Fidel Castro: How One Man With A Cigar Dominated American Foreign Policy

In 1959, a rebel, Fidel Castro, overthrew the reign of Fulgencia
Batista in Cuba; a small island 90 miles off the Florida coast. There have
been many coups and changes of government in the world since then. Few if
any have had the effect on Americans and American foreign policy as this

In 1952, Sergeant Fulgencia Batista staged a successful bloodless coup
in Cuba . Batista never really had any cooperation and rarely garnered much
support. His reign was marked by continual dissension.

After waiting to see if Batista would be seriously opposed, Washington
recognized his government. Batista had already broken ties with the Soviet
Union and became an ally to the U.S. throughout the cold war. He was
continually friendly and helpful to American business interest. But he
failed to bring democracy to Cuba or secure the broad popular support that
might have legitimized his rape of the 1940 Constitution.

As the people of Cuba grew increasingly dissatisfied with his gangster
style politics, the tiny rebellions that had sprouted began to grow.
Meanwhile the U.S. government was aware of and shared the distaste for a
regime increasingly nauseating to most public opinion. It became clear that
Batista regime was an odious type of government. It killed its own
citizens, it stifled dissent. (1)

At this time Fidel Castro appeared as leader of the growing rebellion.
Educated in America he was a proponent of the Marxist-Leninist philosophy.
He conducted a brilliant guerilla campaign from the hills of Cuba against
Batista. On January 1959, he prevailed and overthrew the Batista

Castro promised to restore democracy in Cuba, a feat Batista had failed
to accomplish. This promise was looked upon benevolently but watchfully by
Washington. Castro was believed to be too much in the hands of the people
to stretch the rules of politics very far. The U.S. government supported
Castro's coup. It professed to not know about Castro's Communist leanings.
Perhaps this was due to the ramifications of Senator Joe McCarty's
discredited anti-Communist diatribes.

It seemed as if the reciprocal economic interests of the U.S. and Cuba
would exert a stabilizing effect on Cuban politics. Cuba had been
economically bound to find a market for its #1 crop, sugar. The U.S. had
been buying it at prices much higher than market price. For this it
received a guaranteed flow of sugar. (2)

Early on however developments clouded the hope for peaceful relations.
According to American Ambassador to Cuba, Phillip Bonsal, "From the very
beginning of his rule Castro and his sycophants bitterly and sweepingly
attacked the relations of the United States government with Batista and his
regime".(3) He accused us of supplying arms to Batista to help overthrow
Castro's revolution and of harboring war criminals for a resurgence effort
against him. For the most part these were not true: the U.S. put a trade
embargo on Batista in 1957 stopping the U.S. shipment of arms to Cuba. (4)
However, his last accusation seems to have been prescient.

With the advent of Castro the history of U.S.- Cuban relations was
subjected to a revision of an intensity and cynicism which left earlier
efforts in the shade. This downfall took two roads in the eyes of
Washington: Castro's incessant campaign of slander against the U.S. and
Castro's wholesale nationalization of American properties.

These actions and the U.S. reaction to them set the stage for what was
to become the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the end of U.S.- Cuban relations.
Castro promised the Cuban people that he would bring land reform to Cuba.
When he took power, the bulk of the nations wealth and land was in the
hands of a small minority. The huge plots of land were to be taken from
the monopolistic owners and distributed evenly among the people.
Compensation was to be paid to the former owners. According to Phillip
Bonsal, " Nothing Castro said, nothing stated in the agrarian reform
statute Castro signed in 1958, and nothing in the law that was promulgated
in the Official Gazzette of June 3, 1959, warranted the belief that in two
years a wholesale conversion of Cuban agricultural land to state ownership
would take place".(5) Such a notion then would have been inconsistent with
many of the Castro pronouncements, including the theory of a peasant
revolution and the pledges to the landless throughout the nation. Today
most of the people who expected to become independent farmers or members of
cooperatives in the operation of which they would have had a voice are now