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National Exhibit
National Exhibit
History
Cuban Communism

To try to leave the island without government permission became a criminal offense. Nonetheless a massive diaspora of Cubans was underway by 1960 to the benefit of the U.S. It is estimated that more Cubans were killed by fellow Cubans while trying to escape than the number of Germans killed by East German border guards manning the Berlin Wall.

Although Castro promised democratic elections, none were ever held. The free press was muzzled; judicial independence was lost. Nationalization and confiscation of foreign and domestically-owned property shifted wealth and power from the city and the middle class to the peasants and the working class. Agrarian reforms targeted large private and foreign-owned estates, paving the way for the creation of cooperatives. State planning and bureaucratic controls became omnipresent in all aspects of economic life.

Starting from a relatively advantaged position, the Cuban revolution sought to combat illiteracy, broaden health care coverage, and reduce extreme want. The key debate to this day focuses on the terrible costs paid in the curtailment of individual freedoms and the regimentation of daily life, especially when one recalls that Cuba in 1959 stood on an economic par with a Portugal or Spain.

The utopian aspirations of Cuba’s revolution reflected a promise to establish a just society on earth and create what “Che” Guevara called a New Man, a politically-conscious individual free from the taint of bourgeois materialism and personal ambition. Foreign policy would put Cuba at the service of anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism throughout the world, which meant close collaboration with the Kremlin leadership. While experts quibbled whether socialism or communism was practiced on the island, Fidel left no doubt that he was committed to the same trail blazed by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.

With the U.S. always just over the horizon, Fidel gambled on replacing ties with the U.S. with a new geopolitical protector, the Soviet Union. In February 1960, Cuba and the Soviet Union signed a multi-year contract for the purchase of Cuban sugar and massive credit. In the next two decades, Soviet military trainers and equipment converted Cuba’s military into a formidable expeditionary force. Economic dependency on the U.S. yielded to economic vassalage to the Soviet Union.

In 1961, the U.S. backed an ill-fated attempt by Cuban exiles to overthrow the new Castro regime. The Bay of Pigs was a major foreign policy fiasco for President John F. Kennedy and allowed Fidel to crack down on all internal opposition. Henceforth fear of invasion and equating opposition to Cuban communism with acts of treason were essential weapons in Castro’s political arsenal. They remain so today. On May 1, 1960, Fidel proclaimed Cuba a socialist state; less than a year later, he swore allegiance to Marxism-Leninism, forever.

Under Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviets gambled in 1962 on a shift in the correlation of international power as they attempted to station nuclear missiles and 22,000 Russian troops in Cuba. The missile crisis of October 1962 carried the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear conflict. Fidel urged a preemptive strike against the U.S. and announced he was ready to sacrifice Cuba for the global triumph of socialism. Khrushchev did not give Fidel a chance for nuclear self-immolation. The U.S.-Soviet deal resulted in the removal of Soviet missiles in exchange for a U.S. promise not to invade Cuba.

While his leadership style blended elements of nationalism, utopianism, and anti-Americanism, Fidel constructed a Leninist-style dictatorship. The central institutional pillars include the Cuban Communist Party, serving as the vanguard of the people; the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, which embody a commitment to defend and advance the revolution; and a world-class intelligence and security service able to protect the leadership from all enemies and ferret out any organized opposition. Mass organizations such as the Committees for Defense of the Revolution (CDR) served as conduits for top-down leadership and a means to preserve revolutionary consciousness within the masses.

For decades, Fidel relied heavily upon creating conditions of psychological bondage, where the highest social values are political conformity, loyalty to the system, the denial of individualism, and the rejection of critical or independent thought.

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Cuba
Location:  Caribbean
Capital:  Havana
Communist Rule:  January 1959-Current
Status:  
Victims of Communism:
73 000