|Speakers at Washington State Community College. Photo by Jasmine Rogers|
Cuba is just 90 miles south of the United States with a population of approximately 11 million people. It is 780 miles long and has a land area of 40,369 square miles and is the largest island in the Caribbean and 17th-largest island in the world by land area.
Columbus’s second stop in the New World was on October 28, 1492 when he landed in Cuba. (The first place he landed on October 12 was the Bahamas). Cuba was a Spanish colony from Columbus’s landing in 1492 until 1898 when Spain lost Cuba in the Spanish-American War.
Cubans engaged in two protracted wars of independence. The first was the 10 years war that took place between 1868 and 1878 and the second took place between 1895 and 1898 ending with U.S. intervention and a 4-year occupation that ended on May 20, 1902.
There are many important figures that emerge in the 19th century but for the sake of brevity will mention Father Felix Varela, Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo, Maximo Gomez and the Bacardi family.
Father Varela was a catholic priest who is said to “have taught the Cubans how to think” and entertained ideas of independence that led to his exile to the United States. Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez were Cuban generals that played important roles in both wars of independence. Antonio Maceo was of a mixed racial background: part Spanish and part African.
Jose Marti was a journalist, poet and revolutionary who organized and advocated for the 1895 war of independence and spent most of his adult life exiled in the United States in New York City.
Maximo Gomez, was an experienced military man of Dominican origin who oversaw the overall military campaign in the second war of independence and of the three previously mentioned was the only one who survived the war to see the arrival of the Republic.
The Bacardi family, began their world famous Rum business in Santiago de Cuba in 1862. Don Facundo Bacardí Massó founded Bacardi Limited on February 4, 1862. The family would also play an important role in civic life in Cuba, especially Santiago over the next century, and were constant opponents of dictatorship, political corruption and remained ardent Cuban nationalists over several generations.
The beginning of the Cuban republic on May 20, 1902 had an asterisk – The Platt Amendment: which allowed the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs if U.S. interests were threatened. This Amendment was gotten rid of in 1933 but left a bad taste in the mouth of Cuban nationalists.
Between 1902 and 1952 Cuba progressed socially and economically but faced challenges on the political front. For example in the late 1920s Gerardo Machado, the democratically elected president did not want to leave power becoming a dictator. He was driven from office in 1933 in a revolution led by university students and enlisted men in what became known as the sergeants revolt. This put Fulgencio Batista into the national spotlight and by 1934 he was the strong man behind the scenes even though democratic formalities were restored.
In 1940 all the political tendencies in Cuba met to draft what became known as the 1940 Constitution and a presidential election was held and Fulgencio Batista elected. He served out his term as president from 1940 to 1944. Due to a clause in the new Constitution he was unable to run for re-election. In the election of 1944 the opposition candidate, Ramon Grau San Martin, won and served a term as president from 1944-1948 and in the election of 1948, Batista’s political party again lost at the general elections and Carlos Prios Socarras was elected president.
Cuba's republic during this democratic period played an important role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.
Within days of the 1952 presidential elections, Fulgencio Batista organized a coup against the last democratically elected president.
A little over a year later on July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro organized an armed assault on the Moncada Military barracks that was a military disaster but a public relations success. Although most of the men involved with Fidel Castro in the assault were killed, Fidel Castro became a national figure at his trial for the attack. At the trial he portrayed himself as a democrat that wanted to restore the previous democratic order and attacked the Batista dictatorship for its usurpation of the democratic order.
Ramiro Valdez oversaw the installation of the totalitarian communist apparatus in Cuba beginning in 1959. He is now probably doing the same thing in Venezuela. It was on his watch that the East German Stasi trained Cuban State Security.
It is important to recall that during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis Fidel Castro advocated for a nuclear first strike on the United States and was disappointed when the United States and the Soviet Union reached a peaceful accommodation. Twenty years later in the early 1980s, Fidel Castro again asked the Soviet Union to launch a nuclear first strike on the United States. On the second occasion the Soviet officials rebuffed the Cuban revolutionary's request.
This led to a chilling in relations between Cuba and the USSR which led to Fidel Castro seeking out training from former Waffen SS and arms shipments from German right wing extremists. The Cuban government has learned from the best of the worse human rights violators.
Between 1959 and the late 1960s, many of Castro's former comrades in arms again took to the mountains to fight the new dictatorship as they had Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s. Many of them were in the Escambray region and most were slaughtered and buried in mass graves or imprisoned for decades in Cuban prisons.
The armed resistance to the Castro regime was either dead, in prison, or in exile by 1970. The next phase of the opposition emerged within the prisons on January 28, 1976 with the founding of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights. Inspired by the Helsinki Accords, Eastern European Dissidents and the U.S. civil rights movement it was nonviolent. The leading spokesperson in Cuba was Ricardo Bofill.
In the early 1980s many of the activists had been released from prison and continued to denounce human rights violations in Cuba and those reports made there way to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. By the late 1980s with a former Cuban prisoner of conscience, Armando Valladares, now Ambassador to the United Nations for the United States the dictatorship of Cuba was brought under scrutiny at the United Nations Human Rights Commission. This led to the dictatorship accepting the first and only visits by the International Red Cross and the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The reports produced exposed the systematic human rights violations in Cuba.