Two of the most significant events in Cold War history–the CIA sponsored invasion known as the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis–occurred in Cuba shortly after the “triumph of the revolution.”
This is what the Cuban press had to say:
HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba’s state-run media and bloggers are not amused at “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” a new videogame in which the player can join a secret operation in the 1960s to assassinate former leader Fidel Castro.
“What the United States government did not manage to do in 50 years, now it attempts to accomplish by virtual means,” said comments Wednesday on the website Cubadebate, where Castro regularly publishes opinion pieces.
The site was referring to the numerous plots to kill the Cuban president, which the government said numbers 638.
Anyway . . . Enough of this digression. Let’s get back to Cuba in the 1960s.
The city of Havana was not transformed by externally backed military activity, however. Instead, from 1959 to 1970, the capital underwent a period of change which included a reordering of Cuba’s spatial distribution in association with the new revolutionary government’s goals and priorities.
The status of Havana diminished during these years for, in spite of the contribution of the city’s urban underground to the overthrow of the Batista regime, revolutionary leaders felt that the capital had long drained wealth from the countryside. They argued that Havana’s prosperity was derived from the city’s exploitation of the island’s peasant population and they determined to equalize this relationship through the ruralization of the capital and the urbanization of the countryside. Militarization of the city continued in this context.
Throughout 1959-1960, popular empowerment, the charismatic authority of Fidel Castro, and growing US hostility toward Cuba’s revolutionary politics provided increasing legitimacy for revolutionary objectives.
Castro’s ability to forge a governing coalition and a program of change capable of mobilizing popular support against the upper classes, a significant proportion of the middle sectors, and the United States proved to be the decisive factor in unifying disparate forces behind the new government.
While it is impossible to know for sure what caused the subsequent enmity between Castro and the American government–communication signals were mixed on both sides–Cuba’s nationalization of US petroleum properties and Eisenhower’s elimination of Cuba from the US sugar quota led Castro to turn to the Soviet Union for assistance.
Cold War influences and revolutionary actions became inextricably intertwined. As will become clear, the Cuban Revolution would certainly have failed without massive Soviet, military, political, and economic support. Perez-Stable argues:
Affirming national sovereignty against the United States…was possible only because of the support of the Soviet Union. New ties of independence enabled the Cuban Revolution to survive the U.S. embargo, achieve impressive gains in social welfare, and attain modest, if erratic rates of economic growth. Moreover, Soviet mentorship buttressed national security by supplying free armaments and training military personnel. Last, the Soviet Union offered Cuban leaders models of socialism and one-party politics that…appeared to be feasible alternatives to capitalism and representative democracy.
In the 1960s, however, the US embargo and the militant nature of the revolution were the determinant variables shaping the urban development of Havana, not the Soviet influence.
During this period of time, Castro focused on developing a model of socialist self-government that would be thought of as uniquely Cuban.
It’s true that Cuban industry was reorganized around Soviet exports, facilitating the integration of Cuba trade with the Socialist bloc. But it would be another twelve years before the fate of Havana became totally intertwined with that of the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, the city had not been transformed by Cold War influences during the period 1945 – 1959, despite its close relationship with the United States. (For lots of information on these years go to Havana Project our sister blog.) Rather the city had been militarized through two (primarily) domestic forces: the 1952 coup which placed Batista in power and the paramilitary urban underground operating out of the University of Havana.
In actuality, Havana’s militarized state was of little consequence to the new regime. The perception that the existing spatial order was skewed was much more important.