Cuba – A Historic Perspective

  • Cuba

This is the first article in a two part series on Cuba by Philip Anderson. Mr. Anderson is a twenty year veteran of the U.S. military.

American involvement in Cuba begins long before Castro and the current socialist government. To understand the harm our government’s actions have brought to the people of Cuba requires looking at this history. To understand the present, we must look at the past.

Map of Cuba

Cuba, located just 93 miles from the United States

All through the 1800s many Americans advocated annexing, buying, or otherwise expanding U.S. influence in Cuba. Commercial gain, increasing trade, and expanding slave territory were the primary motivations. By the 1890s, the U.S. was a dominant trading partner with Spanish Cuba. When Cuban revolutionaries began fighting Spanish rule in 1895, these commercial interests were hurt financially by the disruption of war. To help protect these commercial interests, we went to war against Spain, using Cuban independence to justify American intervention.

The U.S. intervened in this Cuban war of independence in 1898. We call it the Spanish American War. This “splendid little war” was over quickly with the defeat of Spain in Cuba and the Philippines. The Treaty of Paris, between Spain and the U.S., ended Spain’s control of Cuba and ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the U.S. Many historians consider this the beginning of the “American Empire.”

Despite the pre-war rhetoric about supporting freedom and democracy, American actions toward Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines were not consistent with our democratic values and ideals. Rather than granting these countries independence, we replaced Spain as the colonial overlord. The specific details varied with each country. The Philippines did eventually become independent after a war with the U.S. (1898-1906) and decades of domination. Guam and Puerto Rico are still part of the U.S.

Platt Amendment - Cuba

Congress passed the Platt Amendment which limited Cuban independence

Cuba was occupied from 1898 to 1902. In 1901, Congress passed the Platt Amendment which limited Cuban independence and sovereignty. It allowed the U.S. to oversee international relations, the economy, unilaterally intervene domestically, and establish the Guantanamo Bay naval base. Cuba was forced to accept these terms to end the military occupation. In 1903, Cuba became a republic and elected a government. But the U.S. intervened militarily in 1906-09, 1912, and 1917-22.

Between 1898 and 1959 U.S. business interests dominated the economy of Cuba. Cuba was an economic colony run largely for the benefit of American business interests. In 1934 Fulgencio Batista came to power in a military coup. With American support he dominated Cuban politics, until 1959. Graft, corruption, and mismanagement characterized all Cuban administrations during this period. American organized crime found a haven during Prohibition. Cuba became known as a haven for prostitution and gambling. Despite periods of prosperity, most of the Cuban people remained poor.

In 1959, Fidel Castro came to power. He had support from the rural poor, urban workers and liberal idealists. He established a socialist government which began many reforms to improve the lives of the Cuban people. Part of this was land reform and returning control of the economy to Cubans. In 1960 he nationalized American businesses and seized American property in Cuba. Many Cuban businessmen and the wealthy elite left the country. The U.S. ended diplomatic relations and imposed a trade embargo.

Picture of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro

In 1961, Cuban exiles, backed by the CIA, attempted the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. Over the years many other CIA covert actions were attempted to destabilize the economy, incite revolt, and assassinate Cuban leaders.

Cuba established diplomatic relations with Russia in 1960. Russia became the primary Cuban trading partner and source of military and economic aid to counter the U.S. embargo. This included providing intermediate range ballistic missiles which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis in1962. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost much of its Russian support and trade with severe consequences for its economy.

In recent decades Cuban American relations have improved. Restrictions on travel, immigration, and cultural exchanges have been eased. But the basic issues have not been addressed. Foremost is the unwillingness of all American administrations to accept a socialist economic structure in Cuba. The trade embargo is still in place. The Guantanamo naval base is still in American hands.

Over the years, American actions toward Cuba have been either exploitative or hostile. There was one exception. President Franklin Roosevelt implemented policies toward all of Latin America more consistent with our democratic ideals. Called the “Good Neighbor Policy,” military intervention in other countries was renounced. In 1934, FDR ended the Platt Amendment.

Unfortunately for both the U.S. and Cuba, the idea of being a good neighbor was short lived. The Depression and WWII left no time for Latin America. During the Cold War intervention again became our policy. Containment of communism became the goal and normal relations with Castro’s Cuba were politically impossible.

Today we again have an opportunity to be a good neighbor. We can begin by returning Guantanamo and normalizing all relations with Cuba.