We have seen that with the deepening of the US-Cuba core-peripheral economic relation from 1934 to 1940, and with the return of representative democracy during the period 1937-40, Cuba became a model neocolonial nation and the ideal for the development of the neocolonial world-system during the post-World War II era (“The US-Cuba neocolonial relation deepens” 8/19/2014; “The return of “democracy,” 1937-40” 8/22/2014).
During the Batista presidency of 1940-44, economic conditions in Cuba were more favorable than they had been since the “crack” of 1920 (see “Instability in the neocolonial republic” 7/2/2014). World War II halted sugar production in many countries, provoking an increase in sugar prices. At the same time, the war disrupted the flow of US manufactured goods to Cuba, creating a degree of space for Cuban national industry. However, serious economic problems continued: the expansion of unemployment in some sectors; and an increase in the cost of living, as a result of decline in the purchasing power of the national currency. These dynamics had significant negative repercussions for the people, generating popular discontent with the Batista government (Arboleya 2008:114, 116; Le Riverend 1975:324-26).
Capitalizing on the struggle in opposition to the dictatorships of Machado and Batista, the Authentic Cuban Revolutionary Party emerged as the “great hope” of the people. Ramón Grau San Martín won the elections of 1944, defeating Carlos Saladrigas, the presidential candidate selected by Batista. True to the reformist orientation that characterized Grau’s political career, Grau promised support for all sectors. He proposed to harmonize labor-management relations, without necessarily implying support for the workers in just demands that impinge on the interests of the national bourgeoisie. He promised agrarian reform, without specifying how, and without challenging the interests of the landed oligarchy. Recognizing an international context defined by a global conflict between democracy and fascism, he pointed to Cuba’s system of representative democracy, and he proposed to increase economic and cultural relations with the United States (Arboleya 2008:114-15; Vitier 2006:147).
The Authentic Cuban Revolutionary Party was a party of the reformist national bourgeoisie, formed principally by an emerging industrial bourgeoisie. But the industrial bourgeoisie continued to be weak with respect to the landed estate bourgeoisie that controlled sugar production and that was allied with US capital. New industrial enterprises were created as a result of the decline of manufactured imports during World War II, but the number of new companies was not great, and some of the new investments in industry came from the landed oligarchy. Thus, the Cuban national industrial bourgeoisie continued to be subordinate to the Cuban landed estate bourgeoisie and to foreign capital. Its political party was in no position to propose a project of ascent through the protection of national industry and through the strengthening of the domestic market by increasing the purchasing power of the people. Although some members of the national industrial bourgeoisie proposed such reforms, the Authentic Party was not in a position to propose a combination of import-substitution industrialization and concessions to popular demands, thereby placing its interests in tension with those of the Cuban estate bourgeoisie and foreign capital, as was occurring in other countries of Latin America at the time (Arboleya 2008:115-16).
When political actors who have recently arrived to power are unable to pursue a national project for economic and social development, they tend to focus energy on satisfying personal ambitions through newly available opportunities for enriching themselves. Accordingly, the Grau government turned to corruption, creating new forms of plundering the public treasury, surpassing what had been previously established by Machado and Batista. The Italian-American mafia in the United States, which had entered Cuba in the 1920s and had concluded lucrative agreements with Batista, found a new partner in the Authentic Party (Arboleya 2008:116). This turn of the Grau government to corruption was disheartening to the people, given the role that Grau had played in the Revolution of 1930-33. The corruption of the neocolonial republic had arrived to be so pervasive that even the ideals of the revolution had become corrupted. Vitier writes:
The Grau government was characterized by bloody fights and pseudo-revolutionary factions and groups that made Havana look like the Chicago of the gangsters, and by the unrestrained sacking of public funds. Fiction, the symbol of the neocolony, had taken hold not only of the republican ideal, as had occurred up to the time of Machado, but now also the revolutionary ideal (2006:147-48).
In reaction to the corruption of the Authentic Party government of Grau, the Orthodox Party of the Cuban People was established in 1946. When Grau selected Prío as his successor, Eduardo Chibás, who had been a prominent member of the Authentic Party, accepted leadership of the Orthodox Party (Arobleya 2008:117). Arboleya writes of Chibás:
Nearly all historians agree that Chibás was one of the most controversial figures of republican politics. Founder of the University Student Directorate and master of fiery speech, Chibás was known for his crude attacks and his eccentricity.
A rabid anti-communist, Chibás attached both the Left and the Right, although his criticisms of the United States were to a considerable extent comedies that did not go beyond the external imperfections of the system. His false crazy acts were constant news in the press, including various suicide attempts to gain the attention of the people. In 1951, one of these attempts, broadcast live on his radio program, cost him his life, which created an immense commotion among the people, and which conferred mythical virtues on him from that moment (2008:117).
Meanwhile, Batista was preparing for a return to power. He had formed the Unitary Action Party and had been campaigning for president in the 1952 elections. However, it was evident that the Orthodox Party was headed to victory, in spite of the death of Chibás. Accordingly, in order to check the popular movement, and with the support of the national bourgeoisie and international capital, Batista carried out a coup d’état on March 10, 1952, shortly before the presidential elections. The chiefs of the army and the police were replaced with the military officers who had been involved in the coup. The Congress was dissolved. The Constitution of 1940 was abolished. The presidential elections of 1952 were cancelled (Arboleya 2008:119-20; LeRiverend 1975:336-37; López Segrera 1972:275; Vitier 2006:150).
For decades, the Cuban system of representative democracy had been characterized by the pursuit of particular interests, deception, robbery of the public treasury, repression of popular movements, assassination of charismatic leaders, and the replacement of representative democracy by dictatorships when the popular movement emerged as a serious threat. By 1952, the people were disgusted and disheartened. They rejected the Batista coup of March 1952, but they also received it with indifference. As Arboleya comments, “Nearly no one would cry for the loss” of representative democracy (2008:119).
There were exceptions to the popular indifference. University students demonstrated their rejection of the coup, and they asked Prío for arms to defend his constitutional government. But Prío did not give the students arms; he instead boarded a plane for the United States in order to enjoy his millions. Cuba went from representative democracy to military dictatorship without a single shot being fired (Arboleya 2008:119).
A remembered exception to the popular indifference was a document submitted to the Emergency Court of Havana on March 12, two days after the coup. The document maintains that Batista had committed crimes for which, if he were to be sanctioned according to the law, would deserve a punishment of more than 100 years. And the document maintains that society requires a legal order rooted in historical and philosophical principles. The author of the document was a 25-year-old lawyer, whose name was Fidel Castro (Virtier 2006:180).
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Le Riverend, Julio. 1975. La República: Dependencia y Revolución, cuarta edición revisada. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales. Reimpresión, 2001.
López Segrera, Francisco. 1972. Cuba: Capitalismo Dependiente y Subdesarrollo (1510-1959). La Habana: Casa de las Américas.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cuban Revolution, neocolonial republic, Batista, Grau, Prío