Lessons from the Cuban Revolution

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TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY CARLOS BATISTA Cuban farmers sow sweet potatoes, on February 16, 2011 in Havana. The Cuban government declared that agriculture is the most important sector in the country's new economic reforms. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

IN 1959, a frontline revolutionary organisation led by Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban Fulgencio Batista’s regime in both rural and urban areas.
Among the movement’s main objectives was the re-distribution of land to the original owners – the Cuban peasants.
Castro, who at the time was a legislative candidate in a free election that had been cancelled by Cuban President Batista, led the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks, an army facility in the city of Santiago de Cuba.
On July 26 1953, Castro had been captured and sentenced to 15 years in prison but was granted political asylum after two years due to outrage by the civilian population.
The failed attack, however, served as a rallying cry for the revolution under the vanguard of The 26th of July Movement (Movimiento 26 de Julio or M-26-7).
In 1955, after his release, Castro fled to Mexico to reorganise the M-26-7 movement with a group of 82 exiled revolutionaries. Their task was to form a disciplined guerilla force to overthrow President Batista.
On December 2 1956, 82 men landed in Cuba, in daylight, having sailed in a boat from Tuxpan, Veracruz, ready to organise and lead a revolution.
However, attacked by Batista’s Cuban Air Force soon after landing, many of the 82 men were either killed in the attack or executed upon capture; only 22 found each other afterwards.
Only a small band of 12 revolutionaries of the original 82 men survived to eventually regroup as a ragtag fighting force deep in the Sierra Maestra Mountain Range where the guerilla forces and attracted hundreds of Cuban volunteers and won several battles against the Cuban Army. Among the volunteers was Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.
Guevara was shot in the neck and chest during the fighting, but was not severely injured.
It marked the opening phase of the war of the Cuban Revolution, which continued for the next two years.
It ended in January 1959, after Batista fled Cuba for Spain on New Year’s Eve when the Movement’s forces marched into Havana.
Many civic resistance groups formed in the cities that attracted middle-class and professional persons who flocked toward Castro and his movement.
While the revolutionaries were setting up camp in the mountains, the civic resistance groups put pressure on the Batista regime.
In most of Cuba, the peasants had been progressively proletarianised due to the needs of large-scale, semi-mechanised capitalist agriculture.
They had reached a new level of organisation and therefore a greater class consciousness.
Thus, the first area in which the rebel army operated was an area inhabited by peasants whose social and cultural roots were different from those of the peasants found in the areas of large-scale, semi-mechanised Cuban agriculture.
Therefore, peasants joined the movement to fight because they wanted land for themselves and their children, to manage and sell it and to enrich themselves through their labour.
Despite their petit bourgeois spirit, the peasants soon learned they could not satisfy their desire to possess land without breaking up the large landholding system.
Radical agrarian reform was the only answer.
This was in direct confrontation with the interests of the large-scale landholders as well as the sugar and cattle magnates.
The bourgeoisie were afraid to clash with those interests, but the proletariat were not.
In this way, the course of the revolution itself brought the workers and peasants together.
The workers in urban areas supported the demands of the peasants against the large landholders.
The poor peasants, rewarded with ownership of land, loyally supported the revolutionary power and defended it against its imperialist and counter-revolutionary enemies.
In the Sierra Maestra, the site of the first revolutionary settlement, was a place where peasants who struggled against large landholders took refuge.
They went there seeking new land — somehow overlooked by the state or the voracious landholders — on which to earn a modest income.
They struggled constantly against the demands of the soldiers, always allied to the landholders, and their ambitions extended no further than owning a piece of land they could work to feed themselves.
After the takeover, anti-Batista groups, liberals, urban workers, peasants and idealists became the dominant followers of the M-26-7 movement, which gained control over Cuba.
The movement was joined by other bodies to form the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution, which in turn became the Communist Party of Cuba in 1965.
Castro’s Government seized private land, nationalised hundreds of private companies, including several local subsidiaries of American corporations, and taxed American products so heavily that US exports were cut by half in just two years.
In response, the Eisenhower Administration imposed trade restrictions on everything except food and medical supplies.
As a result, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for trade. The US responded by cutting all diplomatic ties with Cuba and has had a rocky relationship ever since.
After the Cuban Revolution, laws relating to land reform were implemented in a series of laws passed between 1959 and 1963. The agrarian reform laws of Cuba sought to break up large landholdings and redistribute land to those peasants who worked it, to co-operatives and to the state.
Che Guevara was named head of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) as Minister of Industries to oversee the land reform policies.
First agrarian reform law under Che Guevara was enacted on May 17 1959.
The Agrarian Reform Law called for and crafted by Guevara went into effect, limiting the size of farms to 3 333 acres and real estate to 1 000 acres.
Any holdings over these limits were expropriated by the Government and either redistributed to peasants in 67-acre parcels or held as state-run communes.
The law also stipulated that sugar plantations could not be owned by foreigners.
A new Government agency, the INRA, was established to administer this law and quickly became the most important governing body in the nation, with Che Guevara named Minister of Industries.
For lands taken over, compensation was offered in the form of Cuban currency bonds to mature in 20 years at 4,5 percent interest.
Bonds were based on land values as assessed for tax purposes. During Batista’s reign, American proprietors had lands assessed at very low rates.
INRA established its own 100 000-person militia, used first to help the Government seize control of the expropriated land, supervise its distribution and later to set up agricultural co-operative farms.
The land confiscated included 480 000 acres owned by American corporations that had arrived on the scene to exploit the virgin Cuban lands for their vast sugar, banana and tobacco plantations.
Soon after, Guevara trained these forces as a regular army while the INRA also financed most of the highway construction in the country, built rural housing and even tourist resorts per Che Guevara’s industrial plans.
A Second Agrarian Reform Law was enacted in October 1963.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For views and comments, e-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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