961, symbolic dates in the
insurrectionary triumph (the proclamation of the socialist nature of the
revolution and the first military defeat of US imperialism in Latin
America) -- profound changes took root, initiating a new stage in the
history of Cuba and the entire region.

2. The revolution was not conducted according to a precise plan,
although the majority of its actions were contemplated in the Moncada
program of 1953 (“History Will Absolve Me”). Given that the United
States furiously began to clash with Cuba from the triumph of the
revolution and the initiation of its first measures, nobody could really
foresee how the process would develop. Still, the revolutionary
leadership and Fidel Castro in particular had a strategy and clear
objectives, which facilitated strong, accurate guidance of the Cuban
people and the integration of the revolutionary organizations. Even
faced with that forceful, complex confrontation, the decisions of the
Cubans were not made recklessly. Years later Fidel summed up the
effective formula for the triumph of any revolution in three words:
people, weapons, and unity. In Venezuela, on February 3, 1999, he put it
this way: “Revolution is the daughter of culture and ideas.”

3. Fierce struggle against the domination of the island by the United
States and its allies contributed to the acceleration of revolutionary
actions. From the early days of 1959 the United States attempted to
crush the revolutionaries and prevent the development of the process in
favor of the people and national sovereignty. During that year it
exerted pressure, issued warnings, and began to organize and execute
plots against the stability of the country, the economy, and even Fidel
himself. In 1960 the great power’s plan to defeat its neighboring
government and abort the incipient project of the new Cuba was

To recall certain facts: in March 1960 the CIA sabotaged a French boat,
La Coubre, in Havana Bay, killing more than 100 people and destroying
the Belgian arms in its hold. From 1959, and more frequently in 1960,
aircraft took off from the United States -- occasionally piloted by US
citizens -- to attack the sugar industry, destroy sugarcane plantations,
wipe out communities and, additionally, to supply weapons, munitions,
and other provisions to the counterrevolutionaries. In June 1960 the US
president suspended Cuba’s sugar quota and in early 1961, broke off
diplomatic relations, banned US citizens from traveling to a country now
considered its enemy, and initiated an economic blockade. At the same
time, it demonstrated its military might by conducting military
exercises in the island’s vicinity involving 40,000 troops, naval ships,
and submarines equipped with atomic weapons. On April 16 it bombed Cuban
military airports and on April 17, mercenary forces trained, equipped,
financed, and directed by the CIA, landed at the Bay of Pigs.

4. This aggression did not impede the revolution’s impetus. On the
contrary, it facilitated, made legitimate, and accelerated the
transformations. Audacity, tactical imagination, conviction, and a
growing radicalization were all part of the meteoric process changing
Cuba forever.

Two stellar moments in that blow-by-blow confrontation come to mind.
When, in June 1960, the United States threatened to suspend Cuba’s
preferential sugar quota, Fidel declared: “They’re going to take away
the sugar quota pound by pound and we’re going to take the sugar mills
off them one by one.” In November 1960, when the United States announced
that Fidel would be confined to the island of Manhattan during his visit
to the United Nations, the Cuban government decided to restrict the
movements of the US ambassador in Cuba to the Vedado neighborhood. Che
subsequently summarized this policy with the sharp, brief comment: “One
can’t take anything about imperialism seriously, that’s all there is to

5. The revolution had no alternative: it could either go to the source
of the country’s ills, or perish. It had to undertake serious social
change and attain national liberation, or the United States would crush
it and impose a more ominous and dependent regime than [Batista’s in]
1958. Fidel understood the alternatives most clearly, and on March 15,
1960, affirmed at the funeral of the victims of La Coubre: “Now freedom
means something more altogether: freedom means homeland. Therefore our
dilemma is “Patria o Muerte” (Homeland or Death).” The anger and
conviction of that after-noon gave rise to this emblematic slogan. On
June 7, 1960, Fidel developed the concept: “For each one of us, the
catch-cry is “Patria o Muerte”, but for the people, who in the long term
will emerge victorious, the catch-cry is “Venceremos” (We Shall
Overcome).” Faced with the myth of the fatal flaw of the island’s
geography, and the power and arrogance of its giant enemy, the Cuban
people and their leaders were not daunted. On the contrary, the
confrontation gave them strength and resolution. When the United States
utilized the Organization of American States (OAS) to support the
blockade, isolation, and aggression against Cuba, our country denounced
the governments that allowed themselves to be subjugated in this way.
Those countries subsequently had to face rebellion and pressure from
their own peoples.

6. Those 18 months represented an irreversible historical shift that
could never be repeated. Under Fidel’s leadership, the revolutionary
directorate took admirable advantage of this. Taking the initiative time
and again, the fighting people let loose their irrepressible energy,
until victory was consolidated. As the majority of the poor and many
from the middle class gradually discovered, this was the only way they
could fulfill their dreams, and no obstacle could prevent the ongoing
deepening of the process.

To recall elements of the transformation:

In January 1959 the pro-Batista executive of the Central Organization of
Cuban Workers (CTC) was dismissed and a new executive selected. In
March, the revolutionary government nationalized the Cuban Telephone
Company -- after lowering call rates -- and the metropolitan bus
corporation. Housing rents were reduced by 50 percent and the price of
medicines by 30 percent. In May it approved the Agrarian Reform Act,
which abolished the large estates of landowners in less than 12 months
and redistributed the land either among peasants who had worked it
without ownership, or converted it into state-run agricultural
enterprises, thereby initiating an agrarian revolution. In July the cost
of school books was cut by 25 percent and in August electricity rates
went down by 30 percent; while October saw the formation of the National
Revolutionary Militias -- comprised of workers, peasants, students,
employees, and professionals -- who had begun to organize in March.

In early January 1960 the Ministry for the Recovery of Embezzled
Goods -- founded by the revolution -- confiscated the Fosforero Trust
and further reduced the price of 122 medicines. In February, the
ministry nationalized an oil consortium (RECA), which had two
refineries, and confiscated properties owned by the infamous José López
Villaboy, including the Cuban Aviation Company, the Rancho Boyeros
Airport (Havana), and other businesses. The ministry also nationalized
14 sugar mills and in April announced it had recovered more than $400
million for the people. On June 29, in response to the continued
economic, subversive, and terrorist aggression of the United States, it
took over Texaco and on July 1, Esso and Shell. In August all US
companies in the oil, sugar, communications, and electricity sectors
were nationalized. In September, battalions of militia troops were
organized under the direction of the Rebel Army to fight and eradicate
armed counterrevolutionary bands in the Escambray mountains of central
Cuba. On September 28, speaking before millions of Cubans in Revolution
Square, Fidel called for the organization of Committees for the Defense
of the Revolution (CDRs) in every neighborhood block, so that as an
organized people Cubans could fight their enemies more effectively. In
October all the domestic and foreign banks, and 382 large enterprises,
including 105 sugar mills, 50 textile factories, and eight railroad
companies were nationalized. The Urban Reform Act was passed, conceding
property rights to all rent-paying tenants, and finally, the remaining
US companies were nationalized.

Other relevant events took place throughout 1960, such as the
amalgamation of revolutionary women’s and youth groups into two parallel
organizations: the Federation of Cuban Women and the Association of
Young Rebels. Peasants likewise grouped themselves into the National
Association of Small Farmers and the island’s intellectuals formed the
National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). In April 1961 the
revolutionary organizations merged into one political body: the
Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI).

This is barely a synthesis of the principal actions of the revolution,
which fundamentally changed the way of life of the Cuban people.

Many others could be added. For example, journalists and media
professionals took control of the media, placing it at the political,
cultural, recreational, and educational service of the people. Casa de
las Américas was founded, as was the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC), and
the National Cultural Council. Within such a dazzling, iconoclastic
landscape, these three cultural institutions represented a formidable
structure for writers and artists. The first stage of the educational
revolution was launched and succeeded in eliminating illiteracy in less
than one year -- by 1961 -- while from 1959 onwards thousands of
voluntary teachers took the light of knowledge to remote areas of the
island. At the same time Cuba’s beaches were opened up to everyone,
private clubs became recreational centers, and the barracks of Batista’s
army were transformed into student facilities.

In summary, during that brief period, the neocolonial military state was
destroyed, and a new popular, democratic, and nationalist government was
installed. The repressive agencies of the former regime were eliminated
and new defense organizations, based on revolutionary vigilance, were
established, with the essential involvement of ordinary people.

7. Even in the context of such colossal change, the period was also
characterized by humanism and careful respect for the integrity of human
beings. Due process was respected and followed with regard to violations
of law by enemies of the people.

The revolutionary courts punished murderers, traitors, and other
servants of the dictatorship, and confiscated all the assets of
officials who worked under it; senators, representatives, mayors, and
party and trade union leaders who supported the dictatorship were
deprived of their political rights. Democratic rights were granted to
all the people, criminalizing discrimination against people of color and
women, and in effect creating an economic, ethical, and political base
for undertaking the construction of a new, free, and more egalitarian
8. Fidel’s confidence in the nation’s history and the attributes of his
people, and the people’s confidence in their leader, were determining
factors in completing the transformation.

In January 1959, the young comandante initiated his pedagogical crusade
in relation to the principles that should guide all revolutionaries and

-- Fortunately for Cuba, this time the revolution will really reach its
 No thieves, no traitors, no interventionists; this time it
is a revolution! (January 2, 1959)

-- The people of Cuba know how to defend themselves! (January 9, 1959)

-- We are a small but worthy people! (January 9, 1959)

-- If they want friendly relations, they should not threaten us!
(January 9, 1959)

-- The revolution is not turning tail in the face of attack, it is not
weakening in the face of attack, but it is growing! (January 11, 1959)

-- We are a people prepared for every sacrifice! (February 3, 1959)

-- The government of Cuba does not want to be an enemy of the government
of the United States, or an enemy of any government in the world
 but we
cannot allow politics to be imposed upon us
 Historically we have been
victims of the powerful influence of the United States over our country’
s des-tiny! (February 19, 1959)

-- We can only say to the powerful oligarchy: you have done what could
be expected of you, but we will do what can be expected of us
power does not frighten us, but gives us courage! (July 6, 1960)

9. The courage of the overwhelming majority of Cuban men and women was
decisive in confronting the serious consequences challenging US
domination, consequences that included the sacrifice of lives.

Given the underdevelopment to which Cuba was condemned, if the
revolution had failed, we would have suffered greater human losses and
sacrifice. If anyone should be in any doubt of that, it is worth casting
a glance at certain realities.

In 1958, average life expectancy was 61 and infant mortality was in
excess of 60 per 1,000 live births. For many years now, our people have
had an average life expectancy of over 75 and an infant mortality rate
of less than seven per 1,000 live births. How many hundreds of thousands
of Cuban people -- adults and children -- would have died if the 1958
indexes of health, nutrition, education, etc. had evolved with a trend
similar to the Latin American average?

For a number of years Cuba has possessed the highest ratio per capita of
doctors, teachers, and sports and arts instructors in the world, and
from 1962 its health, education, and sports programs have been totally
free for the entire population. Illiteracy disappeared in 1961 and today
the average education level is 10th grade, the highest in the region.
Unemployment, which was over 30 percent in 1958, is now at three
percent. More than 85 percent of families own their own homes and from
1959 to 1989, close to two million homes were built, more than were
built in the 60 years of the neocolonial republic. In Cuba there are no
children or beggars on the streets, or unprotected elderly or mentally
disabled people. Citizens are far safer than in other Latin American
countries, with a very low incidence of social violence.

Cuban people have genuine access to culture. No one’s talent is
frustrated by a lack of material conditions or encouragement. The
revolution created and developed a national film industry that enjoys
international prestige, and the fields of visual arts, dance, theater,
and literature have flourished. In 1989, 100 times more books were
published than in 1958.

Sports and physical education are widely enjoyed. Cuba has the highest
number per capita of Olympic gold medals in the world: one for every one
million inhabitants. Despite the difficulties of the last decade,
nutrition is superior to the average in the underdeveloped countries.
One out of every 10 Latin American scientists is Cuban and the island
has a highly developed scientific research industry, which means it can
take maximum advantage of its scientific potential. Its developments and
discoveries rate far above other Latin American and Caribbean nations,
including many cutting-edge developments in biotechnology and genetics.

Further statistics could be mentioned, but the above are sufficient. I
only wish to highlight how the Cuban Revolution has presented its people
with material and spiritual happiness far greater than the sacrifices we
have made. Our people are no longer sucked dry by neocolonial
capitalism, or manipulated and oppressed by dictatorship -- whether in
the Batista years or under the mantle of a corrupt multiparty democracy.
We are a genuinely independent nation -- a united, organized people with
an advanced political understanding and weapons at our disposal to
defend our conquests. And, in free elections with a secret vote, people
elect their state representatives and depose them if they fail to
fulfill their role.

10. In the early years of their searching and effort, Cubans never
expected that their heroic actions, or the course of the revolution,
would receive external help. The premise of the revolution was that it
would defend itself with the support of the Cuban people alone. It
should be recalled that from 1959, long before the revolution turned
toward socialism, the United States attempted to destroy it and restore
the country to its former neocolonial status. It was acting to that end
before the revolutionary government entered into relations with the
Soviet Union. When Cuba gained allies and began to seek solidarity, it
was guided by José Martí’s principle that “homeland is humanity.” It
never, however, accepted threats or impositions of any kind and the
Missile Crisis of October 1962 proved the ultimate willingness of Cubans
to be defeat-ed rather than hand over sovereignty and the right to

Decisions were never conditioned by an opportunistic measuring of the
correlation of world forces. Far less were they based on the calculation
that the Soviet Union might become the important ally it subsequently
proved to be, and it was undoubtedly significant for the economic
progress and military consolidation of Cuban socialism. But our
revolution did not exist, and far less act, thanks to the support of
that power. When the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, Cuba stayed on
its feet. Despite the brutal impact the event had on Cuban people, they
continued forward with their ideals, making necessary adjustments, and
confirming that socialism in Cuba is irrevocable. More than 40 years of
creatively constructing benefits for the great majority have confirmed
for Cubans that this social system was the best choice in those early,
defining years.

11. The Cuban Revolution always advanced on the basis of the nation’s
supreme right to be free and independent. The nature of the political
and social system was always decided by democratic consensus. The
legislation of those early years expressed an overwhelming sovereign
force; it was never passed with less than 90 percent of its citizens’
support. Two reasons explain this: within a very short period the
revolution gave people the victories they most desired. It did so
ensuring people were genuine protagonists in those victories and the
direct defenders of them, thus converting themselves into a collective
capable of attaining ever more complex goals.

In “History Will Absolve Me”, Fidel explained the plan of the Moncada
assailants in 1953; this was made real during 1959-61:

“We weren't going to say to the people, ‘We’re going to give you
everything,’ but rather, ‘Here you are, now fight with all your strength
so that independence and happiness is yours’.”

12. Many other events occurred after April 1961 that consolidated the
pillars of the socialist transition, or this shift from a defeated
neocolonial regime to a more just, democratic, and autonomous society.
The new human collective, aware of its political and moral force, its
cohesion, and the fact that it was armed, lost its respect for
capitalist private property and its fear of domination. It transformed
these into social property and revolutionary power at the service of all
the people. During the clamor, this made it possible for the island to
stand as a bulwark against US aggression and its siege, the longest in
modern history.

13. In those years, Che Guevara published an essay titled, “Cuba:
Historical exception or vanguard in the anticolonial struggle?” Today,
40 years after his reflections, it is clear that Cuba is neither an
exception nor a temporary hemispheric accident. Cuba’s persistent search
for new roads after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern
European bloc, its unequivocal demonstration that authentic socialism
does exist in José Martí’s homeland -- in spite of particular mistakes
and enormous difficulties -- confirms that this historical alternative
is a sound and, ultimately, promising way to overcome underdevelopment
and obtain genuine independence.

Copyright © Ocean Press and German Sanchez

“The Cuban Revolution and Venezuela”
ISBN 1-920888-41-1
also available in Spanish

“Barrio Adentro and the Other Social Missions in the Bolivarian
ISBN 1-920888-40-3
also available in Spanish

“Cuba y Venezuela”
Spanish edition available September 2005
ISBN 1-920888-39-X

“Cuba and Venezuela”
English edition available February 2006

info at oceanbooks.com.au


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