Throughout 1961, Cuba continued to move against American interests.
On August 5, Cuba expropriated American-owned telephone and electricity companies, 36 sugar mills, and $800 million in US petroleum assets.
The US quickly pushed through a resolution by the Organization of American States (OAS) condemning extraterritorial (Soviet) intervention in the western hemisphere.
Cuba responded by establishing diplomatic relations with Communist China and issuing a call for other Latin American countries to throw off US neocolonial control.
A month later the government nationalized the Cuban branches of North American banks along with 382 Cuban-owned firms. These included sugar mills, rice mills, Cuban-owned banks, railroads, textile factories, distilleries, department stores, and movie theaters.
A second Urban Reform Law was passed prohibiting ownership of more than one residence. Those leasing confiscated property became tenants of the state and former owners received compensation at a maximum rate of $350 monthly.
Later that month, Cuba nationalized another 166 North American enterprises, including insurance firms, import companies, hotels, casinos, textile firms, metal plants, tobacco export firms, chemical companies, and food processing plants. This all but eliminated US investment in Cuba.
Backtracking a bit, by January 1961 the US embassy in Havana had allegedly become the center for destabilization attempts against Cuba. Castro ordered the embassy to reduce its staff from 300 to 11. The US broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba and banned US citizens from traveling to the country.
In the wake of US actions, Castro mobilized popular support for the revolution, easily stirring the intense nationalistic fervor necessary to radicalize the revolution.
Moreover, the confrontation with the US sealed the necessity for an alignment with the Soviet Union. And, of course, the realignment deepened the conflict with the US.
In April 1961, Castro had declared that his was a socialist revolution. In December, he said he was a Marxist-Leninist.
While the Soviet Union had at first been cautious — and even suspicious — about the Castro regime, Khruschev was now presented with a fait accompli.
The Cuban communist party–the PSP–had not led the revolution, it did not control the government, it did not have a single ministerial level official, and the head of state did not originate from the ranks of the party. Nevertheless, in the context of Cold War competition with the US, the Soviets could not refuse to assist a government that had carried out the first socialist revolution in the Western Hemisphere.
Cuba was increasingly incorporated into the Soviet orbit.
Since Cuba had no major energy resources of its own, oil was a key element.
It was agreed that Cuba would trade its sugar, nickel, and citrus for Soviet oil, wheat, chemicals, and machinery.
Cuba argued that this was a mutually beneficial alliance characterized not by charity, but justice. After all, the great powers had a duty to help the less fortunate.
However, while prices were set to benefit Cuba, the reorientation of trade placed a major strain on the island’s economy as it attempted to meet expanded infrastructure demands.
Because trade relations with the United States had run on a pattern of frequent small shipments, the island lacked the port facilities and warehouses needed to deal with the large shipments that were now arriving from the Soviet bloc.
As a result, the changes put in place to facilitate the new direction of trade transformed the economy.
The Cuban-Soviet alliance soon extended to the provision of military supplies. According to an estimate by the US State Department, over 28,000 tons of military supplies had been received in Cuba between the time of Batista’s departure and November 1960. Most of the supplies had arrived from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. By April 1961, another 2,000 tons had been added.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe
Carolyn Chester says
My father was Edmund A. Chester. He was the Bureau Chief for AP, Director of CBS News, and later worked in Cuba. I have historical letters, newspaper articles, photos, etc. from those times and would like to share with someone that is interested in them. I also have reels for old film and negatives from the 30,40, and early 50’s from when my father was a journalist. He also worked hand in hand with the state department and started the “Cadena de los Americanos” which was a broadcast of music and news to Latin American. My mother saved almost every piece of paper from his career. And also my father had a warrent for his rest by Castro, who even sent his henchmen to shoot at our home in Florida after the revolution. You can find stuff about my father online if you want to find out more about him. Thanks and look forward to hearing from you soon.
Nancy Ream Rose says
I am the daughter of a friend of Ed and Nena Chester. My father was also with CBS in the 30s, 40s and early 50s. Nena hand painted a black silk handkerchief for my mother, which I have just come across and started my research for the artist. I have a lovely photo of Nena sitting between my mother and father at a dinner/banquet.
I thought the Chesters had only one daughter, Patricia, who was a few years younger than I. (I was born in 1940).
Would so appreciate hearing from you and correcting any misinformation I may have.
Jim Slye says
Carolyn, I was married to your father’s great neice, and had the distinct pleasure of meeting him and Nena in 1963, while returning from my honeymoon. Hurricane Cleo blocked our return home, so we took the opportunity to viswit with your family in Mt Dora. Your dad and mother, Nena, Patricia and her family, as well as you other siblings treated us to a wonderful dinner, and put us up for the night, while we waited for the storm to pass out of our way. Thank your mother and Patricia for this wonderful experience.
Carolyn Chester says
Dear Nancy and Jim. I would love to be in touch with you both and will try to find you, but if you read this blog again, you can reach me at CarolinaCL@cox.net. Jim, I would have been the baby and Nancy, I would love to share the things that I have from CBS with you and maybe I have a photo or something of your dads.
Larry Loew says
Hello Caroline, Nancy and Jim,
I am Patricia Chester’s only child. Haven’t talked with or seen Cynthia, Carolyn or Edmund in years. Hope this post finds them all well and happy.
Nancy – your post was especially interesting for me because I really have wanted a picture of grandmother Nena Chester for years now. I was wondering if it were possible to get a copy of that picture from you. Of course I would cover the costs of making a copy and mailing it to me here in Boston. Please let me know if this is possible.
Thank you all for your interest in our family. It is always pleasant to read from individuals who knew my grandparents (Carolyn’s parents) personally.
237 Chestnut Hill Avenue
Boston, Ma. 02135-5904
DeAnn Bateman Brown says
My husband and I both knew your mother very well when we were teenagers and young adults. I spent many hours at the Chester home, an my brother-in-law (now deceased) visited them in Cuba on several occasions. There are several pictures on Ancestry.com under Edmund Chester. My brother-in-law was married to a very good friend of Pat’s,
Vicky Samson, who is now the ombudsman for hispanic students at the University of Central Florida. She possibly has some information and pictures. Hope this helps. DeAnn