Jul 19, 2021
Hearing politicians in the U.S. crow about poverty in Cuba is a bit rich, given that the U.S. first exploited and then squeezed this island for more than a century.
In 1898, the U.S. invaded Cuba, in an alliance with the island’s bourgeoisie. The U.S. claimed it was helping Cuba win independence from Spain—but in reality, the U.S. was ensuring that the poor population that had organized the uprising against Spain did not gain power. The U.S. bourgeoisie soon brought Cuba under its own domination, imposing a dictatorship upon the island, importing Jim Crow racist laws from the U.S., and taking over much of the economy.
When Fidel Castro took over in 1959, U.S. capitalists owned 80% of the island’s services, mines, ranches, and oil refineries, 40% of the sugar industry, and 50% of the trains. The Mafia had made Havana the brothel of the Americas. And the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista relied on prison, torture, and execution for opponents of the regime.
Castro and his followers wanted an end to despotism and corruption, an improvement in living conditions for the population, and the end of the country’s control by the United States. They did not at first call themselves communists. But when it became increasingly clear that the U.S. was determined to impose its will on Cuba, and that the basic exploitation of the island by U.S. imperialism was non-negotiable, Castro’s state increasingly turned to nationalizations of industry and an alliance with the U.S.S.R.
Already in 1960, the U.S. imposed an embargo on Cuba. In 1961, the U.S. launched a military invasion at the Bay of Pigs. This was a fiasco for the U.S.—the Cuban population mobilized to defend the island. Since then, the U.S. has repeatedly tried to overthrow the regime, without success. But it has succeeded in severely limiting the Cuban economy through the embargo.
Cuba’s regime certainly lacks many democratic freedoms—but that was even more true before the revolution, when it was a close U.S. “ally.”
No, U.S. opposition to Cuba is not about freedom or democracy. Nor is it about the poverty the U.S. itself has played a big role in imposing on the island. It is about the fact that Cuba—often alone in Latin America—has stood up to U.S. imperialism for more than 60 years.